During my first year of teaching I learned a very important lesson. Some students, no matter what you say, take everything literal. There is no “like” or “similar to” for them. It is what you said it is. This led to many problems with exercises meant to build a concept. For example, hissing drills. Kids naturally hiss by bringing their teeth together. To some kids, this meant create faster air by playing with their teeth together. And we all know there is no changing them once they get in their minds this is what faster air is like.
So I scrapped hissing and came up with a different analogy that didn’t involve the teeth. The aerosol can and nozzle. All the air is down in the can (lungs) and the nozzle (oral cavity) creates a narrow funnel that focuses the air into a fast stream as it exits. In order to avoid the teeth coming together, I talk about using the tongue arch and the roof of the mouth to create the narrow funnel necessary to focus our air into a fast stream. Students can form their normal embouchures while we do this exercise and keep their teeth apart at the same time. Once students can do this, you can easily move into voicing the tongue for different ranges. I also apply dynamics to this exercise. The louder the air is as it leaves their oral cavity, the more air they are able to put into the performance of their instrument. Which is what we really want from this. The ability for students to maximize the use of their air to create their best resonant tone.
Every wind instrument requires some level of tongue arch. My goal here is to help students set and maintain their tongue arch while playing their instruments. Being aware and in control of the internal processes of playing an instrument can be a challenge for young students. The oral cavity cannot be thought of as a hollow cavern. It is a chamber for focusing and maximizing our air stream.
I use the aerosol can image to practice a section of a piece, exercise or simply as a breathing warm-up. I pattern articulations, vibrato or dynamics with the students. Anything you want to hiss you can do with the teeth open and with the facial muscles forming their embouchure.
Steve Giovanoni is in his 24th year of teaching. He is currently in his 14th year at Randolph Field ISD in Universal City, TX. While at RFISD he has taught Band, Dual Credit Music Appreciation, and Music Theory courses.