Although I’m very careful to make sure a student is ready before moving to the next level with their fundamentals, sometimes that “next step” is a misstep…where they not only fail with that new step but also lose the abilities associated with the previous step. Oftentimes what is needed is another, even smaller step…one that can be taken more assuredly, and with greater consistency. Still, there were times when even that smaller step did not work, and so both student and teacher struggled a little longer until finally the desired progress was made. It was only recently I noticed another aspect of “Human Nature,” in this case what can happen when we turn our attention to taking that “next step,” and how we can increase our chances for success.
For example, once the player can make the correct embouchure formation and then hold that position while blowing air through it (without the instrument), the next step would be to add the horn. That seemingly simple act comes with a lot of baggage though, in the form of programmed muscle responses triggered by the increasing proximity of the instrument. The mind has already free associated many reactions to that “next step” of placing the mouthpiece, and so if we do not have a clear, concise picture in mind (which is very much like new software installed on a computer) the old habits/software will begin to run instead. By turning too much attention to that next step the mental and physical energy of the previous step that was holding the new position is often released.
In these cases, the player should continue to concentrate on all of the elements of the previous step, as if the “next step” will not even be taken. Then, using what I call “peripheral awareness,” (which is akin to peripheral vision) they can bring the instrument up to the newly formed embouchure. If you have ever tried using only your peripheral vision to do a simple task (like picking up a pencil) you know that it may not be as efficient, but it can still get the job done. In fact, it is not a problem if we end up taking a little longer to take that next step with our peripheral awareness, for that slower motion process gives us more control during this multi tasking. Once the mouthpiece is in place, the player can then experience the new gentle contact points on an embouchure that is grounded on the successful previous step instead of their old habits, and the new mental and physical image can begin to become a part of their playing.
Can you think of an example when you were having trouble with taking the “next step?” Consider taking a well chosen smaller step, or one using this technique with your peripheral awareness.