Threading The Needle
Posted by Chase Sanborn

As you strive for accuracy, consistency and efficiency, think of each note as a target. The target cannot be seen, but it can be heard and felt. When you hit the target square in the center, the note is resonant and secure. The careful and precise positioning of each note requires a clear command from the brain, a focused and consistent air stream, and subtle adjustments of the embouchure.

The clearer you hear a pitch in your mind, the more accurately you will target it on the horn. If you are faced with a tricky line, perhaps fast or high, practice it slowly and down an octave to fix the pitches in your ear. For awkward intervals, play them on the piano first. Until you hear the musical line clearly in your mind, you are ‘shooting blind’.

The airflow must be smooth, continuous and aimed at the target. Imagine a video game where you shoot gamma rays at aliens that appear and disappear on the screen. Things happen quickly on screen; keep your finger on the trigger, firing a continuous stream of rays as you adjust your aim for each new target. On your horn, think of your air as the gamma rays, and the notes as the alien targets. Adjust your aim and blow the notes out of the horn!

Finding the ideal embouchure setting for a note requires your full concentration and subtle but critical adjustments of the position of the lips on the airstream. This is particularly true in the upper register; it is common to over-adjust as you approach the outer reaches of your range. Think of it like threading a needle: Rather than stabbing repeatedly at the head of the needle with the thread, take your time and line it up. The higher you play, the smaller the head of the needle and the closer it is to the other needles. Precision is required, not brute force. Play slowly and carefully, looking for the ‘sweet spot’ on each note, the bulls eye on the target. When you successfully thread the needle, the note responds with a ‘ping’ and feels quite easy to play.

Chase Sanborn

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