Jeff Smiley, "The Balanced Embouchure"

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by hoho, Aug 23, 2009.

  1. hoho

    hoho New Friend

    Aug 18, 2009
    Being new to the trumpet, I am still looking for the embouchure that works for me. I recently think I've finally found what fits my teeth/lips- and that is with slightly more top lip, with the mouthpiece "anchored" on the bottom lip and tending to tilt the trumpet downward somewhat. I believe this is what would be considered "upstream," although I am still not sure what the difference between downstream and upstream. Incidentally, that night I found, and Jeff Smiley's "Balanced Embouchure." Since what he described seems to be something that I had already been discovering useful on my own, I'm interested in his book now. So I supposed I actually have three questions:

    1. Does the embouchure I have started to find comfortable and useful seem sound from what I have described?
    2. What is this "upstream" and "downstream" style?
    3. Has anyone heard of this Balanced Embouchure book, and is it a decent one? I'm a little skeptical since his site makes it seem so sensational, I just want to make sure it's not a gimmick/scam before looking for it at the library or bookstore.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer!
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2009
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    forget it. There is no one size fits all for the human face. Jeff may have a following, what we never find out is how many didn't make it.

    If you want to DIY embouchure, then you are on your own. In many cases, by the time you find out that something is not good for you - it is a habit in need of breaking.

    I always refuse online embouchure advice. I consider potentially it too dangerous.

    I have found in my many years of teaching that fixing breathing and breath support does help most players find a good embouchure WITHOUT making a dedicated effort at changing the geometry.

    You can search TM for upstream and downstream and find even more to confuse.

    The only advice that makes any sense is to get a teacher! Embouchure is not DIY IMHO.
  3. hoho

    hoho New Friend

    Aug 18, 2009
    OK, that is what I had begun to suspect after reading the site for a while. I may continue to read on, but I'll be sure to take it with a grain of salt... and I know now to fork out to actually buy any of it. I'll look up more in the breathing and breathing support- I was mistaken that since you said in my last topic that abdominal support is not needed for most playing, that you meant breath support as a whole. This may be because I don't quite know what is meant by breath support right now, so I'll search and ask if I have any more questions.

    You're absolutely right about the DIY embouchure. I've only had a little help from my section leader, and otherwise I've been on my own. I've already discovered troublesome habits that I now need to break, fortunately I'm new enough that its not set in stone. And even better, I've shown enough dedication that my parents have agreed to get me private lessons! :thumbsup:

    Thanks for the prompt reply as always, rowuk.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2009
  4. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

    Jul 28, 2009
    New Hampshire
    That's the best thing of all -- taking lessons from a good teacher who will work closely with what you have already done and help guide you to better, easier, more musical playing is the best thing anybody can do.

    But don't just take the first teacher you hear about -- ask around among your trumpet-playing friends what they think about their private teachers, and then ask for a single lesson to see how well you and the teacher work together. In my opinion, any teacher worth paying for will be happy to do a single lesson for you to see if you can work with that teacher (you'll pay for that single lesson, of course).

    Some people are terrific players but horrible teachers, some people are terrific teachers but not so wonderful players. Make sure you end up with a teacher who can explain things in terms you can understand and build on.

    Good luck to you!
  5. ComeBackKid

    ComeBackKid Fortissimo User

    May 11, 2009
    Yorba Linda, CA
    This is a very key observation in my estimation. So that my comments are not taken as heretical, let me start by saying that I believe in private instruction, I have been taking private instruction as part of my comeback attempt, and I have preached the idea in many of my posts to new players. BUT... (there is always a BUT, right?)...

    As dhbailey points out, not all teachers are created equal. I have spent many hours on this site reading posts about embouchure development. There are obviously many opinions about this. And, as far as I know, there is no certification required for trumpet instructors so there is no standard by which instructors are measured and, thus, no assurance that any particular instructor knows any more about embouchure development than any instructee.

    My instructor is a very good player and a very nice guy and genuinely wants to help me and all of his students. When I started my comeback attempt, I went to him (recommended by the music store where I bought a trumpet) and told him that I was specifically concerned about my embouchure and I wanted to make sure that I re-started with a good foundation. He gave me exercises to practice and critiques my tone, my rhythm, my fingering techniques, and assigns new materials, but he does not have any suggestions about my embouchure. I seem to be able to last long enough to make it through a lesson so he does not see that after that, my face muscles are about to spasm from holding my 'smile' embouchure for that long. When I was young, I could do it but now it is more difficult. So, I do not have a sense that he has any particular insights into what sort of embouchure will work better for one person vs another.

    I guess I see it sort of like marriage counseling - there is no magic trick and it is just a matter of trying many things until something works. I do not have the sense that in today's music curriculum, even at the college level, students are taught how to evaluate and correct embouchure issues with future students. Maybe I am wrong, but if future instructors are taught these tips, why are these issues still so widespread and so prevalent? I would think that someone would have come up with at least a reasonable assessment/recommendation approach that has some reproducible elements to it.

    Does anyone have any ideas about how a student can find an instructor who really knows how to help in this area?
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2009
  6. hoho

    hoho New Friend

    Aug 18, 2009
    I know that I want a teacher who can help me with my embouchure too. I have a few options now for teachers, they're all kind of pending now but since I live close to you I may be able to give you some info once I've had a lesson with one of these guys.
  7. TrumpetMD

    TrumpetMD Fortissimo User

    Oct 22, 2008
    A lot of great advice. And I think your plans to get a private teacher is the best way to go.

    BTW, I'm one of those who tried the Balanced Embouchure (BE), but didn't make it.

    I don't think the BE approach is necessarily bad. And I think Jeff has some interersting points. But I didn't think it was right for me and my needs. There's just so much you can learn from a book. After about 6 months into my comeback, I started studying privately. At that point, the BE approach didn't fit in to what I was working on.

    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  8. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    First IMHO there is no bad embouchure book. They're all equally good. Each of the trumpeters who wrote one of these wrote down in words a way of thinking that works for them. It may or may not work for you. I have heard guys just slam the Claude Gordon book. I bristle at this even though the CG book may have actually hurt me in some ways. The book isn't bad. I just didn't get it. CG's words and ideas, which worked for him and fine players like Cacia and Odonnell, DIDN'T work for me. Certainly the Smiley method may have helped some. It is certainly probable that it didn't work for others. That's just the nature of the beast.

    I would still encourage you to read about this stuff and check these ideas out. This is how we learn about things. I've read many method books and tested them. I go to hear clinics from my peers and try to sort out what they are doing. In the end, how I currently do things is a hybridization of all these things with my own ideas.

    As to finding the best teacher, I would argue that you are in the same boat. You have to find someone who articulate his/hers ideas in a way that connects with you. If they don't this doesn't make the teacher a bad teacher. It just isn't a good fit for you. Here is a catch, though. You shouldn't seek out a teacher who will just tell you that you are doing everything all correctly and that you don't need to work on growing. In other words, it isn't necessarily a good idea idea to look for a teacher who will just tell you what you want to hear. They might offer some ideas that sting at first. However if you NEED this, then work with it.

    In the end a teacher in ANY subject is really a coach. YOU are the true teacher in that you have to take all of the ideas coming at you and synthesize them into your own way of working and playing. I've studied with many trumpet teachers and every one of them gave me a building block for my own personal structure.

    So, I would not dismiss the Balanced Embouchure method at all. Just learn from it. Nobody is writing these books to make a lot of money! There's not enough of us for these guys to sell so many books as to get rich on them. They're doing it out of a love for trumpet and a love for sharing ideas about it. You might just pick up something useful for your own work.


  9. Pete

    Pete Piano User

    Nov 17, 2007
    How true, Nick!
  10. Veldkamp

    Veldkamp Piano User

    Mar 29, 2004
    the Netherlands
    IMHO most people don't have embouchure problems. The embouchure isn't working properly due to other bigger problems like bad air support or/and no mental soundconcept. It's a result of the real problem, not the cause.

    Every book that only focusses on embouchure (like BE) is therefore a bad book IMHO because it doesn't fix the real problem.

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