"Roll out!" is phrase I heard quite frequently as a student. I always struggled with staying rolled out, even when I was really focusing on it. At first it's very unsettling, it feels like every note is going to crack, which is probably why I never fixed it before now. I just wanted to feel safe, even though it was really pushing me and my musical progress backwards! However, after spending a few weeks taking a hard look in the mirror (metaphorically and literally) I'm making the real effort to fix this problem, and it's working!
The first step was to watch myself in the mirror - but I mean REALLY watch myself. I needed to become familiar with what I was currently doing, how my lips were moving, check the shape of my aperture, etc. This led to a few realizations:
My aperture is too wideIn addition to being too wide, it's also slightly to the left of center.I instinctively roll in and out at will, usually when I feel insecure, although it happens so often you almost wouldn't believe it.
These tendencies and habits are incredibly harmful for long term, successful playing.
Once I noticed these characteristics of my playing, I set about finding ways to adjust and correct. I decided that I would stick with the off-center aperture, because it allows me a very consistent sound and response across the full range of the instrument. I've been working on forming a smaller, better controlled aperture as well. Obviously, rolling out (and staying there!) has also been a priority.A wide aperture wastes air. This means that not only can I play fewer notes per breath, but my sound lacks focus and a richness of harmonics which allows the sound to carry.An off-center aperture isn't inherently bad, but not being aware of it can be. This is an interesting "realization," because I was already kind of aware of it...when playing piccolo. When practicing piano passages on the piccolo (and occasionally flute), I noticed a significant tendency to shift the aperture to the left. This actually worked really well and made a gorgeous pianissimo for me, but obviously it's not practical to shove the instrument to one side or the other while performing La Valse.Sudden, haphazard changes to the air stream direction via rolling in and out is, not shockingly, very unsettling, even when I'm doing it intentionally so that I will feel more secure.
Now, I don't want to spill all the beans in this one post, so I'm going to go into more detail about these changes in a separate post. Despite the myriad frustrations this past week has brought, I'm resolved to stay optimistic and to keep moving forward! As I continue to work on these changes over the next week, I'll be sure to post updates and explanations about how I'm going about making these adjustments. Stay tuned, and happy practicing!