Fact and fiction in woodwind teaching

A former teacher, who, I hasten to point out, I respect and admire greatly, once asked me in a lesson to “spin the air.”

I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he meant.

I tried a few things that I thought maybe the teacher had in mind, but none of them was right. I asked for clarification.

He said, “It’s like this,” and he blew a puff of air while twirling his finger around (presumably to indicate spinning).

Surely he didn’t mean literally to cause the air, somehow, to leave my lips in some kind of spiral. I confessed my confusion and asked if he would be kind enough to demonstrate spinning the air versus not spinning the air. He obliged.

I couldn’t detect any difference.

I still don’t know what he meant that day. In his mind, “spinning the air” was a perfectly good explanation of the concept, but it didn’t click for me.

Sometimes I ask my own students to do things that are obviously impossible, like “breathe all the way down into your toes.” It’s a useful fiction, but only because my students usually get the picture and can act it out physically. Requests that are less obviously fictional work as well or better (“blow the air so it goes all the way through the instrument and shoots out the other end”).

Explaining pedagogical concepts in fictional terms works if the fiction is understood in the same terms by both teacher and student, and can be a convenient shorthand for quickly evoking complex behaviors. But if the student doesn’t get it, it falls back on the teacher to know what is really desired (like more breath support, or a smaller amount of tongue touching the reed, or whatever) and to find a new explanation.

Oh, and does anyone know how, exactly, to “spin the air?”


2 responses to “Fact and fiction in woodwind teaching”

  1. Hi Bret :)

    According to my conductor,’spinning the air’ is simply to get the air moving faster. It’s supposed to be such that there’s more air than space such that it spins. Hope that clarified your doubts :)

  2. I was watching this masterclass from Carolyn Hove and I noticed she was talking about spiraling/spinning the air, which reminded me of your post.


    She talks about spinning and spiraling the air from 5 minutes into the video and to the end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments that take a negative or confrontational tone are subject to email and name verification before being approved. In other words: no anonymous trolls allowed—take responsibility for your words.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.