An early Part 3 since I've got to go blow my chops into oblivion on a
dance-till-dawn gig later...
First, why am I writing all of this? Well, here's what happened... A
couple of weeks ago I had a ton of concerts and gigs, as I'm sure many
of us did considering the time of year. Most exhausting was an program
that featured Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture, Billy the Kid, and an
obscure Ives march. The stage was really hot, I was playing first, and
getting through this ordeal seemed next to impossible. As predicted, it
was very rough - I did survive, but I just couldn't get my chops to
settle in and relax; had no real feeling of stability, and as a result
I used way too much pressure and effort.
Afterwards, at home, I tried to analyze the problem. No luck. Went to
the web, stumbled across John Lynch's monograph on chops (http://tinyurl.com/ywr27o
and had a revelation. By tucking in my bottom lip a bit I could
suddenly "grip" the mpc and relieve most of the pressure. It worked
almost instantly, and the next evening, when I had to repeat the
concert, I made it through with no problems at all.
Over the past two weeks or so I've been giving this whole "efficient
embouchure" concept a lot more thought. Craig Morris, on his excellent
writes about how double-reed players spend the vast majority of their
time making and modifying reeds, but brass players don't think much at
all about their chops unless they're having serious problems. Then
they're told to use more air and stop over-analyzing. If you tell a
bassoonist to stop screwing with his reed and just blow harder, be
prepared for some strong language. Good thing most of them are small
and weak... :)
Ok, now for the practical stuff. First, a caveat: this advice, for what
it's worth, is directed toward "down-stream" players, which I believe
most are. This means that your primary vibrating surface is probably
your upper lip. It's easy to determine which you are - just free buzz a
low tone and place your index finger on the red of your bottom lip. If
the buzz continues pretty normally, you're a down-streamer. If it stops
you're possibly anup-streamer. You can check this by using your finger
on the top lip too. No buzz up there means down-stream, continued buzz,
This is, of course, a generalization, since embouchures are so weird
and varied that it may not hold true for everyone. But for most, I
think, it does.
Now, the first objective: getting a grip on the mpc.
The word "grip" is sort of a misnomer, since the lips are inside the
mpc and, as such, can't really grip anything. But they can be securely
settled in there, forming a kind of pouch in which the mpc rests. The
easiest way to accomplish this is to place the mpc on the chops
(hopefully your normal setting is more on the top than bottom), then
slide the bottom lip up slightly. Once you've got this position take
the mpc off the top lip while leaving it in position on the bottom. Get
a feel for where it now sits on the bottom lip - this is your new
anchor point. As you get used to this slight alteration you'll be
amazed at how your endurance and range improves. The goal is to firmly
anchor your mpc while moving your bottom lip up so as to form a better
seal with the top lip.
Second objective: build bottom lip strength.
The easiest way to do this, at least at first, is through isometrics.
Here are two sets of exercises:
Skip the pencil thing for now and concentrate on the pucker. Emphasize
the lower lip when doing these.
2. The Lip Clamp, from Jeff Smiley's "Balanced Embouchure" method. I'm
probably risking a copyright infringement suit here, but I'll chance
it. Simply roll in both top and bottom lips and squeeze really hard. Do
this until they burn, rest, repeat. Try this exercise 2X a day. Also
stress the lower lip, as in the first set.
Enough for today. More startling revelations in a day or two...