The Pianissimo Challenge

If you're anything like me, soft dynamics just are a huge challenge. I have a very hard time maintaining the appropriate core, supported sound when playing in soft dynamics, especially in the upper register. 

In a post a few weeks ago, Sorting Out Discomfort In the Practice Room, I began experimenting with ideas from Emmanuel Pahud's master class videos - specifically ideas about the point of resonance that is necessary for maintaining support at a soft dynamic. 

He notes that we rely too much on the lips to shape the sound with dynamics, and it can really compress notes, adding an undesirable, clenched sound. Ultimately we should we redirecting our focus to allowing the airstream to resonate via the wasabi point.

The Pianissimo Challenge

  • Quite simply, play every etude and exercise a second time, but at a very soft dynamic. 
  • Go slowly to watch tendencies in lip compression, and attempt to shift focus to the airstream and the sensation of resonance.

In doing this, I was able to notice these things right away:

  • I noticed my tendency to squeeze the lips, especially while ascending high into the register.
  • When I shifted my focus to air, I noticed I had to remind myself to feel resonance in the sinuses. It almost felt as though I was breathing through my nose while playing (which isn't actually happening.) Try simulating the experience of inhaling or exhaling through the nose while playing in the upper register. Pahud also suggests releasing some air through the nose after inhalation to start support before the sound. 

Although unable to make this happen every time, tapering high notes and feeling a longer line of phrasing was made much easier when feeling that "wasabi" sinus sensation while avoiding lip compression. 

In addition to practice long tones and etudes at a soft dynamic, I'm also practicing my typical Taffanel & Gaubert exercises differently:

  • Taffanel & Gaubert No. 1
    • Play the exercise at mp, holding the last note and tapering to silence.
  • Taffanel & Gaubert No. 4 / 6 / 9 / 12
    • Play the entire exercise at pp, slowly, paying special attention to changes that occur (in the embouchure) while ascending to the upper register.
    • Add a decrescendo while ascending, and a slight crescendo during each descent.