Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tonguing and articulation

The use of the tongue is an issue that keeps many saxophonists busy. How the tongue is used differs between classical saxophonists and jazz/pop saxophonists. One thing remains constant, and that is that the tongue plays an intrical part in our performance of music, regardless of genre. Often the tongue is ignored when intonation is spoken of. The position of the tongue in your mouth has a lot to do with the timbre and intonation of your notes.

For example:

* Say the letter "A" really exaggerated, so that you form a kind of smile on your face. Do you notice how the tongue is raised toward the middle of your mouth? Do you notice how the tongue touches your teeth lightly on both sides?

* Now blow gently. Do you notice how the air is flowing from your mouth? Straight and center isn't it?

* Now play middle "c" on your saxophone with this position in mind. Notice how it sounds. Notice the timbre.

* Now play middle "c" again but with tongue towards the bottom of your mouth. Just say "Duh" (like a doofus) :-). Notice how that sounds? The intonation dropped didn't it?

* Now alternate back and forth between these tongue positions and take note as to what happens.

The think the choice will be easily as far as the tone and intonation you'd rather have.

Now with your tongue in the above "A" position, your tongue is kind of "balled-up", isn't it? The "tip" of your tongue is no longer a "tip", but nearly flattened and the outer edge of your tongue faces forward toward the back of your front teeth.

Consider this example for a moment: An oboist, bassoonist, any double-reed player has 3 options as to where he/she may articulate. The upper reed, the lower reed, or between the upper and lower reeds. We saxophonists have only two options.

We may articulate underneath the reed, or between the reed and mouthpiece. Tonguing between the reed and mouthpiece shortens the distance between the tongue and the point of articulation on the reed. Tonguing underneath the reed may be "more powerful", but it is also a longer distance and may be difficult to articulation quickly and softly.

Try this experiment, if possible with a tape recorder, or a microphone attached to your computer, MP3 recorder, Mini-Disc player, whatever you have at your disposal. Record yourself playing repetitive staccato on one note the way you normally play, and then with this above "A" position. Behind the saxophone (where we all stand) we may not notice too much difference in sound and attack. But in front of the saxophone, the results may be astonishing.

This "A" tonguing technique may feel awkward at first try, but with a little practice you may notice that you can tongue faster and cleaner this way. The main key here is that the distance between the tongue and the mouthpiece opening has been shortened. Give it a try!

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de or mailto:evan@evantate.de



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