One of the great things about being a writer for Teaching Music is that I get a chance to talk to some great teachers that normally I would never meet or probably even hear of. This month in preparation for a piece coming out in the April issue I got to meet Steve Park, an Adjunct Horn Professor at Utah State University. The topic was on trumpet stuff (you'll just have to read the piece in the magazine if you are curious) but along the way he gave me some great tips for helping a few of my floundering trumpet and horn students. Sometimes it just takes a different point of view to help you see a new way to teach something and teaching it in that new way can make all the difference.
By the way, let me mention right off the bat that Steve has an awesome YouTube page with over a dozen videos of him playing various pieces of horn literature. It would be a great listening or viewing resource for anyone wanting to expose their horn students to the proper sound and playing style required of a professional player. Now, back to my point...
At issue this time was high brass embouchure and how to get the kids to realize how to do it. I have always been an "em" guy, teaching my kids to make the proper embouchure in front of a mirror and with a mouthpiece visualizer. Despite my hardest efforts I still have a few students that struggle, winding up with more of a kissy-face kind of pout embouchure instead of the proper "em." Steve said it to me in a different way that I tried with my kids today and I was rewarded with almost instant improvement from the kids that were having trouble hitting third space C and fourth line D. What he told me initially made me think of an oboe embouchure but when clarified it made perfect sense.
His way of stating the proper embouchure to his students is to think about playing on the outside versus inside of the lips. Kids with a bad embouchure often have their lips too kissy-faced, or rolled out. They play more on the red part of their lips. When you get a good tone and hit the high notes easily you are more rolled in, with less of the red of your lips showing. In some ways this reminds me very much of the way I was always taught to do a horn embouchure (did I mention Steve is the principal horn in the Orchestra at Temple Square, the orchestra that accompanies the Morman Tabernacle Chor?) but in the case of the trumpet players I worked with today saying it in this way did indeed work wonders. As I have said time and again on this blog and in other articles sometimes all it takes is a different point of view to help you see a better way to teach the same material.