Voicing, part II

May 26, 2010

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”)

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