Tongue and Cheek, So to Speak

urgeon General’s Warning:

What will commence post this run-on sentence, an onslaught of clarinet pedagogical mumbo-jumbo, may be disastrous to your health. Please do not drive after the consumption of the following material as you may kill people. Thank you.

My practice sessions today were interesting. I learned a lot and posed a variety of new questions that I’ll inevitably  spend the next few weeks researching.

Today seemed to revolve around tonguing and articulation. What aspects create an efficient warm-up, one that is progressive to the player’s needs, builds upon a certain set of skills, but also NOT counterproductive? Evidently it makes NO sense to jump right in those tonguing exercises that are so virtuosic that they instil sheer terror. Duh! But so few studies and methods seem to revolve around the slow and effective development. Or, well, let me rephrase that…the ones that do focus on a slow development are SO slow that it becomes rather counterproductive (baring in mind my poster child status for ADHD). The key here is efficiency, focusing on the weaker aspects of your playing versus the strong ones.

For me, and MANY others, practicing has always started with long tones. Long tones are a means of just making sure everything is working properly and everything is where is should be: voicing, air, and embouchure. After which, I move on to tonguing. Here, I float around various exercises from the Demnitz, Lagenus, Vade-Mecum, Kell, to other patterns or sequences from the repertoire I’m working on.

Here recently, I’ve FALLEN in love with Book II of Uhl, Etude No. 2, the quintuplets staccato exercise, LOVE that.

The interesting thing I’ve been noticing, on my pedagogical quest to ENLIGHTENMENT, is that after my tonguing exercises (more of a marathon, depending on who you’re talking to), my tone and sound production are exponentially better than after long tones.

My Quest to Pedagogical Enlightenment

So, in effect, wouldn’t it make more sense and be more efficient for me to start with articulation studies and then progress to long tones, or perhaps incorporate both making it all one exercise?

Long tones are great for numerous reasons, I go back and forth between exercises from plain old 12ths to Yehuda long tones, to Ixi long tones. And at this stage in my playing, the long tone exercise are really catered to whatever tasks or techniques I wish to accomplish. In the end, though, I always go back to long tones when I need to work on creating a more homogenous sound, flexibility of color and tone, and vibrancy.

Me After Numerous Practice Sessions

But back to the subject at hand.

Tone and sound production seem to be better after tonguing, I believe, because of the key factors that create good tonguing: extremely efficient air and production, a certain flexibility in the embouchure (to a degree, I’m not talking about a rubbery and moving orbicular muscle. No, it needs to be flexible yet a stable place for the reed to vibrate), and the throat needs to be in its normal position as opposed to too tight or forced to relax, and the voicing has to be high and forward.

You can really feel when your voicing is off in the altissimo register. If it’s to low, every time you articulate, you’re going to cringe when you hear the undertone. And in tonguing scales in sixths, inefficient air and lazy voicing will result in the upper 6th popping out like a needle to a balloon, not to mention you LOSE all homogeneous concepts of sound.

Tonguing has never been an issue for me, oddly enough. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in my undergrad learning how it works in relationship to the instrument and technique, and in the past two years have discovered that it becomes exponentially better (and easier) when the air is working as it should.

I want to AVOID this!

Not really certain where I’m going with this, except maybe I need to re-evaluate my long tones. I feel like there is this really rigid warm-up routine that MUST be followed. I’ve studied with some really talented and amazing performers and pedagogues, all of whom had similar warm-up routines starting with long tones.

I need to break that mold.

Maybe I’m not catering my long tone work to my specific needs. Or, maybe…ah…I don’t know, my brain just shut off.



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