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Strength Isn't Everything!


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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 11:42 am    Post subject: Strength Isn't Everything! Reply with quote

I just wanted to share some random thoughts that I’ve been having concerning strength and balance. It seems like many posts talk about achieving a powerful sound, or the strength required to play in a certain register of the horn. Many posters will then offer suggestions to “strengthen” a particular aspect of the original poster’s playing set up. And then the original poster will respond sometime later that they have diligently taken this strengthening advice and shown some marginal improvement in that area of their playing.

I even can’t count how many times I’ve read this type of topic over the years on these forums.

In the last several months, my sons have all moved to a new gymnastics facility that recently opened in Chandler, Arizona. My boys are in different classes that are age appropriate (from 3 year olds to 6 year olds). In this brand new, fantastic facility, there are kids of all ages working out in the same area (up to high school, and maybe even a few college age gymnasts).

I am amazed at some of the strength aspects that I see in many of these young athletes. My six-year-old is able to “climb the rope” about halfway to the top. This rope is attached to the ceiling of the two story high gym and is easily 30 feet high. He uses both his hands and feet and a technique that is quite common among the kids his age (my five-year-old can’t climb higher than his coach can help him – just like my six-year-old was last year).

There are kids that are in the second grade that can climb the rope to the top (with no feet)! They keep their feet in a pike position and simply use their arms hand over hand to get to the top. Once they can do that, they climb up the rope upside down (I’m not making this up – these kids are just phenomenal with several years of “strength” training under their belts).

They also do lots of pushups, sits-ups, leg lifts, etc.

This strength work is only one aspect of being successful at gymnastics. The other major area of “technique” is of course balance.

Balance is part of everything that my boys do at gymnastics. Even my 3-year-old will jump off a tall mat and be instructed to “stick” his landing. And he has lots of fun saying, “Tah Dah” and putting his arms up in the air when he lands with both feet together. You don’t need any specialized “strength” to begin working on this aspect of gymnastics.

I was especially impressed at something that I saw last week. There was a class of boys that were probably in the 5th or 6th grade who had not been enrolled in classes before. They were all working on handstands with their instructor, and while they all had the physical strength to accomplish this task, strength is clearly not the most important element that is needed to perform a great handstand. They were all throwing their hands down at the mat and kicking their feet in the air and getting most of the way up to vertical, and it was the rare attempt that actually ended in a real hand stand for anything than more than a second or two.

Looking across the gym, the high schools girls on the balance beam were doing back handstands with apparent ease, and “no wobbling”. There was a college student that demonstrated handstands for the boys, and he very slowly bent over, put his hands on the mat and lifted his legs to a vertical position. He demonstrated both great strength and balance.

The point of this very long story is simply that the mindset of many young brass players these days, is that strength is the major aspect that needs to be pursued to achieve their goals. I know that I was of this mindset for the majority of my playing years!

Balance should be a major component in everyone’s playing day with respect to sound production! In this metaphor, How many players fall down when executing a back handstand on the balance beam and then consider that they need to be stronger to accomplish their goal? In the reading that I have done here and at other sites, strength is the answer that is presented to help this player the majority of the time.

Resonance is our balance! Learn about it! Apply it every day in your practice sessions! What was once unattainable, will suddenly come into focus, and become part of your regular accomplishments.
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Clarino
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 2:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for this post Derek, it makes a lot of sense.

Now, how do we achieve balance?
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Chris4
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It does make a lot of sense. Interesting..
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Derek Reaban
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Location: Tempe, Arizona

PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 7:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Clarino,

I’ve been writing about my journey to achieve this balance for quite a long time now. For me, the pursuit of a resonant, vibrant, colorful sound has been the key, and all that this entails. Developing an internal sound model which has sufficient clarity and intensity to compare against what is coming out the bell, breath attacks, letting the air out, playing above the zero pressure line (i.e. playing on positive air), singing my music, bombarding myself with great sounds everyday, playing to the resonant center of the horn, and NOT imposing any preconceived ideas about sound that are contrary to this goal (i.e. tighter lips for higher notes or louder sounds project better).

If you haven’t read some of my posts related to these topics, you may want to start with the one about the clinic that I attended with David Krauss in Denver. Follow the link in that post to the topic about Resonant Sound. The post about the Aperture Tunnel is also an interesting illustration of how this sound feels to me.
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MrOlds
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek,

You really should write a book. Your threads over the past year or so have covered important ground in a very clear fashion. And its all supported by thoughts from accomplished working professionals.

Its stuff that I certainly never heard as a young player. But that was waaaay back in the last century before the internet....

Regards,
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Jerry Freedman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Balance is important but not the whole story. If your boys in gymnastics did not have the strength to support themselves in a handstand, then all the balance in the world is useless. Perhaps it is better to think in terms of a yin/yang, strength vs balance. I think one without the other will get you nowhere
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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jerry,

You wrote:
”Balance is important but not the whole story.”

That’s my point exactly! For every 50 posts that provide “strength” as the solution to a variety of problems, there may be one post that even considers balance as part of the equation. One without the other leads to the inability to “solve the puzzle” related to quality sound production on a brass instrument.

I get the feeling that since balance is something that is more difficult to articulate in words, many times it is simply ignored, or at least not well enough understood to be clearly communicated. I’m sure that when my boys are ready to choose an instrument they will probably lean towards the brass family. At that point I hope that I am able to express my ideas clearly so that they are able to understand how important balance is.

Certainly strength is important, but by itself it will never allow a player to achieve the highest levels of artist performance. What I’d really like to see is more “balance” in the number of posts that provide advice to players so that strength isn’t the only thing that a novice player thinks they need to obtain to be successful in making a great sound on a trumpet.
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Kiwiman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll start climbing ropes right away in order to help develop my upper register.
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Clarino
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Derek, I have a lot of reading to do!

Hopefully this will be a good step towards straightening out a problem I've been having with my playing recently. I'll let you know how it turns out.
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mcamilleri
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Balanced Embouchure - sounds like a great name for a book...

Sorry, couldn't resist

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healey.cj
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...

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crzytptman
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 3:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I understand the point being made, but if you can't do a handstand easily it's because you lack strength in certain muscles that you normally don't use that way. It's the same for trumpet. You're not gonna get resonance without body strength to hold just the right compression on the air for the given note. You also need to have well developed facial muscles to hold just the right position for the lips to vibrate against the compressed air. I play easily because I have developed (and continue to ) strength in the neccessary musculature. I do excercises in practice sessions that increase strength in certain areas, and they aren't always musical - but they give me the strength to play in a relaxed way and make music. If I didn't have development in certain muscles, I'd just be like an average person. Average people don't play trumpet at a high level.
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healey.cj
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 4:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...

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Pops
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 4:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

.

The problem is that NOBODY can tell you with certainty from 1-5000 miles away exactly what is MISSING in YOUR balance.


Strength is a part;


Lip shape / embouchure function is a part; this is why some people play the Maggio (pucker well and others lip buzz well, while others use lip curl.
NO embouchure is perfect for everybody. I have seen every one fail multiple times.


Habits are a factor too. IF you played using a LOT of facial tension and corner tension then it is HARD (impossible for some) to change to a curl embouchure. The old habits work completely AGAINST the new embouchure.


The angle that you built your muscle at in the old embouchure is a part too. A bench press is a lot different from a decline press and a lot different from an overhead press. The ANGLE of the work is vital.


For some the balance comes from building muscle; while for some it comes from learning to relax the tension. For some balance comes from learning that mid range and low notes do NOT use lip curl in the manner that high notes can. Some get their balance by learning to use different air support in different registers and others get it from learning tongue arch. A technique that would hinder one persons playing could be the balance needed to cure another persons playing. There are hundreds of different balance issues and almost every book written talks about some of them. WithOUT seeing YOU we can't write a book that targets YOUR issues only.
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Timaeus
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

crzytptman wrote:
I understand the point being made, but if you can't do a handstand easily it's because you lack strength in certain muscles that you normally don't use that way.

No actually, one doesnt' need a great deal of strength so much as the proper approach. Trying to leap quickly into a handstand rarely works, but started in a balanced and relaxed position and moving steadily into a handstand works most of the time. Yes it takes strength to some degree, but it also takes focus and balance.

crzytptman wrote:
It's the same for trumpet. You're not gonna get resonance without body strength to hold just the right compression on the air for the given note. You also need to have well developed facial muscles to hold just the right position for the lips to vibrate against the compressed air. I play easily because I have developed (and continue to ) strength in the neccessary musculature. I do excercises in practice sessions that increase strength in certain areas, and they aren't always musical - but they give me the strength to play in a relaxed way and make music. If I didn't have development in certain muscles, I'd just be like an average person. Average people don't play trumpet at a high level.


Well, yes, we do exercises to build strength in certain areas, but it isn't just about strength. I find I play much better when I'm not trying to find "the perfect spot" in my embouchure or my support. These can vary day to day, or even hour to hour. For example, an upset stomach can really mess with the support system, but you might just have to play Pictures anyways - there isn't room (or energy) to think about just the right compression and just the right position for the lips.

Resonance requires certain levels of relaxation. Of course we have all developed certain muscles compared to the average person. But what is more important than strength is control - and that comes from a balance of relaxation, air and strength.

Or not. What do I know - I'm just a trumpet player!
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Timaeus
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

crzytptman wrote:
I understand the point being made, but if you can't do a handstand easily it's because you lack strength in certain muscles that you normally don't use that way.

No actually, one doesnt' need a great deal of strength so much as the proper approach. Trying to leap quickly into a handstand rarely works, but started in a balanced and relaxed position and moving steadily into a handstand works most of the time. Yes it takes strength to some degree, but it also takes focus and balance.

crzytptman wrote:
It's the same for trumpet. You're not gonna get resonance without body strength to hold just the right compression on the air for the given note. You also need to have well developed facial muscles to hold just the right position for the lips to vibrate against the compressed air. I play easily because I have developed (and continue to ) strength in the neccessary musculature. I do excercises in practice sessions that increase strength in certain areas, and they aren't always musical - but they give me the strength to play in a relaxed way and make music. If I didn't have development in certain muscles, I'd just be like an average person. Average people don't play trumpet at a high level.


Well, yes, we do exercises to build strength in certain areas, but it isn't just about strength. I find I play much better when I'm not trying to find "the perfect spot" in my embouchure or my support. These can vary day to day, or even hour to hour. For example, an upset stomach can really mess with the support system, but you might just have to play Pictures anyways - there isn't room (or energy) to think about just the right compression and just the right position for the lips.

Resonance requires certain levels of relaxation. Of course we have all developed certain muscles compared to the average person. But what is more important than strength is control - and that comes from a balance of relaxation, air and strength.

Or not. Whatever works for you....
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healey.cj
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...

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Pops
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 7:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

.

One reason why strength is mentioned so much is because a great many players here are comeback players and younger students.

Many of these expect for some reason to still have muscle strength even after 20-30 years of NOT playing.

They complain about their range and endurance yet they can't hold a pencil for even 30 seconds. (This is weak and shouldn't give better than a G on top of the staff usable range.)

It is a good safe bet for most of those people.

The problem is that so many people read and remember the answers and NOT the questions.

Specific questions lead to specific answers and vague questions lead to vague answers.

If 80% of the questions come from comeback players and young students then 80% of the answers MAY NOT fit the players who play 2 hours a day every day for 20 years.

You need to know which group you are in and read the question that lead to the answer.


Also we are NOT set in stone.
If you have been working on it then the thing you needed most 2 months ago is different from the thing you need the most today. A technique/embouchure/idea that you couldn't do 2 months ago might work very well now. Once habits change then new things can work.

This is why some types of embouchure changes work best in many small stages and why a teacher will give different advice to 2 different players who seem to be the same to an outside observer.
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crzytptman
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with most of the points in this thread. I would like to clarify my post by using the term "coordination", rather than balance. Muscles have to be strengthened, and then they are used repeatedly with other muscles in coordination until the desired result is acheived as a matter of "feel", and not base level manipulations. As an analogy, watch an NFL running back break for a long yardage play. After receiving the ball, he combines strength and agility (coordination of various muscles) to avoid tacklers. He is an extremely strong, well trained athlete, and yet he must remain relaxed in his power and coordination in order to successfully reach the goal. I would not be able to execute the same play, because I don't have the neccessary muscle development and coordination.
Quote:
after Armando had spent like 1/4 - 1/2 and hour telling about how to play, the man with no former experience managed to hit double high C.

There is a big difference between hitting a dbbl C and playing a dbbl C. I can run for a touchdown if nobody else is on the field and I can take my time.
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healey.cj
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...

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