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Embouchures.com - Providing Information about the Performance Injuries and Embouchure Dilemmas of Brass Players

What's in Embouchure Rehabilitation? Here are a few excerpts.

Chapter 1  In the Beginning

When a player is in top form, it is difficult for him to imagine that his embouchure could ever be in peril.  Most of us believe that chop problems happen to other players of lesser talent and experience; after all, great players have perfect technique, right?  Solid playing technique (playing mechanics) not only fuels great playing, it also protects a player’s lips and face from the normal physical stresses of playing; however, there is one thing that can undermine even the best technique and cause playing to become painful and totally disabled—embouchure overuse.   

It begins innocently enough.  You’ve been doing a heavy week of orchestral playing or had a demanding, all-day cast album recording of your Broadway show.  You’ve been practicing for a very important audition or spending long hours preparing for the premiere of a concerto.  Your lips have felt great throughout. Your playing has been free and easy—until one day, you pick up the horn, and nothing feels right.  Your lips feel thick and dead, and your chops seem completely out of shape.  You have no endurance.  You struggle to play in the high range, and you have lost your pinpoint control.  So you practice harder, but with each passing day, playing becomes more and more of a challenge, and the troublesome problems that now inhabit your playing respond to no amount of effort to overcome them.  A couple of weeks of this decline go by, and things just keep getting worse and worse.  Now you’re in a real quandary. “I can’t play,” you say to yourself.  “How am I going to get through the next performance?”  You finally take a therapeutic holiday from playing for a week or two or three, but when you start playing again, nothing has changed.  It is just as difficult as it was when you stopped.  Welcome to the world of embouchure overuse syndrome. 

Professional woodwind and brass instrumentalists can't always choose when and how much they play.  Unfortunately, that pushes a lot of us onto the slippery slope of overuse.   The initial symptoms of overuse are often mistaken for normal fatigue, and most players simply don't know they are in trouble until well into it.

The danger overuse poses is how its lingering symptoms—pain, swelling, and fatigue—can set into motion a sequence of events that cause an embouchure to malfunction reactively in playing.  I use reactively here intentionally.  Embouchure problems in very accomplished professional wind players aren't just physical. While most embouchure problems begin with a physical predicate—when something like overuse, traumatic injury, or a change to one's equipment or physical setup has altered or compromised the way his embouchure instinctively functions in playing—what gradually begins to exert a more powerful influence over a player’s embouchure control and ultimately becomes the driving factor protracting his embouchure dilemma is his growing anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt.....

Chapter 4  The Glitch

                Understanding Embouchure Dysfuncton

 If your car breaks down on a dark remote country road, and you know nothing about automobile engines, poking around under the hood won’t get you going again.  On the other hand, if you actually know how an engine works, your chances of getting back on the road are greatly improved.  A brass player knows when his embouchure has stopped feeling normal and working efficiently; however, feeling its impact on playing isn’t quite the same as being able to detect the source all the mischief. 

Because the performance disability one experiences in an embouchure problem is rife with disturbing physical symptoms and facial weakness, it is easy to conclude that something extraordinary has to be at work—a muscle injury, a medical condition, built-up scar tissue, a metal allergy, a dental issue.  The fact that most brass players report playing at their peak ability just before they began experiencing problems only intensifies the belief that their lip discomforts and sudden loss of embouchure control have to be caused by something significant—something major.  

It stands to reason that a player’s embouchure would not be able to operate normally when he is faced with persistent, daily chop discomfort and has lost all confidence in his playing. A player's embouchure gradually becomes more and more deferential and reactive to the ever-present lip complaints, weird facial sensations, performance disability, anxiety, and intense career concerns. The longer he continues to play in this state, the more confused and panicked he becomes.

The challenge I have in explaining to very accomplished, professional brass players why their embouchures no longer feel or work comfortably is that the malfunction they have developed in their playing is so subtle, it is almost impossible to see or feel specifically. It isn’t some sort of inherent "flaw" a player has always had. It’s just a little reactive, stealthy behavior which evolves out of something like overuse or injury and is then intensified by anxiety. This reactive habit destabilizes a player’s embouchure just enough to undermine playing. It’s why stamina disappears, the high range becomes such a struggle, and soft attacks in the middle range are next to impossible to execute cleanly, to mention only a few of the artistic challenges a player is presented with.  During the last 30 years, I’ve seen hundreds of professional players who were disabled by a chop problem. Every player had a perfect embouchure, but every embouchure had developed the same reactive habit.,,,



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