I like a good analogy; I must surely give about half a dozen a week to students. This week I had two new ones I don’t think I’ve used before.
My student is having to do very long phrases of which it’s not possible to get to the end without breathing, however, the phrase is still important; we can’t just slap a massive breath in there and split the phrase in two. The phrase needs to maintain its momentum, the feeling that there is a start, a continuous motion and then an end. The fact that we, as wind musicians, need to breath is irrelevant. My old adage of ‘pianos don’t need to breathe’ applies here; we just have to find a way.
The way is to breathe still (in an ideal a place as possible) but the breath has to be quick and almost panicked-like. In many ways it’s there for dramatic effect; a hurried breath that gives this feeling of urgency because the phrase just has to keep on going.
So, the analogy.
“Think of a car moving manually through the gears, ” I said. “BrrrrrRRRR, chick, BrrrrrRRRR, chick, BrrrrrrggggrrRRRR…” (yes, I did the sound effects).
“Ummm, I don’t know how to drive yet. I get to learn this year. And what do you mean ‘manual’ gears, anyway?”
“You know, that gear box in the middle, but one where you have to change the gears yourself when required… and you use a clutch…”
At which point I started trying to teach my student how to drive a manual car.
The point being was that a gear change on a manual car is a small disruption in the build up of its momentum. A phrase ending is like the car slowing to an almost standstill at a give-way sign, a gear change is like that hurried breath in the phrasing.
The student had to play a lot of very high clarinet notes in the third octave D-G range. It was all very unwieldy with lots of squeaks.
“How’s the altitude up there?” I joked.
I continued. “Part of the issue here is the lack of familiarity. You don’t play your chromatic scale enough, especially not up to these notes and it’s all seemingly foreign to you. It’s like your doing some high altitude flying and you have no idea how the plane behaves when the air is thinner. You’re unfamiliar with how much you can push the aircraft in these conditions until it stalls and possibly go into a spin. You’ve just got to get up there more often and get used to it.”
Then the student did the all-to-common squeaks on the decent were seemingly innocuous notes squeak when they slacken off their embouchure strength thinking they’re ‘safe’. Grrrrr.
“Clarinet is a very physical instrument,” I reminded him. “Those Red Bull air racers are continually using core strength to push the blood back into their heads so that don’t black out in the high Gs.”
“Then there’s Scott Dixon (Indy Car) who trains for car racing by doing Triathlon. He may be sitting down but there is a lot of endurance required.”
Ah yes, the sporting analogy, this time with sports people that are riding machines and aren’t doing things all on their own steam. It’s probably a good example really. Percussion instruments still have to be struck, wind instruments still have to be blown and there are lots of muscles required to do that work and then the endurance to maintain it.