Monday, July 16, 2012

Practice Journal: July 16th, 2012

One of my co-workers at work quit a couple weeks ago, so for the past 3 weeks I've been literally working over-time along with my other team members. Unfortunately I haven't had much time to blog, but I did have a great practice session today and got up early just so I could blog about it! I'm going to tag it under my practice journals.

I've noticed lately that I've been regaining control over my lower lip and chin muscles...and surprisingly I just realized how much of a huge impact they have over my playing. I guess I'm more wide-eyed because I naively always thought that my corner muscles were always the main muscle group being effected in my embouchure. But now I see that though my corners are the support, it's my chin muscles which give me flexibility, and my lower lip movement (rolling in/rolling out motion) has more freedom to flex if my chin muscles have the control to support it. Maybe this sounds crazy?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I always felt like dystonia took away control in my upper lip and corners more, and even though I know it was effecting my chin muscles, that it effected my whole embouchure, I never realized how much control it took away from my chin muscles as well, because it's more visually noticeable than physically...until now where I finally feel the impact it's had as I regain control over this group of muscles.

So much of my progress has been sporadic in the past, for almost a year, until recently I've been having less re-lapses. I also noticed that my progress comes in layers, very gradually, and my symptoms reduced in a reversed order.

 For example: when I first started having dystonia symptoms it was subtle and just on my G and A, I started noticing air-leaks, then spasms started to creep in now and then, next I started to struggle with decrescendo's, then with playing soft, then with tonguing, and certain passages, and certain styles were more difficult too because it exposed my symptoms more (like Mozart's horn concerto's which had always been a favorite of mine and suddenly it became my worst nightmare), I started losing control of my larger movements (larger interval jumps and register changes/transitions), and pretty soon the spasms were more than noticeable, especially after I took time away from my horn (though I still think that's very important and absolutely necessary - taking time off, and pacing yourself), and also buzzing became difficult as well, and pretty soon I just struggled to grab onto a note or move or produce a sound....or even drink out of pop can! I even had to collapse my corners in order to drink out of a tin pop can or water bottle, it was such an odd sensation.

But when I started to recovery through rehabilitation the process went in the opposite order: First buzzing abilities came back, then it took a while to grab onto a note on my horn (I had to focus on the notes I could hold and work my way into others when could by adjusting or finding patterns), at first I could only play in my pedal register, then I worked my way into to low register, then middle register, then mid-to-high register (which is still very difficult for me endurance-wise). For a very very long time it was just learning how to reduce the spasms, and focusing on finding a comfortable spot that I could keep working on even if I had spasms...I was always searching for leverage. When I improved, it was very small steps, and slow and also every time I started working in a new register the progress in each register varied....of course it was much more difficult in my mid-to-low range. Gradually I learned how to grab a note, then articulate them through air-attacks, I found passages that worked for me, then I regained control over smaller motions (interval to interval; m2 to m2), then eventually it widened, then over slightly larger movements, and then different range transitions. As well it took a lot of slow practice, lots of patients, and I had to listen to my body....I couldn't do certain things until my muscles had regained some type of control over a long period of time; when my spasms reduced, then I saw my corner muscles improve and this helped me be able to work my way into different registers, then later my lower lip with transitions, and now....

....lately I've noticed my chin muscle control improving, as well my lower lip flexibility. When I look in the mirror and see and feel the flexibility I noticed this also helps support my corner muscles because it some-how evens out. I'm just listening to my body, and I though my chin muscles may not always flatten out or pull down all the time when I go lower, they do it a lot more than they use to...and it's not that I'm forcing them to either, it's that they naturally want to now for some's very weird when I notice these subtle changes, because most often it's as if your brain decides to cooperate and send the right signal to your face? You're lucky if it happens once, but to see it two times or three or four...then you know somethings giving way to a new re-wiring or improvement.

It's also one of my good days! However, I always look as everything as a step forward in a positive direction; the good days are the best days, and the re-lapse days are a sign that I've made someone else stated in the musician's with dystonia group, "You can't have a re-lapse without improvement!"

As well, it's important to not overwork yourself on those "good days", which can be easy to get so excited to see improvement and pretty soon you can hear yourself thinking "Maybe just a little bit of Mahler"....nahhhh! haha...just joking, but it seriously is easy to push yourself too hard in the beginning, especially when you see improvement because you want to hold onto that good feeling, that sense of feeling and control you have for the time-being, and then you end up with more tension in your face and need to take a 3-4 days off of playing just doing stretches, resting, and ice-pack if swollen. However, like I said, rehabilitation takes a lot of patience and being very aware of your body and signs of tension.

My best example of what embouchure dystonia can be like is; imagine if someone injected a sticky substance like glue into your lips (but not a really hard type of glue, one that melts and hardens and melts), it makes your muscles stiff (like hardened glue) and your movements seem so difficult to adjust, and when you try to focus on holding a note that's when things are very unstable (like melted glue or something slippery) and you can't grab onto a note and your lips won't stop quivering or spasming  due to no stability, and when symptoms are at their peak/height you try to blow into your mouthpiece and can't produce a sound because it feels like your lips are glued together, and when you try to play a certain passage your tongue acts like it's been injected with Novocaine. It's like trying to go right and your brain sends you try to articulate a low G, and you end up playing a completely different note or no note at all...your brain is sending mixed signals and you don't know why. Again, this is when dystonia is at it's worst, but it starts off very subtle, which is why it's hard to catch or know if you have dystonia. Mine started off as air-leaks and a bit of wobbles on and off in my low register, and it was fairly easy to cover up in the beginning when things weren't so bad, so it's easy to mistake it as technique issue that needs work on, when it was dystonia and something out of my control.

Anywhoo, I'm so happy to see the progress that is coming along, I can't wait to record my next video...someone had asked me to do a video where I show what my symptoms are like when I play through an etude or excerpt. I can understand why, because I haven't played anything melodic or solo examples in my videos, except just scales. So that will be posted soon, as well a video where I am playing into a transparent mouthpiece.

Woohoo!!! :-)

Also I was thinking, and maybe I'll write a blog over this, but my past attempts at rehabilitation were good, but not patient enough to see a full-recovery. Part of it was because I needed more time off for my injury to heal, but also I think part of it was because I lacked the patients I do now. Progress doesn't come in a day or a week, or a couple weeks, it comes in months, and in the beginning like many others I had unrealistic expectations and was a bit impatient sometimes. Patience is key! Not to rush things, and not to expect improvement over-night or for the progress you do make to stick around as happen all the time in the beginning (ups and downs/very sporadic), it can be unbelievably frustrating, especially if a majority of your abilities use to be primarily naturally given. It's definitely been a long journey, and like many others I realize it's a change in life-style as are forced to focus on rehabilitation as a journey, and as a very slow process, but enlightening as well. In a sense it has been a huge life-altering change for me, but also a blessing in some senses....I'm now much more pro-active about musician's injuries and trying to get others to treat themselves more like athletes within this profession. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Additional Buzzing Exercises

This is an additional video I made and posted under my buzzing routine. I forgot to add these in there, so here's a 3rd video.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

'Pops': About Farkas Embouchure

Dr. Philip Farkas

Happy 4th of July!!!!

I really wanted to re-post this on my blog, as I found it very interesting! I also love articles and sites I come across over embouchure function and/or types. Trumpet players seem to be studying the embouchure or are more interested in it than most horn players it seems (maybe that's just what I've witnessed as a horn player)...and though horn players are different than trumpet players, all embouchures have some similarities or commonalities in terms of basic function. I find what Pops wrote very is a link to the actual site (I also posted it on my sidebar somewhere): 'Pops': Farkas Embouchure Is Self-Limiting


Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999 23:20:04 -0600 (CST)
From: ('Pops')
Subject: Re: Farkas embouchure
Subject: Farkas is self limiting

I hope that we ALL know that Dr. Farkas was a French horn player (and a great one ). His work was the first serious attempt to discuss brass embouchures. And as a result of being the first by a man with a PHD it became THE college textbook for brass playing. That was a very logical thing at the time. However Dr. Farkas didn't play trumpet he had to rely on interviews of others. A lot of what he said is good however the Farkas is the most HALF taught embouchure there is. If you got 100 Farkas embouchure players in a room and asked questions like ' What is the main function of the mouthcorners in the register above high c? ' I would faint or die if 2 could give the answer. They move in toward the center to shorten the vibrating surface. The funny thing is it is in the book. So my main gripe is way don't teachers read what they teach.

Middle c takes twice as much lip resistance to fight the air as low c does. 2X low c
High c takes twice as much. 4x low c
Super c takes twice as much. 8X low c
Triple high c takes twice as much. 16X low c

The Farkas tends to be a self limiting embouchure because it requires the facial muscles to provide all of the resistance to the air stream. Not only is this TOO tiring to keep up, there is also a limit to how tight you can make the lips. Due to the time factor most people are stopped at a f or g. So they start using an embouchure shift. Some players push the tongue to the top of the mouth, adding  resistance before the air hits the lips. This thins out the sound. Some players add a lip curl to the lower lip. It helps a little. Some curl in the upper lip. By the time you do this now you are in a Stevens setting.

Think of this example:

       1. Take two pieces of paper hold them so that the top piece and the bottom piece touch but do not overlap. Now blow see how the paper ( lips) does nothing to resist the air. This is the Farkas embouchure. We are going to make the paper (lips) strong enough to resist the air.
      2. Take the same two pieces of paper and let the top overlap the bottom. Now blow . Again they offer no resistance. This is the Super chops / Screamin embouchure. If we put the mouthpiece in front then mouthpiece pressure WILL create resistance.
      3. Take the pieces and put them together so that they both curl out away from you. Now blow. Again there is no resistance. This is the Maggio embouchure. We will put the mouthpiece in the way to let mouthpiece pressure create resistance.
      4. Take the paper and put them together so that they curl in toward you. Now blow. There IS now built in resistance. It needs no mouthpiece pressure, or years and years of lip ups to build a mass of muscle. The air does the work for you.
Most people do not play in the super to triple c range because they depend on their mouth corners and mouthpiece pressure to create tension. All we want is to resist the air by rolling the lips in (slightly ) we create a one way valve. Only in this case we are blowing the air against the valve the wrong way. This causes a great deal of resistance with a very little tension. Therefore a super c is now played with high c tension and a lip curl in. ....
As for the dog whistle sound that is a bad application of an embouchure. That is controlled by the shape of the lip aperture. Apertures fall in 3 types. Flat causing a thin shrill sound. Oval causing the full sound we all seek. And Round causing a dull too dark sound. Aperture is controlled by the mouth corners. If they pull out from normal then it is flat. If they stay put or come in slightly it is oval. And if they draw in to make a fish face it is round. When you draw the corners to make a more rounded or oval aperture then you must use a little more vertical lip compression or the lips separate.

These aperture shapes as well as the size are completely controlled by the muscles forming the embouchure and are independent of tongue level. There was a study involving a floroscope machine done in the 60's that was published in the Instrumentalist. The arch of the tongue (tongue level ) can affect the direction of the airstream and certainally the airspeed but not the shape or size of the lip aperture.

Finally aperture size can be affected in two directions height and length. It is the ability to control the length that most people ignore. There are some remarkable results to be found here by those willing to work on this. Jake said it very simply "think of making a fist with your mouth". It draws in from all sides.

There are lots of people who play what WE call the Stevens embouchure. It was first written about in 1614.

It is outlined in books like:
" Prelude to brass playing " by Rafael Mendez
" The Psychology of cornet & trumpet playing " by Clyde Noble PHD
" The embouchure " by Maurice Porter
" The encyclopedia of the pivot system " by Dr. Don Reinhardt
" The trumpeters' handbook " by Roger Sherman

It is not mentioned by name in these books. However an inward lip curl is not part of the other embouchures and each of these books call for a lip curl in the setup.

 It is mentioned by name in these books:
"New approach to trumpet playing " J.H. Lynch
" The no nonsense trumpet from a - z. " by me
" Embouchure self-analysis & the Stevens - Costello triple c embouchure technique " by Dr. Roy Stevens

   A collection of some past posts & information about my book.