Articulate Adventures

Articulation is such a funny little thing and always appears much easier than it actually is. I’ve spent a large amount of time these past few days thinking about articulation, how to practice it, manipulate it, as well as how to teach it.

My pedagogical theory that “one size does not fit all” is just as applicable to articulation as it is to embouchure, voicing, and fundamental techniques. Now, many years and teachers later, I find that my theory on tonguing and articulation has changed … significantly.

Articulation should neither hinder the air nor the voicing in all ranges of the instrument. In order to make sure these two are not affected by articulation we must first make sure that the voicing and tongue placement in the mouth is also correct.

Voicing is an article in and of itself – but through my studies, research, and work I’ve come to learn that the voicing should actually be high and forward in the mouth. If anything, one should think of raising the middle of the tongue versus the back of the tongue. It should follow the contour of the persons mouth – you’re creating a ventricular passage-way by using the tongue and the roof of the mouth. It’s like the water hose effect, the pressure is changed by the thumb just as the water is exiting the hose, you wouldn’t get the same effect if the pressure was changed farther back . Same concept with the air in the mouth, the shape of the air is changed just before it enters the mouthpiece.

Raising the tongue really high in the back of the mouth forces the muscle down into the throat and pulls the tip farther away from the reed and mouthpiece. This causes a snow ball effect in regards to back pressure and the throat starts dong weird things in order to control the air to compensate for lack of air pressure in the front of the mouth. Further more, this forces the player to bite to get the resistance the want. Of course, this changes from mouthpiece to mouthpiece…a story for another day.

Okay – so that being said – tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed works with a higher voicing in the back of the throat only. This effect often times produces thuds, grunts, and unclean attacks. Not to mention a variety of embouchure issues. By putting the tongue more forward in the mouth the throat can rest in its natural position. This changes how one articulates and can vary from one person to the next depending on length of tongue and size of aural cavity. For me, because I have a larger tongue than most, articulate farther up on the tongue than others with shorter tongues. That contact point on the tongue ensures that I’m not affecting the voicing or the air flow while articulating.

And I can still articulate the Mendelssohn scherzo at a quarter note equals 94 cleanly (I’m a freak of nature, I know) and have no issues single tonguing the Nielsen Concerto in that nasty section on the bottom of the third page where it’s marked at 144. In many cases, it’s actually easier for me. It just took some time getting used to the change…or well…still is. I often find myself wanting to revert to my old habits which just means I need to be a bit more diligent about my warm-ups.

I’ll explain in more detail at another point – just turning my thoughts into words and figuring out the layout for the chapter in my book. I should probably draw some pictures or something…but that requires more work and I’m tired.

It’s so interesting to see how everything is inter-connected when it comes to playing, particularly in regards to one’s aural cavity and embouchure formation.


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