My “Anti-Jacobs Stance” – A Clarification

YouTube user ChokatinSheepseki initiated a conversation on the comments section for my video Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players. Because YouTube limits the number of characters in each comment there it makes it very difficult to have an intellectual discussion there and it’s very easy to leave an erroneous impression. In an effort to respond to some of his comments and to offer ChokatinSheepseki a chance to more clearly and directly criticize my ideas I thought I’d post some more lengthy responses here. I’m going to pull some of his comments out of context in order to address a single topic at a time (you can read our whole exchange here in order).

You have it all backwards, and your anti-Jacobs stance simply makes you look all the more arrogant.

And in the next comment:

You appear to be taking an anti-Jacobs position in a desperate attempt to gain notoriety.

I was pretty surprised by the statement that I have an “anti-Jacobs stance.” I have offered some criticism to some specific ideas he has said about brass embouchures here, but  I direct that criticism to specific ideas that I believe to be factually inaccurate. In fact, in that same article I mentioned how much Jacobs has influenced me as a teacher and player and acknowledged how effective his “song and wind” approach can be. I merely am arguing that there are other tools that are useful and good teachers and players need to grow beyond a single teacher/player’s approach – particularly as new information becomes available.

A few years back you told me that you thought Jacobs was WRONG on many issues. Now you say that he had a profound influence on your teaching and practice.

I’m afraid I don’t recall the specific conversation ChokatinSheepseki is referring to. I participate in a number of brass forums as well as frequently reference Jacobs here. At any rate, I don’t see how commenting that Jacobs’ ideas on a particular aspect of his pedagogy needs revisions makes me “anti-Jacobs.”

I have an axe to grind when it comes to people who feel that they can gain some credibility by “taking on Jacobs” and being utterly disrespectful by posting a photo of spaghetti stuck to a wall in a cheap attempt to downplay the importance of breath, wind…whatever you want to call it. If that’s not arrogance, I don’t know what is. A CSO member would never behave like that, even if they were spot on with their “convictions.”

This is what is sometimes called a “straw man argument” (ironically also an ad hominem attack, the very thing that he is accusing me of). In this case, ChokatinSheepseki’s criticisms aren’t specifically against something I actually said, but a misrepresentation of my thoughts that is quite easy to criticize. In fact, in the very article he mentions I wrote the following:

“One of the reasons that this is such a popular pedagogical method is because it’s very effective. Putting attention on the musical expression does have a tendency to work out the kinks in a player’s technique. Efficient breathing is also an extremely important part of good brass technique.

Just so I’m clear here, I’m not advocating that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

In the video that ChokatinSheepseki’s comments on I said:

“Looking at the embouchure closely shouldn’t imply that breathing is unimportant to good brass playing, it definitely is. Breathing is, however, better understood by most teachers and therefore receives much more attention. I’m merely recommending we add another tool to our toolbox, not replace what’s already effective.”

That’s hardly downplaying the importance of breathing to brass playing.

spaghetti_on_the_wallFor the record, I did use a photo of spaghetti splattered on the wall as an illustration for Jacobs’ statement he always addressed an embouchure issue with assignments of music. I made the analogy that without a good understanding of embouchure form you can end up unconsciously trying out so many different things in an effort to make a correction that in the process of fixing one thing you might end up with other issues that need to be addressed later.

ChokatinSheepseki appears to agree with that particular statement by Jacobs that assignments of music should be sufficient to address brass technique by itself.

The CONCEPT of a good sound in the BRAIN puts the body in the position that it needs to be in. Of course, you can try to consciously manipulate muscle groups and produce sounds, but such commands mean that the focus will not be on the music.

This is an interesting idea and one that we can have an honest discussion about. With regards to whether the body and brain will simply figure itself out when the attention is placed on music, there has been some research done on the difference between learning complex motor skills through intrinsic methods (goal oriented, e.g., pay attention to the music) and explicit methods (process oriented, consciously manipulate the motions you need to play). Having done some academic reading to learn more about his, I learned that when one is used exclusively, research indicates that the intrinsic approach is superior. However, research where subjects used a combination of the two approaches showed even better long-term results (this topic deserves a post of its own later that focuses exclusively on this research).

This is one of my criticisms of how many have interpreted Jacobs’ teaching into such a false dichotomy. If you listen to his masterclasses or read the books about his teaching very carefully you’ll note that one of his psychological tricks was to convince his students that he wasn’t telling them how to play while he was teaching them how to play. Case in point, here is an excerpt from Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind, written by Brian Frederiksen and edited by John Taylor. The bold text below is my emphasis to address my point.

A common problem is that of a double buzz, or as Jacobs calls it, “segmentation.” This happens when the embouchure is set for vibrations higher than what is actually desired. A major factor is insufficient air to fuel the vibration. It is, in fact, hardly ever an embouchure problem. The tongue’s position is too high and forward in the mouth. To correct segmentation, adjust the embouchure to vibrate at the pitch that is desired – play with a thicker air stream and keep the embouchure open.

Frederikson  (1996), p. 126.

In other words, address the physical causes of the double buzz not through assignments of music, but by correcting the specific mechanical issues that lead to the double buzz. This is contradictory to Jacobs’ other statements that he addresses embouchure issues only through assignments of music. My feeling here is that when dealing with brass technique we can spend some time dealing with the mechanics of how to play, provided that we also keep the end goal of making good music in mind and be sure to spend practice and teaching time addressing that as well.

Again, because ChokatinSheepseki and others frequently misinterpret my thoughts here, I’m not suggesting that focus on music and breathing are bad for your brass playing. They are extremely useful tools when the situation warrants. However, there are other approaches that when used at the correct time and place can also be helpful. There’s no need to use one exclusively over the other.

While ChokatinSheepseki “politely” refused my offer to move our discussion over here where the comments aren’t restricted to such a short length, I hope that he will reconsider and take the time to point out the specific parts where we have disagreements. Contrary to the implications in his criticisms, I do not have an “anti-Jacobs” stance. Furthermore, I’m perfectly willing to change my opinions if presented with good evidence and logical arguments that point out flaws in my presentations.

I’ll close this post by letting ChokatinSheepseki have the final word for now.

Actually, I sent you a G-rated version of my original comment.

I’ll let you get back to more important tasks, such as analyzing embouchures to see if they go north, south, east, or west, and pinpointing the exact number of coffee beans Beethoven preferred in his morning brew.

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