Odd noise made by student

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Home Forums Pedagogy Teaching – General: Solutions, Question, Tips Odd noise made by student

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    Margie Yankeelov

    One of my oboe students has a grunting, sort of pig-sounding noise coming from her throat/ sinuses when she plays. I’ve taken her to a clinic where we put a camera down her nose to view her throat, which is as open as it can be. Has anyone encountered this noise before? Do you know how to fix it? We’ve tried moving to lighter reeds to no avail.

    Neville Forsythe

    Hi Margie

    Here is a collection of email exchanges on the subject from last year and earlier this year. Hope some of it is of help


    Neville Forsythe

    On 30/04/2006, at 5:44 PM, Lindsey Sears wrote:

    Hi everyone,

    I am a student and I have been playing for about 5 years. I had an audition on oboe today, and something really strange happened (for me anyway…). Towards the end of the audition, I felt like I couldn’t keep the back pressure going, as if maybe air was leaking through my nose.
    This really caught me off guard; I’ve never experienced this before, and
    there wasn’t much that I could really think of to explain this…my reed was
    not too hard, I’ve played the audition repertoire a thousand times before
    (Mozart Concerto), and I wasn’t particularly nervous. I started doing some
    research online and all I could really come up with is that it might be
    something to do with my soft palate? I am really paranoid that this might
    happen again, and it was really embarassing! I played a short concert later in the day and didn’t have any problems… anyhow, I’m just wondering if anyone else
    has experienced (and hopefully overcome) this, and any thoughts to prevent
    it? Any input would be really appreciated!


    On 2 Aug 2005 at 0:41, Neville Forsythe wrote:

    I’m not a Dr but …

    What is described here sounds to me like the the “valve” which closes
    off the nasal passage from the throat.
    Occasionally I too have had a temporary occurrence during colds and
    sinus infections when presumably the involuntary drainage of mucus
    “weakens” the seal.

    This is probably not (IMHO) anything to do with articulating in the
    throat (the glottal stop) “say Aaahh”; but a different structure higher
    up in the entry to nasal / sinus area.

    On 2 JUL 05
    Karol Wolicki MD wrote:

    I am a doctor and the structure you are describing specifically is the soft palate and, in the center (the punching bag), the uvula. This structure lifts up and back to seal the mouth from the nose so that food doesn’t leak out of the nose when swallowing, so that air doesn’t leak when blowing. It also dances up and down so that various different sounds can be made appropriately. For example, “m” comes out of the nose only, while so called “plosives” like “p” and “b” can only be made by the mouth if the palate seals effectively. There are cases where this seal is problematic. Some are intrinsic, some are related to surgery, some to neurologic conditions. Because it is in near proximity to the ears, and because some of the same muscles that raise the soft palate also help open the eustachian tubes, the sealing and unsealing is sometimes audible internally. Much less commonly it can be heard externally, usually as leaking of air through the nose. I was taught to try to release a tiny bit of air through the nose to maximize the “openness” of the throat while playing, for what it is worth.

    glad to try to help when able.

    Karol Wolicki MD

    Neville Forsythe responded:

    I personally wouldn’t play with air leaking into my nasal area even for “resonance” although I do feel the nasal sinuses do play a part in perceiving if not enhancing the resonance of upper notes.

    The best “treatment” I can suggest is the one I described in my earlier post vis.

    One way to deal with identifying and perhaps strengthening the seal is
    to blow out gently through the nostrils while deliberately blocking and
    releasing the airflow into the sinus area.

    Not while playing necessarily, but now in front of the computer and tomorrow in the car on the way to work. Identify the mechanism and “work” it deliberately so you can gain knowledge and control of it.

    Also check the possibility that it is temporarily activated by the drainage of a runny nose maybe take a “drying” type of medication although this might dry up your mouth too! Ask your GP or Chemist / Druggist for a proprietary “cold” remedy if you are having a runny nose and swallowing any of the “drainings”.

    Otherwise I still feel you can probably manage to resolve it without surgery or invasive treatment by the above “exercise”.


    Neville G Forsythe
    Christchurch New Zealand
    Bassoonist, Teacher, Conductor.

    Recent post offered Feb 2007:

    Re: Air “leaking”?
    Hi Ashley,

    This is a rather common problem, I think, and one I’ve had quite a bit of experience with. Here are my thoughts:

    – The strengthening idea Neville offered is quite helpful – I’ve had this recommended by a speech therapist. Since the soft palate is a muscle, it can easily be strengthened. Her recommendation was to do that exercise (attempting to blow through the nose, while stopping the blowing with the soft palate) while waiting at stoplights – just occasionally throughout the day.

    – I’ve personally found that dryness exacerbates the problem, perhaps why it seems worse in winter and spring. By this I mean both internal and external dryness. I’m constantly drinking water while practicing and in rehearsal, and I also find that generally keeping very well hydrated helps. I would hesitate to take any “drying” medications, and it may be possible that a current medication (for allergies, perhaps) may be encouraging the problem.

    – Since you’ve had this problem for a few years, you may want to consider seeing an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor if it does not improve. It could be a simple matter of muscle strengthening, or it could just be “how you’re built.”

    – I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but I have to mention it: Perhaps your reeds are harder than they need to be? If you feel like you are “working hard” to play the oboe, then your muscles will obviously feel that way, too.

    Feel free to email me if I can answer any more questions.

    Kendra Johnson

    Lori Olson-Putz

    Interesting ideas. I have always had this problem when I least expect it, but realize now that it is mostly in the winter. When it occurs it also seems to be the same time I am having trouble keeping my reeds wet, so the dryness is a real possibility. I guess a water bottle is the next item to haul along on stage in winter!


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