It’s never wrong to go back to basics.
I was working with a college freshman and she was struggling with two-bar phrases. She kept getting stuck halfway through. I talked about arcing the air over the barline. I talked about singing. I talked about how the tongue is just the consonant of your speech, not the punctuation. I talked about D articulation as opposed to T. I have a LOT of different words I can use for any given concept, and I pulled all of them out. I drew the phrase on my whiteboard, I explained how the LINE is longer than the SLUR, and how the BARLINE is not a STOP.
Still, though, this ONE articulation brought the whole thing to a standstill, every time. So the piece moved measure by measure and not phrase by phrase. She was frustrated and I was too.
And I finally realized that the thing I wasn’t saying was this – if the AIR is moving consistently through the oboe, THAT’S what is making the sound. Within that, every instant that your tongue is touching the reed is an instant that sound is not happening. So for a legato tongue effect, you paradoxically have to move your tongue faster than normal, and just touch the reed like a hot potato and get RIGHT BACK OFF OF IT.
It’s so basic, so physical, so NOT fancy at all. But it made all the difference. We played some long tones with quarter note DAH articulations, we worked on eliminating the silence between the notes – and then we played beautiful, meaningful two bar phrases that arced over the line and had progression throughout the piece.
This is what is FUN for me about teaching – the creativity in finding the right words for each individual student. Sometimes I can be a little high-minded and flowery in my approach – but I don’t mind going all the way back to first principles. The air is the SOUND, the tongue is the SILENCE. It’s a lovely reminder for me too.