FACIAL Stability training for serious wind players.
I have developed a highly specific and individualized exercise regimen for serious wind players that focuses on neuromuscular and musculoskeletal control of the facial muscles that form and maintain the embouchure. Several issues for wind/brass players such as range problems, lack of endurance, lack of breath control, clunky or chewing articulation, diffuse tone, and (in some cases) acute injury can all be byproducts of imbalances in facial muscle strength and endurance, which causes undesirable compromises in efficiency of the embouchure.
By focusing on a series of highly specific and coordinated sustained tones and rest, we can pinpoint exact moments where certain muscles are challenged to their maximal effort, and we can slowly build strength in the precise areas of the face where it is needed for each player to achieve maximum efficiency of sound.
The exercises are all done either by playing the instrument, playing on the mouthpiece/visualizer rim/head joint, etc., or free buzzing (brass). This is determined by the player’s preferences. I do NOT actively try to manipulate the placement of the mouthpiece or focus on the embouchure itself. Instead, I can help create micro-fatigue to strengthen the areas of deficiency to induce a more efficient and productive function of a player’s already established embouchure.
Here's a long-form presentation on Stability:
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HOW DOES IT WORK?
Every wind player has to form some kind of embouchure. That means there is a specific coordination of the muscles in the face to hold some kind of shape in order to have a consistent tone produced. This is caused by isometric contraction. By definition, isometric contraction is when muscles pull against each other (or pull against the forces of gravity, or pull against environmental constraint, like the limits of bones and ligaments in the musculoskeletal system). Isometric contraction means there are muscles that are working. They are trying to pull against something and this means three factors become highly important: Strength, Coordination, and Endurance. I'll explain the challenges with these three factors a little here:
STRENGTH - This is really hard to measure (almost impossible in a lab/research setting) as we are dealing with muscles that are small. For example, the difference in strength between someone who has a weak zygomaticus major muscle and someone who has a strong zygomaticus major muscle is very subtle. But for high level music making, this difference might be extremely important- it might be the difference between winning jobs and just advancing.
COORDINATION - Again, this is very difficult to measure in a lab, but we know the muscles in the face can coordinate in a million different ways. Subtle differences in the recipe of how much each muscle is contributing can create significant differences in tone quality. Having the 'right' sound can be the difference in the professional industry, and this is determined by a number of factors, including the shape of the oral cavity- which is significantly effected by the way the face muscles coordinate.
ENDURANCE - The tricky thing about endurance of really small and highly coordinated muscles is the level of specificity required to evoke the right engagement and development. If you play something that isn't physically demanding enough, you won't stimulate the right development. If you play something that is too taxing, you won't stimulate the right development. Larger, stronger muscles will take over which will change your efficiency, tone quality, etc. The Goldilocks Zone is razor thin and frankly most methods overlook this crucial aspect. Most musicians have little/no experience with low-threshold or high-threshold motor units, anatomical intricacies within the face, lactic acid threshold for small muscle groups (even exercise physiologists usually only study this using larger muscle groups).
I get really specific and meticulous. Here is an example of my own progress:
Each color represents a different 'workout'. Each note, each duration, etc. is charted in a way where trends can be spotted with strength, coordination, and endurance. Most importantly, we can pinpoint the Goldilocks Zone and optimize your productivity. We dial this in for each note and several different tests of endurance. I take care of the math and charts. I take something enormously complex and make it simple for you so you can do your exercise, and then get back to making music!
Who is this method good for? Anyone who plays a woodwind or brass instrument that wants to be a better player on their instrument. It's a significant investment of time and money, so if that sounds like it fits your personal goals for playing, then I assure you it will improve your playing significantly. There will be others that are not ready for that kind of commitment. That's OK too. It is up to the individual.
I'm worried about changing my embouchure. Will this method mess with the way I play? I would consider it similar to the way physical therapy sessions or chiropractic sessions can lead to slight changes in your posture, but that's not the focus. If you do your rehab exercises, you might have slight changes to your posture as you strengthen some of your muscles etc. Usually this is only positive as your body is better aligned- essentially working more efficiently. Embouchure is not our focus in this method so we essentially avoid any periods of 'sounding awful' while you 'change your embouchure'. We don't change your embouchure. "It" may evolve over time.
I suffered an injury. Can this method help me? Absolutely. I have worked with musicians after surgery, stitches, nerve damage, etc. This is a great way to not overload the physical systems as you develop more strength, coordination, and endurance. It is designed to meet you exactly where you are in your range and endurance etc. and build slowly and safely.
I'm a good player with no physical issues, but I want to be better. Will this method help me? Yes. It is effective as a rehabilitative exercise, but sometimes people who are already good but have hit some kind of wall have the hardest time breaking through that plateau. This method is highly effective at getting people beyond those barriers.
I'm concerned that this method will disrupt my regular practice. Should I be worried? No. There is a constant adjustment that happens with the exercises in this method so we dial in to specifically what you need. This isn't a method that you need to suffer through until you are stronger. It is a method that can be integrated into your current practice habits seamlessly. You level up the challenge as you are ready.
How are you so sure it works? I have yet to work with someone who hasn't benefitted, and I also have yet to work with someone with a worse condition than my own. I have spent 15 years researching and experimenting with ways to improve the facial muscular coordination in my playing, and experimented with a number of different approaches. After intensive study of physiology, neuroscience, kinesiology, etc. and applying my knowledge and training in pedagogy, I developed this method specifically to be a broad spectrum approach with robust application. The results have been too good to not share. Since it is so individualized, the only way it won't yield positive results is if a participant doesn't do it regularly.
"I was surprised how quickly I saw results after a week of doing these simple exercises. I had no idea I even had some embouchure deficiencies but since starting, I have seen an overall improvement in endurance as well as some improvements in other aspects of my playing like sound and vibrato which I was not expecting. It was very easy to follow this exercise plan as it only took around 10-15 minutes a day. I would highly recommend this to any musician, brass or woodwind, even if they do not find they have any embouchure issues because I sure didn't and am so glad I have started this embouchure building journey!"
Oboe and English Horn, Macau Orchestra