More Thoughts on the Stratos Embouchure Trainer

I’ve written about the Stratos device before, although I notice the video I embedded there has since become private. However, there is a newer and much longer video posted now where Stratos inventor, Marcus Reynolds, talks about it at the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine conference in 2013 (I believe).

It’s a rather long video, so if you don’t mind spoilers here is my synopsis.

First, bear in mind that this is essentially an infomercial. You can probably skip the first 60 seconds, since it’s really just soothing music with some scrolling text testimonials and description of what you’re about to watch.

The device itself is interesting. It basically clamps on to your leadpipe or mouthpiece and places an adjustable piece against your chin. If you want to work on bringing your chin forward/your horn angle up I can see how this could be helpful. Reynolds also demonstrates how it can be used to play with less pressure, although I personally feel it’s better to try and identify what is making the player use too much pressure and fix that instead.

I’m not sure how I feel about the demonstration where he keeps putting all the weight on the Stratos on his chin, keeping it off the lips. at 5:08 Reynolds intentionally sounds bad with almost no mouthpiece. He doesn’t elaborate on why it’s a good thing to practice this way, beyond the old trope about “letting the blood into the lips.” In my opinion, if you want to practice like this you should go all the way and simply practice free buzzing.

At around 8:00 in Reynolds talks about a conversation he had earlier with one of the doctors attending his presentation. He mentions how practicing with the Stratos on and then removing it had the effect that the player wants to keep the chin forward. It’s curiously sort of a backwards effect, when you think about it. By placing something against your chin and pushing it back for a while you end up wanting to bring your chin even further forward. While not all brass players will actually want to bring their chin forward to play, this is one area where the Stratos might actually be very useful.

And I have to gripe, of course, about Reynolds’ repeating the old myth that the air stream passes the lips and gets blown straight down the mouthpiece shank (starts about 9:14). Regular readers will already know about some of the evidence that’s available to see brass air stream direction. There may be some value to using the Stratos for some playings, but I suspect that it’s not going to help a player learn to blow straight down the shank. In fact, this situation is actually bad for brass playing. If this is the basis on which the Stratos works, then it’s based on a false premise and should be reexamined.

At £149.99 (about $250 U.S.) the Stratos device is not cheap and I probably won’t be getting one any time soon to teach with. I would also love to see someone research carefully and take a more objective look at how well the Stratos works and what it’s helpful for. There’s a lot of potential, I think, but I’m sure it’s not a panacea and might actually hurt more than it helps in some situations. Caveat emptor.

James

Hi Dave,

I have used the Stratos for years and found it very useful for curbing my bad habits: too much pressure, twisting the embouchure, keeping the head and instrument aligned and more I’m sure! It is also good to set the chops at the beginning of a rehearsal. You raise some interesting points, but I do feel you should endeavour to try one before casting so much doubt on it. It has had a positive effect for many players, including those with dystonia as I have witnessed.

Best wishes, James.

Dave

James, thanks for leaving your thoughts. For as expensive as it is, I’m not going to purchase one to try it myself. Everything that it purports to help with can be addressed with other methods that don’t require paying $200, so my preference would be to practice and teach without it. Sure, there may be some benefit.

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