fMRI Study Shows Tongue Position While Playing Horn

Dr Peter Iltis conducted a study using a functional MRI chamber at the Biomedical NMR Lab at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, watching hornist Sarah Willis’s tongue position as she plays in different registers, different tonguing patterns, and different dynamics. This (safely) replicates some of the fluoroscopic studies that were done with brass players. Check out some of the footage.

It’s pretty clear in this video that her tongue position raises as she ascends and lowers as she descends. I also find it interesting how there is a slight “bump” with the tongue arch when slurring. In other words, her tongue arch to slur up might jump up high and then snaps down to a slightly lower position, but still higher than it was on the lower note. This may be the equivalent of attacking the note with the tip of the tongue, giving it an extra push to slot, but with a much smoother attack to the pitch for slurred notes.

Iltis is interviewed about his research on a second video. Since he is also a horn player he has a good understanding of how brass players play as well as are taught about tonguing.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Nagy Miklos

I was going through some bookmarked links from a while back and found this performance of the Antonio Rosetti Horn Concerto in Eb Major by Hungarian hornist Nagi Miklos. Not only was this piece new to me (at least I don’t recall having heard it before, in spite of it being part of the standard horn rep), but I wasn’t familiar with Miklos either. Check out Miklos’s playing and this piece on this YouTube video. While you’re at it, watch his chops and see if you can guess his embouchure type. My guess comes after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Nagy Miklos

Embouchure Question: Should I Change My Off-Center Embouchure

Here’s another question I got from my virtual pile of email. This one is from Veronika.

I am a French horn/trumpet player in high school and I play with an embouchure that is off to my right of my lips and I have had teachers tell me I need to fix it or I will hit a point where it will get in the way of my playing and I have had others say that if it works for me then I should be fine I would like to know if this is a bad thing and if I need to fix it if you could get back to me ASAP it would be great

As I usually have to say with questions like this, I can’t really answer your question without watching you play, preferably in person. Every player is different and so for me to say without seeing you that you need to change your embouchure (or keep it the same) would not be good advice. Your teachers, on the other hand, have presumably watched you play and notice something not working correctly and have offered a suggestion. My first instinct would be to follow their advice and give it an honest effort.

However, even some very fine musicians and experienced teachers often make some erroneous recommendations simply because they don’t have an interest in embouchures and assume that what works for them (and even a majority of their students) must be correct. Everyone has a different face, so everyone will have a different embouchure. If you do a search for “off center” here on my blog you’ll see many examples of embouchures that are placed to one side, and some of these are world class brass musicians. Most players will find that their embouchures are a little to one side, but generally centered along the horizontal. Some players play much better with a very off-center mouthpiece placement.

It’s difficult to generalize why some players do better with an off-center placement. Sometimes brass musicians will talk about a protruding or sharp tooth that requires them to place the mouthpiece so the rim can’t contact the tooth. I’ve heard other players describe how they intentionally place the rim over a protruding tooth or gap in order to “lock in” their placement. Again, it’s a very personal feature.

Getting back to Veronika’s question, I would just close by pointing out that it’s not how your embouchure looks that is important, it’s how it functions and how good it sounds. If you sound best with an off-center mouthpiece placement then I think that this is where you should leave it. Whenever I recommend an placing the mouthpiece in a different spot than where it is I do so because there is an immediate improvement in something that needs to be fixed and because I can’t fix that issue with any other method. If your teacher is telling you that in time the “muscles will develop” with a more centered placement I would try to find a different teacher and grab a second opinion when you can. I’ve even heard of some cases where excellent brass players have done everything their teacher told them to do in their lessons, but practiced how they knew they should play on their own in order to get by. That’s not ideal, but always an option if you think you’re being steered wrong in this area.

Do you have a question about brass embouchures or any other music related topic you’d like to see me discuss here? Drop me a line with your questions.

Weekend Picks

I’ll be playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra again at our monthly show at the White Horse Black Mountain in Black Mountain, NC this Saturday. The first set of big band jazz starts at 8 PM. I’m excited about a couple of “subs” who will be playing with us. Visiting from Michigan State University, Joe Lulloff will be playing alto sax. Brad Jepson, one of the co-directors of the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band, will be playing in our trombone section. It should be a particularly hard-swinging band this time around, so I’ve put a bunch of challenging charts in the set list. If you’re in the area, come on out.

At any rate, it’s Friday and here are some of my picks for your music-related surfing this weekend. Enjoy.

I’m involved in a few nonprofit organizations devoted to music education and end up performing at fundraisers from time to time. Chris LeDrew makes a compelling case for Why Musicians Should Never Donate Their Talents.

DarwinTunes has put together an interesting musical project. Using loops and  they allowed the music to evolve through public choice. You can listen to some of it, and participate yourself, at their web site.

Here are 20 handy Jazz Musician Tips. A sample:

If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.

I had bookmarked this page with a black and white photograph of Louis Armstrong In Egypt. It talks a little bit about the United State’s “jazz diplomacy” during the Cold War. Coincidentally, I recently came across a very well done colorized version of the same photo (and 53 other colorized historical photos).

And to finish off this week, if you ever suffered from self-defeating thoughts about maybe not just having the natural ability to play music, watch this amazing horn player.

Weekend Picks

Here’s a musical link dump for you to surf this weekend.

Learn about the evolution of dance music from around the turn of the last century to today in this animated chart.

Bassist Michael Thurber takes us through the history of the bass with 45 songs and 9 different instruments in the below video.

On January 24, 2011 James Boldin started an etude recording project where he video recorded himself performing etudes from Kopprasch’s Sixty Selected Studies Op. 6. Start here with No. 1. You can read his final thoughts after completing this three year project . A great resource for horn students and teachers.

Tim Minchin sings about the key of F sharp.

1959 was a significant year for jazz. There were four seminal albums recorded that year, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come. Learn more about these albums and the context of the history of jazz and the civil rights movement in 1959 The Year That Changed Jazz.

Fingering For Brass Players

While trombone is my primary instrument and it’s been a while since I’ve seriously doubled on any other brass, I’ve been thinking lately about fingering issues after doing a “guess the embouchure type” post of trumpet player Giuliano Sommerhalder.  One of the things I noted about the video I used for that post was that Sommerhalder doesn’t place his finger tips on the valves, but instead places the second digit of his fingers over the valves.  Even though this isn’t what is traditionally taught for fingering technique Sommerhalder is obviously not slowed down by this.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently come across a couple of articles online about fingering that comment on these things.  A friend of mine from grad school at Ball State University, Dr. Adam Gaines, wrote a short article for Blessing Brass called There Are Only Three Valves.  In it, Adam notes: Continue reading Fingering For Brass Players

Surveys of European Horn Styles

The International Horn Society has digitized and made available the raw data from a couple of surveys done on European horn players.

In 1964 and 1965, Wendell (Pete) Exline took a sabbatical leave from his position at what is now Eastern Washington University. He flew to Frankfurt, Germany, bought a VW bus and drove all over Europe, interviewing, recording and photographing principal horn players of several European orchestras. Pete’s account of his trip can be found here. In 2009, Pete gave all of the the audio tapes, photographic negatives and interview notes he collected to the IHS. Data from that sabbatical project, now digitzed, is the basis for the first “Survey of European Horn Playing Styles” presented here. Each player was photographed four times, playing the horn from both front and back and buzzing on an embouchure visualizer ring.

Being an embouchure nut, I was most interested in looking at each player’s mouthpiece placement.  Rim visualizers can be a little deceptive compared to a transparent mouthpiece, but you can frequently get a good enough look to know the player’s embouchure type.  Since you can’t see a musician’s embouchure motion in still photographs, it’s not possible to say for certain which of the two downstream types the player belongs to, but you can usually tell if the player has an upstream or downstream embouchure.

Since downstream embouchures are more common, particularly among horn players (I believe for reasons based more on tradition than anything related to the instrument itself), you would expect those embouchure types to be more prevalent in these surveys.  There are 23 subjects.  My best guess is that maybe around 10%-15% of brass players (regardless of instrument) are (or should be) upstream players, so I would expect 1-4 of these players to have a low placement type embouchure and the rest to be very high or medium high placement types. Continue reading Surveys of European Horn Styles

Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players Take 2

Here is a cleaned up version of my 50 minute video presentation called Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players.  While I’ve had this presentation up on YouTube already, I had to split it into 6 parts when I initially posted it.  Later I tried to post it in a single video, but the audio and video didn’t sync up towards the end.  This time I believe it should work just fine all the way through.

Guess the Embouchure Types: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Quintet

Tip of the horn to John B. for spotting this video of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Quintet.  Back in high school I took a semester of Japanese and recognize the characters in the video as the kana.  I gave up after a short while trying to work out which of the orchestra’s brass players are performing here, so if anyone knows and can supply us the names of the individual performers, please leave a comment. (Update – Dan F. worked out the trombonist, it’s Jorgen Van Rijen.  Thanks, Dan!)

You can get a pretty close look at all five of their chops in this video, but it’s tough to spot all of their embouchure motions because most of the time there isn’t enough of a range change at that moment in the music to see one (this is why in my videos I demonstrate this with octave slurs, it’s a large enough interval to clearly see them).  Still, we can make an educated guess based on mouthpiece placement and there are a couple of points in the video where you can spot a player’s embouchure motion.  Take a look and make your best guess of their embouchure types.  My speculations after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Types: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Quintet

Embouchure Experiments Lead to Controversy

It’s a busy time for me, with the semester just starting to wrap up, and I’ve much grading to do.  There has been an interesting discussion going around in the horn blogosphere lately, which I’d like to comment briefly on before I get back to work.

It seems to have started with Bruce Hembd’s series of articles on Horn Matters, which he calls “‘Radical’ Embouchure Experiments” (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).  In this series Bruce explores some new embouchure ideas (and revisiting some older ones) that he’s been playing around with lately.  They make for an interesting read and while I would argue that the exact procedures may not be the best for every player, it’s clear from the series that he’s just offering this for food for thought and not making recommendations for anyone else.

This series of posts led Julia Rose, the hornist behind Julia’s Horn Page blog, to begin thinking about how her attitude to analysis has changed over time with her post, “No more analyzing.”  I think the key thing to keep in mind to understand the context of her post is when she writes, “I understand that this way may not be for everyone, and that some folks may feel the need to analyze.  But that method is just not for me anymore” (my emphasis).

Many other people responded to the “Radical Embouchure Experiments” series in the comments.   Continue reading Embouchure Experiments Lead to Controversy