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Let's share some positive embouchure change stories


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Wilktone
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I’m splitting up my responses here. If you’re not interested in one sidebar but want to read my thoughts on another, you can easily ignore what you don’t want to read.

Air Stream Direction

We’ve identified that this tubist is switching between an upstream embouchure in his low register and a downstream embouchure in his upper register. At that range where it flips he cracks the notes a lot.


Link


Quote:
For the tuba player, I'd probably say to see if they can keep the lower lip from protruding forward in the lower register, as their upper register seems to work best as with the air travelling downwards. I expect if they could play higher with the lower lip protruded they probably wouldn't be switching.


You are on the right track, but you're missing an important piece of the bigger picture. Do you recall what factors go into making one embouchure upstream and another downstream? How does that relate to this tubist?

Notice that his mouthpiece placement is very close to half and half. Most players don’t do so well with such a centered placement and set their mouthpiece either with more upper lip inside (most common).



Or they place the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside (less common).



Some players will place the mouthpiece closer to half and half, but one lip or another will predominate. If the upper lip predominates the embouchure is downstream.



Or the lower lip will predominate and the embouchure will be upstream.



Things like horn angle, lip texture and the overall embouchure formation can certainly influence the general air stream direction, but the most important factor here is mouthpiece placement. You can find downstream players with a horn angle that is close to straight out.



And you can find upstream players with a lowered horn angle.



Returning to the tubist, his mouthpiece placement is just too close to half and half for his anatomy. He’d gotten pretty good at covering up his break, but it’s not going away. Trying to have him alter his lip formation alone to keep his air stream direction consistent isn’t going to be enough, nor will it tell us whether he will play better as an upstream player or downstream player.

While recording his embouchure he gave me a very good clue on his own.


Link


Since his upper register clearly worked better upstream, and he already was playing his lower register upstream, I asked him to place his mouthpiece closer to his chin and see how it worked.


Link


The air stream flip goes away. His upper register is better. It also feels different and he can’t at first quite figure out how to firm his lips with this new placement. But with this new mouthpiece placement he has a chance to build the embouchure strength and control to eliminate his break and his high range cap.

I’ve lost touch with this tubist so I don’t know how things ended up for him. At the time I recorded his embouchure he was playing tuba on the side and was very focused on jazz piano (which he was really good at).

Quote:
In the bad old days it seems like some teachers didn’t like the look of certain embouchures and forced students to change for no other reason than it didn’t look like what they were used to. I have heard plenty of stories how this kind of thing did not end well at all.


So this tubist’s own circumstances were almost backwards. None of his teachers had bothered to suggest changing his embouchure, for no other reason than it looked normal to them.

Mouthpiece placement is quite personal. Brass musicians want to have a stable “foundation” of teeth and gums under the lips/mouthpiece rim, but it can be hard to predict what’s going to work best. Sometimes players will set somewhere to get the rim off of a particular tooth, but some players will specifically place the rim over a protruding tooth because it feels like it helps them lock in. Great players on all the brass place very high, very low, and even very much to one side or another. It’s not how it looks, it’s how it works.

For what it’s worth, my successful embouchure change was very similar to this tubist’s. I wasn’t flipping the air stream direction, but my mouthpiece placement had more upper lip inside, I was playing downstream, and I had similar range issues. Making the same change, placing my mouthpiece very low - in my case directly on the red of my upper lip - had similar results. I was able to finally play in the upper register, but I also initially struggled with accuracy and also difficulties getting a resonant sound in the low register. But after finding the mouthpiece placement that was correct for me I was able to practice the right things in the proper way so that my embouchure technique could evolve correctly.
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Wilktone
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Embouchure Motion

Quote:
Specifically, I'm confused by the discussion of embouchure motion, and not not seeing what motion you're referring to in these videos. (I mean, I'm seeing lots of things moving, but am not recognizing the up/down, left/right motions, or their significance.)

Have you explained this in more depth somewhere else, or would you be willing to expand a bit on exactly what is moving in the embouchure motion you're referring to?


I’ll do my best. Probably some way I worded something gave you the wrong impression of what to look for.

Here’s an analogy that might help. Make a fist with one hand. The skin on the back of your hand is like the firmed lips. Place your finger on the back of your hand, that represents the mouthpiece rim on the lips. Without sliding your finger on your hand, push the flesh up towards your pinky and pull it back towards your thumb.

That’s essentially what the phenomenon I’m describing is. The brass musician will push the lips up and down with the mouthpiece rim while playing. Different brass pedagogues have observed this before me, notably Donald Reinhardt. The term I prefer to use for it is “embouchure motion”.

Watch this video of these two different trumpet players again. They both place the mouthpiece with more upper lip inside, so both of their embouchures are downstream.


Link


It’s easier to spot with the first trumpet player, I think. When he ascends he pushes the mouthpiece and lips up towards the nose, then pulls them down to descend. There are other things moving around that can confuse you, but look for that broad motion of up to ascend, down to descend.

The second trumpet player does the reverse, although his embouchure motion is a little more minimal and a bit harder to spot. It’s still a general up/down motion, but he pulls down to ascend and pushes up to descend.

Like mouthpiece placement, the embouchure motion is personal to the player. It can appear to be straight up and down or it can move from one side to the other. There can be a lot of motion or it can be very minimal and hard to spot (which is why I asked all my subjects to play larger intervals to maximize the amount of embouchure motion).

But it seems to be present on all brass players, whether or not they are aware of it.


Link


I think the best view of the above trumpet player’s embouchure motion is when the camera angle is from the front and when he’s playing on his usual mouthpiece. His embouchure motion is inconsistent. Between middle C and low C he looks like he pushes up to ascend and pulls down to ascend. Between the middle C and high C he doesn’t continue pushing up, he almost starts pulling back down.

Quote:
Dave had analyzed my Embouchure Type, according to his Reinhardt Method training, and encouraged me to move the mouthpiece downward and at a slight angle as I moved downward in the register, but then to move in the opposite direction when ascending.


It’s nice to hear from you and I’m glad that my suggestions have been helpful. Foguring out your embouchure motion probably looked a little like the following video. It’s made up of some excerpts of the controlled experimentation I tried with him to see what his natural tendencies of his embouchure motion are. It’s easier to listen for tone in person, but also listen for the intonation. In this experiment when the embouchure motion is incorrect for his anatomy the pitch will sound flat during an ascending slur (or sharp during a descending slur).


Link


Quote:
In the bad old days it seems like some teachers didn’t like the look of certain embouchures and forced students to change for no other reason than it didn’t look like what they were used to. I have heard plenty of stories how this kind of thing did not end well at all.


Again, this trumpet player had sort of the opposite problem. None of his teachers noticed what wasn’t working correctly with his embouchure technique. Because they thought it looked fine, they didn’t address the actual source of his problem.
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Wilktone
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Semantics and Culture

Quote:
Getting with a Reinhardt specialist is the only way I know for this to happen. At some point, I learned that Reinhardt, who called this his “Pivot System,” later regretted using that term, since so many people confused “pivot” with “horn angle change.” I know that is what I had always thought when someone said to “pivot.”


Ultimately it doesn’t matter what we call things, as long as they are clearly understood. I prefer to use the terms that I first learned from Doug Elliott, who studied with Donald Reinhardt for I think around 10 years. Doug described them to me differently and I probably describe them differently from him.

I really hate that this information is considered the realm of a “specialist”. I also wish that we didn’t have to always attach a particular “school” of playing to these things. Good brass teaching is good brass teaching, it doesn’t matter who said it first.

Brass embouchure technique is conceptually not all that hard to grasp. Music Ed majors who play woodwind and percussion can follow. Why don’t more brass teachers make the effort?

Quote:
In my experience, Scott describes EXACTLY what people have always meant when discussing an "embouchure change." Everything else I have seen people describe on here is what I refer to as an “evolution."


It seems as if the difference between a “change” and an “evolution” is when it suits the point you’re making. I don’t think it’s fair to define an embouchure change based on whether or not it works.

I propose that for the majority of brass teachers and players, an embouchure change refers to an alteration of embouchure technique. That certainly seems to be the context that most other folks here are using. For what it’s worth, that’s the definition I use and I’m not yet convinced that a more nuanced definition is helpful.

Semantics aside, there are other interesting questions that have been alluded to here.

Quote:
In the bad old days it seems like some teachers didn’t like the look of certain embouchures and forced students to change for no other reason than it didn’t look like what they were used to. I have heard plenty of stories how this kind of thing did not end well at all.


Is this something that only happened in the past? Don’t we still see a lot of this today?

What’s actually to blame for the failed outcome? Is the poor result completely based on embouchure change itself or is it because the teacher’s advice happened to be wrong? Can we even tell the difference?

Quote:
I have not seen a single conscious and willfull "embouchure change" that was a net positive experience.


Is conscious manipulation of embouchure technique always doomed to fail? Even the correct ones?

How to we rectify the anecdotes that suggest that for some a willful embouchure change was a net positive?

Quote:
If you practice the right things (for you) in the proper way, your embouchure will inevitably look different and work differently over time.


How is a teacher to know what is the right thing to practice and the proper way for the individual student?

Are there certain objective characteristics of brass embouchure technique that teachers can look for that will suggest what is proper for the particular student?

Can embouchure analysis provide us a road map for determining what the best materials for a particular student to practice are?

Is it important for the student to understand why we are making these choices? Does it depend on if that student is planning to become a professional performer versus a professional music teacher? What about students who will do some of both or neither?

Brass pedagogy has long acknowledged that there are many facets to good instrumental performance. It’s uncontroversial that learning about things like breathing, kinesiology, music theory, aural skills, and historical context are valuable pedagogical tools and worth teaching to our students. It would be unlikely, however, to suggest that consciously working towards improvements in those areas would ruin your playing.

Here’s a goofy hypothetical example. If a trumpet student came into a jury and played Brandenburg with a swing feel and a Harry James vibrato we wouldn’t suggest that student’s performance was ruined by the act of consciously looking at historical performance practice, it was ruined by adopting the wrong one. Yet when brass teachers talk about embouchure technique that’s often what we do. If embouchure analysis and correction isn’t working don’t blame the tools, let’s figure out how to use the tools right.

If the only tool you have in the toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Mainstream brass pedagogy, at least in the United States, has traditionally dismissed the importance of embouchure analysis in favor or putting students’ attention on other areas. Many of our most revered pedagogues very specifically taught their students that rather than focus on embouchure technique the student should pay attention to something different:

    Musical expression
    Breathing
    The subdivision of the beat as you tap your foot
    A focused and resonant tone
    Just play these exercises, which will work out your problems on its own
    etc.


The common thread between all those approaches is that they rarely demonstrate an objective understanding of what good brass embouchure technique is. When any information on embouchure technique is provided it is usually not adequately covered and an awful lot of it is misleading or outright wrong. If a brass teacher admits to considering the embouchure not worth their attention, they may perhaps not be the best resource for a description of what good embouchure technique is.

We’ve ended up with generations of teachers and students who don’t quite understand what’s literally happening right under their noses. It’s created a culture of ignorance.

We can have a very interesting and productive discussion about when and how to address embouchure technique with our students, but I think we all agree that such a conversation needs to come from a place of comprehension over ignorance. There is certainly value in those traditional approaches and much that we can draw from those pedagogues.

We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Dave
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PH
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wilktone wrote:
Semantics and Culture

Quote:
In my experience, Scott describes EXACTLY what people have always meant when discussing an "embouchure change." Everything else I have seen people describe on here is what I refer to as an “evolution."


It seems as if the difference between a “change” and an “evolution” is when it suits the point you’re making. I don’t think it’s fair to define an embouchure change based on whether or not it works.


There are definitely times when adjustments in the embouchure are required. Actually, with college students this is more common than the player who needs no adjusting. I also agree that there are definitely a lot of people who are ignorant and under qualified to figure out what needs to be changed and how to do it. My contention is not that embouchures shouldn't be fixed. I also hate the kind of teaching that simply assigns literature (etudes, solos, etc) and tells the student that they did it ok or they didn't do it ok. If the student doesn't improve the teacher assumes the student is either not working hard (often not true) or is simply untalented (which I believe is BS). That isn't teaching a brass instrument that's being an "etude checker.'

My gripe is not with assessing the problems a student has and making adjustments. My experience is that as soon as someone thinks they need an "embouchure change" they have a traumatic freak out that most don't recover from. They become obsessed with the physical and lose sight of the goal. It should be the teacher's job to analyze the problem, prescribe a diet of the proper things to practice, demonstrate the proper way to practice those things (including modeling a target sound to pursue-which should vary according to each student's needs). Then each lesson is an assessment of progress by the teacher, a new assignment, presenting a new model sound, etc. Over time, a teacher who really knows what they are doing can change the way a player plays by adjusting their daily routine while keeping the student from becoming frustrated or obsessive.

Virtually every student I know who spent a long period of time working with Carmine Caruso came out the other side with an embouchure that looked and functioned differently than when they started. I certainly did.

Virtually every student I know who spent a long period of time working with William Adam came out the other side with an embouchure that looked and functioned differently than when they started. I certainly did.

But, although the embouchure changed over time, that is not what I would call an embouchure change.

Quote:
In the bad old days it seems like some teachers didn’t like the look of certain embouchures and forced students to change for no other reason than it didn’t look like what they were used to. I have heard plenty of stories how this kind of thing did not end well at all.


Quote:
Is this something that only happened in the past? Don’t we still see a lot of this today?

What’s actually to blame for the failed outcome? Is the poor result completely based on embouchure change itself or is it because the teacher’s advice happened to be wrong? Can we even tell the difference?


What is to blame is the ignorance of the teacher, the insistence on a standard way an embouchure should look (which is BS) and an inability to dignose problems and prescribe solutions.

Quote:
I have not seen a single conscious and willfull "embouchure change" that was a net positive experience.


Quote:
Is conscious manipulation of embouchure technique always doomed to fail? Even the correct ones?


I haven't seen one work yet.

Quote:
How to we rectify the anecdotes that suggest that for some a willful embouchure change was a net positive?


See above.

Quote:
If you practice the right things (for you) in the proper way, your embouchure will inevitably look different and work differently over time.


Quote:
How is a teacher to know what is the right thing to practice and the proper way for the individual student?


This is where the teacher needs to do their homework and learn how to dignose problems and prescribe solutions. Those teachers are actually quite rare. Chop doctors only became "specialists" because so many rank and file brass teachers are not sufficiently knowledgable and skilled as teachers. Most so called brass teachers should more properly be called style coaches.

Quote:
Are there certain objective characteristics of brass embouchure technique that teachers can look for that will suggest what is proper for the particular student?

Can embouchure analysis provide us a road map for determining what the best materials for a particular student to practice are?


Yes. Absolutely. Experience is the best teacher, along with a willingness to experiment and observe. But the things Reinhardt has written in the Encyclopedia and Manual are probably the best things I've seen in writing and confirmed everything I have learned through experience and observation.

Quote:
Is it important for the student to understand why we are making these choices? Does it depend on if that student is planning to become a professional performer versus a professional music teacher? What about students who will do some of both or neither?


It is a distraction for the student to know some of this until they are "coming out the other side" IMO. The teacher's job is to diagnose and prescribe. The student's job is to just do it. The teacher needs to trust the teacher and commit to their role in the process.

Bottom line to me is that if a student gets a good start (which rarely happens due to so much poor teaching of beginners) they rarely need the kind of help we are talking about. The issue is unfortunately usually an issue that a frustrated student with ingrained bad habits finally finds a competent teacher who can help them. Then the process includes not only creating a good approach, but weaning a well established habit of inefficency.
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Robert P
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PH wrote:
If you practice the right things (for you) in the proper way, your embouchure will inevitably look different and work differently over time. I suspect this is exactly what has happened in the above mentioned anecdote about Doc S. I have never heard any stories of him going throuigh an "ambouchure change," and I know quite a few people who know him really well.

I've heard Doc talk many times about an embouchure crash and burn he went through in his youth as the result of monkeying around with his embouchure, pulling the mouthpiece down farther and how he got to where he couldn't play at all and it took him a while to get it together and function at a professional level again. He said after that experience he had a "bugaboo" about it, realizing that it was possible to lose your lip and that he was conscious of making sure he had enough upper lip in the mouthpiece. His teacher Benny Baker got on him about taking too long to set up due to his fear about not having it anchored enough.

At some point he obviously revisited monkeying around with his embouchure and placement, this time with good results.

Here are some pics - he made an obvious, deliberate change. If you don't see that he's playing on a different embouchure you're actively embracing denial. He went from being a great player to being the Doc Severinsen we eventually came to know. Not just his range, but overall what he could do on the horn.

1950's - see how high his placement is? It's about as high as Harry James' placement. A strong player but he didn't have an Eb over dub C at this point, he wouldn't have been able to pull off various charts he later could.






1980's - see the difference?







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hibidogrulez
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PH wrote:
In my experience, Scott describes EXACTLY what people have always meant when discussing an "embouchure change." Everything else I have seen people describe on here is what I refer to as an "evolution.

With all due respect, an evolution is a change too. What you're doing is replacing the term 'change' with 'revolution', which you then disagree with by claiming it's not 'revolution', but 'evolution'.

PH wrote:
It is a distraction for the student to know some of this until they are "coming out the other side" IMO. The teacher's job is to diagnose and prescribe. The student's job is to just do it. The student needs to trust the teacher and commit to their role in the process.
...
Those teachers are quite rare.

That seems a bit of a contradiction. How does a a student know whether their teacher is right for them? There's no point in getting a teacher if you're gonna ignore them anyway and cowboy on your own, sure. But blindly trusting a teacher isn't neccesarily the answer either. The 'obey orders, no questions' method works form some, but for others, it holds them back tremendously. And for yet others, they achieve the best results by not having a teacher at all.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 1:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hibidogrulez wrote:
The thread has derailed a bit but the discussion is very informatve and insightful. Nice.

Doc is an embouchure change success story. Granted, he went from being a great player to being a phenomenal player.

Quote:
PH wrote:
It is a distraction for the student to know some of this until they are "coming out the other side" IMO. The teacher's job is to diagnose and prescribe. The student's job is to just do it. The student needs to trust the teacher and commit to their role in the process.
...
Those teachers are quite rare.

That seems a bit counterintuïtive. How does a a student know whether their teacher is right for them? There's no point in getting a teacher if you're gonna ignore them anyway and cowboy on your own, sure. But blindly trusting a teacher isn't neccesarily the answer either. The 'obey orders, no questions' method works form some, but for others, it holds them back tremendously. And for yet others, they achieve the best results by not having a teacher at all.

I had a number of teachers who didn't have a clue how to help my problems. They were fine for those whose embouchure didn't have issues - they could assign exercises and evaluate whether you sounded okay or not, correct certain fine points of technique but for someone like me struggling at the starting gate with an uncooperative setup, they had no idea. I took lessons from one old duffer who declared himself a "master of embouchures". He wanted me to adopt a setup like his but his physiognomy couldn't have been any different than mine. He had probably the thinnest lips I've ever seen on a human, played with a bunched chin kind of setup.

This same old guy claimed he had "played 1st chair over Doc Severinsen". I'll eat my hat if he and Doc were ever even in the same building.

The one benefit I derived from him as far as chops, albeit completely indirectly was it got me started thinking about embouchures and that there might be more than one way to approach it. The specific input he gave was utterly useless, actually worse than useless, it was counterproductive.


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Trumpetingbynurture
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 2:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hibidogrulez wrote:

PH wrote:
It is a distraction for the student to know some of this until they are "coming out the other side" IMO. The teacher's job is to diagnose and prescribe. The student's job is to just do it. The student needs to trust the teacher and commit to their role in the process.
...
Those teachers are quite rare.

That seems a bit counterintuïtive. How does a a student know whether their teacher is right for them? There's no point in getting a teacher if you're gonna ignore them anyway and cowboy on your own, sure. But blindly trusting a teacher isn't neccesarily the answer either. The 'obey orders, no questions' method works form some, but for others, it holds them back tremendously. And for yet others, they achieve the best results by not having a teacher at all.


I'm actually with Pat for this one.

If a student was able to self-diagnose and correct their playing, they wouldn't have problems to start with.
A student trying to work through their problems on their own is a long, difficult journey. There are millions of words and hundreds of books that all have slightly or wildly different answers. A student will have the same issue knowing what information to trust as they would with knowing which teacher to trust with the added hurdle of having to understand their problem, sort for the correct answer, and then correctly apply the solution.

Trumpet playing problems are also often complex. It's not just you're doing X wrong, it's that X is wrong, which means ABCDE&F are all trying to compensate as well, so you go in and just change X and they change might solve a specific problem you have, but also create other problems elsewhere. Around you go, chasing your tail trying to fix the problems as they pop up.

The psychological doubt that arises from having an absolute sea of advice and information is that you never really have any confidence that the solution you try is the right one *long term*. Many things give short term gains and long term troubles.

The best thing generally, which I think is what Pat is saying, is to gently nudge things so that the whole balance of playing mechanics slowly shifts towards some ideal. And there is real wisdom to this, and a good teacher can hear and see and intuit what is causing problems and assign something (an exercise or calisthenic) that nudges things in the right direction, and that shifts the balance of the entire system gradually rather than forcing a direct change.

Direct change can also work, but is more risky than the gentle intervention. If a teacher assigns a (not extreme) corrective exercise, and it doesn't produce the desired result, it also generally doesn't ruin the person's ability to play. Often, they'll still get some benefit regardless, because practice has that effect, it just may not the one you wanted. It could take you 10 different exercises to find the one that nudges the system the way it needs to go, and the student would still progress, just not as much as when they get the corrective exercise that is most useful for them.
A direct change, however, if you get it wrong even once, a student won't just stall, they'll get worse, and the more you invest in that incorrect intervention, the harder it will be to go back to where you were to start with. The risk is much higher. Only teachers who have really studied embouchures pretty seriously should probably make any direct changes IMO.
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Trumpetingbynurture
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 3:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wilktone wrote:
I’m splitting up my responses here. If you’re not interested in one sidebar but want to read my thoughts on another, you can easily ignore what you don’t want to read.


Darn it, my guess at solutions was wrong for both players Cue sad trombone riff.

Is there a consolation prize?
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 6:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a great discussion and I appreciate the dignified respect shown. Thanks you.

Can I silently praise the fact that certain members are not participating?
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hibidogrulez
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Robert P wrote:
hibidogrulez wrote:
The thread has derailed a bit but the discussion is very informatve and insightful. Nice.

Doc is an embouchure change success story. Granted, he went from being a great player to being a phenomenal player.

Yeah, when I read back my post I noticed that wasn't the case. I'd meant to remove it. You're absolutely right.
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hibidogrulez
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trumpetingbynurture wrote:
The best thing generally, which I think is what Pat is saying, is to gently nudge things so that the whole balance of playing mechanics slowly shifts towards some ideal. And there is real wisdom to this, and a good teacher can hear and see and intuit what is causing problems and assign something (an exercise or calisthenic) that nudges things in the right direction, and that shifts the balance of the entire system gradually rather than forcing a direct change.

Direct change can also work, but is more risky than the gentle intervention. If a teacher assigns a (not extreme) corrective exercise, and it doesn't produce the desired result, it also generally doesn't ruin the person's ability to play. Often, they'll still get some benefit regardless, because practice has that effect, it just may not the one you wanted. It could take you 10 different exercises to find the one that nudges the system the way it needs to go, and the student would still progress, just not as much as when they get the corrective exercise that is most useful for them.

A direct change, however, if you get it wrong even once, a student won't just stall, they'll get worse, and the more you invest in that incorrect intervention, the harder it will be to go back to where you were to start with. The risk is much higher. Only teachers who have really studied embouchures pretty seriously should probably make any direct changes IMO.

For the most part, I can agree with what you (and Pat) are saying. It's not that I disagree with the approach, quite the opposite. My main issue is with the flat-out dismissal of any 'success stories' that don't follow this approach. If you can get a teacher that does all of the above, then that's great! However, those teachers are hard to find, in part because the teacher that is awesome for someone else may not be the perfect match for you.

Trumpetingbynurture wrote:
If a student was able to self-diagnose and correct their playing, they wouldn't have problems to start with.

That's more or less what I had to do though. When I was still taking lessons, I didn't know I was able to self-diagnose. All gentle nudges by my teachers (who were all excellent teachers) simply didn't land. A paradigm shift opened my eyes and set me on the right track. I'd prefer Pat's approach if at all possible, but sometimes you need a real eye-opener, not gentle nudge no. #1702.
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Wilktone
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
This is a great discussion and I appreciate the dignified respect shown.


I agree.

Quote:
It's not that I disagree with the approach, quite the opposite. My main issue is with the flat-out dismissal of any 'success stories' that don't follow this approach.


Exactly! These discussions frequently devolve into an either/or proposition. And when brass playing schools and our mentors are brought into it, questioning or criticizing one thing can feel like a rejection of the whole package.

Black and white differences are fun to consider in the abstract, but teaching and learning exists on a continuum. When we recognize this it offers all sorts of opportunities to improve our teaching. It opens up the opportunity understand context and change our approach accordingly.

Quote:
Darn it, my guess at solutions was wrong for both players Cue sad trombone riff.

Is there a consolation prize?


I didn’t give anyone enough information to know what the natural tendencies for either player were. Your guesses were wrong, but you nailed the process.

You correctly identified the issues with both players and made educated guesses for what would work better for them. You also recognized that there were other ways it could possibly go, which meant that you had a path to make corrections based on how those students respond to your first guess. Notice that I also checked your guesses in my process. Even if I think I know what should be happening, I will check the opposite to be certain.

Quote:
Doc is an embouchure change success story. Granted, he went from being a great player to being a phenomenal player.


Thanks for posting those photographs, they are interesting to see. I was already aware that Doc Severinsen was an upstream player (note his low mouthpiece placement in the later photos), but I had not noticed how much change his mouthpiece placement went through, I had assumed he always played that way.

Quote:
My experience is that as soon as someone thinks they need an "embouchure change" they have a traumatic freak out that most don't recover from. They become obsessed with the physical and lose sight of the goal.


Yes, there are some people who will freak out over the very idea of an “embouchure change” or are reluctant to consider one. There are many reason why:

    Cultural bias against embouchure analysis
    Fear of failure
    Fear of looking bad in front of their peers and colleagues
    An inflated opinion of how good they actually are
    Fear of harming their professional reputation
    Shame at not having fixed their issues earlier
    Professional or school performing obligations that won’t allow them time to make fixes “cold turkey”
    A prior experience making an embouchure change that was ineffective
    Etc.


So if the freak out is the reason why we should avoid changing student’s embouchures, then there are ways to address the student’s psychological state without omitting important information or misinforming them of our intentions.

In medicine they have an ethical obligation for “informed consent.” What we’re doing isn’t as important as health care, but I tend to lean towards that value. As long as my student has the intellectual and emotional maturity to understand what I’m recommending, I am fine with explaining my reasoning to them. If they fixate on it when they shouldn’t be, I adjust their focus rather than omitting information.

Of course some people don’t care, they just want to fix their problem and get back to making music. That’s fine too, as long as they aren’t going to become teachers.

And some folks are eager to make an embouchure change (sometimes too much). Please note the reaction of the trumpet player at the end as he began to experience how much easier it was for him to play after working within his natural tendencies, instead of against it:


Link


He is certainly not freaking out, he’s excited about making the correction. I haven’t followed up with him in a while, but last I heard (a couple of years after he participated in my research) he was still playing and the corrections I suggested were still working for him. He is another example of a conscious embouchure change that was successful.

Quote:
Over time, a teacher who really knows what they are doing can change the way a player plays by adjusting their daily routine while keeping the student from becoming frustrated or obsessive.


That’s possible when the student is taking regular lessons from the same teacher, but that’s not the same for every student in every studio. Just because it is possible doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for everyone all the time.

Quote:
Virtually every student I know who spent a long period of time working with Carmine Caruso came out the other side with an embouchure that looked and functioned differently than when they started. I certainly did.


I wish you would abandon this line of reasoning, I don’t think it’s very compelling.

Virtually every student I know who spent four years playing in high school band came out the other side with an embouchure that looked and function differently than when they started. Virtually every student who studied with [insert someone else’s mentor] long term came out the other side with different embouchure. Virtually every studio that has been around long enough has had players quit because they weren’t getting what they needed. Virtually every studio has had players come out playing better, but not up to their full potential. Virtually every studio has had students who took what they liked while going their own way with the things they were being taught.

This is not a logical path that addresses the question of whether an embouchure change can be successful or not.

Quote:
Quote:
Is conscious manipulation of embouchure technique always doomed to fail? Even the correct ones?


I haven't seen one work yet.

Quote:
How to we rectify the anecdotes that suggest that for some a willful embouchure change was a net positive?


See above.


I know you aren’t being patronizing on purpose, but as someone on the other side, having experienced a conscious and deliberate embouchure change that was very successful for me, it does kind of feel like it.

I would like you to consider that your environment may be skewed towards not seeing embouchure changes “in the wild.” The mentors you mention expressly discouraged conscious embouchure change, so you aren’t going to see any examples in their studio, nor will you see that in your studio if you happen to teach the same way. It might be that the reason you don’t see it is because your studio (and maybe the ones around you) is already self-selected against it. It is also entirely possible that most of the failures you’ve seen were due to making the wrong change.

And just as a reminder, I agree with this:

Quote:
It's not that I disagree with the approach, quite the opposite. My main issue is with the flat-out dismissal of any 'success stories' that don't follow this approach.


I am interested in hearing about are your preferred solutions to the tubist and trumpet player that I posted about above. What methods would you use to teach them how to play without telling them how to play? How would you get the tubist to move his placement to where his tendencies make it work best without telling him to to that? How would you help that trumpet player to keep the direction of his embouchure motion working consistently in all registers without telling him how to do that?

Quote:
Chop doctors only became "specialists" because so many rank and file brass teachers are not sufficiently knowledgable and skilled as teachers. Most so called brass teachers should more properly be called style coaches.


Yes. I feel that it is because of mainstream brass pedagogy’s failure to accurately address embouchure technique over keeping our students’ attention off their embouchures. You can do both.

Quote:
It is a distraction for the student to know some of this until they are "coming out the other side" IMO.


We can have a good discussion of the pros and cons of waiting. I’m happy that you agree it’s important for students to get it at some point, but we don’t really deflect other facets of brass technique the way we do with embouchure. Imagine if we taught the proper fingerings similar to how many well-regarded brass pedagogues teach embouchure.

“Create the proper mental image of what an A sounds like. Don’t consciously try to press down the valves to create that note, that will mess you up. Now play this fingering exercise that is designed to help you unconsciously discover which valves to push down.” That would obviously be a ridiculous method to teach a student about fingerings. But that’s sort of how the field as a whole teaches embouchure.

Dave
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JWG
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wanted to add another embouchure "technique" to this string of posts:

In addition to "puckering" my lips more when I get tired to offset my fatigue and increase my endurance during long stints playing, I have one other embouchure "technique" that I employ for notes above high C: the "smile" method.

How to do it? . . . hard to explain, but just try buzzing higher and higher in pitch until you start engaging the upper cheek muscles that you use to smile. Then replicate the same thing with the mouthpiece and then add the trumpet. For me, the "smile" method works like a charm when I need to hit a clear, strong note between C and G above the staff without pinching the note.
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JayKosta
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

JWG wrote:
...
How to do it? . . . hard to explain, but just try buzzing higher and higher in pitch until you start engaging the upper cheek muscles that you use to smile. Then replicate the same thing with the mouthpiece and then add the trumpet. For me, the "smile" method works like a charm when I need to hit a clear, strong note between C and G above the staff without pinching the note.

----------------------------------
It would help if you elaborate on how your lips actually 'move' or 'react' when you 'engage the upper cheek muscles'.

Are you stretching and thinning your lips into a 'smile' configuration? Or is the muscle engagement producing extra tension or stiffness to your lips WITHOUT a significant change of lip position.
Also, does the muscle engagement affect your jaw position, or teeth separation?

That type of detailed information and clarity is necessary for someone to understand, and perhaps attempt to do the technique.

Jay
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Steve A
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2020 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wilktone wrote:
The Embouchure Motion

Quote:
Specifically, I'm confused by the discussion of embouchure motion, and not not seeing what motion you're referring to in these videos. (I mean, I'm seeing lots of things moving, but am not recognizing the up/down, left/right motions, or their significance.)

Have you explained this in more depth somewhere else, or would you be willing to expand a bit on exactly what is moving in the embouchure motion you're referring to?


I’ll do my best. Probably some way I worded something gave you the wrong impression of what to look for.

Here’s an analogy that might help. Make a fist with one hand. The skin on the back of your hand is like the firmed lips. Place your finger on the back of your hand, that represents the mouthpiece rim on the lips. Without sliding your finger on your hand, push the flesh up towards your pinky and pull it back towards your thumb.

That’s essentially what the phenomenon I’m describing is. The brass musician will push the lips up and down with the mouthpiece rim while playing. Different brass pedagogues have observed this before me, notably Donald Reinhardt. The term I prefer to use for it is “embouchure motion”.

Watch this video of these two different trumpet players again. They both place the mouthpiece with more upper lip inside, so both of their embouchures are downstream.

(ETC...)


Ah, I understand, and see what you mean. Admittedly, I have no idea how that's reflected in my own playing, or that of my students, but I'll give it some thought and observation.

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain this. I really appreciate it!
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2020 6:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd like the discussion of 'teaching technique' to continue. I think a lot of good information has been presented, and it helps us understand what can be helpful to actually 'teach', and how written / spoken / demonstrated material can 'learned'.

I don't think it's necessary to promote any particular playing technique, but to concentrate on what is needed to convey information about how technique is described, taught, and learned. And that can include 'methods' that do not explicitly emphasize technique, but which develop good technique along the course of the method.

Jay
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Trumpetingbynurture
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2020 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

JayKosta wrote:
I'd like the discussion of 'teaching technique' to continue. I think a lot of good information has been presented, and it helps us understand what can be helpful to actually 'teach', and how written / spoken / demonstrated material can 'learned'.

I don't think it's necessary to promote any particular playing technique, but to concentrate on what is needed to convey information about how technique is described, taught, and learned. And that can include 'methods' that do not explicitly emphasize technique, but which develop good technique along the course of the method.

Jay


Yes, there's definitely implicit and explicit approaches.

I think a good teacher moves backwards and forwards. You start a student by explicitly giving some direction on how to form their embouchure etc. Then you move to implicit by giving them practice material, then back to explicit if they start doing actually problematic stuff (rather than normal deviation) like breathing in a weird or unnatural way etc. Implicit is probably better for more advanced players except when they are having a significant issue/barrier that a simple correction can solve, like in the demo that Dave posted. Explicitly changing their pivot created an immediate improvement. Then they go offer and practice that in a more implicit context with music and exercises etc.
Explicit instruction can not become habit without implicit instruction, and implicit instruction will not always solve problems and will sometimes take years to solve things that could be achieved in a couple of lessons.

Of course, good teachers are good teachers and will solve the problem one way or another and probably work both ways simultaneously. It's not one or the other, but which and when I think.

Thoughts?
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Wilktone
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2020 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Yes, there's definitely implicit and explicit approaches.


A while back I did some research of the literature into comparing these two methods, looking at motor skill development in general and development of music instrumental technique specifically. Here are some things that I came away with:

    Research comparing an unblended approach of one to an unblended approach of the other suggest it’s better for a student to be given an implicit (goal oriented) approach, at least in the short term. Some of the research done in this area has inconsistent results, however. Not to mention that no one really teaches completely one way or another.

    Some authors criticize the methodology for the above studies because they often provided the explicit (detail oriented) instructions all at once, rather than splitting them up into manageable chunks. This skews the results away from explicit instructions. Again, no one really teaches that way.

    There’s also some question about what is better long term as the results there have been inconsistent, depending on what and how you’re measuring things.


But it’s very important to note that a large body of this research is concerned with comparing approaches in an either/or situation. Research that uses a blended approach combining both suggests that this is more effective than either one alone.

If you want more information about this topic I’ve written up a summary of my literature review here and from there you can link to an academic paper on the topic (in case you have insomnia).

https://wilktone.com/?p=4295

Quote:
Admittedly, I have no idea how that's reflected in my own playing, or that of my students, but I'll give it some thought and observation.


I’m glad that you can see what I meant by the term “embouchure motion” now, Steve. As far as how to apply that to your situations, simple observation is the best place to start. Watch yourself in a mirror while you warm up or practice range extension exercises and such, or better still, video record yourself so you don’t spread your focus too thin. Watch how it works on your students and brass players around you. If you remain observant enough you’ll begin to see patterns in what players’ embouchure motions when things are working well and other patterns where things aren’t so good. That provides you with a process by which you can then do some carefully controlled experimentation and see what physical motion works best for each individual student. How you choose to convey that information is up to you and the student’s situation/mindset/etc., but at least you can put that into context.

Quote:
I wanted to add another embouchure "technique" to this string of posts:


I’ve very intentionally not commented on anyone else’s embouchure change here unless I’ve seen it already. I’ve speculated to myself about what everyone has posted about their embouchure changes, but I don’t have enough context to make me confident enough to offer my guess if someone is on the right track or getting better at playing “wrong.”

A lot of how someone describes what they’re doing is going to depend on where they were and what direction they are moving in. For example, a brass musician with their lower lip not held firmly enough might find rolling their lower lip in to work very well, but a brass musician who rolls their lower lip in too far would want to allow it to be blown out more. For someone who has their mouth corners coming inward towards the mouthpiece rim it might feel like smiling to ascend works, while someone who pulls the mouth corners back might be helped by puckering more.

Three Basic Embouchure Patterns

If you’ve followed our discussion from earlier you hopefully now understand the relationship between mouthpiece placement and air stream direction. When a brass musician places the mouthpiece higher on the lips (closer to the nose) so that the upper lip predominates the air stream gets blown down and the embouchure can be said to be “downstream.” A minority of players do the reverse, and play best with a mouthpiece placement with more lower lip inside (closer to the chin) and the air stream gets blown up. Those embouchures can be said to be “upstream.”

You also hopefully are now aware of how all brass musicians will push and pull their lips and mouthpiece together along the teeth and gums while changing registers. Some players will ascend by pushing their mouthpiece and lips up while others pull down to ascend. The amount players do this as well as any side to side deviations depend on the individual player, but all brass players seem to use this embouchure motion to some degree.

Using those two universal features of brass embouchure technique it’s possible to categorize pretty much any brass embouchure into one of these three basic patterns.

Downstream/Embouchure Motion Up To Ascend

This embouchure type is probably the most common. Mouthpiece placement is downstream, so there is more upper lip inside. These players push the mouthpiece and lips up to ascend and pull down to descend. Mouthpiece placement tends to be quite high, usually close to 70% upper lip, but can be higher or lower. The horn angle tends to be close to straight out with the teeth more or less aligned, but more rarely these players have a lowered horn angle.


Link


Link


Link


Link

Downstream/Embouchure Motion Down To Ascend

This embouchure pattern is also pretty common. Mouthpiece placement still has more upper lip inside, but it tends to be closer to 50/50 than the above embouchure pattern, but there will always be more upper lip inside. These players pull the mouthpiece and lips down to ascend and push up to descend. These players tend to play best with a slightly receded jaw position and a horn angle that is somewhat tilted down, but there are exceptions.


Link


Link


Link
Quote:
https://youtu.be/hP6tl1ZaJy4


Link


Upstream/Embouchure Motion Down To Ascend

This is the least common of these three basic patterns. There is more lower lip inside the mouthpiece, placement can look anywhere from just lower than 50/50 to barely any upper lip inside. These players pull the mouthpiece and lips together down to ascend and push up to descend. It’s most common for these players to play with a horn angle close to straight out (or even higher) and teeth aligned (or even lower teeth a bit in front of the upper teeth), but there are some that do better with their jaw slightly receded and a lowered horn angle.


Link


Link


Link


Link


Link


This first, and most important, consideration of the above for teachers is simply to be aware of these patterns and know that they exist. When confronted with students who are struggling these models can be a road map for how to analyze embouchure technique and how to make certain corrections. All, or even most, embouchure problems aren’t directly related to what embouchure type the student is, but these are important variables that, I feel, brass teachers should consider when assigning practice materials. When you’re familiar enough with these types you’ll begin to see how players who correctly play with similar embouchure patterns respond differently to certain types of practice compared with students who have a different pattern. Teachers who are very comfortable with this information can use it to create very personalized routines and suggestions for each individual student and help them learn to work with, rather than against, their natural embouchure tendencies.

If you are interested in getting even more detail, I have published much more about it here.

https://wilktone.com/?page_id=5619

Dave
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Dkjcliff
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2020 12:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a fascinating discussion. I'll add my recent personal experience to the mix.

I'm in my fifth month or so of a comeback after many years off playing. During this period I've been experimenting a lot with my embouchure set-up. In my younger years, I played with a fairly pronounced down angle, particularly in the upper register, and played in the red of the upper lip. As you might expect, I relied on pressure far too much, to the extent that I rarely experienced much fatigue in my facial muscles. I would only need to rest to allow the blood to circulate in my chops again. But I guess my lips were resilient enough and I had enough control of my air column to become a pretty decent player despite this problem.

Now in my comeback, the thing I have focused most on changing is moving my placement up so that I am not playing in the red of the upper lip. In past years a lot of exercises geared toward building embouchure strength and flexibility never made sense to me because I never really engaged the muscles. Lip slurs and long tones were all controlled by pressure and air speed for me. I am now finally realizing how to control pitch, volume, etc. with your embouchure muscles in tandem with air.

With the more upper placement of the mouthpiece and increased strength and control in my embouchure, I am finding myself gradually moving toward a more straight-out horn angle and an even jaw/lip placement. I also have begun to roll my upper lip in to ascend. When I play this way, I gain about a third in my range and I feel I have greater control over the high register. But over the course of my daily practice routine, I lose the strength to maintain this set-up and gradually move to a more downward angle with my upper lip overlapping my lower lip, which I am more accustomed to. I am still very conscious to avoid pressure and engage my embouchure muscles so it doesn't concern me that this change occurs.

For a while I was going back and forth between trying to maintain the straight-out horn angle/even jaw set-up, and just forgetting it and focusing on my downward angle set-up. But this discussion is helping me realize that I may be experiencing a gradual shift in my set-up. As I continue to strengthen my muscles, I am increasingly able to control and use the straight-out angle for longer periods. So I continue to use that set-up as much as possible, but not get down on myself when I need to switch to a more downward angle to practice other things that I want to play. I think over time I might end up with the straight-out angle set-up or something in between.

It's been an interesting process and has made me feel that experimentation in various embouchure techniques and set-ups can be critical. When I was younger, I never thought about my set-up and no teacher ever discussed it with me other than reminding me to use less pressure. But pressure was so fundamental to my technique that I couldn't even conceptualize how one could play with far less of it. I think that if you feel you're not playing as well as you would like and you can sense your set-up might be part of the reason, giving yourself the opportunity to take an extended period of time to break it all down and experiment is invaluable.
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