Changing Up the Practice Routine

For the last several years my practice routine has been more or less set:

  • 50-60 minutes of warm-up/maintenance routine, occasionally changing up my regular materials or switching out various exercises.
  • 20-25 minute (or longer) break
  • 50-60 minutes of practice immediately following, or later in the day depending on my schedule
  • Long Break (2-3 hours)
  • Optional shorter session (20-30 minutes) as necessary

This worked pretty well for years, though from time to time I would have some issues with rebuilding endurance after heavy programs or breaks. For a variety of reasons (age among them) I decided this semester to change things up and see what differences, if any, resulted. In short, I suspected that my initial routine was too long and strenuous first thing in the day, and despite having a good break before continuing with further practice, the long first session was tiring me out instead of building things up. This is hardly a new idea, and lots of great teachers and performers have noted this before. But as any dedicated musician knows, it’s tough to change up your normal routine, even if it is less than ideal for you. For many (me included), the routine is a security blanket, a place to find refuge during tough playing times. In the midst of preparing some difficult repertoire for performances this spring, something needed to change. Here’s my newly-modified practice schedule:

  • 25-30 minute warm-up/maintenance routine
  • 10 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • Longer Break
  • 15 minute session

It’s the same amount of time as my old practice schedule, but with more frequent breaks earlier on. In addition, I’ve made some changes to my regular warm-up/maintenance exercises. They still cover all of the essentials, but are more progressive and don’t start out so strenuously. I’ve been very pleased with the results, and feel that this the right path for me going forward. My endurance and efficiency are improved, and just as important, my recovery time after heavy performances has decreased.

I have a follow-up post coming on this, but to close I would recommend as a summer project for any horn students to switch up both your routine and practice schedule. Plan things out, take notes on how things feel at certain points in the day, and experiment with the order and pacing of your practice day. Have fun!

Some Tips on Maintaining a Healthy Embouchure

Last week the ULM Brass Faculty gave a presentation on “Embouchure Health and Maintenance” during our weekly Recital Hour for music majors. We wanted to keep the talk somewhat informal, so each of us prepared some brief remarks based on our own experiences. Because of a family emergency, I was unable to attend the presentation. What follows here are the talking points for my part of the presentation. I hope you find them useful! Feel free to comment if you would like to add to or discuss any of these points.

Embouchure Health and Maintenance: Practical Tips for the College Student

James Boldin, D.M.A.

ULM Recital Hour 3/15/2018

…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit… Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)

The solution to frustration is reality. -Jeff Nelsen, Professor of Horn, Indiana University

Some Basic Principles

  • Strive to get a healthy amount of sleep each night.
  • Drink plenty of water (not soft drinks) throughout the day.
  • Strive to play fundamentals every day.
  • Strive to do some form of physical exercise every day.
  • Take a few minutes each day to silently relax and focus on breathing, with no other distractions.
  • (Re)Warm-up before each rehearsal with at least 5-10 minutes to spare before rehearsal begins.
  • Play some low/pedal notes at the end of the day to relax and loosen up.
  • Light massage and cool/warm compresses can help with stiffness.
  • Be aware of what is in your lip balm, and anything else you eat/drink/put on your face.
  • Expect your embouchure and playing mechanics to be influenced by what you did or did not do the day before.
  • Take days off only when absolutely necessary, and plan enough time to get back in shape. The 2:1 rule often applies. For every day off, it will take two days to get back to your original playing condition.
  • When working to increase practice time, range, endurance, volume, etc., do so gradually. Sudden changes can lead to future problems.
  • Be careful who you ask for advice, and where you look for it. If you ask someone for an opinion, you will usually get one. This does not mean it is correct or appropriate for you.

Further Reading

British Association for Performing Arts Medicine

Lucinda Lewis, Broken Embouchures

Bruce Nelson, Ed. Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs: A Developmental Guide for Brass Musicians, Polymnia Press, 1996.

Andrew J. Pelletier, “Embouchure Health and Maintenance,” in The Horn Call: Journal of the International Horn Society, May, 1999. pp. 65-66.

Surviving a Three-Service Day

nutcracker_coverDecember is a busy month for musicians, especially brass players. With frequent Holiday Pops concerts, Nutcracker ballets, and church performances, double and even triple service days can and do happen. A “service” is usually defined as a 2.5 hour rehearsal or performance, and while many orchestras and other ensembles have contract language limiting the number of them in a single day, all bets are off if you accept work from multiple organizations. Here’s what my schedule this past weekend looked like:

  • Friday
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Saturday:
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
    • Church Service Rehearsal, 2:00-4:30 p.m.
    • Orchestral Concert, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Sunday
    • Church Service performance, 10:30 a.m.-noon
    • Orchestral Concert, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

I’m happy to report that I made it through the weekend relatively unscathed, with chops intact! However, these being my last professional engagements for the year, I’m looking forward to a few light days of horn playing. If you wind up with some double and triple-service days in your schedule, here are a few recommendations to help deal with them. Some are specifically related to brass playing, while others are more general and pertain to overall well being. If you have any suggestions based on your own experiences, feel free to comment below.

  1. Be in good shape: Going into a busy month like December, I try to make sure that my playing fundamentals are in shape. If you are working through any chop or breathing issues, recovering from a playing-related injury, or coming back from an extended hiatus, I would strongly advise against accepting double or triple services in a single day. Heavy playing sessions with relatively little recovery time between them will only magnify these challenges.
  2. Allow time for a good warm-up and warm-down: Some light, easy playing before and after a heavy day can do wonders to limber up or even prevent a stiff embouchure. Be aware that your lips may feel swollen just after warming up, so make sure you have plenty of time for them to loosen up before rehearsal begins. I personally like to warm up 30-45 minutes before rehearsal begins, and take at least a 5-10 minute break before the rehearsal.
  3. Get adequate sleep: The optimum amount for an individual will of course vary, but the usual recommendation is from 7 to 9 hours per night. For more information, see here.
  4. Drink lots of water: Being properly hydrated will help you stay focused and alert, among many other benefits. For more information, see here.
  5. Alternate Warm/Cool Compresses:  In the case of very stiff and/or swollen chops, alternating heat and cold can be helpful. For more information, see here. Other remedies I have heard of but not had much experience with personally are ibuprofen (for pain and/or swelling – if you have concerns, check with your physician first) and, believe it or not, popsicles.
  6. Know when to say when: Playing through pain or discomfort is NEVER a good idea, and it is  wise to lay out or at least back off on dynamics well before hitting your personal playing limit for the day. You only have one set of lips – take care of it!
  7. Make time for recovery: After all the services are finished, try to take it easy for a couple of days if at all possible. This means different things depending on the individual; for me it means a warm up and brief routine for 20-25 minutes for the next day or so after several days of heavy playing. I rarely take days off, but have found warm-up only days to be very helpful.

On that note, I’ll bring to a close my final post for 2015. Best wishes to everyone for safe and happy holidays, and a great start to the new year. Be sure to check this site in January, as I have several posts planned for 2016: more reviews, thoughts on time management, and an update on Solo Training for Horn, my forthcoming etude book from Mountain Peak Music.

Old Photos: An Early Embouchure Change

Going through a box of old photos recently, I came across a few pictures showing my embouchure setup from my early high school days. These photos were taken during the summer of 1996, and beginning that fall I made a pretty big adjustment to my mouthpiece placement. In the long run it was definitely the right choice, but I remember having to work for quite a while before things felt consistent again. At the time, I didn’t have access to an embouchure visualizer or clear plastic mouthpiece, but based on these photos (and my memory), my old setup looks like 1/2 top lip and 1/2 bottom lip, or possibly 1/3 top lip and 2/3 bottom, with a more or less straight lead pipe angle. One very clear memory I have from those days is that when ascending, the lead pipe angled up, resulting in more pressure on the top lip. Surprisingly, this did not seem to affect my high range, as I was able to play up to a high C regularly. embouchure1-1 Looking closely at the first photo, you can see a slight amount of “setting in” on the bottom lip, while in the second photo you can see that the corners of my mouth turn up noticeably. embouchure2-2 Though I had a good high range and pretty good endurance – I still have some practice recordings from those days – my low range and overall flexibility suffered, and I also had trouble producing a characteristic sound in both the high and low ranges. For these reasons, my private teacher (Dr. Karen Robertson of Appalachian State University) and I decided to make the switch to 2/3 top lip and 1/3 bottom lip, setting the mouthpiece against the bottom lip, rather than setting into it. This setup also seemed to fit my natural jaw structure, which has a slight overbite. Remembering back to the days just after making the switch, my tone and articulations improved, but my high range suffered some big setbacks. It took a long time to get it back, but in the end I still feel it was the right move to make. In the 19 years since then, I’ve made numerous minor adjustments and tweaks, all with the aim of playing more efficiently and effortlessly. My placement these days favors the top lip, probably closer to 3/4 top and 1/4 bottom. Here’s a short video showing how things look and sound now.

Though not to be taken lightly, I think that embouchure changes and mouthpiece adjustments are a normal, natural part of brass playing, especially as one ages and the lips change. For any students considering mouthpiece placement and/or embouchure changes, my advice is to consult with a knowledgeable teacher (possibly more than one), take things slowly, and persevere!

The Road to Recovery: An Interview with Bruce Atwell

bruceatwellIn the world of horn playing, Bruce Atwell has done it all. He’s performed in high level professional ensembles – the Philadelphia Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and Milwaukee Symphony, to name a few – recorded multiple solo CDs, performed at numerous workshops and conferences, and taught at the college level. He is currently Professor of Horn at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and maintains a very active performing career. I got to know Bruce while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and performed with him in the Oshkosh Symphony. His playing was always inspiring, and accompanied by a positive and encouraging attitude. Recently, I found out that Bruce had undergone lip surgery, and was in the process of getting back into shape. Since this was a topic that I felt would be of interest to other horn and brass players, I contacted him and asked if he would be willing to talk about this experience in a brief interview. Bruce generously agreed to share his thoughts, and responded with great candor.

James Boldin: In 2012 you had surgery on your lip. Could you share some background on why you had this procedure?

Bruce Atwell: Starting in 2010 I noticed a callus on the center inside of my upper lip-exactly at the vibrating surface. I tried not playing for several weeks but saw no change in the callus. I spent the next year talking to various doctors, dentists, oral surgeons, and dermatologists about the possible cause and treatment options. Most of the people I saw had no idea what had caused it and did not have recommendations for treatment. I saw a dentist in Chicago (John Kelly) who has experience with brass players. His analysis was that from years of playing, the skin on my upper lip had stretched and was now hanging down and rubbing against the bottom of my front teeth, causing the callus. He suggested using Invisalign to cushion against further damage. I tried this, but had no success in eliminating the callus. During the time my playing was becoming less and less reliable. The vibration would stop without warning and I was losing upper register. After two years of searching I finally decided that surgery was the only option.

JB: How helpful were your care providers (doctors, nurses, etc.) in explaining the procedure, and its possible effects on your horn playing? Did you consult with any other horn teachers/players before deciding to have surgery?

BA: I made a large mistake in this area. My insurance would not cover a surgeon out of network-meaning I only had access to a local oral surgeon who had no experience working with brass players. I was desperate at the time, so decided to trust him. He did warn me that he wasn’t sure what the end result would be in terms of playing. Initially, he said it would be a small incision. However, once he started the surgery, he decide that a longer incision was necessary. I now believe I should have seen Dr. Vander Kolk in Baltimore or at least a plastic surgeon locally to do the procedure.

JB: Do you know of any other horn or brass players who have had the same or a similar surgery?

BA:  I know of several who have had the orbicularis orbis repair done-but I haven’t encountered anyone with this same issue. With the former, the incision is on the skin between the lip and the nose-not directly in the lip.

JB: Was it a fairly simple procedure?  Inpatient or Outpatient? Local or general anesthetic?

BA: My incision was about three inches long right along the wet/dry line. It was outpatient under local anesthesia.

JB: How long did you wait after the surgery before you resumed playing?

BA: I waited about two months before playing anything. It was at least six months before I could really accept professional work.

JB: Did you, or do you, experience any residual pain or numbness after the surgery?

BA: I don’t have any pain or numbness. I do have scar tissue along the incision line that I think is now permanent. This restricts flexibility somewhat and has affected endurance and range. I used to be a high horn specialist (although I played fourth horn professionally for several years) with a range up to about concert C above the staff. Now I only have about a concert G and that is not particularly reliable.

JB: What kinds of materials/exercises did you practice when you resumed playing? Would you recommend these materials/exercises to other players recovering from injuries or medical procedures?

BA: I tried everything I could think of. I started with long tones and soft slurs through the harmonic series. I also contacted Lucinda Lewis and received some advice from her concerning blocked buzzing. I found that useful, but you have to be very careful with that, since in my case it caused me to play with too much tension. I’ve also had lessons with Bill Vermeulen, Gail Williams, Dan Grabois, and Wendell Rider and spoken to numerous other brass players. The best routine I’ve found is Wendell’s harmonic series exercises, following Bill’s and Gail’s advice to use only the minimum amount of embouchure tension to achieve each harmonic. This has resulted in gains in range and endurance-although I’m still far from 100 per cent.

JB: Aside from playing the horn, have you done any other type of physical therapy to aid in your recovery?

BA: I also saw a chiropractor who did Active Release Therapy- a type of massage to break up scar tissue. This was effective for the left side of my lip, but unfortunately was not successful in breaking up the scar tissue in the center. I am also speaking to a plastic surgeon about the possibility of having a lip filler injected in very small amounts to replace some of the tissue that was cut out.

JB: How, if at all, has your physical and/or mental approach to playing the horn changed during your recovery process?

BA: I am forced to focus much more on breathing and relaxation now. I’ve also gone back to the three well-spaced hours of practice I used to do as a student. Mentally, I still have days of extreme frustration, but I try to keep it in perspective.

JB: Did you consult with any other physicians or occupational/physical therapists during your recovery? If so, were they helpful?

BA: I did speak to Dr. Vander Kolk in Baltimore recently. He said he would be happy to see me, but didn’t really know if he could offer any more solutions at this point.

JB: Do you have any advice for other brass players who might be considering lip surgery or going through post-surgery recovery?

BA: I would strongly advise against lip surgery. I think there were other options available to me that I did not consider fully-such as an extended layoff (a year or so)-or trying different methods of playing-minimal pressure, shifting pressure to the lower lip, etc.I was resistant to a long layoff because of the financial implications-but the end result is much worse that if I had simply given up work for a year or more.  The surgery has permanently altered the structure of my lip and I’m still not sure if I will ever completely recover. Even if I am able to regain more playing ability, it will never feel the same-I don’t believe horn playing will ever be effortless for me again.

JB: Any other comments you would like to share?

BA: Don’t make decisions like this when you are in the middle of the problem. Try to get rational advice from friends and colleagues and listen to them. Try an extended period of not playing first. Then come back very slowly and carefully under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Editor’s Note: For those interested in following his story, Bruce regularly posts updates on his progress to the Horn People group on facebook.

Video: Lip Trill and Range Development Exercise by Douglas Hill

Here’s a short video demonstration of a great exercise for working on lip trills and range development. The exercise can be found in two publications by Douglas Hill, Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player, and High Range for the Horn Player. Both books are highly recommended, and I have used them regularly for the past several years. To read Professor Hill’s insightful suggestions about developing range you’ll have to check out these books yourself, but here are a few of my own thoughts on this particular exercise.

  • Developing lip trills and the high range takes time: This is something I didn’t realize as a young student, but it really does take years of regular practice to build both your trills and the upper and lower limits of your range. I didn’t have a particularly strong high range as a college student, but over the course of the past 10 years or so I’ve experienced incremental (if sometimes slow) development.
  • This exercise can seem extreme at first, but over time the body becomes accustomed to it. When I first attempted this exercise in 2002 I thought, “I’ll never be able to play that.” However, simply attempting to play in an extreme range for a few minutes a day will yield results if given enough time. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, of course, and if things are feeling good, I will repeat a couple of the high notes in search of better tone and/or intonation. I do that on this video for the high E and F.
  • If executed properly, this exercise should feel easy. When everything is working correctly, playing up there doesn’t require lots of effort. Incorporating lip trills into high range practice helps to ensure that only the minimum amount of tension is being used. If you’re too tight, the exercise starts to feel like work.

In sum, there aren’t really any shortcuts to either of these techniques, and the best way to work on them is slowly, gradually, and with lots of patience!  Do you have any favorite range or lip trill exercises?  Feel free to comment below.

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, 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.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Part 2, Listening with your Eyes

In  Part 1 of this series on Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink, we touched on some of the parallels that could be drawn between professional tennis players and brass musicians – namely the concept that even professionals in both fields might not always be aware of what they are doing physically to achieve high-quality results.   When I read this chapter (which is fairly early in the book) I thought, “Cool, here’s something from an unlikely source that can be applied to music.”  Little did I realize that the final chapter of Blink would deal directly with something in the music world – professional orchestral auditions.

For those who might not be familiar with the recent history of the orchestral audition process, Gladwell provides an excellent summary.

The world of classical music – particularly in its European home – was until very recently the preserve of white men…But over the past few decades, the classical music world has undergone a revolution…Many musicians thought that conductors were abusing their power and playing favorites. They wanted the audition process to be formalized…Musicians were identified not by name but by number. Screens were erected between the committee and the auditioner, and if the person auditioning cleared his or her throat or made any kind of identifiable sound…they were ushered out and given a new number. And as these new rules were put in place around the country, an extraordinary thing happened: orchestras began to hire women. [pp. 249-250]

Gladwell ties this extraordinary story into the overall theme of Blink by explaining that our first impression of how players sound is often “corrupted” by how they look.  In this case, the ability of even highly trained musicians to make split-second evaluations of a player’s skill is compromised.

What the classical music world realized was that what they thought was a pure and powerful first impression – listening to someone play – was in fact hopelessly corrupted. “Some people look like they sound better than they actually sound, because they look confident and have good posture,”one musician, a veteran of many auditions, says. “Other people look awful when they play but sound great. Other people have that belabored look when they play, but you can’t hear it in the sound. There is always this dissonance between what you see and hear. The audition begins the first second the person is in view.” [p. 250-251]

The chapter goes on to quote none other than Julie Landsman, recently retired principal horn of the MET Orhestra.

Julie Landsman, principal French horn for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, says that she’s found herself distracted by the position of someone’s mouth. “If they put their mouthpiece up in an unusual position, you might immediately think, Oh my God, it can’t possibly work. There are so many possibilities. Some horn players use a brass instrument, and some use nickel-silver, and the kind of horn the person is playing tells you something about what city they come from, their teacher, and their school, and that pedigree is something that influences your opinion. I’ve been in auditions without screens, and I can assure you that I was prejudiced. I began to listen with my eyes, and there is no way that your eyes don’t affect your judgement. The only true way to listen is with your ears and your heart.” [p. 251]

Gladwell closes this chapter by noting that screens allowed audition committees to form more accurate impressions of players, without being prejudiced by their appearance.  Referring once more to Julie Landsman’s audition for the MET (which I’m told is one of the few orchestras that have screened auditions all the way through the final round), he writes, “Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good. When the screen created a pure Blink moment, a small miracle happened, the kind of small miracle that is always possible when we take charge of the first two seconds: they saw her for who she truly was.” (p. 254)

Blink is an impressive book, and worth a read, as are Gladwell’s other books.  One thing that occurred to me though as I was writing this post is that because  people listen with their ears and their eyes, we as performers need to take charge of not only how we sound, but how we appear as well.  If you’re interested in reading a little bit about stage presence, check out this post.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Part 1, The Locked Door

If you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers, I highly recommend Blink, also by Gladwell.  Where Outliers deals with extraordinary people who seem to defy the normal limits of human achievement, Blink attempts to explain how we arrive at split-second decisions.  In an early chapter in Blink titled “The Locked Door,” Gladwell discusses the gap between our experiences and our perception of those experiences.  In other words, we often don’t fully understand the reasons behind many of the decisions we make, even when those decisions turn out to be the right ones. According to Gladwell, this information lies behind the “locked door.”  One section of this chapter really jumped out at me as something that musicians and especially teachers could learn from.  Gladwell relates the story of Vic Braden, a renowned tennis coach, and his research.

Braden has had a similar experience in his work with professional athletes. Over the years, he has made a point of talking to as many of the world’s top tennis players as possible, asking them questions about why and how they play the way they do, and invariably he comes away disappointed. “Out of all the research that we’ve done with top players, we haven’t found a single player who is consistent in knowing and explaining exactly what he does,” Braden says. “They give different answers at different times, or they have answers that simply are not meaningful.” [p. 67]

If this discussion sounds familiar, that’s because it closely parallels one of the central issues in private lesson teaching: how to explain to a student what to do when we ourselves may not be fully aware of what it is we are actually doing.  From embouchure to tongue position and breathing, we often have to rely on general descriptions that have worked for us and other students in the past, rather than trying to communicate specific physical details.  Referencing Braden’s extensive video documentation of some of the world’s best tennis players, Gladwell goes on to explain how misleading perceptions can affect  students.

The [Andre] Agassi tape is a perfect illustration of our inability to describe how we behave in the moment. “Almost every pro in the world says that he uses his wrist to roll the racket over the ball when he hits a forehand,” Braden says…”We can tell with digitized imaging whether a wrist turns an eighth of a degree.  But players almost never move their wrist at all…How can so many people be fooled? People are going to coaches and paying hundreds of dollars to be taught how to roll their wrists over the ball, and all that’s happening is that the number of injuries to the arm is exploding.” [pp. 67-68]

Pretty interesting stuff, right? I realize tennis is not horn playing, but I’m certainly not the first person to notice some of the similarities between our discipline and professional sports.  One of the things we can learn from this information is that what it feels like to play the horn (or another brass instrument) might not always line up with what is really happening.  Does this mean that we should never tell students to “lower the tongue,” or “drop the jaw?”  Not necessarily – those kinds of descriptions can be very helpful to certain students – but what feels like a big jaw drop or a completely lowered tongue to us may in reality only be a change of a few millimeters.  I think one way to deal with this issue of perception is to continue to conduct research on the mechanics of brass playing, similar to the tennis videos Gladwell and Braden describe.  Combined with good aural and mental training, more accurate physical knowledge will continue to improve brass pedagogy.  Speaking of video research on brass playing, here are some links.

In part 2 of this series on Blink, we’ll look at the final chapter, “Listening with Your Eyes: The Lessons of Blink.”

Another Reason to Join the International Horn Society

As if you needed another reason to join this wonderful organization – which is made up of horn players from around the world – the IHS has recently made available Two Surveys of European Horn Playing Styles, one completed in 1964/65 by Wendell (Pete) Exline, and the other in 2010 by Dan Phillips (IHS webmaster and Associate Professor at the University of Memphis).  I have only been looking at the material for the last hour or so, but already I can see that there is a wealth of information here that will take a long time for me to process.  Both surveys include recordings of standard orchestral excerpts performed by prominent European horn players, as well as photographs of their embouchures and other related information.  Dan Phillips deserves a huge “BRAVO” from the horn playing community for making this research available, and I am looking forward to reading his conclusions – presumably to be published in a future issue of The Horn Call. Some of the content is publicly available at the link above, but the real treasures (audio and video recordings) are only open to IHS members.  If you are a horn player and haven’t joined the IHS, now is a great time – the information in these surveys alone is well worth the small annual membership fee, not to mention that you will be supporting a very fine organization.


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