‘Radical’ Embouchure Experiments, II – Lip Rolling and Debunking the Farkas ‘Bible’

The mad heretic at work.

My decision to change my embouchure and try some new things as described in Part I was not a blind or reckless choice. I was not driven by a mad desire to probe and experiment.

It was actually a return to something old and more reliable. Looking at old practice journals from about 15 years ago, I discovered a few interesting things.

  1. My playing felt free and easy (so I wrote)
  2. There was little or no mention of breaks
  3. After very long practice sessions, I would sometimes get abrasions or cuts on the inside of my bottom lip. I would sometimes put a piece of paper over my bottom teeth in order to cushion that area.

This was a time in my life when I remember feeling very confident and secure with playing the horn, so these points caught my attention. Looking around the internet, I started to see a pattern that looked familiar – a bottom lip that is rolled over the bottom teeth.

Here is one example, pictured at left.

This is more-or-less what I used to do 15 years ago. Somehow over the years I had migrated away from this lip rolling and after looking in the mirror one day,  I wondered why.

Again my old practice journals came in handy.

The U-shape

About 8 years ago I became quite obsessed with the U-shaped chin as described by Philip Farkas in The Art of Brass Playing. To roughly sum it up, this involves a concentrated effort on stiffening the muscles below the lower lip.

This was something that for many years I regularly taught all of my students too.

With this preoccupation I slowly over time had unrolled my bottom lip into a position where embouchure breaks had became more prominent and difficult to circumnavigate. My embouchure, while it looked a lot like Farkas’s, was giving me problems.

A method to the madness

The methods described in Part I were a stepping stone to revert backwards, to a more reliable method – rolling the bottom lip over the teeth. I am happy to report that progress has been very good and that this technique really works for me. The rolled lip also gives me a nicely-angled downward air stream.

I have no one to blame but myself for letting my embouchure go defunct, but I am glad that during this time of reflection and introspection I found out a few things:

  • Journaling your practice sessions is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Human beings are not the same, and no one method works for everyone
  • The Art of Horn Playing and Farkas’ other books are not the Holy Grail of ‘how it is done’

Debunking the Bible thing

The popular Bible moniker for The Art of French Horn Playing – that it is the ‘Bible for horn players’ – is a great catch phrase. This is something that I also mentioned on the Horn Matters Facebook page and it is worth re-iterating here.

Put bluntly, Philips Farkas is not Moses. The Art of French Horn Playing was not dictated by God and was not etched in stone atop Mt. Sinai. This is not to say that Philip Farkas and his legacy do not deserve a tremendous amount of respect and accolade. His books and writings are without a doubt, incredibly valuable to the horn world.

However when calling any non-religious book a Bible, an air of religiosity and infallibility can cloud and confuse the message. If we continue to refer to The Art of French Horn Playing as our Bible, it should absolutely be taken with a grain of salt.

In Part III, next week

Lip and mouthpiece buzzing.

University of Horn Matters