Voicing, part II

I wrote earlier this month about voicing.

The topic seems to keep coming up—I ran across one of Tom Ridenour’s fine videos about the subject, and clarinetist Adam Berkowitz wrote about it on his blog today.

Adam uses whistling to explain voicing, which I had mentioned in my article and which I agree works very well. I do differ with his idea that embouchure is part of voicing; in my mind these are two separate aspects of woodwind playing.

Tom’s video predates my own article by a few weeks. He and I both use the analogy of putting one’s thumb over a garden hose to describe the effect of a “higher” voicing on the airstream. I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out where I might have gotten that comparison; perhaps Tom and I each stole it from a common source.

Adam and Tom both conclude, and I agree, that for the clarinet the voicing should be quite high. Tom goes on to explain (starting after the video’s three-minute mark) that the saxophone’s voicing is low, like the vowels “oh” or “ah,” and similar to that of the flute or oboe. I agree that the flute and the oboe each have a very low voicing (as does the bassoon), but I think the saxophone’s is somewhere between there and the extreme high of the clarinet.

This, incidentally, is why I find mouthpiece pitch exercises (stay tuned for a future article) to be so essential on the saxophone—on the other woodwinds, you can (to oversimplify) push the voicing to one extreme or the other, but with the saxophone you have to aim for a particular spot in the middle. I find this to be something like the vowel in “word.”

Instrument Voicing
Flute Low (“oh”)
Oboe Low (“oh”)
Clarinet High (“ee”)
Bassoon Low (“oh”)
Saxophone Middle (“er”)

Information overload: oboe F fingerings

First and second octave F on the oboe
First and second octave F on the oboe

The oboe typically plays Fs in three octaves. The lower two have a variety of available fingerings, which can be a challenge for new oboists to navigate, particularly because the available fingerings change depending upon the make of the instrument.

A typical “budget” student model instrument, for example, uses the following fingerings. (For all fingerings given in this article, the one shown corresponds to the lower octave; the higher octave is achieved by adding the first [thumb] octave key.)

Basic "right" F
Basic "right" F
"Forked" F, with E-flat key
"Forked" F, with E-flat key

The “right” F is the basic choice, to be used in almost all cases where it is possible to do so, as the tone produced by this fingering tends to be the best match to the tone of the surrounding notes.

The “forked” F tends toward a sound that might be described as “muted” or sometimes even “fuzzy,” and should therefore generally be avoided where possible (unless the muted or fuzzy sound is desirable for the musical situation—I do like to use the forked F, for example, in the beginning and ending sections of the second movement of the Saint-Saëns sonata). Continue reading “Information overload: oboe F fingerings”

What is voicing?

I’d like to address the term “voicing,” which I think is often misunderstood. Here’s my best definition:

Voicing refers to the relative size of the oral cavity, which can change depending on the position of the back of the tongue.

There are a number of other terms that are used to describe this same concept in woodwind playing. I don’t take issue with any of these terms individually, and I think that as a teacher it’s useful to have a variety of possible ways to explain this concept. (These terms can become problematic, however, when they are used in opposition to each other: “Open up, and blow cooler air.”)

Here are some examples of ways of describing voicing. I consider the terms in the left column all to be descriptions of the same thing, and those on the right to be likewise equivalent to each other. Continue reading “What is voicing?”

Pedro Eustache: Suite Concertante for World Woodwinds and Orchestra

Ethnic woodwind guru and composer Pedro Eustache (“ayoo-STAH-chay”) has posted videos on YouTube of most of his recent work Suite Concertante for World Woodwinds and Orchestra, featuring himself as soloist playing a staggering 21 instruments over the course of 12 movements (45 minutes).

The instruments are mostly ethnic flutes and reeds, though a few modern Western instruments appear as well. Since some of the instruments are Eustache’s own unique creations or modifications [link auto-plays music], it would seem he doesn’t intend for anyone beside himself to perform this piece. Certainly few woodwind players would have the ability to do so, nor to obtain or make the unusual and customized instruments required.

Here are the movements currently available on YouTube.

Mvts. 1-2: Three different bansuri (Indian bamboo flutes).

Mvt. 3: “Oryxophone,” neys (Middle Eastern flutes), mezoued (Tunisian reed instrument), and flute fitted with ney headjoint

Mvt. 4: Duduk (Armenian reed instrument), blul (Armenian flute)

Mvts. 6-7: Soprano saxophone, flute

Mvts. 8-9: Quenacho (South American flute), “double tarka” (customized version of South American flute)

Mvt. 10: Fjitchu (South American flute)

The missing movements include shvis (Armenian flutes), fujara (Slovakian flute), didgeridoo (Australian lip-reed), and apparently vocal percussion. There is some additional information on Eustache’s website and in a Spanish-language concert program. Even if your Spanish isn’t good, it’s worth looking through the program to find the picture of Eustache surrounded by his instruments.

Elsewhere on this website, I list more compositions involving performance on multiple woodwind instruments.