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Building face muscle strength

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  • Building face muscle strength

    Some months ago, I put a Reed Wrangler mouthpiece on my pipes to increase the length of time I can play, but I still find I can only go about 20 minutes or so before my lips give out. I was playing in public a couple days ago and just gave out mid-tune, which was a tad embarrassing. My instructor says that about 10% of his students have this problem, and that using the Reed Wrangler for too long probably makes it worse because you’re not exercising the muscles as much. So I’ve taken it off for the purposes of practicing indoors, but can only make it through a couple tunes before I start losing the tight seal.

    Any tips on exercises to build face muscle strength?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Davidck View Post

    ... taken it off for the purposes of practicing indoors, but can only make it through a couple tunes before I start losing the tight seal.

    Any tips on exercises to build face muscle strength?
    The best exercise would be to play...more and more ..with a standard round mouthpiece tip. It will always ..100%..self center at ‘pipes up’ on parade or otherwise
    More important... train yourself to not bite with undue pressures that will quickly tire and aggravate your cheeks and lips.

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    • #3
      Play until you are spitting all over yourself, then put the pipes down, for 5 or 10 minutes then do it again. Repeat as often as you have time for.
      Playing is the only exercise that I know that helps this problem. The more you play, the stronger your lip.

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      • #4
        Some people can take a long time to build lip strength, because those muscles aren't really designed by nature to become big and strong. I'd suggest the first thing to look at is the strength of your pipes: there is merit in being able to work your way up to a certain strength of reed but it does sound like something that would let you go a bit longer would in turn let you grow your stamina.
        http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
        -- Formerly known as CalumII

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        • #5
          An exercise is have some of my students do to strengthen their embouchure is to hold the very tip of a new, sharpened pencil in your lips (just your lips) and let it droop down then move it to parallel(ish) to the ground. Do multiple reps multiple times a day.

          You can even do this while working or browsing the forum or anything really.

          I’ve seen devices sold for this purpose that allow you to change the weight at the end, but the pencil works just fine and is significantly cheaper.
          You don't have fun by winning. You win by having fun.

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          • #6
            I've noticed that even when I've been practicing pipes a lot, if I've taken a long time off the practice chanter, that the embouchure strength is diminished. I'm noticing it even more now that I'm getting back to in person lessons after the long plague pause. Figure, you've got time to take breaths and make use of the bag with the pipes, but with the pc, you're maintaining tone all the time, which may make your lips stronger. So, maybe more time on the chanter would be the easiest way of building up lip strength.
            Before you start fixing problems with your reeds, check to see if the bag or stocks are leaking.
            http://www.youtube.com/user/Marcblur?feature=guide

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            • #7


              Greetings, Davidck, and to All,

              That always accurate... Old Rule... still... and always... applies...

              Off the practice for a while?? And whether the pc or the pipes...
              the first to go... is never the fingers... or the lungs... it's the lips!!

              And but one road back... Just play... and play... and play!!... and
              keep adding... that Old Rascal Time to your playing... until you
              have... regained...

              It's a sometimes hard road... and requiring patience... with ourselves...
              (and many have been through this)... but short of being tapped on
              the brow by an Arch Angel... this seems to be... the only..."Avenue
              of Approach"... that there is...

              Wishing you the Best of Good Fortune with it!!,
              (Just keep after it!! It will come!!)

              Pip01


              My friends all know,
              With what a brave carouse...

              Comment


              • #8
                I played trumpet for many years and this was always an issue and is why I was never one of the better players in my band. On the low ne middle notes, I sounded as good as anyone, but I couldn’t sustain higher notes the way some of the better trumpeters could. High G was about the highest note I could reliably hit, and was never able to get high C with any clarity. So, I’m annoyed that it continues to be an issue with a completely different type of mouthpiece. I’m practicing without the reed wrangler to build strength but suspect based on my experience with the trumpet, that I will always be lacking in this regard.

                Given that, I’m trying to think of some unorthodox solutions. So far I’ve come up with the below two, which admittedly sound bizarre, but I’m trying to be creative.

                1.) Mounting a baritone mouthpiece onto the blowpipe. I also played baritone for several years, and my face never got tired, simply because it doesn’t require keeping your facial muscles as tightly puckered.
                2.) Fashioning some kind of mouthpiece that fills more of my mouth so that it’s actually touching the inside of my cheeks. It seems like that would just take advantage of the natural shape my cheeks to keep an airtight seal.

                Any opinions on whether something like the above would actually work?

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                • #9
                  > Mounting a baritone mouthpiece onto the blowpipe

                  The problem here is that you then have to press your mouth into the mouthpiece, and our friend Isaac Newton takes over - that force then transmits down the bag, and then your arms and hands have to push back.

                  I know we have one or two other brass players here, and I'd be interested to hear what sort of pressure level they would perceive your G/C break to be, comparatively. As I said above, some people do respond more slowly to stimulus, so it takes longer to strengthen the embouchure, of whatever sort.

                  I'd still like to get an understanding of how strong your pipes are and how much air they take - it's perfectly possible for perceptions to be well off (I've just measured my blowing pressure, and it's way off from what I'd guessed it to be). If you're trying to blow 38" of water, well, there's your answer...
                  http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
                  -- Formerly known as CalumII

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The reeds I use typically sound anywhere from 30-35 on pressure gauge, if that’s what you mean by strength.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Davidck View Post
                      The reeds I use typically sound anywhere from 30-35 on pressure gauge, if that’s what you mean by strength.
                      Yikes. Top world’s players use reeds ~30” and lower...not hardly higher;
                      ...try something in the 26-28” range ...you’ll be relieved.
                      It can be as ‘hard’ to play an easy reed well as a hard reed.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Davidck View Post
                        The reeds I use typically sound anywhere from 30-35 on pressure gauge, if that’s what you mean by strength.
                        Well there’s your problem. Get yourself a softer reed. Apps would rate a reed at that strength as medium to medium-hard, but most of us don’t need a reed that stiff, especially if you’re still fairly new to piping.

                        As far as mounting something to the mouthpiece, I wouldn’t.
                        You don't have fun by winning. You win by having fun.

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                        • #13
                          I understand why reed strength means squeezing harder and blowing harder, but why does that make a difference for my facial muscles? I have to keep the same airtight seal, regardless of how hard I have to blow. What is an ideal pressure for the reed to sound? Anything below 30, and the chanter squeals when I strike up the drones, so I just assumed that meant it was too easy.

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                          • #14
                            The lip seal is holding back the air, so the higher the air pressure the tighter the seal must be. The tighter the seal, the harder the muscles have to work and the quicker they fatigue (and the relationship is non-linear).

                            As for an ideal pressure, I would say the range of normal setups is perhaps 28-36" of water. You're right that when you get to the bottom end of that you need to pick drone reeds carefully and set them up, but it can certainly be done, and I've seen setups as low as 20-22". There is a Northumbrian piper (ie Northumbrian bagpipe) who is known for very low pressure setups, at one stage I think down to 9" of water.

                            In the long term, there is an advantage to playing a reed that has a certain amount of weight, because it will better resist climate variations; but there's no rush to get there!
                            http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
                            -- Formerly known as CalumII

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                            • #15
                              I had mostly been using harder reeds, because I am able to handle them from a squeezing and breathing perspective, and my understanding is that one of the benefits is that it’s easier to control tone. I just experimented with a couple of my weaker reeds and did indeed notice a huge difference in the stamina of my facial muscles, but also find it harder to maintain a consistent pressure.

                              For more experienced pipers—what reed strength do you typically play at when playing on your own, in your home or in public? What about when in a parade or competition?

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