Problem-specific vs. general solutions

July 7, 2018

I hinted at this idea in my recent post about clarinet undertones:

Many of the ideas shared by the distinguished authors seemed like just descriptions of good basic clarinet technique (“ensure correct, stable embouchure formation,” “establish breath support/air pressure before releasing tongue”). … If you can play with a beautiful, characteristic tone, mostly in tune, with good response, then your undertones are probably mostly gone already.

For teachers it’s useful to be aware of this distinction: to solve my student’s specific problem, do I need a solution that is uniquely geared to that problem? Or is the problem just a symptom of a larger failure to use good basic playing technique?

In terms of the clarinet undertone example, just ensuring good basic technique does a great deal to solve the problem, but due to a quirk of the instrument’s acoustics, extraordinary measures are required to finish the job. Woodwind playing is full of similar phenomena.

I find solidification of my fundamental technique to be an ongoing and critical part of sounding my best, and most of the solution to most of my issues. It’s worthwhile to think carefully about when to introduce tricks or special techniques.

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