The Standley Routine

The unexpected passing of Gene Standley, dealt the community of Columbus, OH and the horn community in general, a huge blow. He served as Principal Horn of the Columbus Symphony for many years and was an all-around great horn player. I never met him or knew him personally, but his reputation was stellar. Thankfully, he (along with Stephen H. Hager) was able to leave us with a valuable piece of horn history, the practice routine developed by his father, Forrest Standley.

Forrest was Principal Horn of both the Dallas and Pittsburgh Symphonies, and he taught at Carnegie Mellon University for many years, teaching the likes of Dale Clevenger, Philip Myers, Howard Wall, Brice Andrus, and William Purvis. A pretty impressive resume. He developed his routine, known as the “Standley Routine,” after leaving the Pittsburgh Symphony due to “lip issues.” The Standley Routine is long, encompassing all twelve major and minor keys through different scale and lip slur exercises. If done from start to finish, it would take a player over one hour and thirty minutes to complete, per Forrest. The only other practice routine that even comes close to this one is the fabled “Heavy Routine” by Joseph Singer. Both routines require and develop an insane amount of endurance and traverse the full range of the horn.

Now, you might be wondering, “why is he talking about this practice routine on a blog dedicated to performance anxiety?” Well, I have been incorporating parts of the Standley routine into my warm-up lately, and it has helped me to regain some of the endurance that disappeared after my injury.

FS (Forrest Standley) recommends that one should start by playing only “some of the exercises every day” and gradually increase the number of exercises performed until one is able to play through the whole routine. As an alternative, he does mention that one could divide the routine into several different fifteen minute sessions done throughout the day.

The routine begins with an “attack exercise” similar to the “Tone and Control Studies” presented at the beginning of Joseph Singer’s Embouchure Building for Horn. The exercises that follow are divided into six different sections, with each consisting of two major and two minor scale patterns, two major scale arpeggios, each presented in three and four note lip slur patterns, an endurance exercise, and two major scale overtone series slurs. The only exception is that the sixth section does not contain an endurance exercise, but contains more of the overtone slurs.

In the past, I have played through this routine, front to back, in one sitting, and it is not an easy thing to do. The routine focuses on building endurance and flexibility, giving the player the confidence that he/she needs to play anything, in any range, and for as long as possible. For now, I have been incorporating a section of the Standley Routine into my normal warm-up each day. I’ll start by playing a couple of noodling patterns, do some harmonic lip slurs, several different lip trill/flexibility exercises, chromatic exercises in different octaves, play major scales two octaves, do one or two of the Basler lip slur exercises from his book, and then a section of the Standley Routine. It takes me over an hour, but I have felt an almost immediate difference in my endurance in the high register since starting this regimen.

There are plenty of wonderful warm-up routine books out there, and everyone tends to have their personal preference, but I do try to keep an open mind. I will always try something different, especially if it helps. If anyone out there is struggling with endurance issues, trying to come back from an injury like me, or hasn’t played in a long time, you might want to grab a copy of the Standley Routine. It will get you back into shape quickly, even if you’re modifying the routine a little, like me.

Disclaimer: Please be careful when first starting the Standley Routine. It is tough and doesn’t back away from the high range. It will help you get back into shape, but don’t hurt yourself trying to play too high or by trying to play through the whole thing during the first sitting. Be smart!

“How to Overcome Stage Fright” by David Bolton

This was another free book available through Kindle Unlimited, and it definitely read like a free book. It was far better than the previous book I reviewed, but there were many sections that were written in an unprofessional manner. My biggest complaint with the book is that the author, on a few occasions, makes inappropriate sexual comments. I understand that Bolton is using these “sexual” examples to make a point about how the human mind works, but it comes across as inappropriate, and I feel that he loses some credibility, especially from me, due to these comments.

One in particular that I had a problem with concerns an exchange that he writes about between he and one of his students. During this instance, Bolton is trying to get this particular student to overcome “stage fright” by imagining herself playing a flawless recital. The student has trouble with this and basically says that the scenario is too far-fetched for her to imagine. She couldn’t possibly imagine herself playing a flawless recital, because she believes that it would never happen. Bolton then responds in this manner: “I proceeded to ask her if she ever had any sexual fantasies.” Now, again, I understand what he is doing. A sexual fantasy is something that is normally not realistic, and a majority of people have them; however, I don’t think I would ever blatantly ask one of my students this question. If I were ever asked this during a lesson, I don’t know if I would go back. It’s just not professional and it’s very inappropriate, especially when you’re in a situation involving a man and a woman. There could be a lot of legal ramifications that accompany that sort of questioning.

Aside from the unprofessional nature of the writing and certain content, Bolton does leave us with some interesting things to discuss. First off, he devotes a couple of chapters to the topic of hypnosis. I am a skeptic by nature, so hypnosis has always seemed like a gimmick to me. When I think of hypnosis, I see this image of a guy waving a pocket watch back and forth in front of the subject’s eyes, speaking in this monotone voice, telling this person that they’re getting sleepy, and the person eventually falls asleep. The hypnotist says/does what they need to do while the subject is asleep, they snap their fingers, the person wakes up, and they are magically cured. It seemed contrived and too good to be true. To be completely honest, I did actually consider using hypnosis to cure my playing issues at one time, but I didn’t really believe that it would work, so that thought was short-lived. Hypnosis depends on belief in order for it to work.

Much of the book focuses on the use of autosuggestion, which is the book’s “saving grace.” Bolton even dedicates a chapter to one of the pioneers of this process/technique, Emile Coué, and I will probably be reading some of Coué’s work in the future. Autosuggestion is a form of hypnosis, but it is done through the use of self-suggestions. Coué began his career working at an apothecary and found that patients would get better faster if their prescriptions were accompanied with a positive note implying that the medicine would work and that the patient would feel better soon. He turned this idea into his theory of autosuggestion, which uses positive suggestion to help people overcome fears and anxiety. This is very similar to one of my previous posts about perspective. If a person believes that they will fail, then that is the outcome that they will experience. However, if a person is able to change their mindset and begin to believe in oneself, then the possibility of success increases dramatically.

Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with autosuggestion, and I really believe that it can be extremely useful in the battle against anxiety. I didn’t really know that I was using autosuggestion, but I’ve been trying to change my mindset and think more positively about my playing. Instead of being afraid of playing, I’ve tried to turn that fear and anxiety into excitement. I’ve also been focusing a lot on the fact that my hard work has been paying off. My playing has progressed tremendously over the past few months, and even if I have a bad day, I can trust in the process and know that as long as I keep working, I will continue to get better.

What I’ve been doing isn’t exactly autosuggestion, but the concepts are very similar. In his book, Bolton talks about using positive mental imagery in conjunction with positively constructed phrases or mantras. These mantras are to be used everyday, starting at least a couple of months in advance of a performance, and are meant to reprogram your mind. He gives simple instructions to follow in order to receive the full benefits of the exercises: repeat the exercises every day, do each exercise at different times throughout the day, do not control your progress, and do not take the exercises overly seriously. That last instruction makes sense, because if you think about the exercises too much, and start to monitor your progress, then they may not work as well. The goal of autosuggestion is to change the unconscious mind, which takes time and cannot be measured.

Bolton shares three exercises with us. The first is a “preparatory routine” that can be done just before performing either of the two remaining exercises. It should take about 2-3 minutes, and is meant to prepare/open the mind to the suggestions given by the exercises. Bolton gives the following instructions for the preparatory routine:

To be done just before doing each exercise in a relaxed atmosphere – Lie down in bed,            or sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, and take several slow, deep breaths, as              you relax as much as possible. As you calmly breathe in, and then out, repeat to                      yourself slowly and deliberately (either in your mind or out loud).

“I am very relaxed, and I am relaxing more and more with each breath I take. My                  mind is becoming more and more receptive to the thoughts that I will soon be                          putting into it. These thoughts will easily enter my unconscious mind, and will allow              me to reach my full potential.”

Repeat these sentences three times to yourself, slowly reading (or thinking) them.

Bolton reminds the reader that this “prelude” should only be done if one is able to relax and focus on nothing but the exercise. Do NOT do the prelude if you are driving or performing any other dangerous activity. He then introduces the exercises, with the first exercise consisting of a pre-worded phrase that is to be repeated, either out loud or mentally, for a certain amount of time, usually about 5 minutes. The person doesn’t have to imagine anything, but rather focus on the phrase and treat it as if he/she were meditating. Bolton reminds us that he designed this phrase for himself, and that the reader should make changes: insert the date of your performance, make it specific to your instrument, or to the performance situation, etc. Here is the phrase and the accompanying instructions:

“As soon as I walk out onto the stage to the give the recital on (date), I will feel happy,            relaxed, and delighted to get the chance to play for the people who are present. Once              I begin to play (or sing), I will feel even better, and my performance will go amazingly            well. The longer I play, the happier I feel, and my recital will be a fine success.”

Repeat this sentence to yourself, at varying speeds. Continue repeating it for about                five minutes. After this time, the exercise is finished; put it out of your mind until the              next time you do it.

Again Bolton states that the reader should change things and make it more personal, or at least make it so that it would sound like something that they would say. He does warn us against the use of “negative” words and phrases. Don’t use phrases such as: “I will not feel anxious,” “I will feel less tension,” “I will not think about missing notes,” etc. When using the autosuggestion phrases, don’t even think about using words that relate to anxiety, tension, or any other bad thing that could occur while performing. This will negate any positive effects from the autosuggestion phrases, and it basically won’t work.

The second exercise is similar to things that I have done before and utilizes positive imagery to overcome anxiety. In the past, I would imagine myself playing my recital, or audition, and during these “fantasies,” I would feel no anxiety. I would picture myself playing through every piece, and everything would go better than planned. Bolton’s exercise is a little bit different, but it utilizes the same basic concept:

Here, you will imagine feeling relaxed, happy, and delighted as you walk out onto the             stage, and play your recital. Do this:

Imagine that you are just about to walk out onto the stage to give your recital.           Imagine that you snap your fingers once. In your vision, as soon as you snap             your fingers, you feel relaxed, happy, and most pleasantly excited. You step                 out onto the stage, and with each step, you feel a surge of relaxed confidence,             and joy. When you play the first notes, you smile slightly, for you are so truly             happy to be able to play for those who have come to hear you. Now, for about             five minutes, as you let this scene continue, and even repeat itself in your                     mind, bathe in these positive emotions.

This exercise also includes something that Bolton calls a “trigger.” In Bolton’s example, he uses a finger snap, but it can be anything. It should not be something that a person does regularly, but a small action that is unique to the situation. This way, when the action is performed, it will hopefully trigger relaxed, happy, and excited feelings.

For what it’s worth, I like the idea behind the exercises presented in Bolton’s book. His wording is a little odd, but that can be changed, and he specifically recommends that the reader personalize each exercise. I just really didn’t like Bolton’s writing style, or some of his content choices throughout the entire book. It wasn’t professional, and I don’t think that I would recommend this book to a student. However, he did present some nice ideas that I will certainly employ, and I am also thankful that Bolton introduced me to the work of Emile Coué. I will definitely be doing more research on Coué, and I know that other books on my reading list will discuss the use of autosuggestion, so I’m looking forward to reading about this topic from different perspectives. I will leave you with a Coué quote that I really liked and describes my situation, and I’m sure others as well, very accurately:

“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

 

Embouchure Re-Training: Thoughts and Exercises

I thought that it might be a good idea to discuss and share some of the exercises that I tried while attempting to re-train my embouchure. Some exercises worked really well, and there were quite a few that did nothing. As a disclaimer, take the things that I will be saying at face value. I’m not here to discredit anyone either. What helped me may not work for you, and vice versa. Don’t just take my word, try it for yourself, and if it doesn’t work, reevaluate and move forward. One last thing before I begin, it would always be a good idea if you seek the help of a professional for guidance when dealing with these types of situations.

When my injury first occurred, there were two books that I read immediately: Broken Embouchures, by Lucinda Lewis, and The Balanced Embouchure, by Jeff Smiley. Both are great reads, and I would recommend them to any student or colleague. I have mentioned the Lewis book in a previous post, so I will discuss that one first.

Like I said, this is a good book to read for anyone that is going through an embouchure injury, or just a good text to have on hand in case you need it, for yourself or for a student. I enjoyed how Lewis included a lot of her own experience in the book, because I feel like the best tips will come from those who have experienced the same thing. The book contains information regarding any type of embouchure related injury, internal and external, and normally suggests a recommended treatment. It also shares words of encouragement, which is great, because this can be such a traumatizing experience. Lewis constantly reminds us that there will be good days and lots of bad days, but that vigilance and resisting the urge to panic will eventually lead to reward. I unfortunately kept panicking, and it took me way longer than it should have to get my correct embouchure back….more on that in a later post.

Lewis uses a technique called “Blocked Buzzing” to force the embouchure back into its natural setting. The companion manual, Embouchure Rehabilitation, contains step-by-step exercises that are supposed to help recreate the feeling and structure of one’s old/natural embouchure. This paragraph from the aforementioned manual should give a clear understanding of what “Blocked Buzzing” is and what it is supposed to accomplish:

Stand in front of a mirror. Plug the end of your mouthpiece completely with a finger. Put your mouthpiece up to your lips exactly as though you were going to buzz a midrange note. Begin blowing by tonguing the note. Blow with a constant mezzo forte stream of air. There should be absolutely no sound or air leakage from your lips or mouthpiece. Notice how firm and controlled your entire embouchure is and how your chin stretches down with considerable energy as you blow. Tongue a few notes with your mouthpiece blocked, and observe how still your face and throat are and how well your air works. Say hello to your old embouchure. (Embouchure Rehab, 10)

I was very hopeful when I first began using the exercises, and I believed that it would work. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I could never do the “Blocked Buzzing” without having some form of air leakage. I attempted the exercises for a long period of time, several weeks, and I even would try them again periodically, but it just never really helped me regain my old embouchure. Now, this doesn’t mean that these exercises won’t work for someone else, so by all means, buy the book and try them out. The exercises did seem as if they would work, and they are well developed. Lewis has you trying to “Block Buzz” in different ranges and using different air speeds (dynamics) and continues the same type of formula with regular mouthpiece buzzing. The book and more about Lewis can be found on her website: www.embouchures.com.

Another embouchure technique that I tried was the Balanced Embouchure. I purchased the book, written by trumpet player Jeff Smiley, and I also got the horn-specific exercises put together by Valerie Wells. To try and put it simply, the Balanced Embouchure technique focuses mostly on full-range motion and allowing the embouchure to move freely if needed. It instructs one to not worry so much about keeping the chin flat or about maintaining an embouchure that looks uniform. If you play with a bunched chin, and it doesn’t affect your tone or ability to play in different registers, then don’t worry about it.

In order to gain full-range motion and unlock the capabilities of your embouchure, Smiley developed exercises that ask the player to use two very drastic and extreme types of embouchures: Roll-In (RI) and Roll-Out (RO). It sounds exactly like the words imply. The RI embouchure requires you to roll the lips all the way in and attempt to play, while the RO does the exact opposite. The RI exercises focus mostly on the extreme high range, while the RO focuses on the extreme low, pedal range. For example, there is an RI exercise that starts high and works its way down in the range, not allowing you to adjust your embouchure. It’s pretty tough to play with a good tone. Some exercises combine the two embouchures. One in particular jumps from a really high note to a low one, requiring the player to quickly adjust from an RI to setting to the RO, then back up again.

Smiley never suggests an embouchure change, you only use the RI and RO embouchures within the confines of the prescribed exercises. Once you finish the exercises, you play everything else with your normal embouchure setup. However, Smiley and others believe that one can enhance and strengthen an embouchure by using the RI/RO techniques on a daily basis. I know many people who have experienced great success through using this method. The most common side effects are better endurance, greater flexibility, and increased stability in the high range. For me, things felt good for about the first two weeks of working through the exercises. Then, my embouchure started to feel weird/unstable. I kept doing the exercises for a few more weeks, but stopped once my playing began to suffer.

For what it’s worth, I would be very cautious when attempting any type of exercise that requires you to manipulate your embouchure in a way that is not natural. I don’t know if BE hurt my embouchure, or if the damage had already been done and BE accelerated the process. I just know that my embouchure felt normal before starting BE. My endurance wasn’t as good as it once was, hence the reason for trying BE, but when I stopped doing the exercises, my embouchure felt completely different and didn’t feel normal again for quite some time. So, be careful and don’t just try something because it’s the hot new fad.

For the last section of this post, I will focus on the exercises and routines that did work and help me to regain my ability to play. First, I had to focus a lot on my breathing. I will probably write a longer post on the topic later, but I think that some of us might take our air capacity for granted when we are at the height of our playing abilities. I’m still working on using my air correctly, but I know that my sound and tone have improved tremendously since taking more time to focus on breathing.

One thing that I noticed right away was the fact that I was slouching a lot when playing. Before my injury, I was very much into the Alexander Technique and had great posture when I played, but when I was playing poorly, my posture mimicked how I sounded. That was step one, fix posture. Problem number two, and this was/is the bigger problem, was to address how my throat seemed to tighten/lock up when I attempted to play. This not only happened when I played in front of people, but also in practice, when I would be completely alone. To be honest, I’m not sure how I was able to overcome this issue, but when I changed my mindset, began to think more positively, and started playing in front of people again, I got better. Remember, I’ve been practicing a lot and working on specific exercises to get better, so this wasn’t some quick fix. Speaking of which, here are some of the particular exercises that I’ve worked on to get me back into shape:

For flexibility, I needed to work out the extremes of my range, high and low:

Basler – “Slurred Arpeggios”

Basler - Slurred Arpeggio

Basler – “Tongued Arpeggios”

Basler - Tongued Arpeggio

I also did a lot of work with lip trills, lip slurs, and different natural horn exercises to increase flexibility, endurance, and range, some of which are listed below:

Brophy – “Lip Slur Exercises 1-7”

Brophy - Lip Slurs

Frøydis – “Harp Flexie”

Froydis - Harp Flexie

Oscar Sala – “Natural Horn/Lip Slur Exercise”

Sala - Natural Horn-Lip Slur Exercise

Here are just a couple more exercises that I used to help with flexibility throughout the different ranges:

Caballero – “Slur Warm-Up”

Caballero - Lip Slur Warm-Up

“Low Horn Flexie”

Low Horn Flexie

These aren’t all of the exercises, but it at least gives you an idea of the things that I worked on. I still play through some of these exercises during my warm-up, but I have also graduated to different exercises that better meet my current needs. It was difficult to play through many of these drills at first, and some of them sounded rough, but I was definitely rewarded for my hard work. I wish that it hadn’t taken me so long to finally work through this stuff, but I think part of me was just afraid of sounding bad, especially around other people. Once I realized that this was the only way that I would get better and that my playing ability didn’t define me as a person, I felt relieved and free to do what needed to be done. I am very thankful that I can play well again, and I am excited for the future.