Golfing Focus Applied to Music

There’s seems to be a lot more research done on the development of motor skills with athletics compared to music, so often times musicians will look at athletics and sports training methods for ideas on improving musical practice and pedagogy. Recently I came across a podcast called Golf Science Lab and listened to their episode, What Every Golfer Ought to Know About FOCUS with Dr Gabriele Wulf.

Where should your focus be in during a shot? Or when you’re learning how should you think about a move to make a change in the most effective way.

Although the motor skills used in golf are pretty different than those used in playing the trombone, for example, it’s not too far of a leap to assume that what applies to golf might also be useful for musical practice. Wulf says,

Performance is often enhanced immediately when I focus externally as opposed to internally, but also the learning process is facilitated when learners adopt an external focus. So learning is sped up. You reach a higher skill level sooner than you would with an internal focus.

An internal focus refers to the coordination of body movements, where an external focus is on the intended effect. In golf the examples of things that a golfer could use as an external focus were the club, the ball, the hole, even the player’s belt buckle or buttons. One of the interesting points made in the podcast were the distance effect. In other words, the further away the point of focus, the better the results. So focusing attention on club face would be better than focusing on the handle of the club because it’s a bit further away. Focusing on the ball is a bit further than the club face, but focusing on the flag or the hole would do better. Here’s the rub, the optimal distance of the focus depends on the skill level. An expert golfer would focus on the trajectory of the ball or target, but a novice would do better focusing on the club face, because they still need to practice the technique.

The tricky thing is to try to teach and practice the necessary technique with external focus. Wulf offered a golf example. Rather than telling the novice golfer to transfer his or her weight to the left foot (an internal focus), teach them to push off of the ground on the left (external focus).

What does this mean for music practice? Off the top of my head, with brass embouchure practice try taking the attention off the lips and move them on to the mouthpiece rim. When practicing breathing instead of paying attention to the feeling of the stomach and chest moving, focus on the air as it passes the lips or even visualize the air blowing across the room.

What ideas can you think of to teach musical technique in such a way as to move the focus from internal to external? How can you take that idea and make the focus even further away the more expert the musician becomes?

Playing On the Red Is Fine (Redux)

One of the more popular posts I’ve written here is Brass Embouchures: Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy). In this post I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to point out the flaws in the nearly universal belief among brass teachers that placing the mouthpiece so that the rim contacts the vermillion of the lips is a bad thing. I will try in this post to reiterate my points more clearly.

Before going too deep into this discussion, I’ve found that it’s important to point out that I’m not making a blanket recommendation that brass players should adopt a mouthpiece placement that sets the rim right on the upper or lower lip vermillion. I’m merely pointing out that the very pointed advice to avoid it is based on faulty logic and a misunderstanding of both the anatomy of the lips and embouchure form and function. Most folks aren’t going to have the anatomical features that make such a high or low mouthpiece placement work efficiently, but some do and for these players moving the mouthpiece placement off the red can be as detrimental to their embouchure as another player moving the placement to the red when it shouldn’t be. This is something that is unique to the individual player and needs to be taken on a case by case basis.

There are three basic arguments against placing the mouthpiece on the lips so that it contacts the vermillion along the top or bottom of the rim:

  1. A famous teacher or player advocated against it.
  2. The anatomy of the vermillion is such that it makes it more sensitive and prone to damage than the rest of the lip.
  3. It’s mechanically incorrect and won’t work as well as a placement with less rim contact on the vermillion.

Famous Players and Teachers

If you’re reading the post and questioning why I’m going against what appears to be conventional brass pedagogy, that’s a good thing. I always recommend that folks learn not just what we know about brass pedagogy and mechanics, but also take the time to understand how we know what we know. It’s very easy to find folks who actively discourage placing the mouthpiece on the red of the lips, but it’s not easy to understand why they recommend that. Many of these folks make their case using arguments 2 or 3 above, but an awful lot simply assert without evidence.

The bottom line here is that we can’t simply take a statement at face value based on how famous the person is who said it, we need to look past that and deal with the evidence. That which is stated without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Anatomy

There is an awful lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the anatomy and histology of the lips in the brass literature. Here is one example:

To function properly, the inner edge of the mouthpiece must be placed on tissue that is supported by muscle, but the lips are composed of fatty tissue that by itself cannot support a normal embouchure.

-Frank Campos, Trumpet Technique, 2005

Part of the difficulty in parsing comments like Campos’s is that while the medical literature has a very precise definition of the lips (which runs all the way up to the nose and down to the chin), many brass authors use the term “lips” to refer to just the vermillion. Regardless of the exact meaning in the statement above, it’s demonstrably incorrect. The entire lip, including under the vermillion, is internally made up of the orbicularis oris muscle group. There absolutely is muscle under the vermillion. Be careful when you look at diagrams that draw in the vermillion as a point of reference, they are misleading. Here is one diagram that leaves out the vermillion as a reference.

Another, less common, point I’ve recently come across is that because the epidermis at the vermillion is thinner than the normal epidermal layer there is less cushion from the skin:

Lips have around 3-5 cellular layers and above the vermillion border has as high as 16 cellular layers.

-“asdfghj,” 2017

Since “asdfghj” is both posting anonymously and also not citing his/her source, I can’t really comment on the legitimacy of this claim, however it does seem plausible. The reason the vermillion of the lips are red in people with fairer skin is that the color of the blood vessels underneath the vermillion come through. For the sake of argument, I’ll accept this as true. I still don’t find this a compelling argument and here’s why.

Without heading over to a university library and digging through the literature, a cursory internet search shows one apparently reputable source that states, “The thickness of the epidermis varies in different types of skin; it is only .05 mm thick on the eyelids, and is 1.5 mm thick on the palms and the soles of the feet.” How does this compare to the layer of skin of the lips, both the vermillion and elsewhere? It’s hard to say for certain using the internet, but Wikipedia (take it with a grain of salt) states, “The average human skin cell is about 30 micrometers in diameter, but there are variants. A skin cell usually ranges from 25-40 micrometers (squared), depending on a variety of factors.”

Let’s use the 30 micrometers average to calculate how thick the skin of the vermillion is compared to the normal epidermal layer on the lips. If the vermillion has 4 layers, that 120 micrometers. The 16 layers of skin in the rest of the lips would make for a layer 480 micrometers, a difference of 360 micrometers, or .36 millimeters. For comparison, human hair is said to range up to 181 micrometers in diameter, so the difference here is about two layers the size of the of a human hair.

I don’t find supposed cushion of two hairs to be a compelling difference, considering the mouthpiece forces involved. It’s not the layer of skin that provides the cushion and support of the embouchure, but the muscle underneath.

All the above shows, however, that there don’t appear to be plausible reasons why the vermillion would be more sensitive to pressure. That doesn’t mean that the vermillion actually isn’t. In order to get an idea, I spend some time back in 2012 going through both the medical and musical literature to see if there was any indication that injuries to the lip occurred at the vermillion more than the rest of the lip, or to see if any medical professionals happened to comment on this specific point.

While most brass players don’t “place on the red” in such a way that the rim contact the upper or lower vermillion a great deal, 100% of brass players place the mouthpiece with at least some rim contact on the vermillion. If the vermillion was more prone to injury than the rest of the lip, I would think that the medical literature discussing lip injuries due to brass playing would indicate this. In fact, it is rarely mentioned.

Injuries to the lips due to brass playing happens where the rim happens to be on the lips, irrespective of the vermillion. It appears that the upper lip (the entire lip, not just the vermillion) is more prone to injuries than the lower lip (hence the common advice to not “dig into” the upper lip with the mouthpiece or keep more mouthpiece “weight” on the lower lip compared to the upper). Injuries can and do happen under the vermillion, but perhaps more commonly outside the vermillion (which is unsurprising, if you consider that more players are going to have the rim contact on the upper lip above the vermillion. In fact, some lip injuries happen completely away from the rim contact.

-Papsin, B.C., Maaske, L.A., & McGrail, J.S. (1996). Orbicularis oris muscle injury in brass players. Laryngoscope 106, 757-760.

I was also able to find some literature that flat out stated that the vermillion area of the lips is not more prone to injury. H.L. Wilson, a medical doctor writing for The Clarinet, discussed the vermillion in the context of a clarinet embouchure.

In summary, the vermilion portion of lips tolerates pressure well. . .

-Wilson, H.L. (2000). Lips. The Clarinet, 27(4), 38-39.

Yes, the forces involved in a clarinet embouchure and brass embouchure are different, but combined with a more thorough understanding of the anatomy and histology of the lips along with a lack of evidence to the contrary, this leads me to believe that there is no anatomical reason to believe that it is risky to place the brass mouthpiece rim on the vermillion.

Mechanics

While the above discussion of anatomy is outside of my particular area of expertise, brass embouchure mechanics is right in my wheelhouse. I first became interested in brass embouchure mechanics sometime around 1996. I wrote my dissertation on original research investigating brass embouchure types and their correlation to easily observed physical characteristics. Since completing my doctorate in 2000 I’ve published and presented resources that deal with brass embouchures in a peer reviewed journal, academic papers, online, and at professional conferences. I’ve documented with photos and video around 100 brass players’ embouchures of beginning students, college students, professional performers, university brass teachers, and amateurs over five states at six different universities. I’ve been asked to consult with physical therapists and doctors treating embouchure injuries in the United States and Europe and some of my writing about brass embouchure have been translated into Japanese and Italian. Part of conducting my research involved thorough reviews of the literature, so at risk of blowing my own horn (pun intended), I’m fairly confident in the information and context I can provide here about brass mechanics.

First, there appears to be no relationship between the size and shape of an individual’s vermillion and the player’s embouchure technique. There doesn’t appear to be any relationship between how the lips vibrate at the vermillion and the rest of the lips. There is a wide range of vertical mouthpiece placement among brass players, with a minority that place the mouthpiece either high or low enough so that the rim of the mouthpiece contacts a great deal of the upper or lower lip vermillion. There is also a lot of variation on how wide an individual brass player’s vermillion is, as well as differences between rim sizes. Considering that the division between vermillion and normal skin on the lips is arbitrary and varies so much, I don’t think that it’s really useful to discuss mouthpiece placement as a factor of where it is placed in relation to the vermillion.

On the other hand, we can consider whether it’s mechanically incorrect to place the mouthpiece very high or low. This feature also varies quite a bit from player to player, with most folks falling more towards the center than very high or very low. While there are many anatomical features that influence an individual brass player’s mouthpiece placement, such as the shape of the teeth and gums that provides the support structure for the embouchure, the most likely characteristics that influences the vertical placement of the mouthpiece include the length of the lips compared to the length of the teeth and gums and possibly the shape and angle of the lips to each other. The shorter the player’s upper lip, the more likely that player appears to need to place the mouthpiece lower on the lips.

As you can see in the photo to the left, my upper lip is very short in comparison to my upper teeth and gums. When I form my embouchure I have to stretch my upper lip down quite a bit in order to get it over the upper front teeth. There simply isn’t much lip mass in my upper lip that is free to vibrate inside the mouthpiece.

A vibrating brass embouchure works more like a clarinet reed than an oboe reed. One lip or another predominates inside the mouthpiece and is the primary vibrating area. The other lip does vibrate in tandem with the other, but it serves more like the clarinet mouthpiece to the other lip as the reed. This feature can be easily seen on Lloyd Leno’s films.

For me, and for a minority of other brass players, anything other than this extremely low placement doesn’t work well at all. Most folks find it too hard to play this way, but they don’t have the same extremely short upper lip. I tried for a long time to play with a more conventional looking mouthpiece placement. I was taught early to try to keep my mouthpiece centered on the lips and with more upper lip inside and so I played that way all the way into my mid-20s. My personal experience was that I played OK with the centered placement (well enough to get through two music degrees and be accepted into doctoral studies in trombone performance), but until I made the correction to my embouchure you see in the photo to the right that I did not have the range and endurance I needed to play at a high level. This embouchure type isn’t as common as more conventional looking brass embouchures, but it probably represents about 10% of brass players.

Summary

Despite the opinions of many other brass players and teachers who feel otherwise, there appears to be no anatomical or mechanical reasons why placing the mouthpiece so that the rim contacts a great deal of the vermillion is going to lead to greater risk of injury or mechanical difficulties, provided that the player’s anatomical features are best suited to that placement. Individual anatomy is so variable that even setting a “rule of thumb” is arbitrary at best and may even lead to a brass student playing in a way that is mechanically inefficient for his or her face – which does increase the risk of injury, regardless of how conventional the mouthpiece placement may look.

In my opinion, the whole idea of using the vermillion as a factor for diagnosing or troubleshooting a brass embouchure is misguided. It is much better for brass teachers and players to gain a more thorough understanding of the basic brass embouchure types and how they function, as well as how much brass embouchures vary from player to player, even between players belonging to the same embouchure type. We can probably safely ignore the advice from teachers who emphatically state that this is wrong unless and until they begin providing plausible evidence to the contrary.

CODE of Embouchure

A lot of what is commonly taught about brass embouchures is based on hearsay or descriptions on playing sensations. This results in a lot of contradictory advice that isn’t always grounded in fact. That’s why it’s very exciting to me to see Hans Boschma, Kees Hein Woldendorp, et al,  taking a scientific approach to studying brass embouchure. Even more importantly, they recognize the need for more research and more communication across disciplines. They recently published a video that describes their research and shows a lot of the data points they’ve collected. The call it the CODE of Embouchure.

CODE stands for Classification, Observation, Diagnosis , and Evaluation.

The CODE of Embouchure can be used by both brass players, their teachers, ‘brass-medicine’ physicians and – therapists. The CODE of Embouchure can be used in intervals of time to detect dysfunctional embouchure and/or to control for improvements/ changes in embouchure due to brass training (or therapy) e.g. at the conservatoir or in a therapeutical setting. In the final part of the movie a practical instruction is provided with the voluntary participation of many internationally known first rank brass players.

I’ve been skimming through it, skipping ahead after watching some of each brass player shown. Most of it is detailed video footage of different brass players playing a wide variety of different things with some written commentary on different embouchure characteristics. There are many good examples of “medium high placement” and “very high placement” embouchure types. Assuming that the brass players shown are a somewhat random sample, I would expect to see few “low placement” embouchure types. There is one trumpet player who I suspect may be a “low placement” upstream players, but it’s a bit hard to say for sure with what I saw (he definitely switches to downstream when he plays pedal tones). Other than that example, all the rest of the brass players belong to one of the two basic downstream embouchure types.

Overall, I think it’s very nice research and a good video. My main complaint is the lack of attention on upstream brass embouchures, but perhaps that’s my personal bias as a “low placement” type player myself. Also, most of the video is devoted to “observation” and I would have liked more discussion about the “classification,” “diagnosis” and “evaluation” parts. Minor quibbles aside, thanks to Hans Boschma and Kees Hein Woldendorp for posting this and for Hans for letting me know it was available.

For more information about the CODE of embouchure and Hans’s work please visit his web site (you may need Google’s translate feature if you aren’t bilingual).

Communicating With Sound Technician

I just got the following email with questions about how to communicate with your sound technician.

Hi

I have played in big bands many times where the sound men didn’t really help all that much. Frustrating.
You sound like you know what you’re talking about!!
Right now – I am directing a Praise Band in Xxxx Xxxxx, XX. I don’t know who to contact about some questions I have to help me communicate with the sound man there. Are you interested or able to help me?

Some questions I would like to address – –
-How to communicate with the sound man while on stage in front of church. Reason it is so important during the performance is because the sound man doesn’t have any ears. :/ Need to tell him when to turn up mics (for solos and duets and when the inexperienced guitar player’s part is actually being play correctly so it should be turned up, etc. etc.He seems to have a mind of his own when it comes to vocals being above band volume.)
Uff. Seems so hopeless. He can speak to me on the mic he has connected at the board. However, he never knows when I NEED HIS ATTN. (I can’t really use my hands to signal him on stage during the service)
I tried a 2-way radio but he didn’t want to wear ear buds all the time (as I can understand).

Thanks, Diane

Diane, it can be very frustrating working with sound technicians who can’t or aren’t willing to help you out. Unfortunately, many sound technicians have the idea that they know better than the music director how the band should sound and want to do their own thing, regardless of what you ask them to set up for you. Since I don’t know your particular sound man personally and the performance situation, I can’t give you specific advice, but here are some general things you can try or think about.

Treat the Sound Technician As An Integral Part Of Your Ensemble

This is just interpersonal skills 101, but I feel it’s important that your sound tech feels that you take him/her seriously and trust their judgement. That can be a double edged sword if they don’t have the same vision for the sound as you do, but start from that point and go from there. I try to remember to thank our sound tech during the performance the same way I introduce members of the ensemble on stage. The trouble is, the better the sound tech is at doing his or her job, the more “out of mind” they are. Sometimes I mention to a sound tech before the show that if I forget to thank them on stage that it means I was extremely happy with their work.

So basically, remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Spend Some Time in the House Listening To the Ensemble With the Sound Tech

Whenever possible (hard to do if you’re also performing as well as directing), spend some time out in the house at sound check and listen to how it sounds. See if you can get the sound tech to mix the sound as close to how you want it to be so he or she gets an aural picture of your needs.

Since I most perform with jazz groups when I use a sound system, I have to trust that the sound tech understands what jazz is supposed to sound like. Too often they come from a background of mixing sound for rock groups and then have a skewed understanding of how things should be miced. With my big band, for example, I want the sound tech to mix the band in such a way that we’re approximating the sound of an all-acoustic jazz ensemble. A sound tech with experience mixing rock bands will often want to over-mic the rhythm section and we end up with an unbalanced sound. With a sound tech I’ve not worked with before I will step out into the house to listen to the mix during our sound check to ensure that it sounds right.

Find a piece or tune that involves everyone in the group but is also simple enough that they can run through without you up on stage. During sound check run out to the sound board and help your tech mix it the way you want. Since it’s hard for you to communicate during the service, try to take care of as much as possible ahead of time.

Communication While On Stage

This is frustrating, and I don’t have a good answer. Maybe some visitors reading this can offer suggestions. The best sound techs are focused during the entire show and keep coming back to watching the music director. When they do, you can unobtrusively point at the vocals and then point down to indicate to turn them down, etc. If you work with the same tech regularly you can both come up with some specific hand signals to help make your on-stage needs clear. But if your sound technician is not paying attention, that’s not going to help.

The best solution, if you can find a tactful way of doing so, is to make your sound man understand that it’s important for the music that he keep his attention on you and make your adjustments as needed. Another option is to get him a “liaison” between you and him to assist him during the service. That assistant can be someone charged with keeping an eye on you and passing along your needs, freeing him up to focus on other things.

Thoughts For Further Discussion

What advice do you have for Diane? What are your strategies for working with sound technicians? What’s the worst performance from the sound tech that you’ve ever dealt with? What are the best experiences you’ve had with a sound technician and why was it so good? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Female Trombonists Needed To Take Survey For Research

If you’re a woman or girl who plays trombone, please take a moment and consider taking Holly’s survey.

Hello!

I’m currently a Music Education major at Nazareth College and I am writing a paper on gender bias in instruments for my educational psychology class.

I’m looking for female trombone players to take a survey on their experience in a primarily male community.

If you could send this link to any female trombone players you know or tag them below in the comments, that would be greatly appreciated!

https://docs.google.com/…/1-GkS3pZi0Oa6OyljSgK1sq5…/viewform

Thank you!

Holly

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.

Embocadura Distonía Tratamiento – Algunas preguntas y críticas

From time to time I get asked to translate some of my articles into different languages for nonnative English readers. Unfortunately, that’s beyond my abilities but some of my readers have graciously volunteered their time to translate some of my posts. E. Díaz recently translated my article, Embouchure Dystonia Treatment – Some Questions and Criticisms, into Spanish.

Muchos gracias, E. Díaz!


 

A menos que seas uno de mis lectores regulares, es posible que hayas llegado hasta este post buscando consejos sobre alguna disfunción severa de embocadura. Aunque espero que las siguientes líneas puedan provee algunos caminos útiles para explorar, mi audiencia objetivo son los maestros de músicos que se promueven como los “doctores del pitar” o que pretenden diagnosticar y/o tratar lo que con frecuencia se conoce como “distonía de embocadura”. Para los propósitos de este trabajo, estaré usando el término “distonía de embocadura” y “disfunción de embocadura” de manera intercambiada. Trataré de ser específico con mi lenguaje tanto como sea posible, pero mantengan en la mente que lo que algunos llaman “distonía de embocadura” puede no ser un desorden neurológico, sino un problema de la mecánica de la embocadura.
El Instituto Nacional de Trastornos Neurológicos y Derrames (NINDS, siglas en inglés) define “distonía” como:

“un trastorno caracterizado por contracciones musculares involuntarias que causan movimientos lentos y repetitivo o posturas anormales. Los movimientos pueden ser dolorosos, y algunos individuos con distonía pueden tener temblores u otras características neurológicas. Hay distintas formas de distonía que pueden afectar a un músculo, un grupo de músculos o musculos a lo largo del cuerpo. Algunas formas de distonía son genéticas pero la causa de la mayoría de los causos es desconocida.”

Específicamente más relevante para las embocaduras de quienes tocan metal, la variedad de distonía que necesitamos entender se conoce como “distonía focal específica de una actividad”, nuevamente, definida según el NINDS:

“las distonías específicas de una actividad son distonías focales que tieneden a ocurrir solo cuando se lleva a cabo repetidamente una actividad particular. Los ejemplos incluyen el calambre del escritor que afecta los musculos de la mano y ocasionalmente los del antebrazo, y solo ocurre durante la escritura. Distonías focales similares han sido llamadas calambres del mecanógrafo, del pianista y del músico. La distonía del músico es un término utilizado para clasificar las distonías focales que afectan a los músicos, específicamente su habilidad para tocar un instrumento o actuar. Puede involver las manos en los instrumentistas de cuerda o teclado, la boca y los labios en los de aliento, o la voz en los cantantes”

Antes de continuar, necesito aclarar mi formación y mis ideas sobre la distonía de embocadura. Como siempre intento señalar al discutir algo médico, no soy un profesional de la medicina y en ninguna manera estoy calificado para tratar un desorden neurológico. Mientras intento describir algunas causas posibles, o por lo menos correlaciones, de las disfunciones severas de embocadura más adelante, mis ideas y consejos no deben de ningún modo considerarse un consejo médico válido. Siempre debes consultar con un profesional médico si sospechas de una condición médica.

LA DIFERENCIA ENTRE MÚSICA Y MEDICINA

Esto me lleva a mi primer crítica, los maestros de música que pretenden diagnosticar y tratar desórdenes médicos. Deténganse. Mientras sus intenciones pueden ser buenas y quizá estén ayudando a personar a recuperarse de una disfunción de embocadura, hay un riesgo de que se cause un gran daño. Llamen a lo que hacen lo que es, resolver problemas de embocadura. A menos que tengan el entrenamiento médico y la licencia para legalmente tratar y/o diagnosticar condiciones médicas, están sobre la línea de practicar terapias o medicina sin licencia.

Mencioné daño potencial. Brevemente diré que hay razones no-médicas por las cuales algunas embocaduras se dañan y provocan síntomas parecidos a la distonía focal de embocadura. A menos que estén calificados para diagnosticar una condición médica, su proclamación de que un estudiante que llega a ustedes tiene “distonía de embocadura” puede causar que esa persona dilate o evite un tratamiento médico necesario. Si el estudiante tien la parálisis de Bell o un derrame ligero, por ejemplo, postergar un diagnóstico correcto con su atención médica correspondiente puede arruinar las oportunidades del estudiante de recuperarse por completo. O puede conducir a complicaciones más serias que estén más allá de tocar un instrumento de metal. Las condiciones médicas como distonía focal específica existen y deben ser tratadas bajo la supervisión de una persona calificada.

Dejen la medicina a los profesionales y ustedes deberán aconsejar a sus estudiantes a buscar atención médica, cuando sea apropiado.

HAGAN SU TAREA, LA IGNORANCIA NO ES DICHA

Algunas veces me sorprente lo ignorante que es el campo de la pedagogía de los metales de la forma y función de la embocadura. Hay definitivamente una cultura de ignorancia que evita que los músicos de metal aprendan a entender realmente como su embocadura funciona y poner en un contexto más amplio como distintos músicos tocan de manera distinta. Una de las voces más influyentes en hacer que los músicos y los maestros permanezcan dichosamente desprevenidos fue Arnold Jacobs. Jacobs alentaba a sus estudiantes a “pensar en el producto, no en la metodología” (Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs: A Developmental Guide for Brass Wind Musicians/Así hablaba Arnold Jacobs: Una guía para el desarrollo de músicos de aliento metal) Sea o no su intención que su idea se tomase de esta manera, muchos maestros de metal han interpretado que esto significa que uno nunca debe analizar la técnica de los metales.

Roger Rocco, un antiguo estudiante de Jacobs, ha escrito en su blog que la distonía de la embocadura es causada en parte por:

“Enfocarse en la consciencia de sí mismo, en el análisis de sí mismo, o del instrumento”

Él no cita ninguna fuente médica que corrobore su declaración, ni esto se alínea con lo que fuentes de buena reputación declaran sobre la distonía específica. Como el mayor volumen de la discusión relacionada con distonía focal del blog de Rocco es ideológica y filosófica, pondría en cuestión su declaración aquí.

Otra aproximación común, pero mal guiada, es la de asumir que la disfunción de embocadura es meramente un resultado de sobreuso. La página y libros de Lucinda Lewis cometen este error. De acuerdo a Lewis:

Para el propósito de la discusión aquí, el síndrome del sobreuso de la embocadura se refiere a cualquier problema crónico relacionado con la embocadura que dure por más de dos semanas e incluye cualquiera de los siguientes: dolor de labios, moretones o inflamación crónica, entumecimiento, labios de cartón, abrasiones recurrentes en los puntos de presión, abrasiones inducidas por el aire, falta de aguante, sonido desenfocado, falta de control de tocar y problemas crónicos del registro agudo.

– Broken Embouchures, de Lucinda Lewis.

Lo que ella ha hecho aquí es tomar virtualmente cualquier problema de embocadura y lo ha colocado bajo la sombrilla de “sobreuso de la embocadura”. El problema no es solo que sobre-simplifique, pero además prescribe un tratamiento general que puede no ser relevante para la situación. Los problemas crónicos del registro agudo pueden venir de una variedad de problemas mecánicos, muchos de los cuales no se relacionan con el sobreuso. Las abrasiones de los labios pueden ser exacerbadas por retorcer los labios hacia arriba con la boquilla. El hinchamiento de los labios y los moretones pueden ocurrir porque la colocación de la boquilla no está balanceada correctamente entre el labio superior y el inferior. Un periodo particularmente demandante de tocar puede ser la paja proverbial que rompe la espalda del camello, pero la mecánica incorrecta está atrás de los factores con los que se debe empezar.

Es fácil encontrar ideas similares a lo largo de la literatura musical, pero las fuentes que descartan el análisis de la embocadura a menudo carecen de una discusión completa y precisa de la mecánica de la embocadura. No puedes analizar algo que no entiendes. De lo que carecen es que si tú analizas algo incorrectamente vas a tener problemas haciendo las correcciones necesarias.Si combinas esto con la lamentable frase de “análisis lleva a parálisis” vas a tener una profecía que se autocumple. Haz tu tarea primero.

Como un área general, la pedagogía de los metales se lleva a cabo en gran parte ignorando la forma y función de la embocadura. Algunas personas lo hacen conscientemente y están orgullosos de esos. Otros están mal aconsejados. Me gusta pensar que la mayoría de los músicos y maestros simplemente han recibido mala orientación y que con un buen acceso a buena información podrán ser capaces de tomar decisiones más informadas sobre cómo practicar y enseñar el desarrollo de la embocadura. En ambos casos, activamente hacer que la gente evite aprender acerca de la realidad está haciendo un despropósito a nuestros estudiantes y debe ser detenido.

Los tipos básicos de embocadura no son un tema difícil de entender. Si sientes que tener una comprensión general de la teoría musical es útil para tocar música (y espero que no tengas que ser convencido de eso), entonces, con seguridad, hacer un esfuerzo similar para entender las embocaduras está muy bien dentro de tu capacidad. Sí, existe un tiempo y un lugar para olvidarse de la técnica de los metales, pero “no tires al bebé con el agua de la bañera”. Debes hacer un esfuerzo para entender completamente un tema antes de que lo descartes por ser innecesario o equivodado.

LO QUE NECESITAS SABER SOBRE LAS EMBOCADURAS

Para tratar la disfunción de embocadura, primero necesitas entender su forma y función. Al haber muchas ideas contrarias debes tener las herramientas para colocarlas en un contexto adecuado. He escrito bastante extensivamente sobre esto en este blog, pero continuare con alguna información básica sobre esto en este post para puntualizar mejor.

Si te fijas de cerca en la embocadura de los músicos pronto descubrirás que cada embocadura es distinta. Esto tiene sentido, pues cada músico tiene características anatómicas distintas. Habiendo dicho eso, también notarás que existen algunos patrones específicos en las embocaduras. Usando dos características observables de una embocadura funcional puedes empezar a categorizarlas en distintos tipos. Estos tipos de embocadura no son métodos de práctica o instrucciones, sino que describen características observables que todas las embocaduras tienen, estén o no conscientes de estas los instrumentistas.

La primer categoría es la de la dirección del aire. Mientras muschos músicos están convencidos que soplan el aire hacia abajo de la boquilla, observar esto con una boquilla transparente muestra algo distinto. Virtualmente todos los músicos exitosos ponen la boquilla de modo que un labio o el otro predomine dentro de la boquilla. Cuando se coloca más el labio superior dentro de la boquilla la corriente de aire toma una dirección hacia abajo (downstream) al pasar los labios. Lo contrario pasa cuando se coloca más el labio dentro, el flujo de aire pasa los labios y choca la copa de la boquilla arriba del tubo (upstream). El ángulo del instrumento, a pesar de ser importante para la embocadura, no determina la dirección del aire; es la colocación de la boquilla la determinante.

En estos días la dirección del aire debería ser un conocimiento común, pero no lo es. Esta característica ha sido independientemente descubierta y confirmada por una variedad de fuentes y existen documentos disponibles en bibliotecas académicas y mucha información disponible gratuitamente en línea. Aún más importante, no es difícil darte cuenta por ti mismo. El *link* que posteé en el párrafo previo muestra algunas fotos y videos y las boquillas transparentes no son difíciles de conseguir ni caras. Si tú estás ayudando a músicos con disfunciones severas debes de estar atento a la dirección del aire y a si la embocadura de tu alumno es upstream, downstream o alternan entre ambas. Querrás entender que no todos tocan con una embocadura que satisface su anatomía y deberas estar consciente de que cambiar la colocación y el flujo de aire puede ayudar o lastimar a algunos, a veces de manera dramática.

La otra característica de la embocadura que es aún más desconocida en el ámbito es lo que me gusta llamar “motricidad de embocadura” (embouchure motion). Virtualmente todos los músicos de éxitos, estén o no conscientes de esto, empujarán y jalarán la boquilla y los labios juntos como una unidad hacia arriba o hacia abajo a lo largo de sus dientes y encías al cambiar registros. La dirección general y el ángulo específico que esta motricidad varía de músico en músico, pero se muestra como una parte esencial de una embocadura funcional. Algunos músicos por lo general empujan la boquilla y los labios hacia la nariz al subir el registro, mientras otros la jalan hacia abajo. Estos patrones básicos tambien están correlacionados con la dirección del aire del individuo. Los que tocan upstream casi siempre jalarán hacia abajo para ascender a los agudos, mientras que los downstream pueden hacer lo mismo o lo contrario. Otra vez, este fenómeno ha sido descubierto y verificado por distintas fuentes, pero aún no está ampliamente divulgado.

Usando estas dos características básicas por sí solas es posible categorizar tres tipos básicos de embocadura por lo menos. Utilizando otras características, tales como la posición de la mandíbula y el ángulo del instrumento, es posible (aunque probable e innecesariamente complicado) definir aún más tipos de embocadura. Si tú estás ayudando a los músicos a recuperarse de una disfunción severa deberás estár atento a estos tipos básicos de embocadura y aprender a distinguirlos. Estas son variables importantes que debes considerar.

ALTERNACIÓN DE TIPO

Si bien no he visto muchos casos de distonía o disfunción de embocadura como tales, cada caso que he visto detenidamente (y en algunas ocasiones, documentado), exhibe alguna forma de alternación del tipo. Un puñado de estos son músicos que probablemente debería estar tocando upstream y que por alguna razón no lo están, a menudo por los consejos de un maestro bien intencionado pero sin pericia. Aún más común, sin embargo, veo alternación entre ambas variantes downstream. Si miras la motricidad de embocadura tendrás dificultad para ver si están jalando hacia abajo o empujando hacia arriba para ascender a los agudos. Algunas veces dan la vuelta a la dirección en un punto particular de su registro o van muy lejos con la motricidad de la embocadura en cierto punto. *aquí hay un ejemplo de youtube* grabado por Joaquí Fabra, quien cree que la distonía es un problema conductual y quien trata a la distonía como un problema psicológico. Al mirar el video de este cornista puedes ver la motricidad de su embocadura alternar la dirección.

Aquí está otro video de Joaquín Fabra que muestra a un trompetista. Observa como la motricidad del músico en la primer parte del video muestra boquilla y labios haciendo pucheros alrededor de casi cada ataque. Cada vez que toca una nota está intentando darle a un blanco movedizo. Más adelante del video, el trompetista está casi carente de síntomas y podrás ver la consistencia en la motricidad de la embocadura, particularmente en el ataque inicial de las notas.

A mi parecer, Fabra ni siquiera considera que el músico está alternando. En su entrevista con Dave Stragg, Fabra deja bastante claro que el percibe que la distonía es causada por una condición emocional y el evita la discusión de la mecánica de la embocadura, llegando incluso a dar a entender que el análisis de la embocadura es parcialmente la causa de la condición en primer lugar. Considerando su aparentemente carencia de entendimiento de los tipos básicos de embocadura, pero la corrección de la alternación, yo diría que la aproximación de Fabra se vería beneficiada de no tratar meramente los resultados psicológicos de la disfunción severa, sino de corregir conscientemente la mecánica de la emocadura.

Regresando a las ideas de Lucinda Lewis, ella siente que un programa de tratamiento de la disfunción de embocadura requiere que el músico de metal regrese a la embocadura previa al colapso. En Embocaduras Rotas (Broken Embouchures) escribió, “Reparar tu embocadura quiere decir rehabilitar la mecánica a su integridad pre-daño” (2005, p.40). Lo que falta en su texto es, como sea, considerar si la embocadura pre-daño era funcional en primer lugar. Mi analogía favorita para esto es el levantar objetos pesados con la espalda. Puedes estar tocando mal por un rato, particularmente si eres fuerte. Pero si lo sigues haciendo serás más propenso a lastimarte. Si sufres de una disfunción severa y mejoras al regresar a tu embocadura previa debes considerar que quizá solo estés mejorando en tocar mal. Los maestros deben de estar atentos a la embocadura de sus estudiantes y a la forma general de la embocadura para poder eliminar los cambios de tipo que sean los culpables de una disfunción. También puede ayudar a los músicos a corregir el cambiar de tipo antes de que ésto provoque un colapso, en primer lugar.

A DÓNDE IR DESDE AQUÍ

La mayoría de mi escrito aquí está dedicado a la falta de atención a la mecánica de la embocadura por parte de los maestros y estudiantes de metales y a nuestra incapacidad de poner esto en un contexto adecuado al atender a la disfunción de la embocadura. Si el campo de la pedagogía de los metales está aventando la toalla aquí no podemos esperar que la comunidad médica tenga mejor desempeño y los músicos que sufren de la disfunción quizá no vayan a ser bien atendidos por doctores y terapistas que traten la distonía. Pero más allá de este problema, que será corregido cuando más músicos estén más conscientes de este tema, necesitamos comenzar a hacer mejores preguntas sobre la distonía de embocadura. Algunas de estas preguntas pueden (y deberían) ser investigadas objeticamente, pero nuevamente, esto necesita comenzar al nivel de la comunidad musical, quienes no solo tendran una participación más importante en este tema pero quienes también deberán tener la formación necesaria en la técnica para mejorar las embocaduras.

Pero para mejorar esto los educadores musicales necesitan tomar más en serio la metodología de la investigación. Hata cierto grado, nuestra falta de consciencia de cómo llevar a cabo investigaciones e interpretar artículos académicos es entendible. Antes que todo somos artistas y nuestra preocupación primaria debería ser la expresión musical. Habiendo dicho esto, el pensamiento crítico es también una capacidad que se remunera dentro y fuera de la música. Corresponde a todos los maestros, no solo a aquellos que tratan la disfunción, aprender a conducir investigación, aprender sobre los sezgos cognitivos y cómo buscar información precisa y de calidad de temas musicales. Una vez que hayamos cambiado nuestra cultura de la ignorancia por una de prencamiento crítico y consciencia podremos comenzar a hacer preguntas (y a investigar) cuestiones que potencialmente dirijan hacia un tratamiento más efectivo de la disfunción de emocadura. Aquí hay algunas preguntas que personalmente creo debemos hacer:

  1. ¿Son algunos tipos de embocadura más propensos a la disfunción?
  2. ¿Qué características de embocadura (por ejemplo, cambio de motricidad de embocadura) pueden correlacionarse con la disfunción de embocadura?
  3. Es el cambiar de tipo de embocadura una causa de transtornos neurológicos específicos que pueda ser mapeada en el cerebro o es el problema neurológico el que causa el cambio?
  4. ¿Qué tan a menudo es un diagnóstico de distonía realmente el resultado de cambiar de tipo?
  5. ¿Conduce la corrección consciente de la alternación entre embocaduras a una mejora en la disfunción?
  6. ¿Conducen los programas que son existosos en tratar la disfunción severa a correcciones de la alternación entre embocaduras, aún si la alternación no está considerada en ese programa? De ser así, ¿Servirían mejor los procedimientos que encaminan a un músico a evitar la alternación?
  7. ¿Llevan a problemas psicológicos las fallas mecánicas relacionadas con la alternación de embocadura? De ser así, ¿puede lograrse una reducción o eliminación e los problemas psicológicos a través de correcciones mecánicas?
  8. ¿Cómo pueden los maestros ayudar a los músicos que padecen disfunción severa hacer un programa de tratamiento balanceado que ataque los problemas mecánicos relacionados con la embocadura y psicológicos relacionados con la incapacidad para tocar?

HACIA UNA COMUNICACIÓN ABIERTA Y HONESTA

He criticado y nombrado a algunas personas aquí y también, previamente, en otras ocasiones en linea. Algunos de estos maestros han tomado esta crítica personalmente, aún cuando esta no es mi intención. Por favor, nótese que yo hago lo que puedo para enfocarme en las ideas, no en las personas como individuos. Así también soy cuidadoso de probar y calificar mis opiniones tanto como sea posible ya sea de mis ideas está basada en evidencia objetiva o mera especulación. Más aún, me he equivocado en el pasado y continuaré cometiendo equivocaciones. Una de las razones por las cuales posteo mis pensamientos sobre este tópico públicamente es para que los expertos puedan señalar las fallas en mi razonamiento.

El método científico ha sido tan exitoso debido a su naturaleza autocorrectiva. Los maestros de metales que ayuden a los músicos que padezcan una disfunción severa necesitan seguir más este método. Esto involucra cuestionarse sobre las ideas de los otros, retando nuestras propios supuestos y comprometerse en un debate abierto y honesto con los demás. Muy a menudo vemos esto como descortés y nos olvidamos de que así es como se hace el progreso. Ningún individuo que trate a la distonía tendrá todas las respuestas, no importa qué tan exitoso sea su programa de tratamiento. El genio solitario que guía el camino para todos es solo un mito. Colectivamente somos mucho más inteligentes de lo que somos individualmente.

CONSEJOS PARA MÚSICOS QUE PADEZCAN DISFUNCIÓN DE EMBOCADURA

Si llegaste hasta aquí y eres un músico que padece disfunción severa de embocadura quiero concluir con mi consejo para ti. He tenido éxito en ayudar algunas personas con problemas al pitar y también sé de un puñado de amigos a lo largo de los EUA que puedo recomendar, pero si quieres ayuda probablemente tendrás que trasladarte a menos que vivas en su área. Las consultas por video, a pesar de tener potencial, generalmente no se prestan a diagnosticar problemas de embocadura y a encontrar la solución.

Hay maestros que tienen éxito en tratar problemas de disfunción que no demuestran una consciencia de los tipos de embocadura y cómo corregir las alternaciones, pero yo por lo general animaría a un estudiante a buscar ayuda de alguien más reconocible. Hagan preguntas. Más aún, cuando buscas ayuda creo que es necesario tener en cuenta el efecto Dunning/Kruger: mientras más blanco/negro se torne una discusión, más probable es que se vuelva ena discusión filosófica que una realidad objetiva. Los programas de tratamiento que se basan en el Sistema de Pensamiento de Harold Hill tienen más probabilidades de éxito a pesar de, en vez de por lo que aprendas. Una segunda opinión puede ser una buena idea, aún si aparentemente te está funcionando.

Otra vez más, puedo estar equivocado. Tómate tu tiempo para seguir los recursos y links que he posteado aquí sobre la función y disfunción de embocadura y juzga por ti mismo. Mi objetivo aquí es conscientizar a los músicos y maestros de la información disponible para colocar los consejos en un contexto apropiado, no para espantar a las personas de un punto de vista opuesto. Le doy la bienvenida a preguntas y críticas a mis propias ideas y te invito a que las pongas en la sección de comentarios de abajo.

Rise of the Synthesizer

Did you know that the early synthesizers weren’t really intended for rock music, but classical? How did synthesizers become ubiquitous with rock music, then?

In the summer of 1970, after popping into a pub for a pint, rock keyboardist Keith Emerson sat down at his enormous Moog modular synthesizer in London’s legendary Advision recording studio and noodled a few improvised notes. His goal was to add some electronic punch to the end of a mostly acoustic-guitar number called “Lucky Man,” written by his singer-guitarist bandmate, Greg Lake. As his fingers ran up and down the synthesizer’s keyboard, Emerson played along to the bass, drums, vocals, and guitars already recorded by Lake and drummer Carl Palmer. . .

Emerson would later say he was just fooling around, and that he definitely did not expect his first take to be his last, but Lake and sound engineer Eddie Offord liked what they heard so much, they deemed Emerson’s work on “Lucky Man” done.

Learn more about the Rise of the Synthesizers over at Collectors Weekly.

Air Pressure, Pitch Range, and Dynamics

A recent discussion over at the Trumpet Herald forum got me thinking a bit more about the relationship between the pitch and dynamic being played by a brass player and how the breathing functions. Many brass players and teachers talk about using “faster air” for high notes, “blow harder” for loud notes, or “hot, wet, breath” for getting a rich, dark sound. These sorts of descriptions are fairly common, although many variations exist and not everyone feels similarly about their effectiveness in playing and teaching.

It is, of course, necessary to consider that playing sensations are a pretty unreliable way of talking about what exactly is happening in the player’s physiology or in the acoustics of the instrument. What to one player might feel like “blowing harder” might seem more like “faster air.” Furthermore, what works for a brass student and one stage of his or her development may become counterproductive later. This is why it’s important to have a good teacher who can watch you play and make corrections as needed. Teasing out those corrections often will take the form of analogies such as the ones I described, but we have to fall back on trial and error.

All that said, I find the science behind playing mechanics and instrument acoustics fascinating. Regardless of how you feel like you play, there may be some insights we can glean as players and teachers into breathing by taking the time to learn more. This can be a controversial topic, as reading through the Trumpet Herald topic can show. It’s even been a topic I’ve blogged about here that inspired some heated debate in the comments. In part this is due to differences in opinion about whether knowing this can be helpful or is a waste of time. My thought here is that trying to learn more about the way things work is never a waste of time, provided you are aware of the risks of going down the wrong path for a bit and recognize that you might just need to backtrack. Better still is to learn from those who have already done the research and had something to say about it.

One group of researchers, Jonathan Kruger, James McClean, and Mark Kruger, replicated a famous informal experiment that Arnold Jacobs supposedly did measuring the air pressure of brass players on different instruments and comparing how much blowing pressure and airflow were used for pitches. Jacobs noted that as the blowing pressure increased as the player ascended in range while the airflow decreased. He also claimed that players of different instruments would use a similar intra-oral pressure for the same pitch, so that a trombonist playing a “high Bb” would be blowing with about the same amount of pressure as a trumpet player playing the “middle C” (both pitches would be Bb4). Kruger, et al, found some of this to be true, but some of it to be different.

Intra-oral compression does increase as pitch increases and airflow decreases as pitch increases in each of the four members of the brass family. Both measures are also sensi- tive to changes in loudness (dynamic). Figure 2 shows changes in airflow and internal air pressure for a trumpet performer ascending the open pitches from the G below middle C upward while playing as close as possible to 85 decibels. As Jacobs observed, the larger bore instruments require less intra-oral compression and produce more air- flow when playing in their normal ranges than the higher instruments. Contrary to Jacob’s assertion about the simi- larity of instruments playing the same pitch, we observed measurable differences.

Other researchers have done similar experiments and found similar results. Kenneth Berger’s article in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Respiratory and articulatory factors in wind instrument performance (full article behind a paywall, abstract only), notes that the trumpet requires more intraoral pressure that other wind instruments studied.

A third paper published by 10éme Congres Fancaise d’Acoustique is thankfully written in English here. Freour, Causse, and Cosette noted similar results. In their article, Simultaneous Measurement of Pressure, Flow and Sound during Trumpet Playing, they wrote, “…it appears that pressure increases with both pitch and loudness, that flow increases with pitch and tends to decrease with dynamic.” They also note that the results of their study open up new questions that can now be addressed, such as the influence of air compressibility and even blood distribution in the respiratory system while playing.

So what are the implications for teaching and practicing brass instruments? At the very least I think we understand that blowing pressure and air volume do depend on the pitch range and dynamic being played. Knowing this, we might want to practice and teach being more aware of how we’re blowing while playing and changing those factors. Through this awareness we can learn our personal playing sensations in such a way as to memorize the feeling of when things are sounding and feeling good as well as better troubleshoot for those times when they are not.