Shaquille O'Neal and Jimmy Fallon: a musical analysis of their Random Instruments Challenge

7 January 2020, 17:17 | Updated: 8 January 2020, 09:38

By Rosie Pentreath

Fallon has embarked on the wonderful world of low flutes, but he could do with some practice. Here are our fully qualified, no-holds-barred, professionally-informed thoughts on his performance.

American ex-basketball player, Shaquille O'Neal is making headlines after playing ‘Old Town Road’ on the Tuba on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. Fair play to the man – that takes guts, air and flair.

But allow us, for a moment, to direct your attention to another landmark moment on a recent ‘Random Instrument Challenge’ on Fallon. Behold – the contrabass flute.

“Contra-what-now?” we hear you ask.

Contrabass FLUTE. It’s a fine specimen of an instrument that takes your standard, traverse (horizontal) flute down two octaves and produces an epic bass sound worthy of any booming car stereo.

Jimmy Fallon walks over – “I don’t know how the heck you hold it. Do I lift it off this [stand]?” – and has a go at Carly Rae Jepsen’s indomitably catchy ‘Call Me Maybe’.

Read more: Man arrested after throwing a flute at judge in Indian courtroom >

Jimmy Fallon plays the contrabass flute on The Tonight Show
Jimmy Fallon plays the contrabass flute on The Tonight Show. Picture: The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon

Suffice it to say, we didn’t get any Carly from the performance – and we certainly have some feedback:

The posture

First off – Fallon is using the right hand at the top of the instrument, and the left hand below it. Correct – a big tick for that.

But he’s a little hunched. That magnificent contrabass has an adjustable stand – much like the dependable cello spike – so use it!

The fingering

There is none. Fallon holds his hands in the same place for most of his performance. How he thinks he’ll produce different pitches, not to mention those Rae Jepson rhythms, is beyond us.

Let’s just move on.

The embouchure

(AKA the shape his mouth is making)

Jimmy – for the contrabass it’s all about control AND looseness.

Look, we know asking you to be poised, tense and perfectly controlled, as well as relaxed, seems contradictory, but that’s the way it is with our contrabass pal. Once you nail it, though, you nail it. Keep practicing.

The lip placement

Fallon opts for a placement of his lip a millimetre or two above the lip plate. Not wrong per se, but our tip? We reckon go even higher – put the contrabass lower on your chin – so the lip isn’t interrupting the airflow to the lip hole. That’ll allow you to get more air where it needs to go, and should result in a nice round bass sound.

The airflow

The key with all low flutes is to use lots of air, but at slow speed. Fallon isn’t. Here, our Jim is trying the opposite: using little air, and very fast.

In the practice room, we recommend he takes a deep breath, slows down, and aims for a strong column of air delivered as slowly as possible.

Which brings us, finally, to breathing…

The breathing

Open those lungs, man! To produce a rounder sound, here, Fallon would need to focus; open the lungs; and breathe from right down in the gut (or lower), filling his whole body with air that he can release slowly while the body helps resonate the overall tone.

In the video above we see him snatch breaths from about as low as his clavicle.

To remedy the current issues, we recommend a cycle of slow, timed, in-and-out breathing exercises for Fallon – and a few rounds of yoga to really focus the mind and body. You’ll tame that contra in no time.

Jim – ya welcome.