Lesson 3 – First Sound
The shortest lesson that’s going to take the longest!
You have a kaval and you don’t know how to make a sound with it? This is actually where most people give up because it can be quite discouraging to spend hours and hours trying to play your amazing new instrument and not being able to create a single sound with it. Well, it’s not that hard, you just have to learn the right technique. Let me show you how it’s done.
What’s very specific about the Kaval is that there is no windway or channel at the mouth end as in recorders or whistles, so we have to shape our lips in the correct position and then direct the air against the tube in such a way that it produces a sound.
Let’s first start with the term Embouchure. What does it mean? It is the shaping of the lips that a player applies to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. Working on the embouchure takes time and getting a good sound from the kaval may take weeks of hard work. Don’t get discouraged, though. It’s totally worth all the effort. I know it’s a bit disappointing when you first get your instrument and you cannot even make a sound, but don’t worry, we’ll get there soon. Training your lips takes some practice, but once you get used to it will seem very natural and become easy.
I recommend starting out with the head joint only because it would be a little easier for you. And besides, you won’t need to worry about the holes and playing melodies just yet. Right now we only want to focus on making the sound.
Producing a Sound
First, you should put the kaval on your lips above the upper lip and below the lower lip, as shown on the illustration here.
Then simply shape your lips as if you’re whistling or think of the sound “oo”. In order to make a sound you have to direct the airstream to go across the hole on the mouth piece.
When the airstream hits the outer edge of the hole it splits in half, that creates a vibration and that causes the sound. Hold the joint with the bottom end pointing towards your right side and forming an angle of approximately 45 degrees.
Then blow a little amount of air firmly and direct the stream straight. Part of the air needs to go into the pipe and the other part is obviously out of it. Don’t try to blow too hard! It’s not about how much air you exhale, it’s about gaining the proper technique and finding the right position, then blowing firmly. A good example of the speed of air that you need is: Imagine a lit candle in front of you and adjust the speed of the air so that it’s enough to make the flame flicker but not enough to blow out the candle.
It looks pretty easy when I do it but it actually took me a few days until I managed to make it work every time, and then a few months of really hard work to perfect the sound. If you’re having trouble making a sound as clear as mine you can play around with the angle a little bit.
Keep in mind that small changes may affect the sound drastically, so be wary about that, try to stick to the instructions and keep the changes to a minimum.
Another thing that you can try adjusting is the aperture – that’s the lip opening. Try making it smaller or larger and see if it changes anything and if it helps get better results.
Finding the right embouchure is quite subjective so you need to find the jaw and lip position that makes the clearest sound for you. In my case I don’t really do anything with the jaw, I just keep it as natural as possible and it works for me.
You’ll feel it when the embouchure is correct and what you need to do then, is simply try to remember the position. The sound you’re going to make at first is most likely to be in the lower or in the middle register. Just practice them both and try switching between them like that.
- Practice makes perfect…
You’ve probably heard this saying before but now it’s time to apply it. Spend as much time as you need to really perfect this aspect of your playing. It’s the most important one. Nothing matters if your sound is not good.
- How to improve their sound.
The best way to improve your sound is to play long notes. So what I would do is just start with a note that is easy to play and then step by step go to the ones that are more difficult. I try my best to improve the sound and only go to the next note when I’m satisfied with the sound of the note I’m playing. That takes a lot of time but it’s probably the most effective exercise.
- Private Lessons
For some of you it might be too hard to make a tone with the kaval. Well I offer packages of private lessons on my website, you can check them out. That way I’ll be able to guide through the process and help you if you encounter any difficulties.P.S. For the next few lessons we’ll go through the theoretical part of playing the kaval. They might take some time and while you’re going through them try to keep practicing the sound. Without a good sound on the kaval, no melody matters. The sound is the most important aspect in playing any woodwind instrument.