A Finnish Virtuoso: Studies with Jukka Myllys
by Mark Carlson
Those who hear euphoniumist Jukka Myllys perform leave impressed and wondering if there’s some Finnish secret that grants him special abilities. I traveled to the Army’s Tuba-Euphonium Conference in 2001 to find out. In his masterclass, he introduced the audience to the recently published Turvat Kuntoon (Brass Chops Manual) by Finnish trumpeter Esko Heikkinen (b. 1953), published by Blosari-Edition. Myllys explained that it details, “How I learned to play. It’s all in here.” The audience was less interested in discussing a book and more interested in displays of Myllys’dexterity and effortless high range asking, ” How can you play like that?”
I was determined to obtain an answer to this question. Thanks to a Rotary Scholarship, I spent the 2002 -03 academic year studying with Myllys in Finland at the Oulu Polytechnic. Myllys proved to be as fantastic a teacher as he is a performer and, as promised, the Heikkinen’s Turvat Kuntoon supplied ample material for study. My year of study with Myllys resulted in a refreshingly unique physical and technical approach to music making. The goal of this article is to highlight the major concepts Myllys taught using Heikkinen’s book as the primary pedagogical work. Myllys is an ideal source for such information since he was using these materials before they were ever published.
“Don’t waste air”became one of the first axioms in my study with Myllys. This mantra became so frequently repeated that eventually I could hear the words in my head whenever my lungs became dangerously empty. At our first lesson,we worked on an arrangement of Sergey Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise.When I took breaths as infrequently as Myllys requested, I ran out of air.”Don’t waste your air,” he encouraged.More economic use of air allowed more air for the phrase ends and allowed me to play for longer periods without breathing –perhaps even past the phrase ending.
Myllys’ request was to simply not waste air,however,he did not mean to save your air –an idea widely regarded as detri mental.At first it seemed difficult to find the path between the two.However,by slightly reducing the volume of air exerted so that one is using just enough to produce a favorable tone,a lot of air that would otherwise be needlessly expended can be retained.This is learned only through time,practice,and a teacher’s insistence and his or her “intimidating”example.
The “Bear’s Fart” (see figure 3) is an ingeniously simple warm-up exercise which subtly develops a variety of technical concepts including breath management. The tempo (80 bpm)and duration (16 beats) give a good stretch to the lungs, requiring a good quantity of air, especially in the lower register.As the long tones give way to whole notes,and then quarters and eighths ,the player learns to blow through the tongued notes while maintain ing the air necessary for the 16 counts. With strict adherence to sound quality and volume of sound,the player learns to budget his or her air in order to produce lengthy phrases.
The Fast Breath
A classic desire of brass musicians is to take in as much air as possible in as short a time as possible. This facilitates maintaining rhythm and unobtrusive mid-phrase breaths.There are a variety of ways to achieve this. In my first lessons with Myllys,he was insistent that I breathe faster. I had been approaching the fast breath by perfecting the slow breath and then slowly speeding it up. Myllys insisted that phrase ends be held for their maximum duration, and then the lungs be filled rapidly and the next attack made.
This seems a simple enough request, though there are in fact several issues to address. When expending air at a phrase ending,performers become simultaneously physically uncomfortable with the unnatural act of squeezing out the last air from the lungs and mentally afraid that they will not have enough air to play the next phrase. The impulse to breathe as soon as possible is difficult to overcome. This can only be remedied by repeated relaxed practice. Another issue is actually obtaining the influx of air. To do this, normal breathing techniques must be modified. Myllys suggested occasionally breathing through the corners of the mouth so that the mouthpiece doesn’t leave the face and the embouchure doesn’t have to be reset. Another specialized technique considered more preferable to Myllys was the nose breath. This requires both clear nasal passages and an explosive inhalation to achieve any useful volume. Practice is necessary to overcome the additional mental uneasiness of alternately blowing out of the mouth and inhaling through the nose.
While mastering the slow breath is a necessary prerequisite to mastering the fast breath,there comes a time when a jump to the study of the fast breath becomes a necessity. To insure both the volume of intake and the integrity of rhythm while developing increasing speed,Myllys proposed a simple exercise. The idea is that the breath be given a rhythmical value so that the rhythmic integrity is maintained.This exercise can be performed using either an arbitrary pitch or simply an articulated expulsion of air accompanied by either a mouth breath or a nose breath with increasing tempo while breathing less frequently. The student should focus on getting as full a breath as possible without losing rhythm (figure 1).
Once this has been mastered,performers often have a new problem:having much more air than they’re accustomed to and not being allowed to expel or “waste” the excess air.This often causes a “burp” where the attack is accented by a quick outburst of air.This is the result of tension that results from either a tense breath or holding air before the release.The latter is easily remedied by carefully timing the intake of air so that capacity is reached just before the articulation of the next note.Tension while breathing can be avoided by keeping the closest constriction in the lips and nose instead of the throat and remembering that all uninvolved muscles should be relaxed.
Myllys often urged me to “use as much tongue as you can.” He argued that the euphonium being the most conical of instruments and,being of the baritone range,is even more predisposed to muddiness. Even the trombone,a very cylindrical instrument,is able to constantly make use of a legato tongue. Therefore, when euphonium performers insist on using soft legato tonguing, especially in a large hall, their articulation is perceived as a mere interruption in their sound and technical passages become muddy and unintelligible. Because of the conical nature of the horn, and with the added resonance of a hall, even the harshest of articulations are merely perceived as clear tonguing.
Harder articulations can be accomplished by both the use of more tongue and more explosive air behind the tongue. Myllys explains that the support of the air stream should never stop and that the tongue simply interrupts the airflow. The pressure can be maintained when not playing by treating the tongue as a valve and in some instances actually using it to stop the air. Certainly, this concept has the potential to be misapplied by inexperienced players, though it is often necessary to achieve certain musical effects. For example,in contemporary music,when a sustained note is meant to crescendo or maintain its intensity, it may be appropriate to use the tongue to stop the note.
This concept can also be seen in how Myllys teaches multiple tonguing to his students. By replacing the traditional “tu-ku-tu-ku”syllables with “tuk-kut-tuk-kut,” the tongue articulates the beginning and ends in position to articulate the second (there is no articulation of the second consonant; the tongue erely ends on this sound). In this way the execution gains clarity because of the space between notes as well as gaining duration since such canonization of air allows the player to multiple tongue for a longer time. The execution also gains in velocity since at the conclusion of the first syllable the tongue is already in position for the next (figure 2). This model’s goal is to help the tongue become a simplified mechanism that is both reliable and easily controlled.It emphasizes a horizontal movement of the tongue and should be used at slower tempi. As tempo increases,less and less of the tongue is necessary for articulation and the horizontal movement gives way for a largely vertical movement of the very tip of the tongue.
Figure 2. J. Myllys, double tongue model
Of course the legato tongue technique should not be discarded entirely .Myllys also encourages intermittent legato tonguing of slurred passages for clarity. With a soft tongue,lip slurs and other awkward intervals may be afforded some clarity while rhythm can be more clearly delineated.What often sounds as a legato articulation to the soloist’s ear may be perceived simply as a clear musical passage to the audience.
These concepts are best developed in the first study of the Brass Chops Manual. Different aspects of the traditional long tone warm-up are separated into a pair of warm-up exercises.The first,the “Bear’s Fart,” is a pedal tone study with a twist. It begins by establishing a long, controlled air stream .During the first pass of descending intervals,the player should concentrate on maintaining the correct pitch,volume,and a desirable tone for the 16-count duration. The euphonium player should feel free to continue this pass,descending chromatically as far as desired.This brings the player to the more challenging and more relaxing pedal register while further establishing the unchecked column of sound in the mind and in the ear (figure 3).
Figure 3. E.Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Bear’s Fart” (excerpts depicting the progressive introduction of articulations)
Once this pure air stream is established, articulations are introduced,beginning with whole notes.The player should strive to maintain both the quality of sound and a clear,strong articulation, quickly introducing the tongue in a valve-like manner only to interrupt and release the air stream.As the quantity of articulations per beat increases,the benefits from this simple approach become apparent.
The last chromatic descent contains a significant variation.” If you are going to abbreviate this exercise,be sure the last one is not the one you leave out!”Myllys warns (figure 4).
Figure 4. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Bear’s Fart” (final pass)
The final pass introduces staccato marks in the last two beats of each measure. These should be interpreted as staccatissimo notes while the legato marks should be played as long and weighty as possible for maximum contrast. When the tongue holds back the air between the staccatissimo notes, the pressure should be maintained. This provides the goal of the exercise: to develop a strong straight air stream to compliment well-marked articulations without tightening the lips.
Alternately, a similar goal is accomplished with the shorter and more nimble second warm-up exercise,the “Rabbit.” Here the quarter notes should be played with a strong accent and full tone that extends through the slurs as well.This exercise may necessitate several breaths to execute.Myllys also advocates breaking the slur in the last measure so that each beat or half beat is softly articulated for clarity (figure 5).
Figure 5. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon, “Rabbit” (excerpt)
Perhaps the most advanced technique of Myllys’s playing and teaching is the manner in which he produces air support. Certainly,muscular tension while playing should be avoided in general.However, in order to produce notes in the high register or of greater dynamic,some quantity of pressure becomes necessary. A large breath traditionally achieves this. When the lungs are filled past the equilibrium level, their desire to deflate and return to equilibrium provides some usable pressure. However,when there is not enough pressure,or pressure is needed when there is no opportunity to breathe, the pressure must be manufactured.
When a full breath is taken past the equilibrium point,the entire trunk is stretched beyond its natural resting position and pressure is exerted on the diaphragm and lungs from all sides causing them to expel the air. Implementing isolated pressure in the lower back,lower abdomen, and groin areas can artificially further this process. This breaks the traditional cardinal goal to avoid all tension while performing. However, if it is managed such that the pressure is isolated and does not spread into other body parts, there are no detrimental affects. It is best implemented immediately before wide ascending intervals. This technique is of course aided by an already ample air supply.
The entire Heikkinen book culminates in the 6th and final exercise,”Heavy Duty.” Here elements of all previous exercises are brought into focus and proper abdominal support is developed. This technique is necessary to give adequate support to the upper register and more effortlessly span wide intervals. This exercise is the most physically demanding in the book and should be approached only after a student is in strong enough physical condition that the more demanding exercises are beneficial. Frequent breaks are necessary and are indicated in the music by rests with fermatas.
Here the progressively demanding studies are separated by passages of lip slurs and fast scales. These should be played in as relaxed a manner as possible. Each part of this exercise isolates a different aspect of breath support,and,as the exercise progresses, the technique is cleverly developed. Some styles of exercises recur for emphasis as new ideas are introduced. Part E begins to test how much additional pressure is really necessary for the octave jump. Here Myllys encourages the player to maintain the same volume in both octaves, stopping for breathing as necessary to stay relaxed. Breaths should never be taken on a bar line and certainly not between octave jumps. The goal of this exercise is to make the jump with a relaxed, strong air stream without resetting the embouchure.
Figure 6. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon, “Heavy Duty” part E (excerpt)
Part H should be played without concern for missing notes or hitting any undesirable partials.The goal is to develop a controllable burst of air support. It is a physical exercise,not a musical exercise.
Figure 7. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty” part H (excerpt)
Part I checks lip position control and support.It should be played in a relaxed manner but with insistent rhythmic and exaggerated articulations. Myllys advocates maintaining the lower octave with the concert b-flat. This should foster strong air support pushing against the valve of the tongue.
Figure 8. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty” part I (excerpt)
Part P demands air support as the arpeggios ascend into the higher register. The arpeggios are assisted when the higher notes are imagined or “sung in the head” but not played with tension.Again the articulations should be exaggerated so that the staccato notes are played as staccatissimo notes,though with both strong sound and air.
Figure 9. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty”part P (excerpt)
Parts T and U are the crux of this “Heavy Duty”exercise. They are the most curious parts in that they seek to lend this very physical technique some sensitivity. Myllys asserts that the goal of both parts is to realize how little must be done to achieve the higher pitches.The goal is to keep the lips open and avoid equating increased range with increased lip pressure. Instead, the pressure should come from supporting air. Both should be performed without regard for pitch or missed notes as they are purely physical exercises. After these crucial exercises,the player is given some more musical passages,which allow some application of this newly developed breath support. Parts W and Y should be played in as relaxed a manner as possible,with an open embouchure but without moving the lips and without pressing.
Figure 10. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty”parts T and U (excerpt)
Myllys’s particular favorite is part Z where the player’s articulation,volume, and control are tested.Here two ranges are established and the player is forced to leap between them in a rhythmical, musical context. He recommends sustaining the dynamic in both octaves,perform ing the long notes without diminuendo, breathing before the lower sixteenth notes,and articulating attacks as hard as possible.He also advocates repetition of this exercise.
Figure 11. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty” parts W and Y (excerpts)
Figure 12. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Heavy Duty” part Z
At the conclusion of these exercises, some additional warming down may be necessary. A sensitivity check may also be useful.
Bringing the embouchure into a more correct shape was aided by the quick breath techniques in that the embouchure could be set and be unaltered by breathing. Fast breathing techniques were also necessary in order to practice the static pressure exercises that developed the embouchure muscles.
Developing such small delicate muscles requires a lot of time and therefore, patience. Checking the lip position with a mirror and mouthpiece and/or mouthpiece rim is the most beneficial means to maintain correct form.The mouthpiece will give a better representation of tone while a rim allows the player to see his or her lips and motivates the player to achieve a richer, “buzzier” sound. Myllys asserts that each day will be different for the embouchure and the amount of time spent correcting and exercising will vary. The goal is that the corners should be slightly turned down and tight enough that no air escapes. As the note frequency ascends,there should be no constriction of the airflow or spreading of the corners to form a smile embouchure. If there is too much tension used to squeeze out the higher frequencies,the tone will suffer and eventually be cut off.If the lips are allowed to slip into a smile embouchure, the muscles will be pulled thin against the pressure of the mouthpiece and be unable to respond.
These muscles can be developed by short regular static tension exercises found in the Caruso book. By using static tension, the muscles are exercised in a short amount of time to minimize fatigue.Static tension also reinforces the feeling of the muscles in the correct position. This static tension must be maintained through the rests by breathing through the nose to avoid resetting the embouchure. These exercises should be done for a short time and followed by plenty of rest. These are some of the smallest muscles in the body and may take years to properly develop.Unnecessarily stressing these muscles can cause serious damage and have an adverse effect on playing. Myllys warns that such physical exercises are only useful once the student can play comfortably in the middle register and should be avoided if the embouchure feels tired.
After so much technical activity, performers need to pay attention to sensitivity lest it escape them completely amid such newfound strength.The important physical aspects of sensitivity are an awareness of the air stream and the ability to maintain it. Myllys asserts, however,that sensitivity is largely a mental task. Teaching by rote will always communicate the most information in the shortest time.The most inspiring model for sensitivity will always come from another player.
Jukka explains that at first you should not be as concerned with pitches as with the following:maintaining a quality column of air, not shifting the embouchure, thinking about widening the aperture as the notes ascend, and strictly adhering to the indicated dynamics. The tempo does not need such strict adherence as the goal of the exercise is maintaining a controlled air stream. Of course, the high notes should not be forced.If they cannot be played, the player should maintain their physical goal and imagine the missing pitches.
This can be practiced in a variety of ways. The “Bear’s Fart” exercise from the Brass Chops Manual provides the basis for sensitivity in the attention that it draws to the integrity and quality of the air stream. The “Roller Coaster”exercise is very beneficial.It forces players to main tain their air stream through various registers without additional pressure,as the notes ascend the dynamic diminishes. Myllys asserts that it’s “very important to learn things like that. First sensitivity— then power.”
The book’s fourth exercise,the “Tough Partisan,” addresses sensitivity specifically. Here the notes are articulated and crescendo and decrescendo are used over 16 slow counts.The notes should be articulated at a comfortable dynamic using a “tHoo” attack where the presence of the soft tongue is all but masked by the supporting air. The notes then crescendo to a comfortable full dynamic and then decrescendo to niente while focusing on the integrity of the air stream.Once the underlying concepts have been grasped, the etude can be easily shortened by playing the notes of the major scale instead of the chromatic scale. It is in the decrescendo that the most significant progress towards enhanced sensitivity occurs.
Figure 13. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Roller Coaster” (excerpt)
Figure 14. E. Heikkinen Turvat Kuntoon,”Tough Partisan” (excerpt)
In the hope of sharing what I learned from my experience with the great tuba and euphonium community,I can ake a few recommendations.One is that interested parties seek out Heikkinen’s Turvat Kuntoon. It is of singular uniqueness in its approach and is a great addition to any brass pedagogue’s library. I recommend that this work be viewed as not only a new take on classic goals of the brass musician,but as an opportunity to critically examine what we do and why we do it –the rationale behind curriculums,practice habits,and approaches to performance.I also recommend younger students consider the possibility of study with Jukka Myllys at either the Conservatory in Oulu or The Heksinki Academy. A great way to sample this climate is to attend Lieksa Brass Week this summer.
I can recommend pursuit of any option for study abroad.Apart from the cultural exchange,the perspective afforded you provides a great foundation for creative approach toward your discipline.I think the most important dimension of this experience is the realization that we operate in a discipline that,though it has a rich past,it is still in its infancy.It is exciting to realize that new ideas are constantly changing the face of our art.
The Turvat Kuntoon by Esko Heikkinen is available from Blosari-Kustannus Edition Ay (P.O.Box 10,00251 Helsinki, Finland;www.blosari.com). Jukka Myllys is currently preparing for the Lieksa Brass Week Euphonium Competition. Mark Carlson is pursuing a master’s degree in euphonium performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,studying with John Stevens.