When beginners, especially those who haven’t read a lot, begin to play a woodwind, they miss out on one of the major subtleties of the instrument. While a big deal is made over air streams and embouchure, beginners aren’t educated on the part that their body plays in shaping the sound of the instrument.
We learn at an early age to control the resonances of our throat and mouth. It is what allows us to project within our natural singing voice, and vent into a falsetto voice when needed. Our choice of tone, volume, and quality all subconsciously shape our vocal cavity to produce the desired sounds.
Using Your Resonances
When playing a woodwind, these same resonances come into play during advanced play to shape your sound. At first, we learn to keep our vocal cavities wide open and hold a steady, strong air-stream. Later on, as we become more advanced, we learn to play long tones as an exercise. If you are on this step, you may already be using your vocal cavity to shape the sound. Your vocal cavity is probably adding or removing some partials already, and you can try manipulating that by changing the shape of your mouth, throat, lungs, or even sinuses.
These muscles probably aren’t used to conscious control, and this will take a long time to control, and possibly a lifetime to master. Just learning to change the shape of your throat consistently and consciously takes time. Personally, I’m terrible at it, but I practice it daily and I can see improvement from week to week.
Advanced Internal Resonances
As an example of this concept at its finest, I’ll use the saxophone. Master players, when reaching for an altissimo note, will comment that they must hear the note first and adjust to get to it. What they are describing can be modeled physically by the unconscious movements of their internal cavities to reach for the right resonances.
By providing the reed an air-stream already resonating at a given partial, the reed bypasses (hopefully) the lower, more stable partials and settles onto the altissimo register. While the altissimo register is less stable than the lower partials, it is much more stable than the frequencies in between it and the next lower partial, so it rests at the local minimum. In essence, you use your internal resonator to direct the reed to the register you want the saxophone to play at.
As a novice saxophone player, I know when I am accidentally forgetting to keep my throat open because my natural tendencies resonate in the higher-octave range on the Baritone Saxophone. That is to say that when I play some notes, especially the A in the middle of the staff, I tend to jump into the next octave. I need to relax my throat to suppress that. On the other hand, I can slur that note from one octave to the other and back with just a conscious thought to do so (and without changing my embouchure), which may come in handy some day if my octave key breaks.
Bassic Sax: The Source of our Tone
Teal, Larry. The Art of Saxophone Playing. Summy-Birchard 1963. pp. 45-47