There are a handful of away-from-the-instrument exercises that brass musicians can do to help build embouchure strength, such as free buzzing, the pencil trick, jaw retention drill, and the P.E.T.E. These exercises, when done correctly, will help players target specific muscles used for playing without the risk of excessive mouthpiece pressure. I’ve recently come across a similar exercise, explained by George Rawlin. He calls it the “bull dog” exercise.
I have a couple of minor issues with some of the things he describes in his video. At one point he talks about the “ideal set” for a player’s jaw to be protruded forward so the teeth are aligned. This is correct for a large number of players, but some brass musicians actually play better with a receded jaw position. Embouchure characteristics like this depend on the player’s anatomy and you shouldn’t try to force your jaw to a position that doesn’t work for you. His discussion about where the mouthpiece gets placed also doesn’t apply to all players. His bit at the end about “air play” and relying on the instrument to get the buzz may be a good playing sensation to go after for some players, there are other players who need to go after the opposite sensation and work on firming up their lip center more.
I don’t feel that the position of the mouth corners when performing this bull dog exercise is necessarily exactly how you want to play, but it does at least seem to work on the muscles at the mouth corners where you want to focus your effort. If done carefully and in moderation it could be helpful for some players who need to strengthen up the muscles that intersect at and just under the mouth corners.
A little over a week ago I posted on a new book by Jonah Lehrer called Imagine, How Creativity Works. After hearing an interview Lehrer gave I was curious to learn more about this book (I still haven’t read it, by the way). Since then I’ve come across a couple of other references to Lehrer’s new work, one positive and one a little critical.
First the positive. Horn player and blogger Jeffrey Agrell wrote a post he calls Of Cartoons, Bathrooms, and Creativity. Agrell’s Horn Insights blog is a great read for anyone interested in creativity and he has a number of posts dealing with that topic. Like Lehrer, Agrell finds inspiration can come from moving outside of your normal range of influences and mingling with people in other fields.
There are still ways to stay in the same building and get inspiration. One is simply to poke your head out of your own narrow field. I have written quite a few articles over the years; I found it easy to get ideas and inspiration for a new article simply by looking past what horn players do and bringing back ideas from outside the gates of horn tradition. What are the other brasses doing (e.g. look in their instrumental journals)? How about woodwinds? In what ways could I bring back ideas from the world of percussion? How about other styles than classical? Jazz. Latin. World music. Electronic. What about going beyond music all together? Psychology. Brain physiology. Business. Sports. Language/linguistics. Child development. Video games. Magic/illusion.
By the 1940s jazz styles had begun to change again. Moving away from the big bands and the pre-arranged music of the Swing Era, jazz musicians began playing in small groups and emphasizing solo improvisation even more. This new jazz style, eventually called bebop, moved the focus away from dancing and onto listening. This podcast covers bebop style and some of the important musicians who pioneered this music, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clark, and J.J. Johnson.
You can download this podcast in the download link below or through my Podcasts page. You can also subscribe to these podcasts and have them download automatically through iTunes.