Had a slight setback yesterday, but it was brief and turned out to be a positive thing.
I thought again how the most important part of our body / piece of equipment involved with playing this instrument is between our ears–our brain.
I was tied up with work and didn’t get around to playing until later in the day. Rather than approaching the instrument like I have been, patiently paying close attention to the sensations and sound I was achieving as I started playing, and continued to play–I approached it as though I had catching up to do, trying to get through things so that I could get the results that I wanted.
I wasn’t even rushing much at all, it was just a slight difference in approach. It felt like an off day to me as it didn’t wind up feeling as good as the day before. The funny thing though, is that I managed to play everything that I played the day before–I hit the notes. It just didn’t feel as relaxed, as good, etc.
This morning, I got a great start to my day and just paid close attention to the feeling and sound as I released passive air through the horn, trying to cooperate with it rather than force or fight it. This helped me get back to an even better feeling of ease with my playing and an even greater resonance in my sound.
I’ve had an even greater sense of ease playing above the staff, an ability to play very softly or very loudly, ease of articulation, etc. It really has felt incredible. I am very grateful to Greg and others on this site for the help I have found at WindWorks. I’m not a great player, but all any of us can ask for is as much freedom as possible to start with that we can use to play whatever it is we want to play.
I remember a couple Christmases ago reaching a low point where I almost threw my instrument across the room–which would have been the end of playing for me. Now, I feel as though I have finally mastered this thing, at least the whole embouchure setting…there’s always more to do… But the ease with which I’m playing must be optimal; it is incredible. Now, I just need to not screw it up and work on other fundamentals of the instrument.
I saw somewhere a video or quote from Christopher Martin saying that we must learn how to play everyday–I like that, I can relate to that now. Our bodies are in constant flux, we start from a slightly different place every day and our “reed” is flesh and bone, which are not constant. We have to see where we’re at everday, and feel and listen to what the instrument is telling us.
I remember my teacher when I was young, who tried an embouchure change on me in high school but that and nothing else he / we tried worked. He was a great player and reputable teacher, but for some reason nothing worked. He eventually passed me on to another teacher and I never found my way. Eventually, I decided I had reached the end of the runway and it was time to grow up. I went to college and focused on developing marketable skills. No regrets, I’m happy. And I don’t blame anyone for my failure.
I remember him telling me to roll my bottom lip in to play higher–in fact, I just ran across old manuscript paper with his lessons on it with that written on the pages.
Similarly, Clarke wrote about the movement of the lower lip in his “Setting Up Drills” book.
The “rolling in” of my bottom lip led me to failure, tilting my head back, bell to the floor, all sorts of manipulations / overblowing, tightening the lips to compensate for the excess air, etc. etc.
Now, I don’t think of it as much that I’m moving the lower lip–although I have been thinking of this as I have been experiencing what I have been lately, this new ease of playing. I can understand how someone would think that it’s the lower lip that’s moving…and it very well may be. But if it is, it’s very subtle, very gradual.
I believe Greg’s description of “Shape” to be the best explanation I have come across. He also mentioned a “milk spout” thing with the bottom lip, which I am experiencing lately. Again, it’s subtle, natural, and I’m automatically doing it instinctively in response to the sound / sensations of playing and to more efficiently move from one Shape to the next or obtain the best sound possible. Anyone can do what I’m doing–the key is experimenting with an open mind and paying close attention to the sound and sensation, not trying to follow a book or description anyone else is giving. I believe it’s helpful and important to hear others’ perspectives, they are valuable clues / insight, but they usually make more sense AFTER realizing what works for me.
I have also been thinking about how Charlie Porter and Vince Di Martino talked about keeping the corners tight. This seemed a different approach, contradictory to Greg’s explanation to keep things relaxed, etc. But now I realize it’s not–it’s another way of saying “aperture corner tension” and firmly engaged corners is what makes the Shape the most accurate for each pitch AND allows us to more efficiently move from one Shape to the next.
The guideposts are there:
1. What shape produces the best pitch (for each note)
2. What movements can I make, or not make, in my embouchure that will make the movement from the pitch I’m on to the next pitch the most efficient? Experiment with doing as little as possible (“Less Is More” – Frank van der Poel, Greg’s 1% Rule, etc.).
By focusing on these guideposts, I was able to get from my slightly less ideal experience of playing back to feeling better than ever.
And, of course the WindWorks course / exercises–they are laid out well and I get why they are laid out that way more than ever before. The Singing C exercises, progress charts and articulating on each pitch–making sure we have full ability on every note, that we’re not unecessarily engaging anything in our body that is hindering things.
That’s my plan on “teaching myself how to play everyday” as Christopher Martin says.