Date: Fri, 16 Jan 1998 23:59:20 -0800 (PST)
From: "Kyle R. Hofmann" <>
Subject: Re: Uh, Oh! (but not Eeee)  I been thinkin' ag'in.

On Thu, 15 Jan 1998, Dr. Henry Meredith wrote:

> At 11:42 PM 1/10/98 -0800,  "Kyle R. Hofmann" <> wrote:
> >On Sun, 11 Jan 1998, Dr. Henry Meredith wrote:
> >> . . .
> >> The change in air speed (as an excuse for arching the tongue) is also
> >> unnecessary in my teaching and playing.  The lip vibration speed is
> >> determined by the musculature and aperture, much the same way we set the
> >> fulcrum on a mechanical metronome for its varying speeds.
> >
> >  No, that's wrong.  You're leaving out the fact that you can't buzz
> >without air.  Air is therefore a necessary part of lip vibration, and
> >therefore affects lip vibration speed.  Faster air forces the lips to buzz
> >faster.  Slower air forces them to buzz slower.

[ ... ]

> Similarly, your air "therefore affects lip vibration speed" and the
> following 2 sentences above have no basis in the first statements,and
> yet you state them as a fact based upon the earlier statements.

  Perhaps I did not state them with as clear a basis as I should have. That is still my opinion; I can buzz my lips faster by sending more air through them.  Yes, I do agree that this is a trivial change in air speed and is essentially useless in practical playing, but it does make a difference.

> Any perceived change in air speed is CAUSED BY (and therefore a
> by-product or result of) the increased resistance of the shorter
> (faster) stroke of the vibration and the concommitant reduction of the
> aperture between the lips, instead of being the cause OF these factors.

  This, I believe, is where we differ.

  I see the lip buzz as a convienient side effect of putting our lips together and blowing.  The way I look at it, the lips buzz because air is forced through them and the tension in the lips is such that they snap back and forth from the outward state (where the buzz pushes them) and the inward state (where the tension pulls them).  Thus, it is, to me, impossible to buzz the lips without air, and it is possible to change the speed of the lips by changing the speed of the air.

  The last statement is slightly unclear, however, for while I do believe that the speed of the air as it comes out of our lungs affects the speed of our buzz, I do not believe that it is a very useful or significant speed.  It is much more effective to make the air faster later, inside the oral cavity using the tongue or lips in such a way that there is resistance to the air's free flowing so that by the time the air has gone through the lips, it is moving much faster than when it emerged from the lungs.

> I use a steady, warm (slow), free-flowing stream of air.  I do not "put air
> through the horn," nor do I teach that way.

  I used the phrase ``put air through the horn'' because it describes a certain action, that of taking the air one breaths and the horn one plays, connecting the two via the mouth, and blowing.  I do not use it in the sense of ``blow as hard as you can, d00d!!!1!'' because that attitude doesn't help you play the horn.

> I teach students about the proper air to use by blowing on the hand away
> from the face and noticing the cold forced air stream.  Then I say, put
> your hand right next to your face and using a lot of air, fog up your
> glasses.  That concept of warm, slow, gushing, free air is what is
> needed -- certainly not tremendous speed.

  I think it would be an interesting experiment if one were to put a sensor immediately inside the leadpipe or perhaps the mouthpiece and measure the airspeed.  I seriously doubt that the air that actually emerges from your lips is truly as slow as you make it to be.  I would go so far as to predict that it moves up and down in proportion to the pitch of the note being played.

  I would also predict that using the analogy you described is very effective with beginners, for, as I have stated before, it is not expedient to attempt to generate tremendous pressure in the lungs, and it is much more useful to generate it somewhere else, by which point you will be unable to control it, thus attempting to provide an analogy of warm, slow air will be the most useful in the students playing by helping them to blow properly.

> >Beginners have the habit of putting very little air through
> >the horn relative to what is needed.
> It is obvious from what I've said above, and before, that we don't [need to]
> put air through the horn.

  Really?  And how so?  I'm afraid I don't see why; I see you mentioning your experience with beginners and your own personal playing, but nowhere do I see you provide any significant analysis to back up your claims, even an analysis with such vigorous handwaves as the one I presented in my previous message which is quoted at the top of this one,

> With 4.5 feet of tubing, much of it less than 1/2-inch in diameter, and
> the constricted passage of the narrow mouthpiece throat, etc., putting
> air THROUGH the horn is quite a task, even when just blowing with lips
> surrounding the mouthpiece.

  This is why brass players have strong lungs.  Assume you have a bore of .460" and a prefectly cylindrical instrument 4.5ft long.  That's almost 29 cubic inches of horn.  As we have both stated, putting air through the horn is quite a task.

> Add to that the constriction of the lip aperture and "obstruction" of
> the lip itself, very little air gets THROUGH the horn when we're
> playing.

  I would disagree with that on the basis that not only is our horn is a good deal large than 29 cubic inches, but that most of it is at the bell, by which point the force generated from the air will be negligible to a human being.

> His only comment after observing the match that had been extinguished
> with air passing "through the horn" was "Henry, turn ALL of your air
> into sound."

  That says nothing about how much air is going through your horn. Remember, all he told you was to turn all of your air into sound.  My unsubstantiated guess is that you had at the time an airy sound, and that after that sound went away, mysteriously, the match didn't go out.  This simply means that all of your air is going through the aperature as it should and helping to make the sound.  It says nothing about air quantity.

> P.S. --Speaking of wintery blasts, the wind is causing an overlapping flap
> outside my window sill to vibrate just now.  The pitch at which it vibrates
> is always the same (about F#) whether the wind is slow or fast, and the wind
> is coming in very fast gusts, but then slowing down.  If it slacks off too
> much, however, approaching calmness -- no air flow -- then the buzzing noise
> stops.  The flap needs air flow to set it into motion, but its pitch is not
> determined by the speed.  It does get louder or softer haowever, depending
> on how MUCH air is passing over it.  Interesting.

  Actually, it is.  Though I haven't much knowledge of the physics of woodwinds, I'm guessing that it's acting as a single reed does--air flow causes it to vibrate, and faster air is making it vibrate stronger, not faster.  This is different from our lips, where faster air makes it vibrate more violently (i.e., faster).  I once heard someone liken our lips to a double reed, but I don't know much about double reed instruments and I don't know if it's correct or even if it makes a difference in this discussion, but it might be of interest.

- --
Kyle R. Hofmann <>