Monday, April 24, 2017

Try your Voicing

By the end of the year there are 2 questions I ask that I expect my students to answer and on which they can elaborate. We review these questions at every lesson and they guide my selection of every assignment for my students.

Teacher: "What are the two most important things in music?"
Student: "Pitch and rhythm." 

Teacher: "How do we control pitch on the bassoon?"
Student: "Air speed, embouchure and voicing."

Now if you're scratching your head and asking, "What is 'voicing?'" please let me elaborate.

All teachers know what it feels like to instruct a student to adjust intonation and it can be tough to teach if your student doesn't have much instinct for it.

Teacher: "Try to match the tuner."
Student: *grips instrument firmly, inhales deeply* "H00000OOOOoooooonk"

"Voicing" can make even the most confused students better able to grasp an otherwise difficult and advanced concept and helps put them in the driver's seat when playing their instruments. It gives them something quantifiable to use.
Bassoonists and all wind players, have been unwittingly using voicing for years, but this is my attempt to make the process more formulaic and address it in familiar terms.

There are 4 vowel sounds that make playing the bassoon much easier to explain and understand. Each register has its own recommended voicing. These are general markers, but bear in mind the lower you play the more open your voicing and the higher you play (until G4) the more closed your voicing.

Bb1-E2 using /U/ is advisable

F2 and G2 are transitory using full or partial hard /O/ 

A2-A3 is /AU/ as in taught 

B3-F4 is hard /E/

I will include an educational demonstration video soon. 

The Orchestral Bassoon addresses a similar topic but refers to voicing as merely a way to change "color" rather than pitch. There is much overlap between color and pitch so I focus on pitch over color. To clarify, I do not think that I and the author of The Orchestral Bassoon mean exactly the same thing when we use this term or even on how to use it. I am linking to it here so that you can see what someone else has to say and to pay due homage to a concept that did not completely originate with me.

Without terminology, expressing voicing in an unquantified way is very difficult and our only option. This is why playing exactly in-tune, especially starting in-tune, is considered an advanced skill. We teachers have a hard time explaining it and thus our students are left to themselves to discover (again in a non-verbal way) how to play in-tune with only their blinking tuner and undeveloped ears for feedback.

Once we start using familiar terms, in this case linguistic terms, we can start to make more accurate suggestions for what our students should do.

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