Friday, May 21, 2010

Reed Embouchure

We have a sax player in the Friday group, who has wonderful tone and intonation on the tenor sax. He also plays the alto sax in the Presbyterian Ensemble. It's the soprano sax, though, that he's really keen on, having only recently given it a lot of time. His sound reminds me strongly of my sound on the horn. The higher I go, the more tentative and unsure it gets, but with the soprano sax I think you have even less room for error with both tone and intonation. It may well be the least forgiving instrument in the band. To my ear, only the piccolo can come close in sounding as flat out wrong.

He's mentioned a couple of times how he realizes he needs to "loosen up" his embouchure as he goes higher. Makes me think of BE. Just wrote him this in an e-mail and hope to pursue it with him:

I've been using a book/method for horn called "The Balanced Embouchure", which was written by a trumpet player and there's a horn player who has adapted the exercises for horn. Turned me around.

Here's the basic idea as it affected my playing. We tend to think the embouchure is just the muscles right at where the mouth meets the instrument. I had ended up super stressing those muscles to the point of collapse one day in rehearsal (turns out this is not unknown among the horn players I'm in touch with via the net).

The method is for brass embouchure, but I'm thinking the deep principle might help other embouchures as well.

Here's the deal - whatever you can vary in your embouchure - do it in extremes. Get used to the feeling of doing it really wrong in one direction, and then go do it just as wrong in the other direction. Doing this shows you how much deeper into your musculature your embouchure goes. If you get all of it going just right somewhere between the two extremes, not just the bit closest to and touching the instrument, your control will be much firmer, and your ability to fine tune tone and intonation much enhanced.

There is, of course, way more to the Balanced Embouchure than this, but this idea of exploring extremes to better understand and feel the middle is one of the underlying notions of BE that I want to try using in realms of music making beyond trumpet and horn embouchure.

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