It happens to us all – embarrassingly this can be in the middle of our showcase number, live and dangerous on stage. It’s happened to me on Whammer Jammer a few times. As with all things physical, if your muscles aren’t used to it, they rebel. Ever tried to do too many sit-ups? A repetitive strain occurs when your abdominal wall muscles go into spasm and lock up. You can’t move again until they have had time to relax. Lip freeze is no different – our lip muscles cramp up from under use. In their own little way they’ve run a marathon too soon. Lip freeze often kicks in when you have to purse a bit harder for a bit longer – notoriously on those top end holes.
How do I overcome it?
Ask another band member to wallop you across the chops with a wet copy of the yellow pages. Even if it fails to loosen you up, the audience will applaud. But seriously… If you are in mid-performance, you’ve got to front it out and keep going rather than stop. Ease off and give it a few seconds while you cover up with a few easier options – you’ll get your chops back, although they may not take the same amount of hammering for the rest of the number. Whether you were on stage, at home or in a studio rehearsing when your chops started burning, make a note of when it happened and read on…
How do I prevent it?
Practice, practice, practice! Build up the strength over time by being active. The more you do it, the stronger the muscles become. Stop using it and you start losing it. For a useful lip strengthening exercise, try ten repetitions of the following: blow 7, draw 7, draw 6, blow 6, draw 6, draw 7 and blow 7. Play through the sequence, there and back again, without stop-starting each note.
Once you get the hang of the pattern, increase the tempo, but keep the weight equally distributed and the rhythm even. It should take on a see-saw quality as you emphasise the blow notes. The more repetitions you do, the more you feel the effects on your diaphragm as it pushes and pulls, and on your embouchure (chops). Try the same blow, draw, draw, blow pattern on holes 8 and 7, and finally on 9 and 8.