Monday, September 17, 2012

Have More One-On-One's

The Double Embouchure

     I played in (at least) concert band for four years of middle school, four years of high school, and a year of community band- that's nine years. I'm actually working on my tenth, making it my first decade of concert band. Anyway, for seven of those years on the alto saxophone, playing lots of music- and well -, I was apparently playing the instrument 'wrong'. On my last year of high school, senior year, just before my last concert ever in the public school district, I had a one-on-one with an instructor of mine. We were going over The Inferno, a piece in which I was doing an incredible solo/duet. As it happens, Mr. D, the instructor at hand, was one of the last people to do the very same solo/duet in the same school, so it was a good learning experience.
     It was after school hours and I wanted to work on some of the seriously finer details in my sound work. In concert band, and this song in particular, pitch is extremely important, especially when you're in a duet. By the end of the session, Mr. D realised something aloud: that I had a "double embouchure". He exclaimed this just as my other mentor, Mr. T (not from The A Team) came in.
     Anyhow, a conversation between the two teachers broke out, including stuff like "he always had such a great sound, who knew?", and "you had him for four years and you never saw it" - "well, he must have hid it well". However, the question that came into my mind as I sat there being talked about right to my face might be the one you're thinking right now- what is a double embouchure?
     Well, if we think about what an embouchure is, it makes a bit of sense. An embouchure is what you do with your mouth to produce the desired sound from a wind instrument, be it a woodwind or a brasswind. On the saxophone, you place your upper teeth directly on the mouthpiece, as you put your lower lip between your likewise teeth and the reed (so as not to bite directly on the reed). This is the dirt basics of a saxophone embouchure. Now what I did was the same thing, but instead of my upper set of teeth on the mouthpiece itself, I copies the lower set and had my upper lip between my teeth and mouthpiece, making it a double embouchure.
    Imagine being me: by this time a confident player- a player with such a near perfect sound, and then learning you've been "doing it wrong" your whole life thus far. I was worried. My final "good-bye" concert was in about a week. What could I do?
     As it turns out, there's nothing wrong with having a double embouchure. You can play just fine with one. However, I did end up switching- I practiced hours with a single embouchure and finally got used to it, and now, having played the 'correct' way for over two years, I can't even imagine how I got by with the double. If you play a woodwind with a mouthpiece, and have the start of two holes on the top of your mouthpiece where your teeth go, you know what I mean: that would be my lip.
     Ultimately, it payed for me to switch. Now I can play altissimo, and hit some funky multiphonics and semitones. There are a lot of fine details I can put into my playing that I probably wouldn't be able to with a double embouchure. So to you I give this advice: Have more one-on-one's with your instructors, because you might just catch something big that you never knew before.

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