Today I would like to share a little tip with you that seems to be rather a well-kept secret in woodwind playing. To be honest, I can understand why it’s not that widely discussed and by the end of this post you will probably see why as well. But believe me, once you start using it you will find it an invaluable trick which will come in handy in many situations.
It concerns the process of sliding between keys, a clumsy part of woodwind playing technique but one which is common to just about all instruments in the family. For the clarinettist and the oboist it is often necessary to slide the little finger from one key to another, and even the flautist must occasionally slide from the low C sharp to the D sharp key. The bassoonist has an even harder time, having to slide his right thumb between four different keys and his left thumb between nine! This is not always convenient and can serve to interrupt the flow of certain passages of music.
In some cases instrument manufacturers have sought to remedy this by the introduction of rollers on the edges of keys, but these are not always available on all models of instrument, and for the clarinettist and oboist they are an extremely rare option. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have the same smoothness of sliding on keys which aren’t equipped with rollers?
What this really needs, then, is some sort of grease to act as a lubricant as your fingers slip from key to key. But you can hardly be expected to carry a pot of grease around to dip your fingers in whenever the going gets tough. Apart from being inconvenient and blatantly disgusting, it would be difficult to measure out a small enough quantity so as not to clog up the instrument’s mechanism, especially in the middle of a performance.
And this is where things start to get ever so slightly revolting. Because Mother Nature has kindly provided us all with our own natural source of grease that we carry around with us every day of our lives. In the middle of our faces. I’m talking, of course, about the nose.
That’s right, believe it or not the side of your nose is the ideal source of grease for lubricating you finger so that it can slide from key to key. I had never even considered this before it was first pointed out to me, and if you’ve never tried this then you may be similarly taken aback. But try it out now and you’ll see just how perfect it is. Go and get your instrument, and try sliding from one key to another. Now try the same thing again, but before you do, slide the appropriate finger down the side of your nose. See how much smoother the action is?
The real beauty in this trick is just how subtle it is. Nobody notices such a small gesture, which means that you can use it whenever you need without fear of getting strange looks. I recently used it to help with the first clarinet part of Nielsen’s flute concerto, where I had to slide my left little finger from the low E to the low F sharp key. In the bars rest leading up to this little flourish, I discreetly slid my little finger down the side of my nose. I’d even written ‘NOSE’ on the music to remind me (and also to confuse the next person to play that part). Then when it came to the semiquavers in question I was able to execute them simply and smoothly, with no jerkiness in the action.
So there you have it – the secret to smooth sliding. To conclude, I would like to encourage you not to be put off by the slightly unhygienic nature of this technique, but rather to embrace it as a remarkably useful part of your playing.