Friday Review: Lip Flexibilities by Bai Lin and Lip Slurs for Horn by Howard Hilliard

For today’s review we’ll consider two excellent resources for practicing lip slurs.  Though ubiquitous in method and etude books for brass instruments, these two publications really cover the topic in a progressive, systematic way. Briefly, some of the benefits of practicing lip slurs include:

  • Improved flexibility and control of the air stream
  • Better tone quality
  • Greater endurance and range
  • Better understanding of the harmonic series

There are more benefits than these I’m sure, but these alone should be enough to get any serious player interested in a lip slur regimen. The first book up for review is Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities for All Brass Instruments, published by Balquhidder Music (image linked from Balquhidder Music’s website). Bai Lin is Professor Emeritus of Trumpet at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, and is well known as a performer and pedagogue. Special thanks go to Michael Helman for pointing out this publication to me. Though written by a trumpet player, as the title suggests the exercises contained here are beneficial on all brass instruments. One caveat though is that the book is geared towards treble clef  instruments (trumpet, horn, treble-clef euphonium), although I’m sure the patterns could easily be adapted for bass clef instruments. In his Preface, Professor Lin offers some excellent words of advice for practicing lip slurs – or anything else.

During practice sessions your embouchure, throat and tongue should be naturally relaxed and flexible. The air should be fluent and steady (consistent). Always try to produce your most beautiful tone.

If you feel your embouchure is tiring or is uncomfortable, you should choose an easier section to practice. Do not attempt to play in too high a register. This will avoid hurting your embouchure or learning to play incorrectly. [p.  5]

The exercises begin simply with half-note and quarter note slurs, beginning on open notes and moving downward through the harmonic series. Subsequent patterns expand both in range and rhythmic complexity, and the final exercises are truly virtuosic. For horn players, the book would make a fine supplement for developing accuracy and flexibility in the high range (the lowest pitch is an f-sharp below the staff).   Dynamic and tempo markings are not included, but I would assume that these should be added and freely altered depending upon your own needs and capabilities.]

Next is Howard Hilliard’s Lip Slurs for Horn: A Progressive Method of Flexibility Exercises, newly revised and published by Meredith Music (cover image linked from http://cornocopiapress.com/). Dr. Hilliard is an active performer and teacher in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and has published numerous articles in The Horn Call.  He also has a very informative website about the history of horn playing in Los Angeles. Like Bai Lin’s book, Hilliard’s begins very simply, but with even more attention towards a progressive system for studying lip slurs.  Lip Slurs for Horn is divided into six chapters, each with several exercises for developing a particular skill or skills. The chapters are titled “A Progressive Foundation,” “Large Intervals,” Adjacent and Out-of-Tune Harmonics,” “Memorizable Warm-Ups,” “Range,” and “Hybrid Lip Trill Precursors.” Most chapters include helpful text and instructions for proper execution at the beginning. In his introduction, Hilliard provides some valuable insight into the art of playing beautiful slurs.

A balance between variety and accessibility has been used to challenge the ear and combat the monotony of the typical lip slur exercise while maintaining a logical and musical shape to the phrase. As with all lip slurs, the level of difficulty varies widely depending on the level of execution. Manipulating the air stream is key, not only in hitting the pitch but also in voicing each note with a full and ringing sound. It is in this context that the irony of the term “lip slurs” needs to be appreciated. Among the more advanced exercises, there is a wide variety of lip slurs that focus on very specific skills. Discovering the right approach to the peculiarities of each exercise will maximize both the enjoyment and benefits of this book. [p.3]

Overall these are both great books, and well worth studying. Combined with effective practice and thoughtful instruction, lip slurs can be used to develop tone, technique, range, and more!

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I’ve been using the Bai Lin book for over a decade now and it’s part of my daily fundamentals routine. I’ve mainly used section three, but have expanded it well beyond what’s written.

I start out each as written on the open F horn, extending down to the 123 fingering, then continue down using the B flat horn, down to T23. Next is to start a half step up from the beginning of the exercise on T23, working my way up to T0. On a triple, I then continue higher on the high F horn, starting on T123 and going up as high as I can. To finish, I play the exercise down an octave from what’s written on the low F horn. This forces me to be flexible and facile in all ranges of the instrument.

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