Bert Lochs' subtle understanding of the Balanced Embouchure principles constantly amazes me. If there were a worldwide list of sanctioned BE teachers, Bert would be at or near the very top.
-Jeff Smiley (trumpet pedagogue and writer/developer of The Balanced Embouchure)
Sooner or later almost every trumpet player is confronted with embouchure limitations and chop problems. Change of mouthpiece, embouchure change, braces,other teacher, dental problems, playing a different kind of music, having to play more and longer etc. Lack of endurance, jaw/throat/tooth/lip aches, bad tone, split notes, limited range and even focal dystonia. Solutions vary from creative to downright nonsense and as Jeff Smiley calls it 'bag of tricks'. For some of the players it helps to solve their playing problems, but a lot get stuck or get into trouble even deeper. More than once, people stop playing the trumpet because they think they don't have 'what it takes', but maybe the method or the teacher does not 'have what it takes' to make it work for this student.
Just to be absolutely clear: There is no magical method or quick fix. Developing an efficient embouchure takes time, commitment and a lot of patience. Somebody who claims to have gained an octave and plays the lead chair for six hours on end after a month of method this and that, is lying. Of course, there are always people who can. But for most of us it is very important to choose the right way. It is how you practice and what you practice that counts.
A little story about myself: when I was in my third year at the conservatory a C on the third line was a difficult note for me. I practiced about three to four hours a day...about practicing the right way.... Eventually I succeeded to get control again and become an outstanding jazz soloist, but my endurance, tone, range and the overall feeling was not really ideal. I had to rely on having 'a good day'. Like many trumpet players I accepted this as a fact of life. Great range and endurance had to be something for people with a lot of power and stamina. I assumed playing high, long and under control was something for the happy few.
The book 'The Balanced Embouchure' by Jeff Smiley from the United States represented a whole new approach. At this time there are more and more people that support BE, at least as much people that don't believe a word of it. In a lot of trumpet fora around the world, there are heated discussions about this method. Anyway, I ordered it, read it, and after shaking my head in disbelief for about hundred times, I found that there was some logic in this story. I had a last big laugh and started doing these very strange exercises. I can only say that I improved beyond every expectation and I think there is not one book that is so clear about how to develop your embouchure in an efficient and safe way.
The main two reasons that convinced me to try these 'outrageous exercises' (as I remember calling them in my first e-mail to Jeff Smiley) were these:
1. It is an INDIRECT method!!!!! This means that your embouchure changes gradually and not at once. When doing the exercises in the book, your old set up will fade away without having to compromise on your current playing level. When I started it was a big plunge in the deep. I did not know if it was true what the book told me and let's be honest, it took me a lot of effort, perseverance and patience. But it was the first time I ever saw so explicitly stated that a method should be applied indirectly. A direct approach was being discouraged. That was totally new for me. I went through some embouchure changes in the past and they all were pretty disastrous, at least they put me back to a much lower level and hopefully up from there (not always, alas).This book stated that I could go on playing as I was used to, and still change my set up gradually, without risking my chops to be wasted. Since I am a pro this was the only method I was in a position to try, because I did not want to cut on the gigs, and maybe more important, I did not want to jeopardize my selfconfidence by not being able to play on stage for months. It worked !!! Of course there can be days of instability (but hey, some things ARE changing, and that is why I started it in the first place, and these instabile days are absolutely nothing compared to a former 'bad day': I never went down this deep since I started the process). Since the first days my tone, range and endurance are improving and the nice thing is that even though a lot has changed already, I'm still not there. And that is great. Imagine where I will be in one year, two years, five years! I am getting better again after more than ten years of standstill!
2.There is the CD part. Nothing strange about a CD with the exercises on it. But the exercises are played by kids from 12 to 17 years of age, hmmm. Oh well, the most talented can play like that, but still: a fifteen year old playing a G over high C with this sound and control.... For me this was a brilliant pedagogical trick. It motivated me enormously, because if a fifteen year old can play something I have not been able to do my whole life, than he must be doing something good. Jeff states that everybody can learn this by doing the exercises described in the book, and I tend to believe him. I learned a lot from what I saw with some of my own students, especially the little ones, ten and eleven year olds. They can actually play G above high C with a big tone! I have seen this happening more than once. And those are no supertalents. Just ordinary kids who cannot even play Twinkle, Twinkle great, but doing the right thing with their lips. Because that is the point: it is not about power, it is about making the lips move in more or less the right direction.
The power of the book also comes from the logic in it. The exercises may sound strange at first, but they all have the basic mechanics as a starting point. What the embouchure eventually will look like will differ from person to person, but the mechanics are the same for every player.
If you are very interested at this point and want to read more, click on this link. It will bring you to Jeffs own site, and there is a lot of information to be found about the method, mechanics and lots more.
Things I gained besides range:
A few remarks:
The idea of 'misconceptions about BE' is from comeback horn player Valerie Wells. She made BE more accessable for French horn by writing an addendum for the BE book especially for French horn students. She also has an interesting blogspot about her experiences ith BE.
In an email she mentioned some misconceptions and in my years with BE I have encountered many of them, too. I thought it a good idea to put them on my pages and add a few myself. The first five are written by Valerie (I adapted the one about RO to the trumpet world, because the relaxation myth is very stubborn amongst trumpet players), the rest is from my own experience.
I hope this will contribute to a better understanding of the method for both students and teachers.Some misconceptions are very stubborn and can even undermine the process, or it can make people decide to not use BE because they are afraid of what could happen.
Misconception #1: BE is all about rolling the lips in and out
Lip rolling is only part of BE. There are tonguing exercises, snaps,
zips, breathing exercises, etc. All these elements combine to form
a development system that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Misconception #2: Roll-Out (RO) exercises are relaxation exercises.
RO is one of the two extremes. You can roll out your lips completely, or you can roll them in completely. The idea behind BE is that through these exaggerated motions you learn to move your lips in more or less the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.
From Valerie I heard that with horn students there is a specific misunderstanding that RO is meant to develop the low register. So, people think wrongly, if you already have a good low register, RO isn't necessary. In BE you need both extremes to develop a better working embouchure, so you certainly need RO as one of the two extremes.
Misconception #3: Roll-In (RI) is meant to play the high register.
RI is (just like RO) meant to teach the lips to move in more or less the right direction. The goal is of course a better tone, endurance, range (yes!) and flexibility over the whole range and do this as efficiently as possible.
Misconception #4: “Doing BE” means rolling out for low notes and rolling in for high notes.
The truth is “doing BE” means practicing the BE exercises and
following the program as designed. Directly applying lip rolling to
your regular embouchure is not BE.
Misconception #5: A correct BE embouchure is rolled out on low notes and rolled in on high notes.
There simply is no BE embouchure. If you do the exercises outlined in the book, you develop your own unique embouchure. In every register elements of RI and RO appear. One cannot predict how the embouchure will look after some time. When you start doing the exercises, try to do them with an open mind, not with preconceived ideas. That si the reason why Jeff Smiley didn't want to include video, because that way people would think that it 'has to look this or that way', thus missing the chance to let it grow and develop on its own.
Misconception #6: BE is a quick fix. That is suspicious, because you can only develop a good embouchure through working very hard.
Nowhere in the book does it say that it is a quick fix. You are invited to do the exercises and sooner or later you'll notice improvement. Nobody can predict how long it will take. Some people notice the first changes pretty quick, for others it will take years. And believe me, BE is hard work!
Misconception #7: Your tone gets thinner when you do BE.
During the RI exercises your tone doesn't necessarily gets to be very fat. By the way, that is only one of the things that happen if you are dong RI . Initially your tone will jump in every direction, expected and unexpected. Certainly something you wouldn't want in your normal playing. It's part of the process. It isn't the way you are supposed to play, it's just an exercise.
Misconception #8: BE is just for jazz trumpeters. It's only meant to play high and your tone gets much too bright and brassy.
Not only is this an insulting preconception about the goals of the jazz trumpeter , it is also false. With BE you develop a more efficient embouchure. Tone, endurance, flexibility improve, so that you will have the tone you need for the job. Besides that, there isn't one note of jazz in the whole book.
Misconception #9: I can find the lipslurs in the BE in every other book. I don't have to buy the BE book to have yet another book with lipslurs.
Well, if BE was only a book with lipslurs, then this statement would be true. BE is much more than only the lipslurs (although a lot of people I met, seem to think it isn't) and besides that there is much more to the lipslurs than mentioned in any other book. If you are looking for a book with lipflexibilities BE is not the book you'll need.
Misconception #10: In the book there is no attention for breathing, breath support , pivot, syllables or tongue arch. That can never be a good method.
So a good method is a method that confirms the traditional methods, even if they don't give the results you want?
There are some very useful breathing exercises in the book. You don't need much more than these. When doing RI, you cannot do these without the right breath support, so you are actually training this the best way possible. Things like syllables, tongue arch and pivot are not relevant. If there is an issue with these things,things tend to solve themselves during the process. very direct analysis and intervention with these parameters can lead to new problems and frustration.That is why these are not mentioned.
Misconception #11: If I only do the BE exercises, I will develop faster than when I do my rehearsals, gigs and occasional Arban and other fun things.
One of the very important things about doing BE, is not doing it. You do a BE session, and after that there is nothing in the world less important than BE. You just play the way it feels best at that moment. This way the lips will find a way to incorporate the goodies of BE.
Bert Lochs Embouchure Clinic
It is possible to hire me for a clinic. Depending on what you want the main themes can be:
The clinic is for every trumpet player (or brass player) who wants to know how to improve his or her embouchure in a safe and efficient way, from beginner to teacher. If you are interested, please send me an email. The price depends on the size of the group, content and length of the clinic.