Embouchure shifts

16 Mar 2009 15:26 #262 by Thomas Bacon
Embouchure shifts was created by Thomas Bacon

Hello Mr. Bacon!

I had a lesson with you when you came to NDSU with the St. Louis Brass, and I enjoyed it very much. You had lots of food for thought, and I went out and bought your signature mouthpiece, which suits me very well. What that mouthpiece did was bring back a couple of notes that I thought I had lost for good (A and G below mid C). I still have a couple of embouchure shifts that occur around that range and it seems like I have to play and practice a low shift and then a high shift for notes from that lower G up to D above mid C. When I play the Shostakovich 5 low unison excerpt, I have to strategize where I’ll use a high shift.

You also steered me onto Brophy, which I use for my routine everyday. He said in the book that one should keep their embouchure the same and not change it. I thought I would have to embark on an embouchure change. What are your thoughts on that?

Erik Vigesaa

Thomas Bacon's answer:

Nice to hear from you Erik! And it's great to hear that the mouthpiece change has helped. As far as the shift you mention between high and low registers, that is nothing unusual. Most players have some shift that happens to the embouchure somewhere in the horn's 4-plus octave range. And it is important to make that shift as smooth and seamless as possible.

That is where practicing comes in. Repetitive exercises like in the Brophy book that you mentioned - "Technical Studies for Horn," publ. Carl Fischer - are essential to me in keeping the low range fluid. Another great one is from the Farkas "Art of French Horn Playing" on pages 60-61, "The Lower Octave." Also the "Dufrasne Routine" addresses the flexibility of embouchure shift through the different octaves on the horn. There are many others as well.

The whole point of doing these exercises is not because you want to go onstage and perform them, but rather because when you practicing them regularly you can go onstage and perform things like the Shostakovich 5th that you mentioned, without having troubles with that low unison passage.

I am very much into doing musical calisthenics, because doing so gives me the technical prowess, strength, dexterity and flexibility to play musically. It is not very musical sounding if you play something like that low unison passage with an unstable tone or missed notes and fluffed attacks because of unsure embouchure shifts. Just as in sports, where athletes have specific exercises that they do in order to perform well at the sport they pursue, we have exercises to develop our embouchures to perform the musical art that we pursue.

You also mentioned that Brophy said "that one should keep their embouchure the same and not change it." Be sure to also read all of the other things he said about embouchure in that book before you get stuck on that one quote. He said a lot more things that allow you to let the embouchure evolve and relax into the comfort zone for the different registers.

My advice is not to think so much about "changing" the embouchure but rather "letting" the embouchure find its way. Especially in the low register, it is hard to force the face into playing low notes. But if you relax and let the notes come out, instead of make them come out, the embouchure will eventually evolve into something that will work for you. Of course, this is often much easier said than done, and back to my earlier statement: that is where practice comes in. You want the embouchure to evolve to the "sweet spot" where it feels good and sounds good. And that can take many days of many repetitions of many exercises.

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