Articulation, Range, and Arched Tongue

Question

Hello Mr. Sprott, 

First of all, thank you for not only taking the time to read emails from the trombone community, but to answer them in an effort to assist fellow trombonists continue to grow and improve. I apologize for the long email, but my question is a little hard to clearly explain. 

I see on your "Playing Tips" section that under the subcategory "High Range" you have the topic "Arched Tongue" listed, with no further information. This is an element I am excited to see, because I am currently experimenting with my understanding of an arched tongue, specifically in terms of how I articulate in the high range. I believe I have fundamentally had a flawed understanding of how to articulate in the high range, trying to keep the back of the tongue down (to avoid closing off the throat) while using the tip of the tongue to articulate. In essence, trying to use a tongue placement similar to a fourth line F or tuning Bb in the 8th partial and up. The results of this have included hesitant attacks, inconsistent reliability in the high range, lacking power and endurance, and an inability to ascend any higher than a high G without mild to severe discomfort. 

So I changed my approach, and allowed the back of my tongue to arch up. The results have been a "too good to be true" kind of miracle, and I would like to ask your perspective on the matter, specifically if you find in your playing you allow the tongue to arch up in the back, and if so, how exactly do you articulate in such a way that allows to tongue to remain in that position. 

I hope to hear back from you. 
xxxx

From Weston

Hey XXXX, 

Thanks for writing in. Your question is a good one, and it's also a reminder to me that whenever I find some time, I need to update my website! My pedagogical concepts are so much more complete now than they were when I first put a lot of things online. Time is in short supply these days. At any rate... 

The idea of the arched tongue has never been one that I think of with regards to articulation. Rather, it is a concept related to air compression. That being said, I almost never consciously think of arching my tongue or using the "E" vowel sound when I play. I think this is a technique that is most useful to increase the speed of air that is already at a very high speed. For example, I imagine some lead trumpeters or horn players think about this a fair amount. This video gives an explanation of the three main compression sources. I generally aim to only compress with the lips or the tongue as an absolute last resort. 99% of my playing occurs without consciously thinking about these compressions. 

Trombone is not one of the most high compression instruments. I find that I can get from the bottom of my range up to the F at the top of the treble clef staff by simply compressing from the source of the air and making sure that I hold my lips in place. I'll spare you the long explanation. Watch this video and you'll basically have a clear understanding of how I aim to play higher, lower, softer, and louder. I'm in complete agreement with James Morrison on this one. 

Regarding articulation, I don't think there is a correct place to articulate for high vs. low, and at least for me, it can be very confusing trying to control both ends of the tongue simultaneously. I prefer to simply think of a particular syllable and let things fall where they naturally want to go. If you get too deep in your thoughts, you can really create a "paralysis by analysis" issue. My general philosophy on articulation is that the closer the articulation occurs to the source of the vibration, the more firm it will sound. So, tonguing very far back in the mouth will create a very light articulation, while tonguing between the lips or between the teeth will create a very firm articulation. This holds true for all registers. Verbalize the following: THa, Ta, Da, Na, La (say La by licking the roof of your mouth). This is quick look into a nice palate of articulation, starting firm and getting progressively lighter. Practice being able to dial up this range of articulation in all registers. Don't worry about if you're using the tip of the tongue, the whole tongue, or raising the back. 

Long story short, choose the intensity of air you need to play a particular note, the width of aperture you need for a particular dynamic, and the appropriate syllable you need for the firmness articulation you desire. Move the slide at exactly the same time as you tongue. Choose a peak for each phrase. Check with the tuner, metronome, and recording device to see if your results are in alignment with your goals. 

Good luck! 

Weston

1 comment

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