It’s always great to hear good news, especially when it comes as a result of one’s own hard work. The good news that Alex recently shared with me was that he had just been named first chair in his middle school band! What makes this honor an even greater triumph (and a wonderful story) was that he managed to achieve this position only a couple of months after getting braces on both his top and bottom teeth.
Alex and I began working together almost five months ago, before he had his braces. At that time he had a nice, solid sound, but was playing on an erupted bottom lip, and with too big a lip aperture. Both of these factors made it harder for him to ascend to the top of the staff, but he had a great attitude, and was serious about improving as a player. Within a relatively short period of time he learned how to use the proper lip inversion to improve the alignment of the lips, and to create a smaller, more focused lip aperture. He also addressed his breathing and posture. After we had worked on all of those elements separately, he put them all together and tried playing a note. The results were stunning, for his range immediately improved by almost an octave, accompanied by a much greater ease in playing. I was impressed! Although the low register then became a greater challenge to play with this new improved position, as he took off even more mouthpiece pressure, opened his throat, and concentrated on keeping his air moving, those lower notes began to return to his control…this time without sacrificing his newfound good form.
Two months later when he arrived at his lesson with braces on the top teeth, the transition to playing this way was very smooth, thanks to the previous work he had done. He only had to bring the lower jaw forward a little more, so it was slightly ahead of those new braces on the top teeth. The preformed, focused embouchure helped to eliminate the need for having to use excessive mouthpiece pressure to make and hold the embouchure position. That, along with his good air support, created more of a cushion for the mouthpiece to rest on. A couple of weeks later when braces were added to the bottom teeth, he readjusted the jaw again, this time moving it back, but still slightly ahead of the top teeth. And now, as he continues to refine his position, he is noticing that the mouthpiece pressure is lessening even more.