Penetrating the aperture of a wind instrument with confidence and ease requires a working knowledge of the sound production process peculiar to wind instruments. In learning any skill there are ways and means to be understood and mastered. What are the ways and by what means are they mastered?
Welcome to the world of teaching.
The “way” speaks of the wind, and the “means” points to an explanation of how to use the wind. The conversion of the wind to sound is the finished product.
A process, scientifically based, leading to a fine sound, free of intonation, is proposed in this article. The same process, with some subtle alteration, can be used for the unique sounds of jazz. Wind instruments rely entirely on the quality of wind with which they are being serviced.
Yes, there are different types of wind. The location from which the wind is generated, decides its type.
Type One: “Forced Wind”
Type Two: “Air Pressure”
No doubt there are other types of wind; however, they are mainly concerned with the deterioration of the sound rather than the production of same. Let us deal with Type One Wind firstly.
The tongue forcing the wind into the aperture produces forced wind, an activity similar to “spitting” and particularly ineffective. The wind that is produced in this manner is brief and rough. There is no reservoir of wind behind the tongue and the sound will be short lived. More importantly, as the higher register notes are called into service, the equation becomes “how hard can I spit?” Sounds produced will be preceded by extraneous noise caused by the tongue colliding with the aperture.
The beginnings of sounds produced in this way would tend to be under pitch. Forcing the wind with the tongue requires high energy levels, and access to lightness and speed is severely restricted. The lack of speed in articulated passages will be painfully noticeable in the higher register.
“Forced wind” results from overuse of the tongue. Instructions to tongue a note are not helpful to the practitioner. Tonguing is a term in common uses and perhaps it is time to question the validity of this terminology. Type Two Wind combines diaphragm and tongue to produce air pressure. Each and every sound on a wind instrument requires a specific vibration frequency, to be, as we say, in tune. Too few vibrations cause flatness; and too many sound sharp.
As exponents of wind-based sound, there is a need to copy physically, what has been arranged for fixed pitch instruments, mechanically. The piano tuner, by the use of a spanner, sets the tension pegs on the piano strings. Thanks to this arrangement, the piano can be played badly and not out of tune.
Physically, the lower body muscles and tongue combined, take the place of the spanner and the tension peg. To locate the wind within reach of the powerful lower body muscles, diaphragmatic breathing is a must. To experience this type of breathing, inhale through the nose. The wind will travel directly to the top of the diaphragm muscle sheath.
Simply contracting the lower body muscles creates air pressure. By altering the strength of the contraction, air pressure can be rapidly varied. To maximise air pressure the tongue is best kept in the “up” or raised position. In this setting, the tongue muscle provides reaction to the action of the lower body muscle complex. The tongue raised, is now doing its optimum work in providing reaction to the wind. Allowing the tongue to fall will produce the air pressure required to penetrate the aperture. High register sounds require slightly stronger air pressure along with a subtle change in the player’s embouchure.
In Type Two wind production, the role of the tongue muscle is to receive and release air pressure. Yes, you can play fluently using Type One wind production. However, it may be hard labour under the shortcomings of this technique.
The set-up on which you play has a significant bearing on the amount of air pressure required to penetrate the aperture. Your reed strengths, mouthpiece lay and head-joint resistance are determinants of the air pressure.
Keep in mind that the air pressure or forced wind is the origin of your sound.
Perhaps the type of wind you are using should be noted and given some further thought.