musings of a professional bassoonist

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Starting with the "ka"

Once you've played the Nutcracker a few dozen times, it may be worth considering articulating each note with the "ka" syllable.  That way you might be able to alleviate boredom while at the same time strengthening your double tongue.  (Of course, your "ka" must be strong enough that your colleagues won't be able to detect the deviation.  Also, I have discovered that certain passages simply do not lend themselves to starting with the "ka". Discretion is advised.)

There are certain types of playing situations which provide ideal opportunities to improve one's playing in creative ways.  For example, I always advise my students who are learning to double tongue to take advantage of boring passages in their band or orchestra music to practice starting each note with the "ka" (or "ga") syllable.

The reason for this is because single tonguing requires only the "ta" articulation, while double tonguing requires the "ka" as well (which is something we've not been called upon to do until we double tongue).  To double tongue a string of 16ths, the tongue travels from its usual "ta" position near the teeth to farther back in the throat for the "ka", resulting in the articulation "ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka" instead of the single tongued "ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta".  The reason double tonguing often sounds uneven is because the "ka" syllable is so much weaker than the "ta".  And that's simply because we haven't practiced the "ka" nearly as often as the "ta".

Bassoon students often complain of boredom during band rehearsals, so I advise working on either vibrato or the "ka" syllable at every opportunity.  That way they're putting in some valuable practice time while fulfilling band requirements.

And it's not just good advice for students.....I do it too.  I don't think there's any such thing as a "ka" which can't be improved upon, so during tonight's Nutcracker performance I articulated most of the notes in my part with "ka".  I'm sure no one noticed.

Another technique I like to practice in the orchestra (when I can get away with it) is circular breathing.  This is quite tricky due to its visual version of circular breathing, which is still in its infancy, seems to require my cheeks puffing out as well as my eyes rolling back in my head.  I'm always worried that someone might happen to be looking at me (the conductor, perhaps, or maybe an overly enthusiastic audience member with binoculars) so I'm fairly cautious with the public circular breathing.  I wouldn't want anyone to mistake my circular breathing for a medical emergency!

(Update:  I have begun incorporating circular breathing into the Nutcracker so that at times I'm starting with the "ka" and circular breathing in the same passage.  As luck would have it, the conductor glanced at me last night while I was in the throes of circular breathing.  His casual gaze morphed into alarm until I resumed a normal countenance.)

With such challenges before us, it's rather impossible to become bored with bassoon playing.  Even when the immediate task at hand is dull, we can spice it up with breathing, articulation and vibrato exercises, each of which will raise our level of expertise.


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