- Sally Sanford
Playing tunes or creating sound effects using the player’s teeth.
(1) Depending on the technique used, the teeth act as concussion or percussion idiophones. In the concussion paradigm, the player clicks the upper and lower teeth together while adjusting the shape of the mouth and the vocal tract to vary the pitch and tone. Malocclusion can make this technique challenging. In the percussion paradigm, the player uses a one-, two-, or multi-finger technique, striking a tooth (usually one of the upper central incisors) with a fingernail either by flicking the nail off the edge of the thumb or by brushing it against the edge of the tooth. The two-finger technique (using a finger from each hand striking both central incisors) and the multi-finger technique (using both hands) are usually better for faster tempos. Pitch changes are achieved both by striking the tooth at different contact loci, including the front of the tooth and the bottom, as well as varying the mouth opening and vocal tract. Tooth size will also affect the pitch range and timbre. A skilled teeth player can reach two octaves or more, though most amateurs usually have a range of an octave or less.
With all of these techniques, the sound (at least by empirical measures) is very quiet. Amplification has enabled public performances, for example making it possible for the virtuoso teeth player Mikas Stankevičius to perform works such as the finale of Rossini’s William Tell overture with pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment.
(2) Teeth playing is also a technique used by rock and pop stunt guitarists. The guitar is held parallel to the floor while the player brings the head toward the strings, raises the upper lip and lowers the lower lip to expose the teeth, and uses the bottom teeth as a plectrum by moving the mandible. Jimi Hendrix was a noted guitarist to use this technique.