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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