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Exercises, Devices and Systems for Embouchure development and optimizing the use of facial muscles

The strength and endurance of the facial muscles are directly related to our ability to control them and coordinate the activities of different muscle groups when playing wind instruments. Finite control is impossible without strength, endurance and effective coordination. That is why brass musicianss have always looked for new ways to develop their facial muscles (and in particular those that play a crucial role in the formation of the embouchure, often called "donut"). The facial muscles, tongue and respiratory system are organs / muscle groups whose usual function is breathing, nutrition, etc. activities that do not require as much effort / strength, so instrumental practice requires special training and maintenance of the latter to be able to respond to the special challenges in playing brass instruments. Therefore, musicians and teachers have developed and used a variety of exercise systems (with or without the instrument), devices and combinations of both.

  • Roy Stevens - famous jazz trumpeter and famous instrumental pedagogue, author of "Stevens-Costello System brass embouchure teacher, and author of the Embouchure Self-Analysis", best known for two exercises to develop facial muscles, the ability to compress airflow and vertical alignment of jaws when playing the trumpet.

a/ The pencil exercise.

Place a pencil between your teeth, grasping it gently between your teeht. Stay relaxed as you blow air through the aperture of the teeth. As you increase the velocity of the air that passing through your teeth, your facial muscles will respond to compression with the necessary muscle tension. It is a cause and effect action. The compressed air dictates the tension of the muscles of the face and lips. No pre-determined tension should be present.

b/ The palm exercise.

Place your palm upside down and place the trumpet lying on it, as shown in the image:

Now try to play all the partials that can be played without pressing the pistons. The purpose of this exercise is to vertically align the jaws and play in all possible registers with minimal pressure (in this case the only resistance we use to press the instrument to the lips is the force of friction between the palm and trumpet. This technique is the basis of the so-called non-press technique, but here is the place to note, playing without any pressure is not a desirable practice when making music in front of an audience, but an exercise to optimize the embouchure use and to promote the use of proper form . This exercise has different variations, here we consider it only as designed by its original author.

  • Buzzing - the production of sound only with the mouthpiece of the instrument, or with the mouthpiece + leadpipe of the instrument (while removing the tuning slide) - this allows the performance of various melodies, exercises, etc. It can improve the intonation and efficiency of sound production.

  • Cat Anderson - another famous jazz trumpeter, known for his incredible control and mastery in playing the high register, a lead trumpet player in the band of Duke Ellington

a / Closed jaws playing

Play flexibility exercises of your choice with aligned but closed jaws. This will give you an idea of how to use correctly different muscle groups when playing brass instruments. Again, this is just an exercise aiminig to optimise the embouchure use, ie. not a good practice to implement in front of an audience.

b / Whisper G

Using the technique described above, play a middle G as quietly as possible aiming for sound between blowing air and sound. Play this note as long as possible till you feel fatigue. If you master the technique of circular breathing, you can apply it to the execution of this exercise. Cat Anderson did this for 20 minutes, while watching TV. At the beginning, it is not recommended to try it for more than 5 minutes.

  • P.E.T.E. by Terry Warburton

The wide part is gripped with the lips and is used for a series of isometric exercises to maintain the embouchure.

  • Larry Merigilano

a/ Isometric seal exercise (2007) - Performed with the mouthpiece only . Block the mouthpiece air passage of the backbore with your finger and then compress the air through the oral cavity (without the involvement of the respiratory system / lungs forward to the mouthpiece while maintaining the compression for as long as possible.

b/ The Compression Training System (aka CTS)

A series of off-the-horn exercises with a variable counter-resistance device (modified manometer) aimed at teaching the technique of compressing the airflow through the oral cavity/facial muscles, as well as exercising various muscles groups involved in sound production when playing wind instruments, until recently only for brass instruments, a version with saxophone mouthpiece attachment will soon be available. It offers a weekly program of daily sessions of about 20-30 minutes. The program is designed with the assistance of a fitness specialist and is based on the principle of progressive overload.

  • Marcus Reynolds and Stratos Brass

This device aims to transfer the pressure from the upper to the lower lip and thus making sound production more efficient, which can improve your timbre, range and endurance. It also facilitates vertical alignment of the jaws when playing.

Many of these devices and systems require the proper implementation of certain techniques, so I recommend that you contact their authors or their students before attempting to implement/use them. These are not all existing devices designed to optimize embouchure use, but just a few proven in practice (or tested by famous musicians) examples.


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