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Teaching Internal Aspects Of Instrumental Technique:

Summary Of A Dissertation Study by Carol Hohauser

Graduate, Teachers College, Columbia University

nipulating air. Performers of wind and brass instruments use physical movements that happen inside the body to shape air into sound, while other instruments are played using external movements to strike or vi- brate their instruments. The use of the in- side of the body to produce musical sound is shared with singing, although instrumen- talists direct and conduct air while vocal- ists also produce sound within their bodies. Strings, percussion and keyboards are all played entirely using external movements that are visible to the student. As a young flute student I was jealous of my string-play- ing friends because their goals were visible. On the flute, techniques like vibrato, mouth shape and tonguing were more mysterious than bowing, vibrato and fingering were to string players, or hand and arm move- ments were to percussionists and pianists. Interestingly, of the many different teaching methods I experienced over the years that addressed tonguing, vibrato and the shape of the mouth, throat and tongue, I found that some worked better for me while oth- ers seemed to work better for other players. During my recent doctoral study at Teach- ers College, Columbia University, I was able to investigate how teachers address internal areas of flute technique for my dissertation study. The results of the study gave a snap- shot of what methods flutists are currently using to address internal techniques and what they find to be the most effective. The findings are very relevant to the practice of teaching internal techniques on other wind and brass instruments. Method books, articles and books on playing the flute offered a picture of the strategies that teachers have historically used to address tonguing, vibrato and the shape of


am a flutist and have always been intrigued by the uniqueness of musical expression created by ma-

the mouth, throat and tongue. I did not in- clude breathing in the study because I found that the external and visible movements that result from breathing were the basis of teach- ing, while the tonguing, vibrato and mouth, throat and tongue shape produced no visible motions on which to base teaching methods. I categorized the strategies for internal tech- niques according to teachers’ strategies. The categories of strategies that I created based on the teaching literature included several areas. The practice of teacher modeling, or demonstration, with student imitation, I de- fined as one in which the teacher plays an example of the internal technique and the student attempts to imitate by ear. In this strategy, a student is expected to imitate a technique like vibrato, tone or tonguing by trial and error, with the performed example as their only guide. An example would be a teacher playing a sample and asking the student to imitate the technique without further verbal explanation of the technique. Teachers also used teaching strategies that involved us- ing speech syllables or vocal tech- niques. Examples of these would be a vowel syllable as an example of mouth shape, or a consonant syllable as an example of a tongue posture for articulation. Teachers also use verbal descriptions, where they describe the internal technique with words. This was done in sev- eral ways, either by using anatomi- cal language, such as “bring your tongue forward” or with imagery or creative visualization such as, “play with an edgy sound”. Teachers also use visual representations, either of anatomy (cross sections of the head and throat are common) or artis- tic representations of sound (such as wavy lines to depict vibrato).


In my recent flute studies I had also expe- rienced some newer strategies and practice devices that I did not find in the traditional literature. I wanted the study to reflect cur- rent practice and so I decided to name this category “other strategy” including devices and to solicit information from participants about newer methods. A survey was used and was returned by 159 flutists who were or had been perfor- mance majors. The survey questions sought to find out how the strategy categories were perceived in general and then how they were rated when applied to tonguing, vibrato and general tone production (as affected by the inside of the mouth, tongue and throat). Respondents were also asked to name “oth- er” strategies they found useful for internal techniques. When rating the strategy cat- egories, flutists overwhelmingly reported


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