Cool Instrument Techniques

collage of musicians paying instruments

What makes a professional musician sound so much different from a student? Playing the right notes, sure, but they also do some cool things to make incredible sounds.

These are just a few things that professionals do- check them out and see what you want to learn!

Vibrato

“Vibrato” is a rapid and slight variation in pitch. Think of it like a wavelength:

Straight line
No vibratto, or “straight tone,” would be an unchanging, continuous pitch.
Squiggly line, like a wave
Vibrato is a slight change in pitch, similar to a fluctuating wavelength.

Each musician can have a distinct vibrato due to two factors: pitch range and speed.

A “wider” vibrato has a larger range in pitch:

squiggly line with really high arches
The wider the vibrato, the larger the range in pitch.
squiggly line with very low arches
The shorter the vibrato, the smaller the range in pitch.

The speed refers to how fast the pitches change:

squiggly line with longer arches
Slow waves mean that the vibrato is not as fast and is probably a bit wider.
squiggly line with lots of arches
Faster waves mean that the vibrato is quick and the the pitch distance is probably very small.

The use of vibrato is a preference made by musicians and composers, but generally it gives the instrument a fuller, richer sound.

Singers develop vibrato naturally, but instrumentalists learn how to make vibrato. Some are easy to spot:

Brass players can make vibrato with their hands or mouth, woodwinds with their throat, and reed instruments, like sax and clarinet, shake their jaw against the reed.

Double tonguing

Tonguing is the technique an instrumentalist uses to articulate notes. They do this by using their tongue to touch the tip of their mouth or reed.

articulation for

Double tonguing is used when an articulated phrase is too fast for regular tonguing.

Double tonguing exercise with

When double tonguing the player makes the first articulation with the top of their tongue and the second articulation with the back of their tongue.

Imagine saying “tee-kee” while you play and you’re double tonguing!

 

Instrumentalists can also use triple tonguing for faster articulations that are in triple meter. Usually they think “tee-kee-tee” while playing.

Circular breathing

Circular breathing is a breathing technique used to produce continuous sound without interruption. It sounds to the listener as though the player is not breathing at all:

 

This is done by simultaneously breathing in through the nose while blowing out air stored in the mouth or cheeks. It’s a much faster movement than you might think.

The technique was used mainly in non-Western music (instruments like the didgeridoo cannot be played without circular breathing), but recently some instrumentalists have started to use the technique in order to play music they once couldn’t.

For example, notoriously difficult violin pieces couldn’t be transcribed to wind instruments because the didn’t offer any opportunities to breathe. But, if a player can circular breathe, they can play it:

Sound effects

Slides, aka glissando

It’s easy to see how some instruments do a glissando, and they make it look pretty easy:

Many instruments can gliss, but it takes a whole lot of control.

In this example, the clarinetist is sliding up using a mixture of tongue movements and fingering changes.

Trumpet whinny

A trumpeter with a good embouchure can imitate a horse neigh.

 

Press down on all three valves, play a high note (G, perhaps?),  and play a descending glissando while shaking the trumpet back and forth from your lips (not side to side).

Sheet music for horse whinny

These are just a few of the crazy things you can do with your instruments and there’s more out there to learn.

If you want to starting learning these techniques, check out one of our teachers at The Music Shoppe lesson studios in Normal, Champaign, or Springfield!

What other cool techniques have you seen?