BREAKTHROUGH!!! (I have finally broken the embouchure code, I think.)

OK…hot off the press, hot out of the practice room/laboratory on this matter. (8/6/09 + counting)

Those of you who have had lessons w/me or attended one of my clinics know that I deal with the idea of hearing, identifying, isolating and controlling “formants”…the overtones that are more (or less) emphasized above a brass player’s sound…as a way to practice long tones. I have been studying and practicing vocal techniques for isolating those formants above my voice for many years. Check out David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir for more on this idea. There are other approaches, other techniques that are used to do this vocally but I took a lesson w/Mr. Hykes 20+ years ago and have used his approach to do certain meditational exercises on a regular basis ever since that time.

However, this is a brass/trombone site, so I will limit my comments here to what I have found recently…over the last several weeks, actually…regarding the use of this idea coupled with freebuzzing to essentially “break the embouchure code”. I use that term advisedly, by the way. On the evidence of what has happening with my chop over the last few weeks I believe that I have indeed found the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the secret of relatively effortless brass playing through any and all reachable octaves.

Let me begin by saying this:

The use of vowels…as in “A E I O U”, as they have been taught by any number of brass teachers…is too unfocused and too artificial to be of much use to a brass player who wants to be able to play in a truly expressive manner.

When are you going to use a particular vowel sound?

Where does one vowel sound end and another begin? Long A? Short A? Which long or short A? French, German, English, Japanese, Fiji Island, North Carolina, Manchester England, Maine? Ridiculous on the face of it. On which note of which phrase of which melody or accompanying harmonic pad? If that’s the way you that are going to approach this idea…which is simplistic beyond belief, actually…then you are much, much better off with the Arnold Jacobs “Song and Wind” idea. If you are musically gifted, play the horn well and understand the idiom in which you are playing, then the proper vowel sounds will automatically happen as you play a given phrase of music. See the vid of this Clark Terry clinic for a fine illustration of how a real artist approaches this idea in a musical sense.

However on a purely physical level I have found that combining the study of my own vocal breaks…head, chest, mixed range etc. in the bel canto sense of the terms…with an experiential knowledge of:

1- How to isolate overtones vocally through about 16 partials using the David Hykes approach.
2- How to identify the overtones that make a given trombone or tuba sound “good” according to my own definitions of that word.
3- Freebuzzing techniques and the application of those techniques directly to
playing the horn without large or unacceptable compromises between the

has provided an unexpected breakthrough in my whole embouchure study.

Long story short? (Remember…I am only a couple of weeks into this idea.)

As a way to set up my own inner resonance system…chest, throat, back of tongue, soft palate, the rest of the tongue, jaw position, lips etc…so that when I freebuzz any given note the setting(s) for that note are the most efficient ones that are possible for me to achieve, all I have to do is to sing the note while my lips are in some sort of ready-to-buzz position and isolate the overtones which would be most desirable to me if I was playing the note on the trombone (The 5th and 6th partials, mostly. The 3rd and 5th of the “trombone” chord.), then w/out appreciable change of that system transfer said “buzz” from my vocal cords to my lips, then place the m’pce on my chops (again w/out serious compromises) and start playing.

The results have been truly amazing to me. Almost effortless playing and much-improved connections throughout ranges…up down and middle…where previously there had been required much more effort. Physical effort and/or attention effort.

I have been sneaking up on this idea for several years in terms of freebuzzing, but this seems to have capped it off. In the previous week or so, besides a great deal of practice I played a strenuous two set lead/solo gig w/the Chico O’Farrill Band, a three hour rehearsal followed by a two set gig with the Mike Longo Band on the same day (!!!) and a two rehearsals with an amplified rhythm section and three horns playing hard parts and long solos for a gig this week. (Mike Longo’s “Funk Band”. Dizzy Gillespie-style funk. Funk with deep harmonic changes. Beautiful stuff.) During all of that time I played my smallest equipment…a gold-plated Shires .500 bore w/a Minick 11C-ish m’pce…and I swear to you it now sounds and feels almost as big as my favorite .525 Shires/Clarke L setup only with about one quarter of the effort that I have had to make in the past on the same equipment. Double Bbs, good low range, singing mid-range, good connections (Until fatigue sets in, anyway. ..which has happened much later than has been usual for me.)…the works.

Now…please…I am not trying to blow my own horn or brag here. After 40 years of trying to learn how to play, it’s about damned time that I figured something out.

And there is much more to learn.

But there it is.

Use it if you can.

Expand upon it if you can…I would love to get some feedback.

You know that I’ll be on it like white on rice.

And…have fun.

I am.



P.S. For an ongoing discussion of this still-developing idea, Please go to this thread on my discussion site, The Open Horn. As I stated above, I would appreciate any and all feedback on this matter. Subscription to the site is easy, and there is a great deal of other information available there as well.

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