(A short entry after a busy few weeks….)
We humans are great at devising new methods and new contraptions intended to make our lives better, our jobs easier, and our time spent doing those jobs more productive. And, thanks to good ol’ capitalism, if we can make a little money selling those methods and contraptions, so much the better. Of course, the desire for quick financial gain has led over the years to any number of “snake oil” products being proffered in addition to useful ones, and the brass playing community has been as subject to this phenomenon as any group. Thus, when a new idea or product comes on the market one is justified approaching it with a bit of skepticism, even when it is ultimately deemed “worth a try.”
I was first introduced to the Personal Embouchure Training Exerciser, or “P.E.T.E.,” a couple of years ago, and decided to purchase one this past fall. The idea behind this product is to enable the player to perform special exercises to “strengthen the support muscles of your embouchure.” The manufacturer is careful to note that this product is by no means intended to replace any amount of actual practice time, but only to supplement it. That said, some of the testimonials on the product’s website also indicate that using the P.E.T.E. regularly while one is unable to practice for short periods can help to mitigate the negative effects of a “layoff.”
As I indicated earlier, I was skeptical when I first encountered the P.E.T.E. While I am still relatively young, I have been in this business long enough to see a number of supposedly dazzling inventions come and go. I am particularly wary of devices intended to somehow strengthen the embouchure outside of “normal” practice on the instrument and mouthpiece. I usually find myself thinking that many of these devices are mere useless “snake oil,” or that perhaps they are somehow dangerous—after all, didn’t the composer Robert Schumann destroy his career as a pianist because of some ill-conceived contraption intended to strengthen his hand? To their credit, the folks at Warburton (the P.E.T.E.’s manufacturer) caution users to not “overdo it,” as well as to allow ample resting time between using the P.E.T.E. and actual practicing. When used as directed, I do not think that the P.E.T.E. is at all dangerous.
Not only is it not dangerous, but I have found using the P.E.T.E. to be at least mildly beneficial. During several periods of regular use over the past few months I have noticed marginal gains in strength, endurance, and even tone quality. Under normal circumstances, I am confident recommending that players purchase and use this device if so inclined. My only real caveat is that players that suffer from Temporomandibular Dysfunction (as I do) might find that using the P.E.T.E. creates stresses on the jaw joint and surrounding musculature that can cause some discomfort. Thanks to excellent medical and dental care, my TMD is mostly asymptomatic, but I did notice some mild discomfort after a few days of using the P.E.T.E., and this led me to discontinue regular use. Because this issue is not present for most players, I am comfortable advising that they consider using the P.E.T.E. to supplement their regular practice routines.
The key word, again, is “supplement.” Those players looking for a “shortcut” that will somehow reduce the amount of hard work in needed to attain mastery of an instrument will not find that in the P.E.T.E………or anyplace else!