Hi Greg & Forum,
First post, but I’ve read quite a few now and I can’t see this topic coming up anywhere, so maybe it is a strangeness of my physiology alone.
I’m a long time amateur (orchestral, brass band and big bands) who until recently only ever practiced just enough to get through the next gig, due to work (lots of travel), family and life. In recent years I’ve worked on Maggio, Claude G and recently James Thomson. I’ve been working diligently through WW/MTM course since mid November (’20) and have completed The Foundation stage recently.
Biggest issues have been removing my deeply embedded abdominal lock-in (i.e. unconscious tension) at every point (tonguing a note, harmonic slurs etc.). Its now beginning to work (or not) as required and all the exercises are speeding up nicely, without any noticeable tension.
I have for some time been concerned by my apparent asymmetric embouchure and it is noticeable (but only to me) that the aperture corners and shape changes are not completely symmetrical. I’ve also noticed a feeling that my right aperture corner muscles are less well developed than my left, so it feels like the left side is working harder.
In an attempt to get some control over this I realised that I could do the harmonic slur exercises by focusing on just one corner independently (i.e. just changing the shape on the right and then the left for balance and back to both together). This probably sounds mad but seems to work and I think I’m getting more balanced control (though early days).
Has this issue come up before? Any thoughts, concerns?
Welcome to the WW forum!
Removing deeply embedded habits / tendencies takes time–be patient with yourself and hopefully you realize that the fact that you know this is an issue is a very good sign! Being aware of that is very important.
I haven’t dealt with any asymmetric embouchure issues, so I don’t know if I’ll be any help; but I’ll give my $.02 for what it’s worth…
You may, or may not, have an asymmetrical embouchure. And if you do, there may be a reason–your teeth or other physiological factors may make an asymmetrical setup ideal for You.
There are some great players, all time greats, with asymmetrical embouchures. It’s not necessarily a problem.
My recommendation would be to not focus on whether or not it’s symmetrical, but how does it feel and sound? If it feels and sounds good, then it is good.
If you are feeling that you’re having difficulty sounding good or moving from one pitch to another efficiently because your embouchure is out of alignment somehow, then perhaps it’s an issue.
I’ve been having great success focusing on releasing passive air through a relaxed embouchure and observing how it feels sounds and reacting as little as possible / using as little as possible engagement to achieve pitches, change from one pitch to another, etc.
This has helped me to better define Shape for myself–to the point which I’m currently at a new high.
Even when things are going good/great, there are times in which I focus intently on doing as little as possible to change pitch and never cease to be amazed at how little can be required at times.
We must be wary of either extreme:
1. Playing exercises others prescribe for us with little or no thought / observation as to why we are playing the exercises, leaving our success or failure in the hands of our teacher(s) or the author of the method
2. Over analysis paralysis – Overthinking every movement we make, wondering what each movement is correct or is THE problem or part of our problem(s) playing that are keeping us from achieving what we desire.
You’re most likely in neither extreme, but I have been in both at times and still fight it.
Focusing my attention on using a less is more (the “1% rule”) approach and making sure to check-in with myself and play music each day to keep me honest and not get discouraged by not giving myself credit for what I CAN do and not descending into “Gladiator Trumpet” mode in which I mindlessly / endlessly play scales, harmonic slurs, test my range, etc. What good is any of that if it’s not for music?
Those are my thoughts, for what it’s worth. Good luck and keep us posted on how things go–wishing you much success working through things.
Your thoughts align exactly with my planned approach too. I have been having issues with removing all the old habits and am trying to balance playing other exercises & music with the demands of Greg’s process(and muscles that are probably not used to working this much). I think fairly successfully, but time only will tell. I am very aware that in the far past I was reliant on brute force and unaware of the role of the shape and aperture corners and corner-tension (for want of a better phrase). I heard an interview with Wynton M from a couple of years ago, were he refers to massacring Bach’s Brandenbourg for years. I feel rather similar (though sadly have never been able to perform the Brandenbourg).
Regarding the asymmetry, I agree; there are many of my heroes who do not play dead centre. This isn’t my problem specifically. My concern is more that I get the feeling sometimes that one side is not pulling its weight when working on the harmonic slurs. I’ve been trying to isolate the feeling at both sides independently only so that I can create a better balance of the two. But main focus has been together. It did get me wondering how many other muscle groups we can isolate to assist in the process.
Great to have your input on this and my general challenges and good to communicate with someone going through the same challenges as I’m facing. Many thanks for your feedback. This is a massive shift in mind and the subconscious, but so far so good.
All the best,
You’re welcome, Paul, glad if my thoughts were any help.
I am playing relatively effortlessly compared to how I used to, but it is still a battle of mind and body.
I wasn’t able to play at all the other day and cleaned my horn today. I caught myself at times over exerting.
I have found it easier to catch myself earlier on when that happens.
I also used to battle my old tendencies / mental perception when playing harmonic slurs, treating them more as an endurance exercise to muscle through with lots of air.
Lately, I have found a lot of benefit from slowing things down, at least at first, and patiently observing each pitch, how it feels, sounds, trying to get away with barely moving to change pitch, making sure that pitch is optimal as well, etc. Then, once I feel like I have a good Shape idea /sensation for each pitch, repeating the slur again focusing on efficiently moving from one to the next.
I haven’t had the sensation you have, of one side or the other being stronger, but have caught myself over-blowing /engaging too much when focusing on speed, so I think slowing it down and even pausing on each pitch, improvising slurs up and down based on feel is beneficial–practice is experimentation, I think it’s beneficial not to stick to what’s written in the exercise books but to improvise exercises based on what I need to work on, how I’m feeling searching for more efficiency or optimal shape, etc.
Good advice; thanks.
I’m definitely getting some “mindfulness” development working on these exercises. I’m now able to see that my conscious brain was blocking out the deep mindfulness aspects, so having also to work on playing trumpet or humming whilst (with eyes closed) letting the mind find any muscle movement itself.
Not sure what you mean by ‘asymmetric’ but if you’re referring to air sometimes ‘leaking’ out one side compared to the other especially as you ascend in range… I experienced the same issue and then realized my front teeth are not even- that is one is a little more ‘recessed’ than the other. By altering the angle of the mouthpiece with my lips the issue was resolved. In other words the trumpet does not stick straight out from my face; it is slightly to the left which is where the recessed tooth is. Hypothetically if I were to get braces to correct the tooth alignment, the position of the trumpet likely would change. I also assume you are not referring to focal dystonia.
By Asymmetric, I mean one side (left or right aperture corners) being more dominant. Thus one side working harder than the other. Given the responses I’m getting above, I’m beginning to think I’m just odd. Its not a major issue, and I am making good progress; I just wondered if anyone else had the same feeling.
My teeth are not perfectly aligned but I don’t think (can’t be sure of course) that this is something related to the shape of teeth or jaw. I think I’m getting better balance now with some focus on each side independently. Assuming the problem isn’t just in my mind then I think its quite an old issue. Its only now – that I’m aware of the function of the aperture corners – that this has become at all of interest/concern.
Thanks for all the comments. A great forum.
I meant to reply earlier, but I could not verify if my thought were legit. I was thinking about people usually being right-handed or left. I am pretty sure we have a dominant chewing side to our mouths. My idea concerns working some facial muscles more than others in chewing activities or clinching. Some people sometimes hold objects on one side of the lips, such as a pen or a straw. I am just brainstorming why one side of your facial muscles feels weaker.
I am going to recommend an exercise that is in the Andante level. But first, be aware of these cautions.
It is very easy to get confused when searching for the best way to improve, given the environment of conflicting views in which we live. For this reason alone, it is beneficial to treat technical development as experimentation. What works for you may not work for someone else.
Danger lies in locking the cheek muscles or clenching at the sides of the mouth. This is a common practice that can severely diminish efficiency and hinder flexibility.
Allow the tension at the Aperture Corners to determine how much work needs to be done in the facial muscles. The louder you play, the more work the facial muscles will need to work to hold the Aperture Corners in position.
Keep The Jaw Down
Be sure to keep the teeth apart. Lowering the jaw allows the Aperture Corners to spring into action and eliminate clamping at the center of the lips.
Learn to recognize the inward, horizontal movement of the Aperture Corners. Add to this an understanding of the role of the tongue and your upper register will improve dramatically.
Place the index and middle finger extended like a closed peace sign. Put the two fingers, into the mouth with the fingers pointing into the mouth. The index finger side is on the bottom teeth and the middle finger is under the top teeth. Say aah-ooh and bring the aperture corners toward the fingers. Repeat. Exercise 2: Put the little finger in the middle of the lips and grip it with your aperture corners, not the top and bottom of the lips. Let the lips naturally roll out, do not smile.
Hope this helps.
Great help thanks Ronald, This is largely where I’ve been going. The two-finger exercise and little finger are both great exercises so long as, as you point out, one doesn’t overdo this. Wasn’t it Schubert who ruined his hands by over-reaching on the attempt to increase his finger-spread.
I think things are working better and I’m already starting to see less of an issue.
Thank you, Paul.
Glad to hear things are working better, Paul.
It sounds to me like you’re very attuned to what’s going on physically in your embouchure and I think awareness is a good thing.
I have found it helpful to keep Sound in mind and observe how changes I make while I’m releasing air through the instrument change the sound, better or worse, and how I can make changes that make it easier to change pitch with less effort.
I have also found it useful to watch / listen to videos of other trumpet players, as I don’t take lessons or play in a group. Someone mentioned that Jim Wilt (LA Phil) posts YouTube videos most days and have found those very useful as Jim has a great sound and seems to play with relative ease even above the staff.
I have found this a useful thing to keep in mind and am developing my own sense of my sound and how it feels for me to play and am finding that I’m developing my own new set of ideas / memories of what playing means, which is very exciting. I suppose it the “two buildings” analogy that Greg refers to. I am definitely liking my new “building”!
It is important not to be at either extreme–not try to understand WHAT we’re supposed to do logically, mechanically, and just do what others tell you to do or play mindlessly or over analyze every movement you make–that can be a tough tailspin to get out of. Keeping Sound, feeing and Music in mind / present each day to “check-in” (what Can you do, what Can’t you do and what can you partially do) and keep ourselves honest–easy to get either delusions of grandeur or not give ourselves credit for great progress / ability.
At times, especially in the beginning of WindWorks, I overdid the setup and exagerrated the “aperture corners” engagement. Once I started using Sound and feeling/efficiency as guideposts and slowing things down at times and focusing on the sound / feeling, I started making huge strides and my mind/body figured out the WHAT (or at least filled in the gaps) while I was focusing on the Sound and feeling.