Saturday, January 23, 2010



“The tongue serves no purpose in tone production other than to interfere. We must minimize its interference with precise diction.”

“Articulation must be thought of as way to manipulate sound, not body parts.”

“The first procedure to establish precise articulation on a wind instrument is to vocalize.”


“Tonguing is 5% consonant and 95% vowel.”

When I first began teaching Jake’s concepts of “Song and Wind” at Vandercook College in 1979, I added “Diction” as a corollary to “Wind”. I did so because the tongue, both front and rear, can be a major source of interference of tone production.

I once had a teacher say to me, “If I could cut the tongue out of your mouth, you would be a good tuba player.” I wasted many years of my life trying to determine what was wrong with my tongue and what I needed to do to fix it.

Eventually, I determined that my malfunctioning tongue was only a symptom of my state of mind. The more I focused on trying to correct my tongue, the less I focused on music. The inevitable result was an increasing paralysis of my tongue and all the other mechanics necessary to play. As I drifted further away from my awareness of music, the mechanics of playing weakened until I was completely paralyzed.


“Paralysis by Analysis.”

In everyday life, the tongue has three functions; to talk, to chew, and to taste. Accept for an occasional mishap when we bite our tongue, it functions beautifully in response to our everyday needs. The tongue is motivated by conscious need but it is controlled by the subconscious brain.

If we had to consciously think about the motion of tongue, vocal chords, and air in order to talk, we would be speechless. We normally pay no attention to the tongue except when there is something uncomfortable like a canker sore.


“We don’t consciously think about our tongue when producing the sound of words. We should not be thinking about it when articulating musical sounds.”

“No one wastes their time trying to control all the mechanics required to sustain life. If that was necessary, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else.”

A fourth use for the tongue is to articulate sound with a wind instrument. However, it is not necessary to learn a fourth skill because we simply transfer the skill that has already been established for language.

Just as they don’t think about fingering, no accomplished wind player consciously thinks about syllables when they play. Experienced string players don’t consciously think bowing direction when playing specific articulations.

If I ask a violinist about the specific bowing for a passage, they usually must move an imaginary bow to tell me how it would be done. The needs of the music dictate bowing not the other way around.

In the beginning, there must be conscious awareness of these motivating elements until the playing skills are established subconsciously and associated with sound. Ultimately, it’s the awareness of musical sound that motivates the mechanical skill.

However, if sound awareness is not stressed as a motivating factor, the player will attempt to substitute an awareness of mechanics and the sense of feel. This alternate approach has never worked for me or any of my students.


“Play by sound, not mechanics.”


“Feel and Fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

“Your instrument is already full of air, but it has no sound. Fill it with the sounds you want your audience to hear.”

What follows is only a brief dissertation of methods I have used to motivate proper articulation among students of all levels. However, the procedures use the precise pronunciation of syllables only as a starting point in the development of good articulation skills. The ultimate goal must be the player’s awareness of the sound of precise articulation, rather than syllables, as the primary motivating factor.


The syllables used for the basic marcato style of attack consist of a consonant and an open vowel (AH, OH, OU). Any of the open vowels are acceptable, but AH is the most commonly used because it’s the most open of three syllables. When we say the syllables OU, OH, AH, the tongue is forced further down in the mouth with each syllable.

Since the consonant represents the point of closure where no tone production is possible, it should receive little emphasis in the diction. Conversely, the vowel creates an open inner oral cavity which provides an opportunity for air flow to the embouchure. When I’m working with inexperienced students, I illustrate the syllable with a very small consonant (t) and a large vowel (tAH). Softer sounding (less marcato) consonants are (nAH) (dAH) (rAH) (lAH).

I never encourage the use of a closed vowel, such as EE. Some trumpet methods encourage the use of EE in the upper register. This illogical methodology purposes that a smaller air stream will vibrate a shorter embouchure. And a shorter embouchure (length) will make it easier to play high notes. I disagree! Encouraging resonant tone production will make it easier to play in the upper register!


“We should never sacrifice tone quality for any technical reason.”

H. E. NUTT (founder Vandercook College of Music)

“The first teaching point is to encourage tone production.”


I never discuss the motion of tongue and air with any wind player. However in the developmental stage, I do encourage the precise vocalization of syllables. Proper diction will motivate the correct motion air and tongue since this skill has already been established in language.

To encourage diction, I ask young brass players to carry on a one word conversation, using the word tAH. I explain that I want to hear tAH while they play as though they were speaking with their voice.

For the basic marcato attack, I use the first studies in Arban, Schlossberg, and Kopprasch with more advanced players who have developed good tone production and range. Diction should also be introduced early to an elementary level player in the beginning stages of developing mechanical skills.

To reinforce the syllable, I ask brass players to vocally sing their music using tAH. Next, they mentally sing the syllable while playing. I add further reinforcement by singing the syllable with them as they play.

When working with a mixed group of wind players, I always use an articulation syllable when singing to them. Diction must be reinforced repeatedly until the appropriate sound has been established. With less experienced brass players, it is necessary to reinforced diction over an extended period.


“Ultimately, it is the brass player’s powerful awareness of the sound that motivates diction, fingering, and every other mechanical element of playing.”

“The most powerful awareness of sound is achieved when mentally singing.”

“When you play the mouthpiece outside the instrument, you are mentally singing. If you play the mouthpiece in the same manner when it’s placed in the leadpipe, you will maintain the singing.”

“Play the mouthpiece, not the instrument.”

“The instrument is just a long mouthpiece with valves or a slide.”

“I gave up tuba playing long ago. Now, I play an eighteen foot mouthpiece with valves.”

“The mouthpiece has become my instrument so I play little attention to the extra tubing on the end of it.”

"Since the instrument has no intelligence or music of its own, it honestly reflects the intellect and music I send to it through the mouthpiece."


“There are two instruments. One is in your hands and one in your head. The instrument in your hands is a mirror reflecting the one in your head.”

Jake once remarked to me, “You have two different mouthpiece techniques. You must learn to play the mouthpiece the same way when it’s in the tuba.”

I was a very successful mouthpiece player when it was not in the instrument. There were absolutely no mechanical problems. However, when I placed it the leadpipe of the horn, immediately all sorts of mechanical problems paralyzed me. I could actually feel the paralysis begin as I moved the mouthpiece closer to the leadpipe. I could also feel the paralysis diminish as I moved the mouthpiece further away. Later, I understood that the instrument was powerfully influencing my state of mind in a negative way.


“If we don’t influence our instrument with a powerful awareness of music, the instrument will influence us in a manner that destroys our ability to function.”

“We waste too much time and energy trying to master playing our instrument. We must master the music before we can become masters of the instrument.”

“If you don’t master the music, you will become the slave of your instrument.”


“I never sit at the piano until I have first learned to play the music in my mind.”


The great violinist was once asked, “Maestro, you play so beautifully but why don’t I ever hear you practice?” His insightful response was, “Just because you don’t hear a violin does not mean I’m not practicing.”

Jake shared a story about a situation he experienced as a young man when he was hospitalized for an extended time. A tuba mouthpiece was brought to his hospital room. This gave him a lot of time to practice the mouthpiece alone. He remarked that his playing was much improved after the hospitalization.

The highly accomplished French trumpeter Maurice Andre, was an officer in the French army. There was a period of several months when he did not have access to a trumpet. However, he did have a mouthpiece that he could play. Later, he remarked, “I discovered that I was a much better trumpet player when I finally had an opportunity to play one.”


“Practice entire sessions on the mouthpiece alone to avoid having problems creep into your playing.”

“Sound is the criterion for how you do this and that.”


“If you can sing (buzz) it, you can play it.”


All forms of articulation must be vocalized before executing with the mouthpiece or instrument. To encourage tone production, Initial notes should be played in the mid-range and at a louder dynamic level, such as poco forte.

For the initial attack, the consonant is maintained but for subsequent notes only the vowel is retained (tAH-AH-AH-AH etc.). For easier execution, slow descending slurs using small intervals should be taught first.

Since the sound of slurred notes is sustained, I always use long tones to create an awareness of how slurred notes should also be a continuous sound. Then, we transfer the same sound to slurred notes.

Slow ascending slurs, using small intervals, should encouraged imitating the sound of the descending slur. I prefer to use the same notes, but in reverse, to minimize the distraction of playing unfamiliar notes. I never discuss air flow or changes of embouchure. Gradually the interval and velocity between slurred notes should be increased.

Brass players who do not follow a methodical development of slurs, become distracted by their low expectation of success. The result will be failure when playing ascending slurs over a wider interval.

I always remind my students that they do not have to be concerned the mechanics necessary to slur notes. However, they must be able to commit to mentally singing and buzzing the notes into the instrument.

If the brass player is unable to make a commitment to mentally singing, it is because their awareness is not powerful enough to transcend the distractions of the feel. The Sing, Buzz, Play (SBP) formula will always elevate their musical awareness to a point where they can maintain their concentration.


“Don’t be concerned about the mechanics necessary to play slurs or any other form of articulation. If you mentally sing the notes as you play them, I promise they will emerge from the bell exactly as you sang them.”

“Without creating a history of success, there can be no expectation of success.”

“Great physical strength is not required to play a brass instrument. However, we must have a powerful mind that can focus on the sound we want to send to the mouthpiece.”

I have been asked to explain the reason for Jake’s incredible success as a tuba player. He was able to compensate for his lifelong physical weakness with a powerful musical mind. He always said, “The only physical strength required to play the tuba is carrying it to the stage.” I brought the York to him on several occasions.


“(Physical) strength is your enemy. Weakness is your friend,”

“We should be somewhat unconscious of our physical maneuvers but highly conscious of our musical goals.”


Legato is an articulated form of pure slur. It’s used stylistically in jazz and other musical genres and to imitate the sound of pure slur on the trombone. A softer consonant, such as dAH, lAH, nAH, or rAH is used to substitute for the marked t sound. The open vowel (AH, OH, OU), following the consonant, must be maintained and emphasized in the sound.

Since legato is an imitated form of slur, the pure slur should be developed first. This can also be achieved be on the trombone by playing intervals within a single harmonic series. Some trombone players also use pure slur to play notes that move in the opposite direction of the slide. There will be no glissando, however there may be a “false” articulation. For this reason, many trombonist prefer to use legato whenever there is motion of the slide.

Legato should first be played on a stationary pitch, imitating the sound of sustained notes,without interruption of the tone. The first note usually begins with the basic marcato attack which is followed by the use of the softer consonant. (tAH-dAH-dAH-dAH etc.) Vocalization, with slide motion, must always take place before playing.

After the trombonist has achieved a good legato without motion of the slide, it can be introduced with slide motion. Too often, trombonists are first asked to play legato requiring large motions of the slide. The result is usually failure, because they are distracted by the slide. The slide motion should be one position (half step) and the direction should be descending. Gradually, the slide motion can be increased and ascending legato introduced.

The element of time is very important when coordinating the motion of slide and tongue. They must occur simultaneously. When I’m working with a group of players, I have them face each other in a circle so they are aware of each other’s slide motion just as string players are aware of each other’s bowing in an orchestra. I also have them subdivide quarter notes into duple and triple eighth notes for more precise rhythmic accuracy. I also like to simplify legato phrases by first playing them on a single note and to use alternate positions to minimize slide motion.


“Imitation of others is an important procedure to ascend the Ladder of Awareness.”

“SIMPLIFY AND TRANSFER is a learning process that allows a higher level of achievement. We progress from simple to complex musical challenges in an imitative manner.”

MULTIPLE ARTICULATION (double and triple tonguing)

The study of multiple articulation cannot begin before the brass player has achieved good tone production with the basic marcato attack. The player must have also achieved a fairly advanced level of technical facility.

I always challenge brass players first with triple, rather than double tonguing. The primary reason is the 2:1 ratio of the front of the tongue (tAH) to the back (kAH). For double tonguing, the ratio of front to back is 1:1 so the kAH syllable intrudes into the inner oral cavity more often. The (k) consonant is the new element in the syllabic pattern (tAH, tAH, kAH). It can be a major factor discouraging tone production.

Some brass and woodwind players prefer to apply the (k) consonant to the second syllable (tAH, kAH, tAH) rather than the third (tAH, tAH, kAH). There is nothing inappropriate about using this syllabic pattern. I prefer to place the (k) consonant on the third note for the following reasons.

1. The most widely used method for brass (Arban) places the (k) consonant on the third note.

2. The (tAH, tAH, kAH) syllabic pattern is distinctly different from the duple pattern (tAH, kAH, tAH, kAH). Applying the (k) consonant to the middle note means that we are essentially double tonguing the triplet. I found that when we perform multiple articulations in combination, duple and triple, it’s easier to distinguish the two syllabic patterns if they are different.

Any syllabic pattern, including a wide variety of consonants and open vowels, will work well if it can be vocalized first. I never recommend the closed vowel (ee) because it forces the tongue into the inner oral cavity, discouraging tone production. Since the tongue intrudes so much into the inner oral cavity, any

Since multiple articulation can be a major factor discouraging tone production, trumpet and woodwind players sometimes prefer to use softer consonants (dAH). Other open vowels (tOU, tOH) may also be used. For greater clarity, I always encourage the (t) consonant with the low brass.

It is very important that vocal singing be rhythmical and not too fast. The pitch should remain constant in order to transfer the articulation to the mouthpiece and instrument without valve or slide motion.

Here are some procedures I have used to develop rhythmic singing of multiple tonguing syllables.

1. First sing the figures using the same syllable for all three notes.

2. Next, imitate the same rhythm and diction but introduce the new third syllable.

3. Another procedure is to eliminate the third syllable entirely by singing only the first two in strict triplet rhythm.
tAH tAH rest tAH tAH rest

4. Then the kAH can be precisely placed in the eighth rest.

Once the syllables have been developed vocally, they should be transferred to mouthpiece playing at a fairly loud dynamic. Since the tongue is intruding so much into the inner oral air space, we must play loud to encourage and maintain tone production. I may also place a sustained note before the triplet to create good tone production that can be immediately transferred to the triplet.

Loud Half Note tAH tAH kAK tAH tAH kAH Loud Quarter Note

The final step in the procedure is to transfer the mouthpiece playing to the instrument without changing valves or slide motion (same notes).


The multiple tonguing exercises in Arban are not organized progressively. I pick and choose the studies in the following order.

1. The same pitch within the triplet for the entire measure.

2. The same pitch within the triplet but pitch levels change within the measure.

3. One pitch changes within the triple.

4. All three notes change within the triplet.

Each study should be single tongued first at a moderate tempo. It is important to maintain a resonant tone with precise rhythm and tempo. The use of a metronome is recommended.

Triple tonguing should imitate the single tongue precisely. There should be no difference in sound between the two. Gradually, the tempo should be increased beyond the player’s ability to single tongue comfortably.

I frequently challenge myself by double or triple tonguing technical etudes that are normally slurred such as the 13th Characteristic Study in Arban.

Once the player as achieved success in triple tonguing, I apply the same procedures to double tonguing. Finally, I challenge my students with combination double and triple tonguing studies and repertoire.

(triplet eighths, tAH tAH kAH four sixteenths, tAH kAH tAH kAH)


“Musical and technical development is the result of musical and technical challenge.”


Proper articulation is a necessary skill used to regulate good tone production. However, the tongue does not produce sound. Poor articulation can be a major factor inhibiting tone production. The player can never achieve good articulation skills if they have not also achieved good tone production. Articulation and tone production are not separate. They must be thought of as equal components of a healthy brass technique.

Since the tongue is not involved, the pure (lip) slur is a factor encouraging tone production. Because of the interference of the tongue in the inner oral air cavity, any other form of articulation must be considered to be a factor discouraging tone production.

Diction is only a tool used to motivate the proper motion of breath and tongue. Ultimately, the player’s awareness of sound must become the primary motivating factor.

Brass players should practice the same technical exercises with a wide variety of articulated patterns. The goal is always to maintain good tone quality and musical style regardless of the technical challenge.


“There is no reason for your success or failure other than your state of mind.”

“Sound motivates function.”


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