One very important fundamental technique that is largely overlooked in pedagogical literature is the conscious manipulation of the internal oral cavity. These manipulations are commonly known as “voicings” since they tend to create the same internal shapes that occur when speaking. Voicings have a huge impact on both the pitch and timbre of every note, and whenever you hear a teacher or performer use a phrase like “open up the sound” or “give the note a darker color,” they are referring to the action of somehow altering this internal voicing.
Jooste briefly addresses the topic of voicings, describing it as “an interesting method for developing the tone conception of wind players and for reaching the ideal tone quality.”1 He speaks of the application of voicings in very basic terms, simply explaining that the mouth cavity should be at its largest for notes in the low register, and become increasingly smaller as notes move higher.2 In reality, voicings can greatly affect the intonation, timbre, and dynamics of any given note. Wide, slurred leaps like the ones found in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony rely a great deal on the manipulation of voicings in order to keep the reed vibrating, and wide shifts in dynamics, such as those in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and in the opening solo of Tchaikovsky’ Sixth Symphony, also depend heavily on voicings for pitch stability. I typically rely on four specific voicings:
OOH ===> AAH ===> EWW ===> EEE
Darker ===================> Brighter
Flatter ===================> Sharper
The shape of the oral cavity is closely linked to both the embouchure and airstream, and can help or hinder each one in turn. For example, a higher, more closed voicing like “EEE” will make creating a large crescendo much more difficult than a more open voicing like “OOH” since it physically restricts the amount of air that can flow to the reed. Since the embouchure must be held quite tight for some notes in the extreme high register—and the tighter the embouchure is the higher the pitch will be—oftentimes a more open voicing like “OOH” is the key to getting the note to speak down to pitch. This, in fact, is the exactly what I recommend for the opening solo in The Rite of Spring.
1 Jooste, 45.
2 Ibid., 46.