High register playing: flexible embouchure

In the last blog post about playing in the high register, I wrote about a stable embouchure. I tried to define what I thought were key elements of a stable embouchure, and I gave some exercises on how to achieve that kind of setup.

In this post, I want to focus on a “flexible” embouchure and how this might help with high register playing.

Flexible embouchure, able to play low and high–some concepts:

  • Play with the minimal amount of effort required for any pitch at any dynamic
  • Develop soft playing
  • Move air in a very small amount for a very long time
  • Minimize any response gaps or “breaks”
  • Become comfortable articulating in all registers

Progressive exercises for flexible embouchure. These are generally “dynamic.”

  • Level 1: Clarke, “Technical Studies,” played as written: very soft, with lots of repeats (challenging one’s self to go longer and longer), always resting a lot in between exercises. Eventually, each Clarke can be played on its own day of the week (e.g., Clarke One on Monday, Clarke Two on Tuesday, etc.).
  • Level 2: Clarke, “Technical Studies,” with articulation (single tongue, “k” tongue, double and triple tongue–for multiple tonguing, try playing “tk” or “ttk” for every printed note in the original exercise). Everything else is the same as mentioned in Level 1 Clarke (above).
  • Level 3: Clarke, but play every other exercise on mouthpiece with a “B.E.R.P.”
  • Level 4: Begin to incorporate Clarke exercises 99-116 (if you have not done so already).
  • Level 5: Charles Colin “Advanced Lip Flexibilities,” Vol. 1 and then Vol. 2 as written (I recommend not using every valve combination. Perhaps only three–open, 1-2, and 1-2-3). Rest a lot in between exercises! Continue to practice the Clarkes (forever–for the rest of your life!)
  • Level 6: Colin “Advanced Lip Flexibilities:” begin to incorporate single, k, double and triple tonguing into the slurred studies. Alternate a slur with an articulation.
  • Level 7: Walter Smith, “Top Tones.” There is an introductory group of scale exercises at the beginning of this excellent etude book. Begin to work slowly with this group, as Smith recommends. Breathe through your nose in between sets and maintain embouchure. Incorporate all of the articulations that we have done on previous exercises (use single for eight notes, triple for triplets, double for sixteenths).
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