WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › Balanced Embouchure and TCE
I think you know about the approach of Jeff Smiley in his book the balanced embouchure. What are the similitudes et differences with WindWorks.
And have you ever tried the technique described in TCE (Tongue Controlled Embouchure by Bahb Civiletti)? It seems to me that it is a little like tongue arch but with the tongue between the teeth.
I did quite a bit of study of the Balanced Embouchure many years ago when it first came out and found it to have a lot of benefit.
It terms of describing how the lips work when playing it is quite different from Wind-works as BE describes more of rolling in and out to achieve the shape change. More of a focus of top and bottom lip coming together and it advocates for playing with a very small aperture.
The main thing that is striking similar though between the two methods is the way it is implemented. Greg talks about living in one trumpet “building” as you build another with more efficient habits and it takes time before you swap over and this is exactly the same as the BE method. It is also probably the biggest frustration of both authors (Greg and Jeff) that this concept is often misunderstood. In BE there is a roll in exercise that allows for easy high notes, but it only designed to gives the lips that experience and lock away in the subconscious the general movement, however a lot of players get seduced by this and think this is the path to follow for all playing and for the vast majority, it is not.
Just like Greg’s method allows for a phat free resonate sound down low with a large aperture and players get stuck thinking Greg plays all over the horn like that. Perception is not reality.
The rollout exercises can be great for getting the feel of corners moving inwards. That feels helpful for what we are doing in Windworks.
In the end, I haven’t practiced BE for many years now but I do think it is compatible with Windworks IF (and this is the key) you are absolutely clear on the psychology of playing and how doing these extreme exercises in BE is simply to give the lips a chance to experience the full range of motion. In BE there is literally an exercise called “the lip clamp”, which I know is making Greg breakout into a cold sweat just thinking about it, but approached as just another ingredient tossed into the subconscious recipe of trumpet playing it should work.
Worth checking out, the book is cheap and well written and the forum at trumpetherald has the author in there answering questions. As Jim Rohn says: “Be a student, not a follower”
However having said all that, remember the old proverb: if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.
Or I think this is paraphrased from the great Bill Adam, “if you have a foot in one boat and a foot in another boat, you will end up with your arse in the water.”
I hope this is helpful.
This is great info / a great thread.
Thanks for this great reply.
Greg’s method for me is great to understand not to blow too hard (passive release).
And Jeff’s method to understand how to change shape.
I would recommend looking into BE AFTER getting very comfortable with WW. If you can do the body’s concert hall, passive/active air release, control pitch by shape, etc, and you’ve gone through the Emerald stage, then the stuff from BE might make more sense in a practical manner – at least it did for me.
My contribution for what its worth..
I think Greg’s approach and Balanced Embouchure (BE) complement each other very well. Both are focusing on the shape and in both tensionless playing is going to be the end result. One point where I would take issue is when Alistair writes that BE “advocates for playing with a very small aperture.” BE does not recommend any particular set up of the lips – rather it is a set of exercises where the goal is to duplicate the sound on the cd and then the lips work out for themselves what to do. (Rather like Greg and left handed golf.. amazing what your body is capable of) Personally for me my set up has indeed (of its own accord) got more closed but also the feel is more open and relaxed than ever.. sign that my embouchure is moving to a more balanced direction – or in WW terms – starting to take shape!
Concerning tongue one player I respect – he is a professional jazz guy – in 2007 was writing a lot about TCE and variations of it. In 2016 he had come to the conclusion “just forget the tongue.. it will work out what to do..” Of course for this guy thinking TCE in 2007 may have been one of the steps on the way for his development. BE does advoactas the importance (huge importance) of Tongue on Top Lip when practising BE (ie you need to be able to do it.. shows your set up is open enough) but then leaves it up to the individual if this seeps into his/her’s real playing.
PS Hope the golf still goes well Greg – my claim to fame is that I have been with Seve Ballesteros and Jack Niklaus drinking whisky – The Old Course Hotel St Andrews 1983 – it was just the 3 of us – a Magic moment!! For the record I should add I was the waiter in the room.
One point where I would take issue is when Alistair writes that BE “advocates for playing with a very small aperture.” BE does not recommend any particular set up of the lips – rather it is a set of exercises where the goal is to duplicate the sound on the cd and then the lips work out for themselves what to do.
Yes that’s true. The whole point of the book is give the lips the ability to move and change shape and let them figure out the finer details themselves. When I wrote that the book advocates for a smaller aperture I was thinking of this quote from the book.
To play with ease, strength, and range, the lips must vibrate more closely together than is generally considered feasible.
– Page 14 Balanced Embouchure.
That would tend to suggest that the end result would be moving towards having the lips closer together.
The book also talks about how the lips are weak in the middle, the very place they need to be strong, this appears to contradict Greg’s assertion that the lips are already too strong.
I find it interesting that the two methods have so much common ground, and yet, appear to be complete opposites on some points.
Would love to hear Greg chime in on this when he gets a chance.
Great posts / interesting thread. I’ve been playing well with what feels like a very compact embouchure / setting. I remember experiencing this before, when I moved back to a 3C from a 1 1/2C and 1 1/4C mouthpiece. I’ve broken my tendency to tense up and blow more air as I play higher, for the moat part. Keeping things centered and compact / forward and working on harmonic slurs / Flexibilities and different articulations is working well for me.
Hi Alistair..good questions you raise about the lips. Below is a quote from Michael (Prof of physics N Z if i remember right) from Trumpet Herald forum. He was a big fan of BE. He wrote this back in 2006. Unfortunately i think he has passed away..unlike the challenges of mastering the trumpet. At least the Roll out pedals element of BE focuses on this pushing away feel..which I guess is akin to Ahh Oohh? Stay safe for Christmas..steve
I was just about to stop, because my lips were starting to lose focus and thin out, then my corners kicked in with the double pedal inward feel, my embouchure focused inwards and forwards and the horn opened up. WOW! What a feeling. This HUGE tone came out of the horn, even up to high C, which would easily have fitted in to a symphony orchestra. This was playing on a mouthpiece with a cup volume similar to a Bach 7E. The other curious thing about this setting is that the sensation is of the lips pushing the mouthpiece away, not of the mouthpiece pushing into the lips. Michael
Ps Hi Jonnelwood. These last 2 days i have decided to stop thinking about playing higher..rather playing lower. In practise this means i focus on starting day with very relaxed g on top of staff and c above. Get my brain to feel /identify this as my normal.setting and then focus rest of day on playing lower. I am teaching myself that notes above the staff are easier than notes in the staff…at times i believe it..feel it..but only 20% of time so journey in progress..but if someone had told me i would be setti g this kind of objective 6 months ago i would have labelled them delusional! Learning the trumpet keeps on giving.
Great info Steve.
I can relate to that “pushing away” feeling / concept and the result Michael describes in the post you refer to above. It can feel and sound amazingly good and that feeling is most noticeable above the staff up to and beyond High C.
I recall Greg talking about that pushing away of the mouthpiece by the lips in one of his videos.
My understanding is that the sensation of pushing the mouthpiece away is from the engagement of the aperture corners, the muscles contract inwards from the sides towards the center of the mouthpiece. This action pulls in more lip into the mouthpiece, resulting in the mouthpiece pushing away. This is difficult to observe watching another player as when the muscles contract it can actually appear like the player is doing the exact opposite motion–pulling the corners back and thinning out the lips–which can work, but in my experience is problematic in that it is limited (we can only pull back so far, whereas when we contract the muscles inwards towards the air column to reduce the aperture size it feels more limitless–like we can simply open up the aperture by dropping our jaw a bit; we have more control and it’s an easier motion, the muscles don’t feel as taxed as they do when pulling backwards (we’re using different muscles for the two motions).
I like your thinking lower to play higher concept–reminds me of Stamp, which I looked at today because I have been on a roll lately and wanted to see if there was any detail / explanation of his warm up exercise that I have played for years. Things have been going really well in my playing. I’ve been focusing a bit on harmonic slurs, which of course Greg features prominently in the course.
Lately, I’ve been playing Stamp’s “Basic Warm-up” (the one on the horn, not the buzzing / mouthpiece stuff) which starts on middle C on the staff (in quarter notes), ascends a whole tone to D (half note) then back to C, G (quarter) then A (half note) then G then low C (whole).
For me, the key is getting the D (second note) feeling pretty much like I’m not doing anything to ascend from the C.
Obviously I am doing SOMETHING to ascend from the C on the staff to the D during the Stamp warmup…but it’s very subtle when things are going right. When my mind isn’t right and I rush through and start my day off wrong, I hit the gas (more Air) or engage more than necessary and play through it without any focus on WHY I’m playing what I’m playing. This doesn’t really happen to me anymore, but I believe this is probably what I was doing when I was young…
But what does happen to me still and probably always will, is I often think of notes starting about D towards the top of the staff, as higher. I think there is some sort of physical break there that causes it, but it’s also a mental game. Perhaps that’s where our aperture needs to contract a bit smaller, an invisible line like the sound barrier.
I don’t really know Balanced Embouchure, but in my experience all methods more or less converge ultimately. Some differ in their approaches and the concepts and often appear to contradict each other. However, in time it seems to me that as I understand the different methods / writings more that they seem in fact to say the same thing, just sometimes in a slightly different way. They seem to have more in common than they don’t.
Bottom line is that the trumpet mouthpiece is a very small place…there are only so many ways our lips can fit into the mouthpiece.
Slowing things down, not treating Harmonic Slur exercises as blind exercises which to plow through like an endurance exercise, but objectively observing close attention to how each note sounds and feels and making small changes in the Shape to adapt to that information…”practice is experimentation”…this is helping me a great deal to hone in on WHAT it is specifically that I’m supposed to be doing with my lips, face muscles, etc. to play.
Then, proceeding onwards to playing them faster–focusing on trying to connect those newfound shapes the most efficient way possible, making small changes (again) to Shape to make it easier to connect the notes to each other.
Specifically, I’ve been experimenting a bit with harmonic slurs through my entire range to learn what Shape to make for each pitch and how to move from note to note. I’m focusing especially on notes starting about D on the staff upwards to the limit of my comfortable range (I’m not treating this as a range building exercise) up slightly above High C (usually D or E). I focus on relaxing, ensuring there’s no tension in my body except what’s necessary (aperture corners) and I focus on separating Air and Shape (I don’t kick the air to try to achieve the higher pitch, I usually try to play rather softly but with good air support).
I’ve spent some time experimenting playing above the staff with minimal muscle engagement while using good Air. In my opinion, the most effective way to experiment playing above the staff is to approach it as objectively as possible–not basing your definition of success as achieving the notes you’re attempting to play, but rather on not over blowing or over engaging your body. I also try to fail first–to do less and less and less muscle engagement (important to use good air though, otherwise it’s a waste of time) until I eventually don’t achieve the desired pitch, then I increase it slightly and try again–hopefully failing the 2nd time as well…what I look for is the minimum amount of engagement of the aperture corners to achieve the pitch, then I search a bit for the optimum amount to obtain resonance–efficiency and optimal sound.
There are certain pieces of music that I play that I have experimented with this approach that, to this day, when I go to play above the staff I sort of almost don’t do anything and stay relaxed and the notes above the staff speak. It does seem at times almost like a faith thing, but it’s really not. There is engagement, just not nearly as much as we tend to think and the engagement is limited to the muscles surrounding the aperture, not within the aperture itself as many of us tend to think / start out with.
I think the reason why Greg and so many great trumpet players focus so much on harmonic slurs is that they are the key to our understanding of the instrument. We don’t have a reed to vibrate, we have to create our “reed” instantaneously for each and every note we play. And we have to do it in a way that doesn’t over-engage the muscles in the lips which are our “reed”–the vibrating surface, or it deadens the sound / reduces resonance, limits its ability to vibrate (limits range), which we often try to overcome / compensate for by increasing Air, which creates a positive feedback loop death-spiral of engaging even more muscle to manage the increased Air until, ultimately we either use too much Air or too much muscle engagement that the vibration stops altogehter…we fight against ourselves (Air and Shape), rather than balancing the two effectively–when we balance Air and Shape optimally, that is ultimate efficiency and my understanding is it’s also optimal resonance (sounds the best).
Playing trumpet is not a strength building endeavor as much as it is a coordination of Air and Shape. It doesn’t actually require a great amount of physical strength or air to play the trumpet–“less air is required the higher we play”. Playing high obviously requires compression of air, but it’s a very low volume of air–the trumpet requires less air volume to play than low brass instruments.
Sorry for the long post…hopefully there’s something in there that helps you or someone else. All the best.
Hi Johnelwood.. really enjoyed your post and good it was long cos one idea helped me most at the end – the point that the trumpet really does need very little air. I’ve never had a teacher so the first reflex I ever had with a trumpet was to blow as hard as possible – after 4 years I’m still working on unlearning that reflex and your post helped on that journey. The second point I liked was your idea that pushing away feel indicates lips moving in to the mp. Reminded me of “Pops” the Trumpet guru and his idea of making a longer reasonance tunnel. I appreciated the specifics about the Stamp routine and the tensionless progressions. I agree with you – just like different religions these different trumpet methods have much in common but – just like religion – they seem often to be in a state of war with each other. But somehow the idea of “breaking the code” (tensionless playing across the whole range) means learning the trumpet never loses its fascination – indeed do we ever even want to break it? (of course we do!) cos once we do the enigma is no more.
Yesterday (before i read your post) I just looked at a visual of the Orbiscularis oris muscle on the face – logged it in my memory bank and thought about it today when I was playing – but other than that didn’t change a thing on set up . for me its sometimes enough to think about something and not “do” anything. But then today read your post: “engagement is limited to the muscles surrounding the aperture, not within the aperture itself as many of us tend to think / start out with.” so I am catching on to your way of thinking..
After reading your post I played some more – this time thinking about Johnelwoods lip tunnel (for me your tunnel is an upgrade on Pop’s which was somehow static .. I see the tunnel has to kick in more when it gets harder to achieve as you ascend) and how little air I need.
But right now where I think I am different from you is that i am not thinking about Air and air speed. Shape. Lips. Face Muscles. Yes. But I don’t think about air speed or tongue position (though it is very forward.. tonguing on lips critical to BE approach.. just now did my best ever clear top lip tonguing G above staff) Of course the BE exercises with exaggerated lip snaps and zips require a lot of air speed adjustments but I don’t think about the air at all when I do them.
Progress in last 6 months has been good. Now G top of staff feels maybe easier than an e in the staff (when i think about it – in 6 months the g on top of staff has gone from most hated to most liked note in a line of music – and I guess that’s half the battle won already.. ) and on good days I can float out a reasonant and easy c above so I’m on the way to making the c my new favourite note. Key thing for me is to stay motivated even on the tough days – so thanks for your help and all the best for Christmas – I have some carols playing on spotify and I have just put up the tree! cheers steve
Thanks Steve, that’s very good to hear–that my ramblings helped in any way.
It is interesting how the lips just need to be present to vibrate and to remember that the air column travels through the center of the aperture–so that is where the air interacts with the lips.
Someone else on this forum, I don’t recall unfortunately, mentioned on another thread the concept of a coffee stirrer or bar straw (the little thin straws they put in cocktail drinks) being held in their lips as they play above the staff. That helped me.
The reason I focus on Air is actually so I can focus primarily on Shape, actually.
I found it difficult to understand what changes in Shape we’re doing, what was working and what wasn’t. So I focused on using Passively released Air for a long time–to prevent my using Air as a crutch to kick and try to achieve a pitch.
I spent months primarily playing with Passively released air. I have no playing commitments, so that was a luxury I could afford. I think that helped me break some bad habits and helped me stop tensing up in the throat, neck, shoulders, etc. I still have to watch myself, but I rarely catch myself doing that anymore.
I treated my playing as sort of a science experiment–I wanted to rule out the impact of Air on my playing and use constant Air, then objectively observe what changes I made to Shape did to my sound, ability to play efficiently, etc.
Lately, I have been playing more music and have been starting to experiment a bit with using more Active Air.
But I still try to play softly and use Passive air when doing harmonic slurs and focusing on changing Shape.
I think that’s why Clarke and others wrote their exercises to be played very softly.
Then, once we have a concept of Shape, we can circle back and work on filling that shape with more Air, Actively supported air to increase the volume of the note, which will require a slight modification of shape (i.e. more open aperture).
Congrats on your success with your range. Hope you and yours have very happy holidays and 2021 is a great year for you.