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Tonguing

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15 aug 2009 12:53 #316 by Kendall Betts
Tonguing was created by Kendall Betts
Question:

I wanted to see if my memory was correct on tonguing. You instructed me to have a rounded tip of the tongue on the bottom of my upper teeth for all notes, thereby creating a “constant”, not a variable in tonguing. We then worked over Kopprasch 1-10 , slow slurred extreme dynamics, ultra short then at tempo, and I feel you helped my technique considerably. Any of my students who bought into this improved themselves as well.

I have run into criticism from collegiate colleagues, especially trombone teachers over this method of tonguing. I wanted to ask a few things-would you start a beginner using this? Also, what is the heritage of this style of tonguing? Did you learn from Mason Jones or at the Curtis Institute?

On a side note, I had a chance to play a new Lawson horn and I was amazed by how secure it was to blow. It seemed that anxieties sort of went away the longer I played. Unfortunately, I might have to settle for a leadpipe, but I’m saving my shekels!

Sincerely,
Erik Vigesaa

Kendall Betts answers:

Dear Eric,

Nice to hear from you after these many years and congratulations on your teaching position!

Your memory is correct in regard to tonguing the shortest notes by "spitting" i.e. hitting your upper lip and the bottom of the front teeth simultaneously. I was taught this by my teacher in high school, Ward Fearn, second horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra with James Chambers and Mason Jones from 1942-1965. I believe this technique was taught to all students at Curtis by Anton Horner and was certainly passed on by them to their students. Mr. Jones never mentioned it, though perhaps he didn't have to in my case since I had previously learned it from Mr. Fearn before I entered Curtis.

On page 4 of Primary Studies for the French Horn before study No. 1, Mr. Horner writes: "Attack each note with your tongue as though you had a small hair or tiny piece of thread on the end of your tongue and wanted to force it out of your mouth." I think we can take this as verification of Mr. Horner's thoughts on the subject. I recall Mr. Fearn saying that the reason for doing this is to achieve the shortest possible notes in order to match the other instruments due to the fact the horn bell goes backwards and the sound is altered by the acoustics of the space. He also said that conductors are always yelling at players to play shorter and that they are late. Through my own use of the technique and teaching it now for some 40 plus years, I can safely say that it works.

I now think of tonguing technique in theory and practice this way:

1) It makes sense to tongue the shortest notes as close to the source of sound (embouchure) as possible and move the tongue as short a distance as possible. Point the tongue and hit with the tip at the bottom of your upper lip. A minority of people have a flat tongue and can't shape it into a point. If that is the case, they should work to find the lowest point on their front teeth to make a seal. You need to make compression so the air stream has to be good! You are literally "spitting it out!"

2) Once this is grooved in by slow practice and self analysis, you can tongue hitting different points inside your mouth. As you move your tonguing point further from the source of the sound, longer length notes result. "Medium" staccato is usually achieved by hitting the top of the front teeth or front of the palate. Legato tonguing comes from hitting the roof of the mouth.

As to your trombone playing colleagues, I can only think of what my Roman History professor at Penn told the class: "When studying history, always consider the source."

Happy to hear you liked the Lawson. I can help you with a lead-pipe for your present instrument at any time and will welcome your continued contact!

My very best wishes to you for your continued success in your career!

Sincerely,

Kendall

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