Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quality Tonguing is Possible!

Image: graur codrin /
Tonguing. Another one of those things with the clarinet. Improper tonguing is one of the most common playing problems among clarinet players of any skill level. Pros and beginners alike are continually trying to improve their tonguing both in terms of speed and cleanliness. Something that my teachers always told me finally clicked and when it did, it was amazing! Quality tonguing really is possible!

The realization was that tonguing is the interruption of the air stream, not the stopping of it. Think of it this way. Imagine a full balloon. If you don't tie the end all of the air shoots out at a high speed because of the pressure. When you pinch the end of the balloon, no air is escaping, but the pressure is still there, waiting to escape once you stop pinching it.

The balloon represents our lungs, filled with air from a deep, healthy breath. When we play the air flows from our lungs through our instrument, causing the reed to vibrate and create a sound. Articulation is putting our tongue on the reed, stopping the air and sound, but what we need to remember is that the pressure should still be there! Too many clarinet players, myself included, get into the habit of "bouncy" tonguing. And this is literal bouncing! If you are playing staccato and you notice your body bouncing or your stomach bouncing along with the staccato you are "tonguing" with your air and not your tongue.

Make an ooooooo shape with your mouth. Now blow through it. Now stop the air with your tongue and make sure you keep the pressure behind your tongue. Is your stomach tight? It should be! If it helps, keep a hand on your stomach to check. Now remove your tongue and feel the air escape. Your stomach should feel the same as when you were holding the air back.

This is a hard concept to try to get across with words alone, but hopefully this confusing article has at least helped you understand a little more about proper articulation on the instrument.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you ! I'm always looking for different ways to help students use their tongue better!