Day 25, Air is a fluid

Did 3.5 before one of the neighbors…ahem…politely requested that I wrap it up. That’s always embarrassing. Guess the 10pm limit around here isn’t too flexible. I honestly shouldn’t have planned my day needing to play after 9pm. That’s going to be the new plan from here on out.

Most of today was spent thinking about air as a fluid.
Pouring Water into Glass

I’ve been thinking about the idea of “pushing” the air.  It’s a problem a lot of clarinetists can have but it’s not often talked about in more than a “don’t do that” kind of way.  By pushing the air I mean the kind of playing that sacrifices tone for volume.  “Louder than you can play beautifully.”  Some people call this overblowing.  What’s happening when someone pushes the air?  Personally I know that it can happen when you get that conductor who tells you you play too softly and can’t be heard.  It can be so maddening to feel like you’re blowing sooo much but it’s evidently not getting louder, just more abrasive in quality.

This happens, I think, because of bite.  “Pushing” the air is a bad solution that comes from the resistance of the setup.  The relationship between jaw pressure and amount of air coming through not only changes the tone but also the intonation.  There’s a lot of tweaking that can be done with the air/jaw relationship, but it has to be appropriate for the kind of tone needed.  Just BLOWING with abandon and hoping it’ll make things louder is kind of like trying to fill a teacup with a firehose.  It might get some water in the cup, but at what cost?

An alternative solution to the crude “blow more” strategy is to think instead of resonating more.  For me this means feeling the vibrations of the sound in my face and nasal cavity like a singer would.  It also means using more air but without more bite.  A teacher trying to illustrate this approach gave me a super soft, non-resistant reed to play on.  If you applied more than the smallest bit of jaw pressure then this reed would completely close up.  In that way it was a great tool for discovering the feeling of playing without having to CRUSH the reed with my jaw.  This also ties back into recent thoughts about deciding how much work is “enough” work to play the clarinet, and then selecting reeds accordingly.  I find I’m playing on much softer reeds nowadays.

Another air-as-fluid thought: Playing as if the air is like water being poured out.  That image, for me, not only captures the idea of consistency but also the direction/inevitability of gravity.  This one’s a keeper.

Misc. thoughts:

  • The purpose of warm-ups is to experiment with new techniques and to change habits.  If you play warmups the same way every day you’re missing the point.
  • Playing “through” rests, silence as communicative, just like it is in speech.
  • The idea of practicing extreme opposites of technical errors.  I.e. Does one finger arrive at a tone hole significantly slower than the others?  Practice having that finger arrive at the tone hole significantly earlier.  Apply this to every possible technical glitch (tongue too fast for your fingers?  Speed up those fingers and make the tongue slow the f*ck down!) and voila, instant conservatory clarinet lessons.
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