Tuesday, November 4, 2014
It's Fall and time for cleaning up around here.
Accordingly, I've been thinking about how to clean up bassoon articulation.
In my last post, I raised the issue of cracking articulation, especially as pertains to page 2 of Bolero. In the previous post, I offered a fingering for high G that may clear up dirty articulation. Now I'll offer a way of articulating that works for any note or situation in which it's easy to crack.
First of all, if you don't have this problem, don't read further, unless you're just curious to learn a way to teach clean articulation. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!!
For anyone who's struggled with articulating clearly on the Bolero passage, the first note of the Bolero solo, Rite of Spring high d's, etc., read on!
A Band-Aid Solution
As I said before, use of the vent keys to clear up dirty attacks works well, but only on the famous five notes on the top of the bass clef staff.
What can you do if you crack other notes on the bassoon -- especially the ones above that range that are so touchy?
Being Clever With Your Tongue
Many young students are never told how to use their tongue when starting the bassoon past "just put the tip of the tongue on the tip of the reed".
This works well for beginners, but anyone wanting to clean up dirty articulation or match articulations with string players or other winds soon begins to experiment with other ways of tonguing.
I never thought about this until I went to study with K. David Van Hoesen in college. He learned to tongue on the corner of the reed for a subtle, clear articulation. His colleague, the oboe teacher, Robert Sprenkle showed him this. Indeed, many oboists tongue off-center or on the corner of the reed tip.
Van Hoesen's instruction was specific. Tip your reed so that the sides point like watch minute and hour hands at 10 and 4 o'clock. That is, with the reed tip slanting slightly down to the right from horizontal. Tongue on the right corner.
Try this and see what you think.
I actually keep my reed with the sides at horizontal and tongue on the left corner, but see which is most comfortable for you.
Release, Not Attack
Articulation should ALWAYS be thought of as a release and not an attack. Cracking is often caused by attacking the reed too forcefully with the tongue from a distance away in the mouth.
It is essential to have the tongue ON the reed (corner or off to the side of the center for a touchy articulation) BEFORE starting the note. This allows you to build up proper support beforehand for a predictable start.
A vocalization of a good articulation could perhaps be spelled out this way:
Instead of "Tah" or "Dah"
The fraction of a second needed to build up proper support is done with the tongue on the reed. Release the tongue when you want the note to start.
Think of a tennis serve or pitcher's wind up. There is a very short, precise motion involved before the ball is released. No player simply hits or throws the ball with their hands at the point of impact. The preparation is all!
Combining corner tonguing with this general approach to articulation should result in a cleaner start to the notes.
Why This Works
I think this method works because, if your tongue isn't completely blocking the tip opening of the reed, some of the breath support in the prep goes into the reed already. The opening is only partially closed when the tongue touches only the corner of the reed.
The small prep of breath support going into the reed combined with an already formed embouchure may give the reed advance notice of the harmonic at which it must vibrate to excite the air column inside the bassoon so that the proper pitch is the only one present in the articulation.
If this technique is new to you, try this:
Put your tongue lightly against one corner of the reed tip while making an embouchure. Finger a note and blow softly. Notice that some air can go into the reed.
Now practice putting your tongue on the reed corner while forming the embouchure and this time build support. Then remove the tongue from the reed.
For a predictable, subtle articulation, compress the amount of time needed to coordinate the above steps into a fraction of a second -- about the time needed for a conductor's upbeat in the tempo of the piece you're working on, for instance.