Do you use The Balanced Embouchure?

Recently this question has come up in a couple of places in reference to my recordings of several Kopprasch etudes on YouTube.  Rather than address questions individually, I decided to write a blog post.  In short, the answer is no, I do not use any exercises from The Balanced Embouchure, although I am seeing this book mentioned in more and more places.  I am interested in learning more about both the book and the approach developed by Jeff Smiley, as I consider it part of my job as a teacher to be as informed as possible about current pedagogical practices.  First let me say that I have not studied with Mr. Smiley or any of his students, nor have I read or practiced any material from The Balanced Embouchure.  Consequently, I do not feel prepared at this point to make anything other than very general comments about the subject. Most of what I know about The Balanced Embouchure has come from reading this post on Horn Matters, and this post on Wilktone.com, as well as posts on various horn and trumpet forums.  Hardly enough experience to make any definite assertions, in my opinion.  However, there are at least a few established players out there who swear by The Balanced Embouchure, so I will definitely be picking up a copy of the book in the future.  There are also at least two blogs dedicated to the topic for horn players, located here and here.

Looking at the Kopprasch videos, I think what generated the questions about The Balanced Embouchure is that viewers noticed how my embouchure changes from one register to another, particularly when getting into the low range, where I have a pretty noticeable shift.  Apparently this type of “rolling-in” or “rolling-out” reminded some viewers of concepts and/or exercises from The Balanced Embouchure.  Part of that probably just comes from the way my own embouchure works – I have pretty full upper and lower lips, and when traversing the full range of the horn any physical movement is pretty noticeable.  I do try to minimize motion where and when I can, but I don’t actively try to eliminate it.  My basic school of thought, and that of my past teachers, is to do what works, regardless of the paradigm.  When it comes to horn playing, I am fully willing to reconsider well-established ideas if it means finding a better or more efficient way of doing something.  One exercise I have been doing for about the last year or so is found on Wendell Rider’s website, on the “Addendum and Extras” page.  I have found these “Lip Control” exercises very useful in working out some issues in both high and low registers, and it is worth nothing that Mr. Rider does advocate “lip rolling,” though as I understand it not in quite the same way as specified in The Balanced Embouchure.

In closing, I think there is plenty of room in our field for myriad approaches, for Farkas and Smiley, if you will. There will probably always be some heated debate about these topics – it’s easy to get worked up when discussing our life’s work – but I think it is important to remember the rules of etiquette and reasoned debate, as well as critical thinking, when engaging in any kind of discussion.

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Being that there are anatomical differences from person to person, I don’t see how it is possible for one way to be “the right way.” I think your approach is spot on, in that you consider all options so long as they may make something easier, but the bottom line is… you don’t care what it looks like as long as it sounds good. That’s my approach too. Anyone ever hear Lowell Greer play back in his hay day? Of course we have his Mozart recordings on natural horn and what not. My next questions is, anyone ever SEE him play? HE WAS ALL OVER THE PLACE. More motion than I think I have ever SEEN while someone is playing. Bottom line, I agree, do what works, don’t rely on “the magical way”, but also do not be ignorant about the situation….know that there are other ways to do things and embrace what works best for you, or your students.

Thanks Nick – I agree. On a side note, the last time I heard Mr. Greer play live was in 2004 at the Kendall Betts camp. He played a slow movement from a Mozart concerto on an Alex. descant horn. It was beautiful playing.

James –

Appreciate the open minded approach to Jeff Smiley’s work. I’ve been watching the debate on this for years, ever since getting his book and using his approach to get through an embouchure crisis that had me thinking about giving up the horn.

My sense of it all is that it can be very helpful for people looking to take a new direction due to the standard approaches not helping whatever issues they might be wanting to work through and who are willing to rebuild from the ground up.

For those for whom the standard approaches are working, though, a major overhaul and starting all over is something of a threatening prospect.

What I most appreciate about Jeff’s approach is that it helped me get a much broader and deeper understanding and feeling for what the embouchure can do and needs to do, and that helped me figure out what I needed to do to get everything working. He gives you the tools, but the responsibility is yours, and that’s a nice fit for how I like to work with people.

The other thing about Jeff’s approach I really like is that it goes well with all the neuroscience coming out saying how making music uses so many different areas of the brain, not all of which are always under our conscious control. His exercises helped me get a better sense of that when it comes to playing the horn.

My guess is that a lot of music educators don’t “get” what he’s up to because it’s so very difficult to look at something differently after a lifetime of building up something has worked for them. Besides, most people in the field are probably “naturals” to one degree or another and can’t really conceive what it’s like for the rest of us who aren’t. I’ll never be a natural horn player, but Jeff’s book helped me understand what that must be like and what I have to do to approximate it.

That closing paragraph of your post is terrific.

Thanks Lyle. I plan to post a bit more on the subject once I get the book and have a look at it. It also seems that the Balanced Embouchure has been successful for some professional players who, for one reason or another, have had to rebuild/retrain their embouchures.

Hi, James.

Thanks for the link. I just wanted to mention that your chops in the low register don’t look to me like what is defined as “roll out” in Smiley’s book, but I may be misinterpreting it.

Also, I’ve been meaning to give you props for your Kopprasch project! It has inspired me to brush the dust off of some etude books I haven’t looked at in years.

Dave

Hi Dave,
Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I’m not sure about the rolling out thing either. For me, the low register is more a function of pivoting the angle of the mouthpiece and slightly dropping the jaw. I’ve ordered The Balanced Embouchure, and I’ll probably be posting more about it in the future. Hope all is well with you, and thanks for checking out the Kopprasch videos! James

I believe that Nick Kenney holds a misconception about The Balanced Embouchure because he wrote:

If BE were a one-size-fits-all embouchure, I also would not see how it could possibly be “the right way.” Fortunately, BE is not an embouchure setting. BE is a set of exercises that guides the individual horn player to develop his/her own unique, personalized embouchure.

BE is not designed to tear down what we have, but to build upon and enhance the efficiency of what we already have.

Ooops! This is Mr. Kenney’s statement that I meant to quote in my comment above.

“Being that there are anatomical differences from person to person, I don’t see how it is possible for one way to be “the right way.” “

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