Thursday, June 17, 2010

Honing Your Vuvuzela Skills

Here's some advice on how to become the best vuvuzela player on your block.


Vuvuleza: There's no excuse for making a din when you've been taught by the experts

Rob Sharp gets a lesson from one of Britain's professional vuvuzela teachers
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Rob Sharp with  the must-have accessory for this year's World Cup
Rob Sharp with the must-have accessory for this year's World Cup

I tooted in my bedroom. I parped out of my window at evening dog-walkers. I regaled flatmates with toe-tapping accompaniments to Louis Armstrong that segued into staccato bars of B-flat. Who knew that an instrument which produces a wet, flatulent sound could be so enchanting.
Fifteen hours after taking delivery of my metre-long yellow plastic vuvuzela, I had still only been able to create a noise akin to someone propelling saliva down a pipe. So I enlisted the help of one of Britain's few professional vuvuzela teachers, Steven Haynes, to take me through my paces. After an hour-long lesson I hoped to be the best vuvuzela player in the office.
Vuvuzelas are the must-have accessory for this year's World Cup. They are cheap (£2 from Sainsbury's) and sonorous, and they boast a certain amount of cultural heritage. Some say they were adapted from the horn of a kudu, a South African antelope, traditionally used to call South African villagers to a meeting. The more likely explanation is that a South African football fan customised a bicycle horn in the 1960s, and it took off from there. There are no holes, no slides or buttons. Even an idiot – one whose sole musical qualification is the ownership of a "piano tie" – could use one.
"It's designed to produce a B-flat pitch which is the same as the rest note – the note that you produce if you don't do anything on a trumpet or trombone," says Haynes, tutoring me in his garage-cum-practice studio.
"British fans are just going to take these to see a team play and make as much noise as possible. It's like a call to arms, creates an atmosphere."
So how do you play one? First, the warm-up. It's all about the breathing, apparently. When you're tense, your stomach muscles tighten and force breathing up in to the chest region, meaning you can't inhale and exhale to your full capacity. So relax.
Next step is to shape your mouth as you would for pronouncing an "M". The perfect embouchure is created by holding your facial muscles between a pout and a smile. Vibrate the central section of your mouth, so you're not expending energy on anything that doesn't make a sound. Don't inflate your cheeks – you aren't Dizzy Gillespie. Bingo, you're ready to perform. Let's make this sucker sing.
Outside, faced with my discordant blasts, small children run for cover. Women with infants cross the street. The British still require some "conditioning" to this latest addition to our orchestral repertoire.
What to do with your instrument when the World Cup is over? They seem likely to become the scourge of English football grounds. Also suitable as beer-funnelling device.

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