Using Rests In Embouchure Exercises

Last week I was working with a student and needed to find a quick exercise to have him play while working on keeping his chin from bunching up.  I grabbed my copy of Donald Reinhardt’s Pivot System Manual for Trombone and used an exercise from there.  Since then I have decided to change up my own routine again and go back to practicing from this book again daily.

The routine itself was designed so that each day the musician practices a different set of exercises (9 days total for the trumpet version, 11 days for trombone with the extra slide technique exercises).  Throughout there are some exercises that have measures of rests inserted.  Here’s an example.

On the surface this looks like many other embouchure development exercises, however the instructions Reinhardt suggests during the rests is unique.  Specifically, during the measure long rests you are to completely stop moving.  Freeze and don’t change the amount of muscular contraction in your embouchure, don’t let up at all on the mouthpiece pressure, don’t move our tongue, or any other change at all.  Become like a statue.  Immediately following the rest you start the pitch without taking in another breath.  At the “v” you take the mouthpiece off your lips and rest a moment before moving ahead.

There are a couple of things that are worth thinking about when using rests in this way.  First, be aware that it’s easy to stop blowing by bottling up the air using the valsalva manuever, closing off the throat.  This is something you want to avoid, simply stop the air by no longer blowing.  The indicated dynamic (pp) will help with this, as you won’t need to take as full a breath to make play the exercise through.  If you tank up with a lot of air you’re more likely to stop the blowing by closing the throat, so take a smaller breath if you need to.

Why practice in this way, since this doesn’t directly relate to how we normally play?  Practiced correctly, there are some benefits to freezing and not taking a breath during the written-out rests.  First, it will help you maintain consistent embouchure form throughout.  Many players will open their mouths wide for a deep breath and actually pull their lips off the mouthpiece.  Attacking the pitch following this is like hitting a moving target.  You can get good at hitting a moving target, but why make it harder than it needs to?  This method of practicing will help you get familiar with the sensation of keeping the mouthpiece placement consistently in the same spot for your entire range, so even if you find that during performance you need to open wide to grab that big breath you’re at least working towards that single mouthpiece placement.

Not moving at all during the rest period also makes the exercise more strenuous.  The idea is during the rest the only thing that is different from the note you just played is that you stopped blowing.  To pick up following the rest all you should feel that you need to do is start blowing (along with the tongued attack, of course, but it’s not the tongue that starts the note, it’s the air).  Even though the above excerpted exercise only has the student playing for 9 measures throughout, it should feel more like playing 12 measures.  Along with the prescribed rest periods (short ones after the “v” and slightly longer one before taking it down a half step through all 7 positions/fingerings in this example), this helps the student train for both consistent embouchure form and strength/endurance building at the same time.

It’s not so much what you practice but how you practice that is most important.  You can take the same concept of not moving a single bit during a rest period and apply it to scale patterns, arpeggios, or other technique building exercises.  Reinhardt also had his students gradually increase the rest period so that it could be extended to 6 or more beats to increase the amount of effort it takes to play the exercise.

Take it easy at first when using this approach, as it makes you work a lot harder than you may be used to.  Try to rest about as long as you play during the slightly longer rest periods so that you’re building up your chops, not tearing them down.

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