From Google: Lord of the Rings on whistle, low A on bassoon, woodwind commonalities

March 2, 2009

Classes are canceled today due to a freak snowstorm in my little Southern college town. (Typical yearly snowfall: 0 inches. Yesterday’s snowfall: 5 inches.) So instead of teaching a woodwind methods class and rehearsing on contrabassoon with the university’s Wind Ensemble, I thought I would take a few minutes to do something I’ve been seeing some of my favorite bloggers do lately.

With some simple traffic-tracking tools, I can see what Google searches are leading people to my website. Most times, to my satisfaction, their search brings them to highly relevant content on my site. Other times I know they are not finding quite what they are looking for. So I’d like to address a selection of the searches that have brought people here unsuccessfully lately, and hopefully future searchers will find what they are after.

Recent search: Lord of the Rings tinwhistle

I get lots of searches for this, or for variations thereof including terms like “pennywhistle,” “sheet music,” etc. I assume that most searchers are looking for the “Concerning Hobbits” theme from the movie soundtrack.

It’s a simple tune, and a good place to start learning to use your ears to figure out a melody! Here are a few notes to get you started. Start on the low D (six fingers) of your D whistle:

D E F# A F# E D F# A B D’ C# A F# G F# E

Recent search: bassoon low a fingering

This could possibly be what you mean:

ba21

bsna1

But if you’re looking for an A lower than that, it will require a little special preparation. The instrument’s lowest real note is a B-flat, but the A can sometimes be played by inserting a tube extension into the bassoon bell. There are commercial solutions available, though many bassoonists make their own extension out of PVC pipe or rolled-up paper or cardboard. It will need to fit securely into the bell, and cut to length with some experimentation to get an in-tune A on your instrument. Finger a low B-flat with the tube inserted to get a low A.

The low A appears in a number of important orchestral and chamber works, so serious bassoonists will likely run into it at some point. It may take some planning and pencil marks to get the tube in and out of the bell at the right times. Remember that with the tube in, you can’t play a low B-flat.

Recent search: what do all woodwinds have in common

Good question. It depends on what you want to include as “woodwinds.”

  • If you start from something like “mouthblown wind instruments, with an enclosed air column set in motion by air applied to a mechanical structure (such as a reed or blowing edge),” then you manage to include a wide variety of woodwinds, while excluding brasses (air is applied to an anatomical structure—the player’s lips), free reeds such as harmonica, and non-mouthblown instruments like pipe organs, accordions, and various bagpipes.
  • If you add to the previous definition something like “producing different pitches by opening and closing toneholes,” you eliminate panflutes, slide whistles, and a few other oddities.
  • If you specify woodwinds in the Western tradition, the field narrows considerably; more so if you indicate that you wish to consider only instruments of the “classical” or “art music” traditions, only “modern” instruments, and so forth. By that point I think we have essentially worked our way down to the accepted basic five woodwinds: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone, though there may be a few others (such as recorder) that possibly still qualify.
  • It should be noted that “made of wood” typically does not figure into our modern definition of “woodwinds.” The term is dated and misleading, but seems to be here to stay.

It is possible that the searcher was looking for something more like commonalities in the respective playing techniques of the woodwind instruments. I tend to shy away from making broad generalities about this, since each instrument has its own rich, nuanced, and highly specialized tradition. But a few things that I think apply more or less across the board:

  • Proper breath support is essential for good intonation, tone, and response.
  • Ditto for correct voicing (position of the back of the tongue, defining the size of the oral cavity). Some woodwind players feel that it is important to keep this constant, while others advocate a flexible, mobile voicing. In any case, if the tongue is improperly situated in the mouth, good tone production is compromised.
  • Articulation is achieved by bringing the tip of the tongue into contact with a certain point, which varies by instrument and may be a mechanical or anatomical structure. The commonality is that the tongue contacts this point only very slightly and very briefly, for clear and precise articulation.
  • Fingers must move swiftly and in perfect synchronization for note changes; once the fingers are in place for the new note, they should exert only the bare minimum pressure to keep keys or toneholes closed, thus avoiding undue tension.

I’ll keep an eye on the Google stats and answer questions that strike my fancy in the future. Questions by email are also welcome!

Happy Snow Day.

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