There are a wide variety of note attacks and releases available to us as wind players, and we should strive to incorporate as many of them as possible into our playing. In the twenty-five excerpts that are highlighted on the website, there are three specific types that come up repeatedly:
- “Resonant endings”
- Fast single tonguing
Each of these styles of articulation should begin in the same manner: by preparing the air with the abdominals, placing the tongue on the reed, and then releasing the tongue to allow the air to flow. The air should always be pressurized and ready, and the tongue should act as a valve that opens the flow of the already pressurized air. Weisberg compares the function of the tongue to a water faucet—when the tongue is released from the reed, the air should begin flowing immediately, just like when you open a faucet.1
One of the most important concepts in wind articulation is “resonance.” Most instruments—including violins, drums, and even the human voice—have a natural resonance that allows the sound of a note to ring after it is played. Wind instruments, however, have absolutely zero natural resonance.2 This difference can be clearly observed by comparing a staccato note on a wind instrument with a staccato note on a violin. If a violinist bows a short note, the body of the instrument will continue to resonate for a short amount of time; however, if a wind player articulates a similarly short note by ending it with the tongue, the sound of the note will stop abruptly.
The only way for wind players to recreate this natural resonance is to use a combination of the airstream and embouchure to give a slight taper to the ending of the note. Weisberg describes this type of note release as a “resonant ending,” and describes it as “an extension of the technique of making a diminuendo.”3 To create a resonant ending, the air must quickly taper while the embouchure simultaneously tightens to compensate for the inevitable drop in pitch.
Another important type of articulation is the staccato, which can be performed in two basic ways:
- Started and stopped with the tongue
- Started with the tongue and stopped with the breath
Waterhouse explains that our choice of staccato should be determined by the effect we wish to produce in the music:
When stopping a note, there are occasions when we wish to terminate it precisely—chopping it off cleanly as if it were a slice of salami. At other times a more artistic effect will be called for—allowing the sound to die away like the tail of a comet. For the former we may use the tongue, for the latter the breath.4
First, let’s examine the type of staccato that ends by placing the tongue back onto the reed and closing the valve to the airstream. Waterhouse examines this type of staccato in great detail, pointing out that this tongue action should not be excessively forceful:
By placing the tongue lightly back on the reed we stop the vibrating of the blades, controlling in this way the duration and termination of the note. With notes in rapid succession, it makes a short and rapid excursion away from the reed and back again. Care must be exercised taken [sic] not to allow the action of the tongue to chop off abruptly the end of a note or phrase. Its impact should not be violent like a cushion hitting a pole.5
Ending the note with the tongue is ideal for groups of quick staccato notes, such as the eighth-note passages in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Waterhouse explains that creating the staccato separation with only the tongue allows the airstream, jaw, and embouchure to remain unchanged, which means that only a small amount of tongue movement is necessary to articulate faster notes:
The most powerful benefit conferred is that we can maintain support and embouchure undisturbed throughout the entire duration of the breath, which is advantageous in a number of ways. By terminating a note in this manner, we are in position to sound the next pitch with the security of the same well-judged and undisturbed settings of lips, mouth and throat retained in place; the short note is enabled to share all the acoustic qualities of a long note, avoiding the risk of an undue proportion to [sic] noise to signal.6
Weisberg also reiterates that short notes should retain the same sound quality as longer notes:
It is essential that the student realize from the start that this type of short note is nothing more than a fragment of a long note. It is produced in exactly the same way and must have exactly the same tone quality and intonation. There is nothing different about a short note and no special way of tonguing or using the air other than sustaining it. The tongue must not influence the embouchure in any way in the playing of short notes. It must remain independent.7
In his article “Articulation on Bassoon: Should the Jaw Move?” Terry Ewell recommends developing variety in our articulation by practicing what he calls “articulation drives.”8 An articulation drive involves repeating a quarter note at a static tempo while incrementally transforming the articulation from one end of the spectrum to the other—for example, beginning with the shortest possible articulation and moving to the most legato, and vice-versa. Most importantly, there should be > no> jaw motion during these exercises. This type of practice is very useful for developing different lengths of tongue-stopped staccatos, and we should strive to be able to consciously choose which length of staccato we want to apply to any given passage.9
The second type of staccato—the type that is started with the tongue and stopped with the breath—is simply a variation of the aforementioned “resonant ending.” However, when resonant endings are used for faster staccato notes like those in the “March to the Scaffold” of Symphonie fantastique, the ending should be created more by the motion of the jaw than the decay of the breath. The jaw motion that we want to eliminate for quicker staccato notes is actually desirable for staccato notes with resonant endings. The airstream should remain alive for this type of bouncy staccato, and it is the jaw motion that should provide most of the taper at the end of the note. It is important, however, to develop an acute awareness of this jaw movement so that it does not find its way into our tongue-stopped staccato.
A number of the excerpts on the website, such as Mozart’s Haffner Symphony and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, test the player’s tonguing speed and endurance. While some players swear by double-tonguing, I believe it is possible to develop a single tongue that is fast enough for these excerpts. There is no magic formula, but the two main factors to concentrate on are the quality of the airstream and the movement of the jaw and tongue. David McGill, who also does not double tongue, explains:
In order to increase the speed of one’s tonguing, concentrate on moving the tongue the least amount possible, while coupling it with highly concentrated air pressure. Imagine that you are supporting the tongue on the airstream as a flapping flag is supported by a strong breeze… Also, think of playing long notes when tonguing extremely fast passages—even if the notes are marked staccato. Begin each note cleanly with the tongue. Do not think of ending the notes at all.10
When I am single tonguing fast passages, I concentrate on keeping my head, jaw, and embouchure as immobile as possible, while also keeping my tongue as close to the reed opening as I can. Typically, the point of the tongue hitting the reed is slightly above the tip, but I find that as I tongue faster while keeping my tongue closer to the reed, the point of contact is much closer to the tip itself. Instead of focusing on moving the tongue forward to hit the reed, the tongue should be so close to the tip of the reed that the focus should actually be on keeping the tongue from getting sucked into it by the airstream.
Fast single tonguing is directly linked to the two previous concepts of tongue-stopped staccatos and resonant endings. The movement needed to produce a resonant ending is exactly what we want to avoid when tonguing notes rapidly, while the minimal action of the tongue-stopped staccato is what we want to replicate, only at faster speeds. Just as they are with tongue-stopped staccatos, Ewell’s articulation drives are important for developing a fast single tongue. Weisberg explains that the limits of the shortness in our staccato reflect the absolute speed that we can tongue any given note:
[…] it is of the utmost importance to develop as short notes as possible, because it is the ultimate shortness of the notes that will determine how rapid a staccato a player is to have. No one can play faster than the shortest note that he can play.11
In the case of Beethoven’s Fourth, many players have difficulty tonguing fast because of the piano dynamic context. But Weisberg believes that the tongue should exhibit the same amount of movement regardless of dynamic or speed:
The pulling back of the tongue requires very little energy and the action should be as relaxed as possible. It should have nothing to do with whether or not the note is played loudly or softly. The tongue must not influence the air or the embouchure.12
To develop a fast single tongue, the onus should be on observing yourself with a mirror and working to remove any extraneous motion in the jaw or embouchure. No amount of practicing will bring you to a consistent, rapid single tongue if this motion is not eliminated. Waterhouse reiterates that like all muscles in the body, the tongue is responsive to training, and that consistent tonguing practice over weeks and months will yield positive gains in speed.13
I recommend first concentrating on tonguing sixteenth notes for one beat on a single pitch of your choosing (removing the variable of tongue-finger coordination), and from there incrementally increasing the duration of the tonguing from one beat to two beats, two beats to three, and so on. When you are able to tongue one or two bars of sixteenth notes at the current tempo, increase the tempo slightly and start once again with a duration of one beat. Once you are comfortable tonguing on a single pitch, start the same incremental process over with moving notes in the form of simple scales or passages from etudes like the Milde Concert Study No. 4. Coordination issues between the fingers and the tongue are most often caused by problems in the air support, since the varying resistance of different notes can make the air stream to stall, which in turn causes the tonguing motion to stop. If you find that tonguing a series of moving notes is much more difficult than tonguing a single pitch at the same speed, concentrate more on keeping the air flowing while articulating with the legato motion that David McGill described.
1 Weisberg, 21-22.
2 Ibid., 36.
3 Ibid., 39.
4 Waterhouse, 112.
5 Ibid., 114.
6 Ibid., 115.
7 Weisberg, 19.
8 Terry Ewell, “Articulation on Bassoon: Should the Jaw Move?” The Double Reed 17, no. 3 (1994), 83-85.
9 The importance of staccato length is discussed further for Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
10 McGill, 189-90.
11 Weisberg, 25.
12 Ibid., 22.
13 Waterhouse, 112.