Marcus Reynolds is an embouchure specialist and founder of the Stratos Embouchure System. I tells us here about his philosophy of ‘Power over Pressure’.
” I was introduced to brass playing at school and later joined a military band, winning a scholarship to the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, where I studied under Professor Teskey.
Six weeks after leaving the Army, I turned ‘pro’ and did TV and radio, early BBC Come Dancing sessions, West End shows, big band concerts, jingles and other work. I taught for Surrey schools for 12 years and then disaster struck when I fell from a collapsed stage. This caused a smashed lip and Focal Dystonia, and marked the end of my playing career. I had to spend years retraining the muscles in my mouth before I could play again professionally.
I didn’t set out to become an embouchure expert, but my knowledge of the subject was enhanced greatly as a result of the accident. I now teach students all over the world via Skype, even helping top professionals to stay on top of their game. For example, I recently visited Los Angeles, Ohio and Frankfurt to give individual and group embouchure assessments, plus elementary and advanced training on the Stratos Embouchure System (below), which I developed as a result of my quest to play again. I was looking for something to ‘hover’ over my scar tissue, which of course brass players know is not possible.
Moving on from how I got into embouchure training; what follows is a ‘cheat sheet’ to help you become a world-class brass player. The key is to use the natural physiology of the body at all times. Stay upright, bringing the instrument to you – don’t go to it. Do not move the instrument towards you as you are going forward because the note will start with what I call fusion and this mobility will confuse you to the point where you will not know where the note starts.
Try not to slump over your instrument. There is nothing worse than for a conductor to see a sea of players slumping – keep your shoulders down – stay relaxed and breathe evenly. Before I start on the tips for the embouchure, I must stress that any embouchure that works is fine. It’s only when you want to move your playing up (from third stand to second, from second to first, or even as a first foray as a soloist) that you might feel resistance to what you are trying to achieve. It’s time to examine the finer points of the embouchure.
Almost from day one, some lucky players can just play wonderfully, but even after years of experience, such players are unable to advise others about embouchure problems because they simply do not understand the issues involved. Not all of us have been so fortunate! One of the questions is… where is the air going? Hold your palm about six inches in front of your lips and whistle. If you don’t think you can whistle, simply mimic the shape as if you were blowing out a candle. In many cases, the air will be felt between the last joint of the fingers and the upper palm, as illustrated by the diagram below. Now, keeping the hand there, blow as if you are playing your instrument or you could even buzz. You may think that you cannot now feel the air, but further examination will show you that the air can now be felt at the wrist.
One of two things could have happened; your chin dropped back, your top lip ventured over the bottom lip, or possibly a little of both. A brief look at the mouthpiece shows that the back-bore hole is in the middle. Moving the air away from that forward direction will incur even greater resistance because the air is now being blown against a wall of metal. How should you remedy this? This is where Stratos comes into play, providing a healthy way to alleviate the amount of pressure being exerted to increase the airflow as you play higher notes. Possibly for the first time in your playing career, you have something for the chin to ease towards and, in doing so, some of the unnecessary weight is removed from the top lip. Through this process, the ‘chin jut’ reaches towards the chin rest of the Stratos, pulling the corners of the mouth forward. By staying in the ‘jut position’, the chin also adds sonority. “
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