Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Wilktone - Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Low-Down Sires Play Wine Bar, Asheville, NC 4/19/14

Low-Down Sires weddingI’m playing some dixieland with the Low-Down Sires this weekend. This Saturday, April 19, 2014, we’ll be playing at 5 Walnut Wine Bar in Asheville, NC from 9 PM to midnight. If you’re in western North Carolina this weekend looking for some live music, come out to one (or both) of our shows.

We love playing for swing dancers.

Donald Reinhardt On Tongue Position and Brass Playing

While I’ve blogged earlier on this same topic, I got a request while ago to discuss a bit what Donald Reinhardt taught about tonguing. I find Reinhardt’s pedagogy so interesting because of the level of detail he went to in order to understand how individual student’s anatomy would necessitate different instructions. Keep in mind that I never studied directly from Reinhardt, but was introduced to his books via one of his former students, Doug Elliott.

Reinhardt’s ideas about the level of tongue arch while sustaining pitches are in the majority today. It’s generally accepted that brass players will change the level of tongue arch while playing according to the register being played. Often times syllables are used to describe the tongue position, which can offer a good guide for students to begin experimenting with. To sustain a very low note the tongue position would be lower in the mouth, almost as if saying, “aw.” The higher the pitch, the higher the level of tongue arch inside the mouth. A middle register note might be closer to saying, “oh,” or “ah,” while a very high pitch would be closer to, “ee,” or “eh.” These are obviously approximations, and there are variations of exactly how a player will alter the level of tongue arch, but you can get an idea by watching this video recorded by Joseph Meidt for his research, A Cinefluorographic Investigation of Oral Adjustments for Various Aspects of Brass Instrument Performance.

The reason why this works is a matter of some controversy, but the two leading hypotheses are that raising the tongue arch helps increase air pressure against the lips or it helps the oral cavity’s resonance match the pitch being played. Both have some evidence to back them up, so there is perhaps a bit of both going on.

Much like with brass embouchures, I find it fascinating how many different ways brass players use the tongue to play. Donald Reinhardt came up with eight different tonguing types. Similar to his embouchure types, Reinhardt felt that each individual student’s anatomy would make one type work best for that particular player. I wrote about these tongue types years ago in an article about Reinhardt’s Pivot System. In general, each of these tonguing types would begin the attack with the tongue tip coming back away from the upper teeth or higher as if pronouncing, “tah” (or “tee,” “toh,” depending on the register and level of tongue arch desired).

Tongue-Type One

Brass players who specialize in playing in the upper register often use Tongue-Type One. With this tongue type the tongue spreads and the tongue sides are held in contact against the inside of the upper teeth immediately following the tongue backstroke. The tongue in this position forces the air column to thin down and aids this brass player in producing very fast lip vibrations.

This tongue type is not very common. I’ve heard anecdotally that this tonguing type works best for players with tall roof of their mouth. The player also needs a wide enough tongue to spread out to each side against the teeth.

Considering the very high tongue position, you can see how this tongue type might help some players who specialize in upper register playing (i.e., big band lead trumpet). Reinhardt felt the drawback to  tongue type one was the low register and some players may adopt a different tongue type for the lower range.

Tongue-Type Two

The most common tongue type is Reinhardt’s Tongue-Type Two. This tonguing type, which is also recommended by many other brass texts and method books, is distinguished by the tongue striking the back of the upper teeth or upper gums and then arching and hovering inside the mouth according to the register being played.

As I wrote in the above quote, tongue type two is probably the most common method of tonguing. In the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System Reinhardt mentions that this tongue type sometimes allowed players to recede their jaw too much, in which case he might recommend the player adopt one of the later tongue types where the tongue tip is anchored behind and below the lower teeth.

Tongue-Type Three

Reinhardt’s Tongue-Type Three performers are in the minority. Although Reinhardt admonished his student’s to never permit the tongue to penetrate between the teeth, certain brass players have a lower lip that is long and thick enough coupled with very short lower teeth. For these players immediately after the tongue strikes the back of the upper teeth or upper gums it will snap back and then return to the lower lip. The tip of the tongue will then rest on the lower lip while sustaining and slurring with performers of this tongue type.

Reinhardt’s tongue type three is the close to how some teachers describe as a “tongue controlled embouchure.” I agree with Reinhardt that this is a pretty rare situation, and in most cases players who intentionally put the tongue tip against the lower lip while sustaining pitches would probably do better in the long term adopting a different tongue type.

Tongue-Type Four

This type is identical to Tongue-Type three with the exception that the tongue strikes the lower lip for the attack, instead of the back of the upper teeth or upper gums.

Like tongue type three, Reinhardt felt that players adopting this tongue type needed to have a long enough lower lip and short enough lower teeth that both attacking and resting the tongue tip on the lower lip wouldn’t impede the vibrations.

I’ve never heard that Reinhardt made any tongue type recommendations according to the student’s embouchure type. With the tongue tip against the lower lip, I wonder if Reinhardt’s tongue types two and three are better for downstream players, who want their lower lip to be less active than the upper.

Tongue-Type Five

Tongue-Type Five is another one of the more common tonguing types. After the tongue strikes the back of the upper teeth or upper gums the tip of the tongue lunges down and makes contact with the gully where the lower gum meets the floor of the mouth. This tongue type also provides support for the jaw as the tongue presses forward to create a higher tongue arch level while ascending. Individuals who adopt this tongue type must have a sufficiently long enough tongue to accommodate this forward tongue pressure without loosing contact.

Because the tongue tip is pressed against the jaw, some players will find that adopting this tongue type helps them keep a more forward position of the jaw (assuming that this is desired for the player). As I mentioned above about tongue type two, players who find their jaw recedes undesirably might benefit from switching to tongue type five.

Tongue-Type Six

Tongue-Type Six is virtually identical to Tongue-Type Five, excepting that these individual’s do not possess tongues as long as those who belong to Tongue-Type Five. This tongue type will attack with the tip of the tongue striking the back of the upper teeth or gums, following which it will drop down to the gully where the lower gums and floor of the mouth meet. Unlike Tongue-Type Five, the higher tongue arch level for ascending is created by pulling the tip of the tongue back in the mouth, while keeping the tip touching the floor of the mouth. To descend the Tongue-Type Six player pushes the tongue tip forward towards the gully and flatten the tongue.

Because players belonging to this tongue type alter the level of tongue arch differently from tongue type five, this tonguing type doesn’t provide the same feeling of jaw support.

Tongue-Type Seven

Players belonging to this tongue type slur and sustain pitches identically to Tongue-Type Five. The difference in this tonguing type is that pitches are attacked through the tip of the tongue striking the back of the lower teeth or lower gums. This tongue type is sometimes used by players who play with the jaw in a very protruded position.

This tongue type seems to be very rare. Even simply trying to imitate this tongue position without playing I can’t make this work for me. Something about the very protruded jaw position must make this effective for some players. However, except for the position of the tongue during the attack, this tongue type is the same as Reinhardt’s tongue type five.

Tongue-Type Eight

In Tongue-Type Eight the tongue strikes the back of the lower teeth or lower gums for the attack and moves to the gully or floor of the mouth. When ascending the tongue arch level is raised by pulling the tongue back without allowing the tip of the tongue to lose contact with the floor of the mouth. When descending the Tongue-Type Eight player lowers the tongue arch level by pushing the tongue forward towards the gully and keeping the tip in contact with the floor of the mouth.

This tongue type is a combination of tongue types six and seven. Tongue type eight attacks the pitch against the lower teeth or gums, like tongue type seven, and alters the level of tongue arch like tongue type six. It also appears to be pretty rare.

One thing Reinhardt didn’t write much about in the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System are the variations on these basic tongue types. For example, a tongue type five player would slur and sustain pitches by pushing the tongue against the jaw with the tip in the gully behind and below the lower teeth. One variation would have a student attack pitches by keeping the tongue tip in the gully and have the middle part of the tongue come forward and strike behind the upper teeth or roof of the mouth. Although not a term Reinhardt used, as far as I know, some folks call this “anchored tonguing” or “K tongue modified.”

In general, I prefer to try to play in as consistent a manner as possible and typically suggest that a player try to use only one tongue type and not change according to the register. That said, using multiple tongue types doesn’t seem to be as detrimental to technique as adopting multiple embouchure types tends to.

While I find all the details fascinating and think that for teaching purposes it’s good to understand the above, I wonder if there may be a better way to communicate correct tonguing than using Reinhardt’s particular designations. There may be a way to simplify Reinhardt’s designations, similar to Doug Elliott’s simplification of Reinhardt’s embouchure types. At this time my thoughts are to break down the tonguing based on two factors, where the tip of the tongue is during the attack and where the tip of the tongue is while slurring or sustaining. This leaves out the factor of how the tongue arch is produced, but I’m not certain how useful it would be to include this information.

What are your thoughts? Is there a better way to describe tonguing? Which tongue type do you personally use? Have you ever experimented with more than one?

Weekend Picks

Here’s another link dump of music related stuff on the web for your surfing pleasure this weekend.

The Many Killers of the Music Industry, by Tim Cushing writing for TechDirt. It’s in two parts, The Analog Era and The Digital Era.

Looking for a pithy quote from a jazz musician to win that online argument you’ve been having? Look no further, you can find it here“What I’m dealing with is so vast and great that it can’t be called the truth. It’s above the truth.” – Sun Ra

Are you a contemporary classical composer and need to put together a composer’s statement? Don’t fret, you can use the The Contemporary Classical Composer’s Bullshit Generator to throw one together in no time. “Unlike traditional improvisations, I aim to develop illusions, including a highly polyrhythmic arrangement that explores all notions of progressive noises.”

And lastly, take a few minutes and watch the story of Harry, a racist barber in the 1930s whose life changes after the arrival of  a magical trumpet.

Swing of Change from Swing of Change on Vimeo.

Research on Neck Dilation in Wind Musicians

I always find the intersection between science and art interesting. If you have a few minutes please consider filling out an anonymous survey to help conduct research into how a neck puff affects wind musicians.

Donald Reinhardt wrote about a neck puff in the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System. He felt that was a particularly bad problem to have and was caused by one of or a combination of the following.

  1. Bottling up the air and delaying the initial attack.
  2. Protruding the abdominal regions while ascending.
  3. Overbreathing.
  4. Too much embouchure compression causing the air to bottle up at the lips.
  5. Arching the tongue at the wrong level for the pitch being played.
  6. Poor embouchure development
  7. A too small and too shallow mouthpiece for the player.

Reinhardt put together an exercise he recommended to help players reduce or eliminate a neck puff. He wrote:

  1. Compress your lips so that they are touching very lightly. Slowly push your compressed embouchure formation as far forward and away from your teeth as possible; then, bring your compressed embouchure formation back as far as possible into an exaggerated smiling position. Your neck muscles should retain excessive tension throughout the forward and backward motion. Execute a normal inhalation. Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.
  2. Slowly open your mouth as far as possible and make certain that tension can be felt in your neck muscles. Bite down slowly and deliberately and retain the muscular tension in your neck throughout. Do not permit your teeth to clash together while closing them. Execute a normal inhalation. Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.
  3. Slowly push your jaw as far forward as you possibly can without straining. retain this protruded jaw position with the prescribed neck tension for a few seconds – then rest for several moments. Execute a normal inhalation.  Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.

- Donald S. Rienhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, p. 69

It only takes a few minutes at most to complete the survey, so please help the cause and fill it out. Even if you’ve never had problems with a neck puff before.

Weekend Picks

Here’s a musical link dump for you to surf this weekend.

Learn about the evolution of dance music from around the turn of the last century to today in this animated chart.

Bassist Michael Thurber takes us through the history of the bass with 45 songs and 9 different instruments in the below video.

On January 24, 2011 James Boldin started an etude recording project where he video recorded himself performing etudes from Kopprasch’s Sixty Selected Studies Op. 6. Start here with No. 1. You can read his final thoughts after completing this three year project . A great resource for horn students and teachers.

Tim Minchin sings about the key of F sharp.

1959 was a significant year for jazz. There were four seminal albums recorded that year, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come. Learn more about these albums and the context of the history of jazz and the civil rights movement in 1959 The Year That Changed Jazz.

Asheville Jazz Orchestra at White Horse Black Mountain Friday, April 4, 2014

AJO-Logo-Transparent copyThe AJO’s monthly show at the White Horse Black Mountain is tomorrow, Friday, April 4, 2014. We’ve been playing there pretty much once a month for I think four years now. It’s a great room for a big band, there’s plenty of space on the stage, it’s a good sized room but still intimate, and there’s a nice dance floor right in front of the stage. Not to mention the staff are all friendly and easy to deal with.

Having a regular big band gig means I’ve been able to write a lot of big band charts specifically for this band. There will definitely be originals performed, as well as classics from the Swing Era and everything in between. If you’re in western North Carolina tomorrow please come out and support live big band jazz. The first of two sets starts at 8 PM.

Can You Tell the Strad?

An old one, but a good example of how even experts fool themselves. Get a room full of concert violinists and have them play 6 different instruments. 3 would by “old Italian” instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri. 3 were modern instruments. Do you think that the professionals would be able to tell the modern instruments from the older ones? Research designer Claudia Fritz set up her experiment to test just that.

When Fritz asked the players which violins they’d like to take home, almost two-thirds chose a violin that turned out to be new. She’s found the same in tests with other musical instruments. “I haven’t found any consistency whatsoever,” she says. “Never. People don’t agree. They just like different things.”

It’s another example of how hard it is to be objective when judging something musical. We all have different tastes and different ways of thinking about music and this helps define our subjective musical experiences. It’s almost impossible to separate ourselves from our preferences and expectations. For Fritz, this opens up a different area to explore.

“People looked at the violin, tried to understand how it vibrates, what are the mechanics behind it,” she says of past research. “But nobody has really looked at the human side.” She says her research is aimed at determining how people choose what they like, and what criteria they use.

If our cognitive biases influence us so much as to how we talk about our equipment, how much of how we discuss practice methods and pedagogical materials is similarly biased? A couple of days ago I discussed a device that is supposed to help brass players develop a better embouchure. Is an individual’s success with such a device also going to depend on their expectations and beliefs?

It would be nice to believe that we are able to rise above these tendencies, but the research shows that we really can’t help it. A humbling thought.

More Thoughts on the Stratos Embouchure Trainer

I’ve written about the Stratos device before, although I notice the video I embedded there has since become private. However, there is a newer and much longer video posted now where Stratos inventor, Marcus Reynolds, talks about it at the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine conference in 2013 (I believe).

It’s a rather long video, so if you don’t mind spoilers here is my synopsis.

First, bear in mind that this is essentially an infomercial. You can probably skip the first 60 seconds, since it’s really just soothing music with some scrolling text testimonials and description of what you’re about to watch.

The device itself is interesting. It basically clamps on to your leadpipe or mouthpiece and places an adjustable piece against your chin. If you want to work on bringing your chin forward/your horn angle up I can see how this could be helpful. Reynolds also demonstrates how it can be used to play with less pressure, although I personally feel it’s better to try and identify what is making the player use too much pressure and fix that instead.

I’m not sure how I feel about the demonstration where he keeps putting all the weight on the Stratos on his chin, keeping it off the lips. at 5:08 Reynolds intentionally sounds bad with almost no mouthpiece. He doesn’t elaborate on why it’s a good thing to practice this way, beyond the old trope about “letting the blood into the lips.” In my opinion, if you want to practice like this you should go all the way and simply practice free buzzing.

At around 8:00 in Reynolds talks about a conversation he had earlier with one of the doctors attending his presentation. He mentions how practicing with the Stratos on and then removing it had the effect that the player wants to keep the chin forward. It’s curiously sort of a backwards effect, when you think about it. By placing something against your chin and pushing it back for a while you end up wanting to bring your chin even further forward. While not all brass players will actually want to bring their chin forward to play, this is one area where the Stratos might actually be very useful.

And I have to gripe, of course, about Reynolds’ repeating the old myth that the air stream passes the lips and gets blown straight down the mouthpiece shank (starts about 9:14). Regular readers will already know about some of the evidence that’s available to see brass air stream direction. There may be some value to using the Stratos for some playings, but I suspect that it’s not going to help a player learn to blow straight down the shank. In fact, this situation is actually bad for brass playing. If this is the basis on which the Stratos works, then it’s based on a false premise and should be reexamined.

At £149.99 (about $250 U.S.) the Stratos device is not cheap and I probably won’t be getting one any time soon to teach with. I would also love to see someone research carefully and take a more objective look at how well the Stratos works and what it’s helpful for. There’s a lot of potential, I think, but I’m sure it’s not a panacea and might actually hurt more than it helps in some situations. Caveat emptor.

Jim Chesebrough Sabbatical Project – 50 Lessons

Dr. Jim Chesebrough, who teaches at Keene State College, has a sabbatical project going on now where he’s traveling across the U.S. and taking lessons from a variety of different brass teachers. He’s video recording each lesson and then leaving some thoughts up about them on his web site here. It’s a very cool project and sounds like a great way to not only revitalize your own playing but also learn some new approaches and pick up some new teaching tricks.

I learned about Jim’s project when he contacted me asking if he could take a lesson from me as part of it. I’m very honored to be considered, since there is some very august company in his list of teachers. Jim was interested in picking my brain about embouchure with me, so we spent pretty much the entire lesson going over that. It’s not something I always focus on, but it may be one area where the information I can offer is different from what he might get from other teachers.

That said, I know he’s planning on grabbing some lessons with a couple of brass teachers that I’ve learned a lot from, Dave Sheetz and Doug Elliott. It will be interesting to hear what Jim learns from those guys and compare it to what I thought. In our lesson we ended up discussing some comparisons and contrasts of what Donald Reinhardt taught, for example, and some other more traditional approaches to teaching brass technique. Both Dave and Doug studied extensively with Reinhardt.

Check out Jim’s web site from time to time. As he adds new lesson notes and videos I’m sure there will some great stuff up there.

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