A few years ago I had a beginner student who came to me after about a month of playing. She had just learned that a slur means that the notes are not separated. Being a very bright young lady she reasoned that all the other notes must be separated then. At this point she had never learned to do that with her tongue. So she started to experiment herself and found that she could separate the notes with her throat. When I discovered what she was doing, the next order of business became solving this problem and explaining the various reasons why closing up her throat could be detrimental to her playing. Not to mention, once she starts to learn faster music there is no way her poor throat muscles would be able to keep up!
Or so I thought....
A few days ago I was playing a passage with long legato tones at pianissimo with vibrato. I started to notice a weird noise I was making with my throat with the vibrato. I was so sure that my vibrato comes from my abdominal muscles! So I made an effort to open my throat and do it again. Vibrato was still there... so apparently I have been using my throat and my abdominal muscles together this whole time! I decided to play some passages without vibrato for a few minutes to see what happened. What's that!! I still hear it! This time I notice that I'm doing it every time I articulate. Next, I play a passage without tonguing (so I can really hear what's going on) and the result was just... weird... At the beginning of each note I am making a sort of a "guh" sound in my throat. Strangely I was actually able to do it on the fast passages as well. I must have been doing this for a LONG time!This explains some of the struggles I went through a while back with articulating lightly.How on earth can one expect to have precise articulations doing that? Not only do my fingers and tongue have to line up perfectly, now my throat is involved! Sheesh!
You may be surprised to know that I was actually very amused when I discovered this. (Not too long ago I would have criticized myself to no end, but we're past that)
This is actually GREAT news. Knowing that I have this problem means I can fix it. Fixing it doesn't necessarily mean eradicating it though, It means controlling it...
Hear me out...
In most situations I will not do this throaty thing anymore. However, it is an interesting effect, and I actually like the unusual sound it makes, and may be useful as an extended technique. So I'll add it to my toolbox, but The trick is being able to do it ONLY when it's appropriate. For those of you interested in the learning process, or who have students who may be doing this I'll tell you how I will teach myself to regain control (mind you my own learning style may be different from yours your students'.):
First Step- Isolate the situation:Play without tonguing, the way you normally would. Don't worry about your throat. Play exactly the same, but without the tongue. This will give you an idea of what's really happening. -A baseline. This was actually a very valuable step for me. I learned not only THAT I was doing it but WHEN. Turns out, I was not making these throat sounds all the time, but only with accented notes and passages that were fast and lively: Sections that I like to give a little "Bounce" to. After paying close attention to myself I noticed that I was also using my abdominal muscles (some might say diaphragm) to accomplish this simultaneously. (Which was a huge relief- Somewhere along the road I had learned to to it the right way, but I never unlearned the wrong way. This just makes my job now a little easier as now I only have to concentrate on the unlearning process.
Next step- Quit it!I practice without using any accents or "bounce" not even with my abdomen. (no tonguing either, just to limit the variables and allow me to hear better) The sound is boring, but this is not a performance, it's an exercise. Now that I can do it without involving my throat, I can put the character back in using only the abdomen. Yay that was easy right? I wish. I've likely been playing this way for nearly 20 years. This is going to take a lot of practice before it becomes second nature. Don't get me wrong though. I'm actually thrilled that I found this out! There is no doubt in my mind that this little quirk of mine has been holding me back in many ways. Once I solve this, I can move on to new possibilities, and maybe even discover other problems to solve!
Never stop learning!