Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Issue 8

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Welcome back to the "Land of All Things Brass." This installment of Brass Advantage will focus on developing strength and control of the muscles of the face with the use of Lip Isometric exercises.

Isometric exercise is a form of exercise involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint, which usually occurs while lifting weights and other types of exercises devoted to developing muscular strength. The difference is reflected not only in the name but in the action as well. The term "isometric" combines the prefix "iso" (same) with "metric" (distance), meaning that in these exercises the length of the muscle does not change. Resistance to isometric contractions generally involves the body itself (i.e. pressing the palms together in front of the body) or structural items (i.e. pushing against a door frame). Put more simply, muscle working against muscle.

Isometric exercise or "isometrics" are a type of strength training in which the resistance is provided by an immovable object rather than a weight, elastic or hydraulic resistance. During an isometric contraction the length of the muscle does not change (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called isotonic movements) and the joint angle does not change. As there is no movement, isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic (with motion).

Using this technique I hope to simply explain to you a more efficient use of your rehearsal time to develop the strength and control necessary to become a world-class brass player.

The areas of the embouchure that we will be strengthening are:

The Upper Lip – All the muscles from the nose to the lip opening.
The Lower Lip – All the muscles from the top of the chin to the lip opening.
The Cheek Muscles – All the muscles from the ear to the mouth.

Isometric Exercises

Here are a number of Isometric exercises for the lip that I think you’ll all find very helpful and are very simple to do.

MMM – This exercise is accomplished by merely holding your lips closed, as in making the sound "mmm". When done correctly, your lips should roll slightly inward. Hold on to this position as long as possible until your muscles begin to burn, then rest the same amount of time it took to create the burn and repeat (twice a day should be sufficient).

Lactic Acid
Lactic acid (lactate) is behind the burning sensation that is felt in the muscles during intense physical exercise.

"The Burn" – When your body produces lactic acid, it splits into a lactate ion (lactate) and a hydrogen ion. The hydrogen ion is the acid in lactic acid. It interferes with electrical signals in your muscles and nerves, slows energy reactions and impairs muscle contraction. The burn you feel in isometric or in any intense physical exercise is caused by the hydrogen ion.

Recuperation – It’s extremely important between exercises not only to relax but also to encourage blood flow to the lips. Engorging the muscles and tissue with blood will bring nutriments (oxygen, minerals) to the affected area, which will in turn promote development of muscular strength and increase in tissue size. Bending over while buzzing your lips or a good facial massage certainly will do the trick…

The Pencil – Place the unsharpened end of a wooden pencil snuggly against your closed teeth. Grasp the pencil with both your upper and lower lips and let go holding the pencil straight out in front of your face with only the muscles of you lips and embouchure. Continue holding the pencil until "The Burn". Rest and then repeat.

The Smooch – Roll the corners of your mouth as far forward as possible (pucker up). Slowly close the center of your lips by focusing all your energy to the center of the lips as if you were trying to hold the pencil from the exercise above in place tightly. Continue holding until "The Burn". Rest and repeat.

The Lion – Also used extensively as a Yoga face stretching exercise this exercise can build the muscles of the cheeks that are connected from the ear to the mouth. Open your mouth as widely as you can while trying to touch your chin with your tongue. Open your eyes as wide as you can while looking straight up into the sky with your eyes. Continue holding until "The Burn". Rest and then repeat.

The Coin Exercise – Much like the MMM this exercise focuses your energy more specifically on the center of a coin. Place a coin (dime for upper brass, quarter for lower brass) between your upper and lower lips (in the center of where your aperture is located while playing/buzzing). Assume the MMM position with the coin appropriately placed between your lips. Being careful not to use your teeth in any way while grasping the coin with your lips, roll your lips towards the center of the coin exerting as much pressure as possible towards it’s center. Continue holding until "The Burn". Rest and repeat

The Shank – This exercise can be done either in a standing or sitting position. Begin by first cleaning and drying the shank of your mouthpiece. Once the shank of your mouthpiece is dry, dry the inside of your lips. Slowly bend over at the hips facing the ground. Grasp the shank of the mouthpiece with your lips. Be sure to place one hand under the mouthpiece to catch it if you loose your grasp. Continue holding until "The Burn". Rest and repeat.

The Approach

This is a daily regimen!! Choose two or three of the exercises a day to do and keep rotating them making sure you’re working each muscle group at least every other day.

Most importantly;

1) Go to "The Burn" and stop….
2) Remember to rest the same amount of time it took you to create the burn.
3) Repeating the exercises twice a day should be sufficient.

If you experience extreme fatigue it’s OK to take a break from your daily isometric regime for a couple of days to let the muscles recuperate and to allow the tissue to build (increase in size)…

After a couple of months, every other day should suffice to maintain the strength you’ve developed.

BTW most of these exercises can be done anywhere (driving, running, at a computer keyboard, etc.)

If you’d like to compliment your isometric strength conditioning I would highly recommend Frank Dorritie’s technique book titled; "XtremePower & Endurance" available at www.XtremeBrass.com Double your efforts and muscular gain!!!

Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DCP%20 and remember you can find: "Technique Essentials" A Custom Symphonic & Marching Band Warm Up on my website too!

"Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By". See Ya Soon…

Wayne

Publisher’s Note:
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for "Excellence in Brass Performance", Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show "Blast" and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the
Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd

About the Author:
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.

Posted by on Wednesday, January 17th, 2007. Filed under Brass Advantage.