Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jeff Smiley & Neuroscience

Here lately I've realized that the best way to explain my championing Jeff Smiley's The Balanced Embouchure is that his book and method take into account, more than any other I've encountered, what the neuroscience is telling us about music making. There are a lot of levels and systems in play, and learning how to make music means learning and getting a feel for a lot of different things and modes of behavior and getting it all to work together. 

Every time I've reread The Balanced Embouchure there have been head slapping epiphanies, and I think that's due to his covering so many bases, it's hard to hold it all in your head at the same time. Next time around I'm going to keep notes on the different aspects he covers. Then maybe I can figure out how to apply that to music making as a whole, not just embouchure formation.

A crucial part of getting all these systems working together is devising exercises that allow the brain to make it's own adjustments, as opposed to trying to tell each muscle what it should be doing. I was reminded of this by this post over on Hornmatters, where Professor Ericson puts up a letter written by one of the authors of methods he's been discussing, William C. Robinson. Here's a short quote that rang the bell for me:

. . . Think the pitch, quality and sound you want and the brain (which is the greatest computer ever invented) will tell the embouchure what to do to produce that tone. You don’t try to control the embouchure by trying to control the embouchure – instead, think the pitch, use the air and the brain will tell the embouchure what to do to produce that sound.


  1. Way cool, Lyle! Leave it to a therapist to "get it" on the neurological level. From my perspective, I'm just darn glad it works! :o) Thanks for your thoughtful attention and the generous sharing of your ideas.

  2. Hi, Valerie - Happy to help. I really do think Jeff's work is terrific. Using his book (and your extras for horn) has made all the difference in my horn playing, as well has helped me broaden and deepen my understanding of what's going on when you're learning music.