Emission of sound
Following on from the awareness of the implication of the body, explained in the previous page, I would like to discuss the throat, another important element to consider.
The throat must always be open and not tight, in order not to feel contractions and thus be needlessly fatigued by "forcing". In this way the sound seems much more supple and easy.
To understand this feeling of an open throat all you need to do is to reproduce the beginning of a yawn, an act naturally produced numerous times by everybody.
Another way to feel the opening of the throat is to suck a mint sweet, hold it between your teeth and breathe in the outside air to refresh all the inside of the mouth and the throat, trying to pull down the feeling of freshness as deep as possible.
This movement helps to feel the relaxing of the different throat muscles. It produces a feeling similar to when you are about to swallow a mouthful of a favorite drink. The term swallow has been chosen here, in opposition to "vomit". The swallowing sensation should be felt all through playing the instrument. It is closely linked to holding your breath in, which was discussed, in previous pages.
To help prolong the sensation it is quite possible to block the soft palate, situated at the back of the mouth behind the hard palate. It would appear as if you have a cold and a congested nose. If you test this method when speaking you will quickly see that it becomes impossible to pronounce certain syllables correctly, such as "hein", "on" (with French pronounciation). However, we unconsciously open the throat to try and pronounce these syllables. To practise you can try to speak like a ventriloquist, at the back of the throat without any visible facial movement. The difficulty lies in dissociating the movements of the tongue and the throat muscles. We will see that the tongue can function and articulate much more easily as soon as it moves without the restriction of "a breath of air" and without the desire to express itself at any price, agitated and thus articulated towards the outside.
As I recommended in my first page, let us take experience and knowledge from the observation of daily acts. Let us pay attention to the functioning of vocal expression. In spoken language we use what we call vowels and consonants.
Very slowly pronounce a vowel, like for example [O] or [U] whilst placing your hand flat on your stomach, your back, then at the bottom of your back. Repeat this exercise several times, insisting on the duration of the pronunciation and you will notice the movements it occasions.
Pronounce a consonant used in the playing of an instrument such as [t] or [k|. Be careful, the consonant only (not [te] or [te], but just [t] or [K]). Place your hand on your body as in the previous exercise with the vowel sounds. The pronunciation is of course very brief. Note the resulting movements.
In the first exercise we can easily observe a movement of the diaphragm, the ventral and dorsal muscles (cf. this experiment). The participation of our body is quite considerable. In the second exercise the whole of the body remains inert except the tongue which "plays" with the palate and even the throat, which tends to tighten.
We may note then, that the basis of speech relies on the mechanism of producing vowel sounds. The movement of the tongue is only an articulation of regular flow, having no influence on the constancy of the latter. Exactly the same is true of sound production with wind instruments.
My remarks can be illustrated with an image. Let us consider a sentence contained between two commas, that is to say the start of breathing out and the end of breathing out. We can imagine a bar all in one piece, cut with a wire but not cut all the way through its width. Another image that I often use with my pupils is that of a train. The phrase would be the carriages linked together. If you remove a carriage it is no longer part of this train and therefore the phrase. It is this work on this idea that allows one to keep up the continuity of a phrase, despite the need of sometimes complex articulation, (staccato, harmonic variations...).
Here is a quick exercise, a test to help make us aware of the enunciation.
Firstly pronounce "Ta", wait for a second or two, repeat "Ta" then repeat it without stopping: "TaTaTaTaTaTa..." Keep the back of your hand in front of your mouth.
Note a considerable flow and a little spluttering. If you try to accelerate the flow, then the effects will increase and the throat contracts.
Secondly pronounce "At" then repeat it and link up each "at": "atatatatatatat...". Keep the back of your hand in front of your mouth.
Note that the air flow is diminished and more regular. You can quite easily accelerate your pronunciation. You feel more comfortable physically and you can already feel the start of the opening of the throat.
You may also carry out the same experiment by putting confetti on a piece of paper in front of your mouth. In the first example the confetti will be immediately blown away. In the second case the fact of trying not to blow them away leads us to instinctively hold our breath in. It is this internal movement that we must try to use when playing.
In reality our vowel sound is the second case, much more effective, the tongue is less restricted and the expression of the consonant is made by rebounds. Moreover, if you wish to speak very fast you have to adopt this procedure otherwise you mouth is "full" and you babble.
Articulation in the playing of an instrument is the same. The position of the tongue is primordial. At the start it must be in its natural position, in a relaxed mouth; the teeth of the two jaws brush against each other, the tongue is loose and feels thick. The edges of the tongue touch the upper molars and the tip touches the incisors of the lower jaw, (for musicians playing an instrument with a mouthpiece). The back of the tongue fits snugly into the form of the palate. In fact the tongue is in position to make the sound "Kiiiii".
When you begin to learn to play a wind instrument, vigilance and prudence are required when producing sound. Many musicians are in a hurry to produce a nice sound, clean, sharp and sonorous. The consonant [t] unfortunately will often be the trigger mechanism. I call this "illusion" or cover up, since the process of using the vowel is not considered, or not enough. Test it for yourself; after a few seconds silence, say "ta" and you will see that at that precise moment the tongue moves itself and then moves back again. Hence the extreme danger of revering and focusing on the famous "t" start, as it provokes the reunification of all tension.
Mr. Pichaureau (cf. introduction), discovered early on that learning to play an instrument should not start with an articulated emission. He himself had been made to suffer by the famous "Killer Tu", he said. It is recommended to start with a "U" (French pronouciation) type vowel sound and only once the importance of the body has been understood and felt in producing the sound, can you start articulating and not the opposite.
In the next page we will discuss the lips, the pinch and the first external contact representing the instrument.
© Alain Faucher 2006