Practicing Tools for a Busy Week Part 2: Physical Therapy for Your Embouchure

by Mary Galime

Nothing reminds us of our limited practice time like preparing for auditions, performances, and lessons. Add the holiday gigs, weather beaten lips, and extra music to learn for all those gigs, and suddenly those hours decrease at a blistering rate. How do you get the extra chops that you need, when you have no chops left to give?

If you don’t have enough face left to play another 10 minutes, how will you practice the 1-2 hours it will take to learn the next round of music? There is a lot to be said for ear training, and silent study. Finding a good recording of the music you are supposed to play and studying the music and its form before you add the horn into the mix is a necessary part of your practice. However, face-time with the horn is necessary. My secret weapon when faced with this scenario is the Denis Wick practice mute.

If I could rename the Denis Wick practice mute, “The Ultimate Practice Tool”, I would in a heartbeat. A practice mute is generally purchased for silent practice, and the rest of the time it’s left to the side collecting dust. However, did you know that a good practice mute can focus your sound, increase projection, lighten your articulation, and extend your practice session? 

After injury, a common tool in physical therapy is performing small movements and exercises in a swimming pool. Performing these tasks in a pool allows you to target a specific muscle group, while removing the stress of carrying your body weight. The Denis Wick practice mute does just this. Translating this scenario to our face, there are many injuries waiting to happen to our embouchures when we try “heavy-lifting” on fatigued and battered chops.  The initial issue that results when tired and swollen chops do not respond, is that we automatically compensate by over-blowing to maintain our sound. While you may not feel the effects of this immediately, this will result in spreading your sound, and an inability to tune and project. Once this happens, a host of other issues accompany, such as increased pressure, body tension, and tissue damage to name a few.

Enter the Denis Wick practice mute, the brass player’s “swimming pool” of healing. When rest and time away from the horn is not an option, use your practice mute. The practice mute provides a cushion of resistance. This resistance primarily protects you from over-blowing in such a way that would harm you. In fact, it forces your embouchure to focus your sound. The resistance also removes the heavy lifting from your face. In essence, you are practicing all the notes without your embouchure having to support the velocity of air that would be necessary for a free blowing horn. This allows more time to learn the notes with less muscle required. Last but not least, I have found that the Denis Wick practice mute works uniquely well because it is well tuned. A poorly tuned mute of any sort will throw off the tuning of your whole instrument which will cause unneeded stress and fatigue in your practice.

Regular practice with the practice mute will also benefit your sound by opening it up without extra air. As I mentioned earlier, the practice mute forces your embouchure to focus the sound. Focusing your sound allows you to project without forcing more air. There is not one function of your performance that cannot be benefited by working with a practice mute. During this busy holiday season, with extra gigs, juries, and auditions around the corner, save yourself from injury and add the practice mute into your daily practice!

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