- Oboist Jennifer Stucki offers some suggestions and resources for keeping a reed log.
- Clarinetist Diana Haskell shares ideas on helping students avoid injury.
- Flutist Roderick Seed explains a comprehensive method for memorizing music.
- Anne Norman reports on the 2018 World Shakuhachi Festival.
- Oboist Nuria Cabezas demonstrates hand and finger stretches.
I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to examine a “controversial” aspect of bassoon playing: the movement of the jaw during articulation.
I was already aware of Terry Ewell’s well-reasoned article from The Double Reed journal, which concludes that jaw movement is unnecessary and inefficient. But I was also under the impression that there were advocates of jaw movement. A skimming of some pedagogical materials at hand seems to debunk this—I couldn’t find a single author strongly and clearly in favor of jaw movement.
The Ewell article should be the go-to for anyone interested in the topic. In a different article, Ewell summarizes:
Chewing motions with the jaw should not be used during the tonguing because the tongue should function independently of the jaw.Terry Ewell: “Basic Bassoon Articulations,” in Woodwind Anthology, Volume II, 1999 edition. Northfield, Illinois: The Instrumentalist, 1999, p. 951. Article originally printed in The Instrumentalist
Here are the other anti-jaw-movement examples I could find:
One of the worst possible habits is to tongue in a “chewing” fashion. The movement of the jaw and lips not only distorts the tone each time they move, but actually slows down the action of the tongue.William Spencer, rev. Frederick A Mueller: The Art of Bassoon Playing. Princeton, New Jersey: Summy-Birchard Music, 1958, p. 54.
In staccato passages, the collapse of pressure can produce a ‘gobbling’ reaction in the jaw. As a result the quality of tone and attack may suffer. … As we tongue more rapidly, we must try to involve only the tongue and not allow the jaw and throat to become involved… The momentary opening and closing of our lower jaw may be in response to the change of pressure inside the mouth once the support is switched off; however it is more likely to betray and involuntary ‘gobbling’ with the jaw in sympathy with the activity of the tongue.William Waterhouse, Bassoon. Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides. London: Kahn & Averill, 2003, p. 116-123.
Needless to say, there should be minimum outward movement of the lip or jaw, as this will hinder the tongue’s freedom of motion.Homer Pence, Teacher’s Guide to the Bassoon. Elkhart, Indiana: H. & A. Selmer, Inc., 1963, p. 2-3.
The following refers to the woodwinds in general:
Jaw should not move during articulationH. Gene Griswold: Teaching Woodwinds. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008, p. 31.
Movement of the jaw in tonguing. This is the result of too large or too violent movement of the tongue, frequently accompanied by changes in pitch of the tone. … Jaw movements can occur with all methods of correct tongue placement, as well as with incorrect tongue placement, and these prevent the development of speed in articulation.Frederick W. Westphal, Guide to Teaching Woodwinds, Fifth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1990, p. 227.
This may include the jaw:
The goal on all wind instruments, and particularly the bassoon, is to maintain an open mouth and throat position while playing. The bassoon tone is very sensitive to this positioning.William Dietz: Teaching Woodwinds: A method and resource handbook for music educators. Belmont, California: Schirmer, 1998, p. 14.
Here is the closest I could find to advocacy for jaw movement, though it’s not 100% clear that that is what the author intends:
On both double reeds, embouchure pressure on the reed will vary to control the ends of notes. Increasing pressure on the reed will keep the pitch from dropping. For this reason, you will see embouchure movement while articulating, which will be more pronounced with bassoonists…Charles West: Woodwind Methods: An essential resource for educators, conductors, and students. Delray Beach, Florida: Meredith Music, 2015, p. 68.
I also turned to Christopher Weait’s Bassoon Strategies for the Next Level and Arthur Weisberg’s The Art of Wind Playing, both of which seemed like likely sources on information, but could not locate passages in either that directly addressed the issue.
In summary, there seems to be little support for the idea of jaw movement in bassoon articulation. If you are aware of sources that encourage this technique, I would be curious to hear about them.
I have lots on things on my list for you today: we should double-check your rhythms on that etude, review those melodic minor scales that were giving you trouble last week, and discuss some finer points of vibrato.
But something about your sunken eyes when I met you at the door, the way you slouched into the room, the slept-in fashion statement, says that today you are Struggling. Not because you are lazy or undedicated. But because college life is fraught with deadlines for research papers and rent payments, and scheduled to the brim with marching band rehearsals and late shifts waiting tables, and fueled by store-brand Pop Tarts and never enough sleep.
And because of the heavy secrets that you carry. A friend spiraling into addiction. A boyfriend or girlfriend who tells you you’re not enough. A medical worry that you can’t afford to acknowledge. Sexual assault. Depression.
We can try to fight through your repertoire piece, but today Saint-Saëns isn’t breaking the top twenty things on your mind.
And while sometimes the biggest obstacle between you and your senior recital is sluggish articulation, sometimes it’s crippling anxiety about something else. And my calling is to get you from here to that recital, whatever is standing in the way.
So for now let’s put off talking about how many practice hours you have logged. Instead I want to know whether you have eaten anything in the last 24 hours. How much you slept last night, and the night before. Whether you have gotten any sunshine this week. Sometimes, I think, the best thing I can do to improve your playing isn’t to harangue you about intonation, but to offer you a protein bar from my desk drawer, send you home for a nap before you have to clock in at the restaurant, or make you walk a few laps around the quad and take some breaths of fresh air.
Or sometimes to ask how you’re doing, ignore the reflexive “fine,” and wait for the real answer to come tumbling out.
I’m no therapist. And I’m not your parent or your doctor or a social worker. I might not always be the right person for you to talk to—luckily you have friends, family, clergy who are also ready to listen. And there’s the campus counseling center, for when you need to talk to someone who isn’t invested in your life, or someone who can offer a professional opinion when medications or other therapies are needed. But if I seem like the right person to open up to, then I want you to feel safe and unjudged doing it.
One thing, though: mentioning suicidal thoughts, even in passing, is a showstopper. Before we move on, I need you to tell me, emphatically, that you’re not in danger of harming yourself. If you can’t convince me, then I’m going to use this circa-1982 office phone to call one of the counseling staff for some help.
Your musical pursuits are important, but not more important than your life and health and happiness. So let’s make sure the real problems are at a manageable level first, and then I’ll resume hassling you about tension in your embouchure.
See you next week. Hang in there!
A couple of months ago, I wrote this as part of a sort of tongue-in-cheek FAQ:
Q. Should I be a woodwind doubler?
A. In most cases, no. If you already feel driven to do it, and have the time and resources to devote to it, then maybe.
I got a comment on this by “C Lee”:
I’m a teen who started playing pits last year on flute and piccolo a year ago. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with pit, have played in four more musicals and am actively seeking out other gigs to gain experience. In addition, I’ve also taken up the saxophone and have plans to learn as many woodwinds as I can if not all of them. Do you think I should be a woodwind doubler?
It would be irresponsible to make a recommendation based on so little information, and of course it’s ultimately a very personal choice. I’ve previously suggested some questions worth asking oneself before pursuing woodwind doubling, so I won’t rehash those here.
But I think it’s also worth considering exactly what you mean by being a “woodwind doubler:”
- Playing as many instruments as possible?
- Playing a select group of instruments?
- Playing multiple instruments as a hobby or part-time semi-pro gig?
- Studying multiple instruments at a university/conservatory level?
- Playing professionally or semi-professionally as a specialist on one instrument, but adding doubles to increase employability?
- Competing for the highest-profile doubling gigs in a major market like New York City or Los Angeles?
- Performing recital repertoire, orchestral music, and/or chamber music on multiple instruments?
- Using multiple instruments in the creation of a unique personal repertoire (jazz, avant-garde, electronic, etc.)?
Your individual goals might include several of these, or others I haven’t listed. And your goals might be a little fuzzy or might change, which is okay. But just “woodwind doubler” isn’t a very clear path. Having some sense of direction might help you make decisions about education and training, investment in instruments, location, practice strategies, and more.