The Influence of Tongue Position On Brass Playing

Back in 2003 some physicists from Australia (Wolfe, Tarnopolsky, Fletcher, Hollenberg, and Smith) presented at the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference on research they conducted on the role of the tongue position on didjeridu and the trombone.

Many players of wind instruments talk of the perceived importance of the shape of the mouth on the sound. In the case of the didjeridu, the effect on the timbre is so clear as to be incontestable. Among scientists, however, there is considerable variation in opinion about the effect on pitch [1- 4]. In this paper we report experiments on well-characterised model systems: artificial wind instrument players. Using plausible values of the relevant parameters, these show that vocal tract shapes can have important effects on both pitch and timbre.

Many brass performers and teachers, including myself, have cited Bernoulli’s principle as assisting the air speed as it strikes the vibrating lips for the importance of tongue position while playing. I’ve asked some physics teachers and engineers about this and almost all of them, with some exceptions, have suggested that this might be true. That said, this presentation was focused on the vocal tract impedance (if I understand this correctly, that is how the shape of the vocal tract influence pitch and timbre of a particular pitch).

On the didjeridu the influence was quite strong, perhaps in part due to the larger bore size of the instrument and the much larger vibrating area (there are a lot more of the lips inside the “mouthpiece” of the didjeridu than inside a trombone mouthpiece). They did note that it was an influence on the trombone, however.

The shift in pitch, over the range studied, is typically 20cents: a musically important effect for intonation. Preliminary measurements on experienced brass players showed a comparable shift in pitch when they were asked to lower the tongue, keeping all else constant.

They also noted that a change in tongue position can “cause a transition between different playing register.” In other words, you can shift tongue position and change partials on a brass instrument.

This has some interesting implications for brass performers and teachers. Some folks swear that they keep their tongue position consistent, regardless of what register they play in. This view is in the minority and I suspect that players who claim this aren’t even aware of their shifting tongue position. That said, different people are going to have variations in the size and shape of their mouth and tongue and it would be interesting to compare those players. I’m also curious about the difference between different traditional brass instruments. Do trumpet players change the position of their tongue more or less than tuba players?

Regardless, I think that research like this suggests that tongue position is an important part of playing in tune and with a focused tone on a brass instrument. Players and teachers dealing with intonation issues or poor tone may want to investigate what is happening with the tongue position and work out practice approaches that can help a player learn how to achieve an optimal tongue position according to the register being played.

fMRI Study Shows Tongue Position While Playing Horn

Dr Peter Iltis conducted a study using a functional MRI chamber at the Biomedical NMR Lab at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, watching hornist Sarah Willis’s tongue position as she plays in different registers, different tonguing patterns, and different dynamics. This (safely) replicates some of the fluoroscopic studies that were done with brass players. Check out some of the footage.

It’s pretty clear in this video that her tongue position raises as she ascends and lowers as she descends. I also find it interesting how there is a slight “bump” with the tongue arch when slurring. In other words, her tongue arch to slur up might jump up high and then snaps down to a slightly lower position, but still higher than it was on the lower note. This may be the equivalent of attacking the note with the tip of the tongue, giving it an extra push to slot, but with a much smoother attack to the pitch for slurred notes.

Iltis is interviewed about his research on a second video. Since he is also a horn player he has a good understanding of how brass players play as well as are taught about tonguing.

Tongue Arch Up Against the Molars

Here’s a question I got a while back from Boaz.

After several times starting to play trumpet daily, I’ve just noticed that the left side of my tongue doesn’t make contact with the upper molars, but my right side does.  I believe this has an effect on focusing the airstream (in all if not the middle to high range), puffing my cheeks and overall ease of playing.  The cheek that puffs the most is the left side which is solved if I focus on keeping the tongue touching both the top-left and top-right molars.  I literally feel like the air escapes from the throat to my left cheek, then out the lips.  With the tongue touching the teeth I feel as if I can finally perform lipslurs primarily using only the tongue arch.

The problem is that the low range doesn’t sound resonant because I’m not used to this yet and that my tongue level is too high now.  In time I’m hoping my body will adjust to this and that I’m hoping this is a step to correct playing.  Can you tell me if you have found the tongue touching the upper molars consistent in most if not all ranges of brass playing?  I’m not sure how different trombone would affect the tongue in terms of the tongue arch.

What you are describing, Boaz, is very similar to something Donald Reinhardt wrote about in his Encyclopedia of the Pivot System as one of his less common tongue types. In this tongue type after the tongue tip’s backstroke attack the sides of the tongue will contact the inner sides of the upper teeth and remain there for slurring and sustaining. This technique is used by many “squeak artist” trumpet players because the narrow passage the air stream must travel between the high tongue arch and the roof of the mouth (along with proper coordination of the breathing and embouchure) helps these players get into the extreme upper register.

Boaz also discovered the drawback to using this tongue technique – the difficulties in the low range. Reinhardt didn’t recommend it for all-around brass playing for this very reason. Quoting Reinhardt:

…[I]f this high tongue-arch is maintained the lower register will suffer accordingly, because the size of the air column is entirely too limited as it passes over the tongue. Players in this category claim that if they permit the tongue-arch to be lowered to accommodate the lower tones they cannot bring the tongue back to its original position for the upper register, unless they inhale and start again. I repeat, the tongue type one (this is Reinhardt’s term for this tongue type) is not recommended or intended for all-around brass playing.

I have heard that players with unusually large oral cavities (particularly a tall roof of the mouth) are able to mitigate the difficulties in the low register. I’ve not explored this tonguing method much myself, but I don’t have much of an issue bringing my tongue arch back up after descending into the low register without needing to inhale and start again. It’s hard to say what’s physically happening to the players Reinhardt noted in the quote above. Generally speaking, I think it’s better to adopt one method to apply the tongue arch and stick with it, rather than switching around, but it seems to be less necessary for long-term playing than adopting a single embouchure type is.

As far as the cheek puff Boaz mentions, this is something I’d want to watch to offer any specific advice. There are some circumstances when a cheek puff seems to be necessary and proper for certain players, but that’s typically more with trumpet players who have very small oral cavities and while they play in the upper register very loudly. Some low brass players may find it helpful to play in the extreme low register. In all of these situations, however, I feel it’s important to keep the cheek puff as far away from the mouth corners as possible. When the cheek puff is allowed to pull the corners away it can start to mess with the embouchure.

Got any thoughts yourself? Do you use a similar method to Boaz with your tongue arch? If so, how do you deal with the difficulties it tends to cause in the lower register? Please leave your comments below.

Embouchure Question – Tongue Between Teeth

grain of saltI’m in the process of cleaning out my email inbox and getting back to all the questions I’ve gotten over the past few months. Here’s one that I thought would be interesting enough to post here. Bob writes:

In the past we have touched on the the idea of TCE. I have some questions,or maybe I would like to hear some more of your observations of Why, the tongue between the teeth would hinder development of sound, range, flexibility. I am just very interested as to why I find this working so well and so easily for me. My range continues to grow in both directions as well as improvement in my tone. I’m not on a Devil’s advocate idea,just trying to gain some insight, if there is any,as to why is it embouchure specialists are so against something that I find wonderful for playing.

I don’t mind people playing devil’s advocate at all, and this is an interesting topic to discuss, regardless of what your personal thoughts are. I do think it’s accurate to state that playing with your tongue between your teeth is discouraged by most. However, it’s not completely unheard of. As I’ve brought up in other posts here, advocates of a “tongue controlled embouchure” (sometimes abbreviated as “TCE”) recommend the tongue tip presses against the lower lip while playing. Donald Reinhardt noted this phenomenon and listed it as one of his rare tongue types, correct for players with “long thick lower lips with exceptionally short stumpy lower teeth.” It’s possible that the reason Bob finds this technique so wonderful for playing is because it simply is the best possible method for his anatomical features.

That said, there are some folks who adopt a tongue controlled embouchure who I strongly suspect would be better off in the long term doing something different. Every player who plays with the tongue between the teeth like this I’ve heard in person (and almost without exception on video or audio too) has a tone that I find less-than-pleasant. Even if it gives them great high range, I just don’t like the way it sounds. If this doesn’t describe you, or if you’re happy with the sound, then perhaps it will be fine. For the large majority of players, however, there are some drawbacks to keeping the tongue between the lips that may not be obvious in the short term.

First, the attacks. If you’re attacking each pitch with the tongue striking the lips you’re working harder than you need to on each attack. Yes, some players get quite good at clean attacks this way, but there are more split second adjustments that need to happen compared to having your lips already in position for the the pitch and tonguing behind the teeth. Keeping the attacks clean with the tongue against the lips takes more vigilance than otherwise and I suspect that valuable practice time is better served working on other things that will work better in the long term.

Typically, keeping your tongue on the lips will require a more open jaw position than I think is optimal for the long term. There are a lot of players who get used to playing with a more open jaw position (with and without the tongue on the lips) that learn to play well, but in the long term this seems to run the risk of problems. Just this past weekend I worked with a horn player who couldn’t hold pitches steady. One of the things that ended up having a beneficial effect on her playing was to bring her teeth closer together. She had been playing at a high level for decades, but eventually she couldn’t make this technique work (and to be clear, there were other issues going on here and it wasn’t just the jaw position hindering her playing).

Donald Reinhardt, one of my go-to sources for brass embouchure form and function, felt that attacking the pitch with the tongue between the lips was one of the worst techniques for range, flexibility, endurance, and playing confidence. According to Reinhardt, this is because the mouthpiece ends up “bobbing and shifting its position during any detached tongued passages.” The brass player risks subconsciously letting up on the mouthpiece pressure prior to the attack and then the mouthpiece will be suddenly thrust back against the lips for the attack. All this thrusting of the mouthpiece back and forth of the mouthpiece against the lips means that your lips are taking a beating while playing.

As I’ve speculated on other posts about the tongue controlled embouchure, keeping the tongue tip against the lower lip while playing may provide a range boost for players because the forward position of the tongue really helps the player focus the air stream against the embouchure aperture. For some downstream players the tongue also ends up providing some of the lip compression that are more typically (and more correctly, in my opinion) done at the mouth corners. For players who find the tongue on the lower lip effective I recommend taking the tongue tip and instead attacking pitches behind the upper teeth and then snapping it to press against the gully behind and below the lower teeth. The tongue center can then be pressed forward towards the compressed embouchure formation but be kept off the lips entirely. This allows the jaw position to be closed enough for long-term progress and the muscular effort done at the mouth corners instead. Yes, this will take practice and time to make work, but I feel it’s better for most players over the long term.

I’ll close my thoughts again by quoting Reinhardt because in my experience I’ve found the following to be accurate.

Whenever a performer permits his tongue to penetrate between his teeth and lips, he is actually opening them to allow the tip of his tongue to penetrate between them. In so doing, he is subconsciously depending upon the timing of his reflexes to bring his lips together again for the purpose of vibrating. Some players get by in this manner for years but as they advance in age and their reflexes slow down, the real playing difficulties commence. Learn to use your tongue without molesting the embouchure formation in any way.

– Donald Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System

So Bob, maybe your experience is absolutely correct for you, but not most other folks. Maybe the reason you find it works better is because there’s something else you’re doing (or not doing) while playing without the tongue between the lips that makes a tongue controlled embouchure work better in the short term, but a different approach would work better in the long term. Since I haven’t been able to watch you play I can only speculate. Take my thoughts with a big grain of salt.

 

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?

Free Buzzing Questions – How To Use Your Tongue

Chris sent me a message recently asking for some thoughts on free buzzing. If you haven’t already done so, you might want to check out my post on free buzzing to understand Chris’s questions and my response.

Hi Dave,

I’ve a question about buzzing a la reinhardt. There is one thing he doesn’t mention and that is the tongue except for saying to use a breath attack.

The reason I ask is that I have a wide tongue and would fit into tongue Type One. I feel that the tongue takes a lot of the normal work off the embouchure though, which is a good thing for playing probably, except that muscle that really focus the aperture are still surprisingly week despite a lot of buzzing etc.

I’ve been trying Buzzing a la Reinhardt while keeping the tongue down and my buzzing range drops by more than an octave AND even a middle G (trumpet) feels like twice as much effort is happening at the embouchure to hold the air focused.

I think this might be why buzzing has never really had a huge effect on my playing and the tongue doing so much air-focusing work has stymied the development of my embouchure a bit, at least in terms of strength.

What do you think?
Cheers!

Reinhardt did instruct his students to avoid using the tongue when practicing his free buzzing exercises. He found that it helped players get better response by forcing them to set the lips to vibrating with the air alone and not using the tongued attack as a crutch. It also can be useful for certain corrections while playing, tonguing on the lips, for example.

Reinhardt doesn’t mention what the player should do with his or her tongue once the buzz has been established in his free buzzing routines. I’ve always found it best to hold my tongue while buzzing in the same way that I slur and sustain pitches while playing, in my case the tongue tip snaps down to the gully below my lower teeth and gums and presses forward slightly. Whatever your tongue does normally while playing is probably correct also for free buzzing.

Reinhardt’s Tongue-Type One is one of the less common ones and wasn’t generally recommended by Reinhardt because of “the marked limitations in the lower register.” After the attack the Tongue-Type One performer’s tongue snaps back in the mouth while the sides of the tongue are held in contact with the upper teeth. This focuses the air through a much smaller mouth cavity and really helps some players with getting out very high notes. The drawback is that it tends to thin out the sound in the low register. Reinhardt warned, “the tongue type one is not recommended or intended for all-around brass playing.”

Reinhardt’s warnings aside, there are some great players that are known to use this tongue type, typically trumpet players known for their upper register work. I think that I would generally agree with Reinhardt that this tongue type is probably not best for most players, particularly for general all-around brass playing.

Since I haven’t been able to watch you play, Chris, I really can’t say if you might be better served with a different tongue type. As you alluded to above, I suspect that if you tried to change your tongue type for playing you might find a similar drop in range while playing as you do for free buzzing. It’s possible that after an adjustment period your range would come back or it’s also possible that the Tongue-Type One is the best for you. Hard to say without watching you play.

Getting back to which tongue type to use while free buzzing, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to not be able to buzz as high if you try adopting another tongue type for free buzzing. The point of the exercise isn’t to see how high you can buzz but to strengthen the muscles at the mouth corners and lower lip area. If adopting a different tongue type while buzzing makes for a drop in range but increased work in those areas then it might be best to keep your tongue in that position for the exercise. It also might be a good way to help you learn a different tongue type for playing, if you decide that this is the route you want to take. It’s probably worth experimenting with for a while, as long as you don’t overdo free buzzing in the first place.

Good luck and please keep us posted on how things turn out!

Practice Reflections: Tonguing the Initial Attack

As I mentioned last Monday, this week I’ve been revisiting focusing on my tonguing for much of my routine technique practice.  In particular, I’ve been paying attention to how I tongue the initial attacks after breathing in different registers and listening carefully for the results.

I think one thing that sets off the really great players from the rest of us is they don’t get complacent with any aspect of their technique (or maybe I should say, I personally get complacent from time to time and it holds me back).  In years past I’ve spent lots of trombone practice time working on not bottling up the air with my tongue just before the initial attack.  When I do, the attack is too explosive sounding and doesn’t match the articulation of any subsequent attacks on the same breath.  This was particularly challenging for me in the register above F4, where I would often crack the attack.  These days I no longer usually split those notes on the initial attack (just sometimes, which is still too much), so I figured that I was heading in the right direction here and quit spending time daily on it. Continue reading Practice Reflections: Tonguing the Initial Attack

Tonguing and Accuracy

Trombonist and music educator, Dr. Rodney Lancaster, sent me a link to a short essay he wrote on tongue placement and accuracy.  It’s a quick read and offers some suggestions on how to practice tongue placement.  In practicing out of Claude Gordon’s bass clef book Lancaster found that working on his tongue position greatly improved his accuracy.

First, I have to offer a disclaimer.  My knowledge of Gordon’s approach is second hand, I’ve never ready any of his books.  I have closely followed some online discussions about Gordon that included former students of his and watched some players warm up with it, so I think I have the gist of it.  That said, take my comments with a grain of salt (good advice even if I do think I know what I’m talking about).

In my opinion, Gordon’s approach overemphasizes pedal tone practice.  If your pedal tone/false tone embouchure doesn’t match your normal playing embouchure you should definitely spend your time instead working on connecting your high range embouchure down and stay away from a lot of pedals.  Frankly, I think there are better things for trumpet players to practice that do the same thing without risking developing multiple embouchures.  Trombone players in general seem to be better able to play pedals with their normal embouchure (something about the construction of the instruments, perhaps, or maybe the size of the mouthpiece).  However, trombonists sometimes change their embouchure to play pedals in which case I usually recommend they adjust their routine to connect their normal embouchure down, rather than pedal range up.

At any rate, Lancaster’s essay discusses his experience practicing Gordon’s exercises on trombone and using them to work on the position of his tongue inside his mouth.

In tonguing these arpeggios, you will teach yourself where the tongue should be placed on each given note.  For example, one must tongue lower for low notes and higher for a high note.  Having said that, as you practice part two, memorize (subconsciously perhaps) where you had to place the tongue for each given note.  It is a type of muscle memory exercise.

Continue reading Tonguing and Accuracy

Questions About Bernoulli’s Principle and Brass Playing

How does the Bernoulli’s Principle apply to brass playing? I’m not a physicist (almost completely self-taught in that area), so I must acknowledge that this is an area where I just may be way off base. So rather than try explain this in detail, I’m going to simply offer my understanding at this time and ask my readers to help me fill in the gaps and correct any misinformation. I’ve heard contradictory statements about this from sources I trust, so perhaps this is another area where even experts still disagree.

First, what is the Bernoulli Principle? The relevant part for brass playing is that a fluid (or air, in our case) moving with a change in pressure will also be accompanied by a change in speed.  This physical law is often cited (including by me) as the reason why brass players change the level of tongue arch according to the range being played.  The higher the register, the higher in the mouth the tongue will arch, resulting in the air moving through a smaller area inside the mouth.  The general reasoning here is that this results in the air striking the lips with faster speed/higher pressure, making the faster vibrations for the high register easier.

I recently got an email from Darryl who is trying to help me come to grips with why this might be wrong.

The pressure that one can create by lung pressure is the maximum pressure that will exist just before the embouchure, regardless of how one “narrows” the path before the aperture. The total pressure of the air is, at best, exactly the same as the lung pressure. Regardless of the air’s velocity of flow as it approaches the aperture. Continue reading Questions About Bernoulli’s Principle and Brass Playing

Tonguing For Brass Playing

Along with breathing and embouchure, tonguing is one of the basic mechanical areas brass players need to regularly practice.  We all learn to speak from a very young age and are used to using our tongue without needing to think about it at all, so manipulation of the tongue while playing a brass instrument is often quite subconscious.  Still, I feel it’s a good idea to understand how brass players’ tongues functions when things are working efficiently and also understand what methods correlate with playing problems.

When I teach tonguing I try to help my students avoid an issue that is one of my tonguing weaknesses, tonguing too hard.  An analogy that works pretty well is to consider the tonguing to be a refining, not defining, feature of the attack.  The moving air creates the pitch, the attack of the tongue is simply shaped by the backstroke of the tongue. Continue reading Tonguing For Brass Playing