Saturday, September 19, 2015

Jill K. Brown Pleased with BE

The following is a recent email exchange between Jill K. Brown and me.  

Hi Valerie,

Thought I would check in to let you know how BE is going for me. I've been at it since January and had a 5-day recording session at the beginning of July. Normally, on an extended recording session like that, I am constantly conserving my lip, hoping and praying that my endurance will hold out. The stress of pacing myself while needing to be able to really PLAY when needed has always been exhausting (both physically and mentally). Well after 5 months of BE, I was able to get to day 5 without sweating it. Don't get me wrong, there were still some moments of gauging how many more takes vs. how long my chops will last, but on Day 5, they pulled out some overdubs with high B's in them. I was a nervous wreck (old habits die hard), but was shocked that the Bs were there, over and over. At least 6 takes on a lick that normally would have had me using your Comfy Horn Strap as a sweat towel : ) I can only say that it had to be the BE that gave me the endurance (and confidence)! My section mate was using a descant and even remarked at how well I was holding up with my double.

My next question is how to turn what I call 'circus tricks' into everyday playing. I can squeal up to the F above High C now and can crawl down to the A below Double Pedal C. Unbelievable to me, honestly. But if I practice high stuff in etudes, I find that I must reset to the Rolled-In set up or else revert to my old ways of using pressure. How do I get to a place where I can roll in smoothly as I ascend? My lower lip is pretty fleshy, so it's quite a distance I must roll in for, say, RI #3 (my preferred RI exercise).

Thanks for any suggestions.
Jill, this is wonderful news, indeed! Congrats! This is what we all hope for when we start BE.

About your questions, all it takes is time to develop. I think I needed about 18 months to get to the point that playing high for a good long time felt so natural that I no longer obsessed over my chops. Of course, I was a much less experienced horn player than you at the time, so you will likely get to that point sooner than I did. Jeff Smiley says we're not supposed to think about BE when we perform, but that's kinda like telling people not to think about little brown monkeys. It's almost impossible for someone new to BE.

About resetting vs not resetting: as long as you're getting the job done with nice tone, good phrasing, etc., what does it matter how you did it? Hah! Getting it done is what counts. But, I think I had studied BE for three years before I made a serious attempt to learn to traverse all the ranges with a unified embouchure setting. I wanted my "continue flex", rolling in and out, to be more subtle & "inside the mouthpiece" so to speak.   I took my cues from Steve Park who plays all the ranges with a quite rolled-in setting. I wanted to see if that would work for me.  I learned it over a six week period using 3 octave arpeggios that started on fundamental F with both lips inside the mouthpiece, ascended to staff top F then went back down to the lowest F using a rolled-inish embouchure throughout. (Each "lap" started one half step higher until high D was the highest pitch.) But I have never needed to use this skill in actual playing. Doing it, however, did bring improvements in my overall flexibility and confidence.  This rolled-inish embouchure setting doesn't work for everyone.  Some people (like Lou Denaro) prefer using a more rolled out setting though out the registers.  Everyone is different, but BE will give you the tools you need to discover what will work best for you.  

Does that help?
Thanks for your reply, and yes! that does help. I tend to lean towards being an overachiever in life, so knowing a generic time frame of "keep doing what you're doing" is helpful. My goal is to eventually be able to gradually roll in as I ascend (rolling out while descending is so much easier!) until I can smoothly get my fat lower lip neatly tucked in without resetting. Whenever I scrutinize professional players' embouchures, most look like a smooth line while playing, which I can achieve with a completely rolled in lower lip. And for me, that RI setting produces powerful and clear notes above Bb, so I am definitely motivated.

Jill K. Brown

Friday, May 1, 2015

Erik: Two Months on BE

I received this in an email from a trumpeter who began studying BE two months ago. Although it can very greatly, it is typical for the BE student to experience notable improvements in embouchure function at the 2 month mark.  

Hi Val,
This is Erik.  Just an update.  My endurance and playing have improved dramatically.  I actually have been doing BE combined with another method.   I started with the other method a while back before I got the BE book you sent me and I just kept going with both.  The other method is a collection of exercises with no emphasis on embouchure formation, so I think it works well with BE.
I was able to play my first triple high C last week (not very loud, but still was able to hit it).  Thinking it was a fluke, I tried it again after a short break and was able to do it again.  High C which used to be an "iffy" note for me is a pretty easy note, now.  In performance, I am hitting high notes with confidence and power and the band and audience are definitely impressed.
I am determined to turn my previous weaknesses into my strengths.  Before I was known as the guy who could play but was inconsistent.  My goal is to be known for my consistency.
You mentioned to me before that I might be "thankful" that I am self-taught, and I see what you mean now!
Anyways, hope you are doing well.  I will send you another update when I get further along.
Another thing, I am able to play almost any type of mouthpiece now.  Before, I could only play big mouthpieces and would bottom out on small pieces.  Now, I am playing very well on a 10 3/4 CW.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keeping Up With The Kid

I love receiving feedback from a "fast responder."  It's interesting to see how quickly Bryan grasped the overall concepts. His insights about BE compared to other methods are interesting.  The BE exercises are not easy, so it's impressive that he could execute so many in his first "session."  I had to chuckle when he described figuring out how to "keep up with the kid."   Here's what Bryan emailed me today:  

Actually, just finished my first session. Really good. I get the whole philosophy. The other methods try to explain the different positions but really, there is so much going on, it's impossible to describe for one person, let alone every person. That's why some methods work for some people and not others. BE is not really an "embouchure" but a framework to allow people to find out how to make their chops work optimally. I've seen this concept in sports, but this is the first time I've seen this for brass playing or even music. 

I stopped after an hour because I don't want to get too zealous and hurt myself, but I made a lot of progress. I feel like could go all night, but I know my lips probably need a rest more than I can tell.

I believe the key to this system is to stick with it until my muscles figure it out and the mechanics get stored in muscle memory. When I got stuck, the tips in the book really helped out. I was able to get RO1, 2 and 3 down pretty good today with a strong pedal sound. RO4 is still shaky, but I will get it soon. I was able to get the RI's too, just need to work at it so I have better accuracy and sound. Some attempts were very good, so I know I am on the right track.

I had a hard time at first with the RI tone--also, I was running out of breath within seconds, so I knew I was doing something wrong since the kid on the CD was going on forever.  So I checked the tips. I was keeping my lips too far apart, due to having the mp too low (previous embouchure). Adjusted, brought my lips closer together and it worked like a charm. Since it was a smaller aperture, i didn't need as much air, so I was able to keep up with the kid. 

Also, the tonguing on the lips was very natural for me and I can see how it is a good gauge of lips position. In fact, with my new setup, tonguing on the lips is the only way I can tongue, which was unthinkable before.

Anyways, things are going well, so far. Looking forward to more. Will keep you posted.

Thanks, Bryan

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Andrew Joy & Mouthpiece Independence

"One of the great beauties of BE for me is that I am now relatively mouthpiece independent. Meaning for the horn that I can instantly play on a variety of horn mouth pieces and feel fairly comfortable immediately as well as very easily switching to trumpet and or trombone. Apart from that, I now own the G above high C and everything in between. The sound in this upper register keeps filling out and improving in quality. And it just keeps on getting easier. The end is nowhere in sight. At this stage of my life and career, I find it rather fascinating and exciting."  
~Andrew Joy

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

BE for All High Brass

Oft times, high brass players quickly find improvements in endurance before they've even learned all the BE exercises in spite of the difference between the instruments. Alan Greene's experience quoted below is very similar to Tzippi's experience (s  Responses like this are typical for BE'ers on all high brass. 
Hi  Valerie – I just wanted to relay a brief progress report.  I can get 5 of the 7 double pedals in RO#1 pretty consistently.  I occasionally get the 6th with good tone, but not every time.  The interesting thing about this one (the 6th, a G on cornet):  if I get it at all, it’s with a good, focused tone.  If I don’t have that, I can’t get it with poor tone.  I also try RO#2 and #3, going down as far as I can at this point (usually 5 of the 7). I am having some success with RI#1, and am sometimes starting the day with this one.  I have not yet attempted anything further on the Roll-in side. I do the “hold until empty” exercises, and am up to Advanced Lip Slurs #1 and #2 with reasonable results. The great thing (for me) at this point, is that in regular playing I notice much improved tone quality, range, and endurance.  The last (endurance) was always my downfall.  In the past I would sometimes get great compliments from accomplished musicians, such as “You played beautifully”.  I would graciously thank them while thinking, “Just don’t ask me to do it again, at least not right now”. Anyway, thanks for your encouragement. 
Regards, Alan Greene 
An update from Alan Greene:

 Hi Valerie – I haven’t emailed in a while, and just wanted to touch base.  Hope you and yours are well. BE continues to deliver.  Interestingly enough, what has proven to be most beneficial to me is the roll-out side of the equation, and so I concentrate most of my time with the RO’s.  Also doing lip slurs and TOL, with noticeable benefit. In summary, the development is no longer by great leaps and bounds (which was the case in the early stages of my “comeback”), but rather slow and steady.And most enjoyable! Regards,Alan

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tzippi: "Something is definitely changing!"

Following are excerpts from a little discussion that was posted in "Horn People", a FaceBook discussion group.  

Tzippi Cheryl Pellat:  I have been playing horn continuously for 40yrs. (many of them as a professional) and am quite a skeptic. I have a large collection of warmups from various teachers-all of which were going to help various facets of my playing. Even at my best I always had high register and endurance problems. I decided to take the plunge and bought the BE kit from Valerie Wells and have been doing the exercises for about 2 months. I still can't get to the bottom or top notes and haven't yet done all the exercises...40min about 4 times a week is about all I have... So imagine my surprise when I was at a WW chamber music day and played 4 sessions of 90 min. each. Session 3 was Mozart Quintet for horn and strings and session 4 I played the 2nd bassoon part of Grand Partita....and then got through our orchestra rehearsal the next evening (3rd hn. Brahms 4). Something is definitely changing!

Andrew Joy:  Tzippi, congratulations. Hang in there. I promise you it just keeps on getting better. If it is an encouragement, I fought for four years before the range above high C finally gave in to my efforts. Now I own a high G above that high C, also and even after say six weeks off playing.

Michael Langiewicz:  It works.  

Valerie Wells:  Wonderful!  Thanks for sharing.  You made my day!  The 2 month mark is usually when BE "students" begin to see improvements, but sometimes it can take longer.  

Andrew Joy:  But also much shorter, Valerie.  Two weeks were all I needed to BE hooked!

Kristina Mascher-Turner:  Andrew Joy, when do you ever have six weeks off?  

Andrew Joy:  Good question, Kristina.  Only after I got BE working.  

Michael Langiewicz:  The proper muscularity is essential. The greats have it naturally, the rest of us need a disciplined routine. I still get the eye rolls when I talk BE, but no one else in the section is warming up to F above high C.