Guess the Embouchure Type – Wycliffe Gordon and Wynton Marsalis

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Guess the Embouchure Type” post and this video offers a closeup look at two great players, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and trumpet player Wynton Marsalis.  Take a look at their embouchures and see if you can guess which embouchure type they have.

It’s not easy to tell based on what you can see if this video, but if you know what to look for you might be able to make an educated guess. Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Wycliffe Gordon and Wynton Marsalis

A Culture of Ignorance?

Is there a culture of ignorance in brass pedagogy today?  At one time I would have questioned anyone claiming so.  After all, I’m always learning about new approaches and experiments brass teachers are coming up with and sharing with the field.  However, as a fan of science and critical thinking I’m beginning to learn how much of what the profession as a whole is advocating is based on fallacious reasoning.  I’m also getting quite used to resistance from many of my peers about my own academic and research interests of brass embouchures.  Not only are many brass teachers ignorant about easily observed embouchure characteristics, many willfully and unapologetically remain so.

Generally speaking, my goal is usually not to go about trying to prove someone “wrong” about their own approach to brass pedagogy, but rather to share information in an accessible and easy to understand way so as to encourage a collaborative effort.  I’ve learned that being overly critical is not conducive towards facilitating this goal, but occasionally I’m not big enough to avoid this trap.  Today’s post is, I’m afraid, going to be one of those times.  What I do hope to avoid, though, will be attacking individuals and instead will be going after the ideas and philosophies that have become pervasive in the field of brass pedagogy.  Here then are a number of the errors in judgement that we, as brass teachers and players, regularly make that hold the field back. Continue reading A Culture of Ignorance?

A Skeptical Look At “Embouchure Overuse Syndrome”

One of the longest-lived web sites around dealing with brass embouchures is Lucinda Lewis’s Embouchures.com.  On this site and in her two books, Broken Embouchures and Embouchure Rehabilitation, Lewis offers advice for brass players dealing with a range of embouchure issues.  While there are some good suggestions throughout, this essay will deal with the fundamental premise Lewis bases her diagnosis and treatment of embouchure troubles around, “Embouchure Overuse Syndrome.”  On the front page of her web site, Lewis writes:

Are you a brass player who has encountered a painful, debilitating embouchure problem? Perhaps you have been experiencing daily lip swelling and/or  lip pain and lost your endurance and high range too? Maybe your lips feel weak, rubbery, tingly, or numb when you play?  Do you have strange sensations in your lips and face which were never there before that make playing a struggle?  Has this problem been plaguing you for weeks, months, years?

If you have been suffering with debilitating, painful, embouchure confusion, regardless of how long you have been experiencing these problems, the likely cause is embouchure overuse.  99% of such problems are the result of playing more hours or with more intensity than one is normally used to.

As I’ve written here before, I’ve learned that my personal impressions cannot be trusted when it comes to developing statistical information.  When I began research on my dissertation I had convinced myself that I would end up with a great deal of statistically significant data showing how certain physical characteristics would affect a player’s embouchure.  However, when I actually ran the stats, the data didn’t quite show what I expected.  Although Lewis’s resources are not designed for a scientific audience, scientific claims like the above are common in her books and web site.  Physical therapy is no joke – professional therapists go to graduate school, are required to take a licensing exam, and research used to determine which therapies are effective go through a rigorous peer review process before they become mainstream.  Since Lewis is essentially offering physical/occupational therapy for brass players, I think it’s fair to ask how the data was collected and how the 99% figure was determined. Continue reading A Skeptical Look At “Embouchure Overuse Syndrome”

Embouchure Question

I got a message from a horn student who watched one of my YouTube videos showing Low Placement type embouchures.  He writes:

My F horn teacher won’t let me play this way. Its the easiest way for me but he says “I’ll get great and then I’ll hit a wall and never get better”.

I know my instructor knows what’s best but he said that my embouchure is wrong and I can’t play that way.  And then I find out through this video that you can play with more lower lip.

What do you suggest?

This is a tough call, but it is unfortunately a fairly common issue that players with upstream/Low Placement type embouchures run into.  In situations like this, there are basically four things you can try. Continue reading Embouchure Question

Ed Neumeister on Plunger Technique

Trombonist Ed Neumeister is one of the modern masters of playing with a plunger mute.  Recently I spotted a topic on the Trombone Forum about how Neumeister gets some of the very specific sounds with a plunger mute.  Much to everyone’s delight, Neumeister posted a reply.

Included in his post were links to his web site and his blog.  On one of his posts, he goes into some detail about Trombone Plunger Technique.  For a bonus, here’s a YouTube video of Neumeister doing some practice improvising and exploring some of the different sounds and techniques of using a plunger mute.

Memorizing Tunes

Jazz musicians are expected to have a large number of standard tunes committed to memory, and often to be able to transpose these tunes into different keys. Improvisers often find that memorizing the chord changes frees them up to explore different directions in their solos more than reading the progression from the sheet music allows. At “fake gigs” and jam sessions it’s very helpful to have standard tunes memorized as it will save you a lot of time hunting for the right page in the right book.

Admittedly, I started memorizing tunes late. I had been told by many teachers and mentors that it was essential to have standards memorized, but I was usually able to grab a fake book on a gig or jam session and procrastinated committing those tunes to memory. Since making a stronger effort to really learn these tunes, I’ve found that not only has it been beneficial for the reasons I listed above, but it also has made me a better overall improvisor and composer. I wish now that I had started memorizing tunes more seriously back when I was a student. Still, it’s a lot of work memorizing a hundred or more tunes. With so much other things to practice, sometimes memorizing tunes takes a back seat to working on other things. Here are some tricks I’ve picked up that can help you memorize tunes faster.
Continue reading Memorizing Tunes

Ten Things Jazz Musicians Can Learn From Pub Rock Bands

I’ve recently discovered PlayJazz, a great blog by Barry Dallman.  One of the more interesting posts I came across is his list of Ten Things Jazz Musicians Can Learn From Pub Rock Bands (part two is here).  Barry lists:

  1. The importance of rehearsal
  2. How to write a set list
  3. Stagecraft is not a dirty word
  4. A sound check is not a bad idea
  5. It’s OK to acknowledge the audience
  6. It’s OK to commit to a band
  7. Respect for the gig
  8. Belief in themselves and their music

I may have missed a couple of things jazz musicians can learn, but I only counted 8.  At any rate, he’s got some very interesting and useful commentary on these things and I recommend that you go check it out further.

Back From Traveling, Site Difficulties, and Slide Technique

In case anyone has noticed the lack of updates lately, I’m back from traveling and will begin regular posting shortly.  I’m also aware that there are some difficulties with comments and some pages may be inaccessible.  As soon as I can figure out what the problem is I’ll get them corrected.

In the mean time, if you want a trombone blog fix I recommend you check out Brad Edwards’ BoneZone blog.  Here’s a nice post about the Yin and Yang for Slide Technique that has some good food for thought.