Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Pip Eastop, hornplayer, teacher, horn, trumpet, jazz, sessions, London, soloist, orchestral, improvisation etc....

Posts tagged “fingering

Tonguing simplified

Tonguing is really simple, but hornplayers have a lot of problems with it.

I think most of these problems stem from overcomplicating the issue.

To simplify everything, let’s define tonguing:

Tonguing is (nothing more than) the movement of the tongue from one position to another. These positions are:
0.  Obstructing the airflow – by being in the way of it.
1.  Not obstructing the airflow – by being out of the way of it.

I’d like to illustrate that with a fingering exercise.

Pull out and remove one of your tuning slides. It doesn’t really matter which one. Make sure that when you blow air through the horn it vents out through one of the disconnected pipes (use a valve or two if you need to).

Now, while blowing air through the horn, put a finger over the end of the open pipe to block it. Then take the finger away to let the air out again.

If that worked okay (no air leaks) now do the same while playing a note – any note. Block and unblock the tube while you are playing. Please make sure you try to keep a steady tone going, even when the tube it blocked.

So your finger is working like a two-position switch. Let’s call these positions, “1” for when you can make a sound and,  “0” for when you can’t. In other words: 1. lets you make sound,  0. stops any sounds. A useful analogy would be water spurting out of a hosepipe and stopping when you put your thumb over the end. Alternatively, it’s like a light switch – two positions – 1 and 0 – on and off.

When you’ve got bored doing this, put the slide back in and read the next bit very carefully.

Tonguing is when your tongue does exactly what your finger has just done – the only difference is that it’s doing it on the other side of your lips.

Get a note going, then stop it by putting your tongue in the way – BUT DON’T STOP BLOWING (this is the same as NOT turning the garden tap off or NOT shutting down your local power-station). Then take your tongue away – if you kept the blowing pressure constant during the OFF then the note should start up again – exactly as it finished but sort of in reverse. We are not talking about particularly nice notes here – just tonguing.  We are talking blunt, uncultivated tonguing and tongue-stopping here.

And that’s it. Tonguing and nothing else – no frills.

Getting nice rounded starts to notes and nicely shaped notes is, of course, very important but these things are not part of the tonguing mechanism. If you want to work on your tonguing then you need to know what it is – and (at least as important) what it isn’t.

All of the subtle musical nuances in note shapes are controlled by varying the volume of the notes – something which the tongue does not control.

Keep things simple: tonguing is a simple binary switching mechanism – On or Off.

There is more about tonguing in an earlier post here.

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I’ve come across many curious and delightful misconceptions about tonguing. I’d like to collect them and list them here. Please, if you have one – leave it here in the comments section.

Common tonguing misconceptions:

  • The tongue works like the hammer of a piano – it strikes behind the upper incisor teeth and somehow shoots notes through the instrument.
  • That the tongue must never touch the lips, or protrude between them. Believe me – EVERYONE does this. (Get any hornplayer to prepare to play a note and FREEZE just at the last fraction of a second before starting it. Then, without changing anything, take the mouthpiece away. See the tip of the tongue showing? Ha ha!)

The cornet is going well

The cornet is going well. I think I have a useful range – fairly comfortable up to about top C – and the fingering is mostly sorted, although there’s usually a glitch around high E (same as top A on the horn) where I’m trying very hard to remember to play it with no valves pressed down, whereas it’s best on the horn with 1st and 2nd down.
I’m also gradually getting the register shift sorted in my mind. Although the fingering almost exactly matches that of the horn, if I think in horn pitch, I have decided to make the shift into thinking and reading in Bb as this will make reading music much easier in the long term. Thus I have to re-educate my pitch sense, when I am in cornet mode, to one fourth higher. I get lost sometimes – sort of a pitch whiteout where I have no idea what notes I am playing. My fingers and lips know but my conscious mind is nowhere. Granted, this has always happened when playing the horn, but now that I am formally learning jazz I really need always to know what notes I am playing, what chords, scales, etc… This is new for me. My previous improvisations have always been instinctive, with almost no role for the conscious mind. Jazz, however, needs the guiding keel of definite harmonic navigation. It’s a discipline I’m trying to learn – determined to learn.

Oren Marshall is a brilliant and unconventional tuba player with at least one leg in the world of jazz, although I don’t know how well versed he is in actual jazz improvisation and, for that matter, I don’t really know what it is to be a jazz tubist. He visited me today, partly for a jog over at the Hollow Ponds and partly to “do some playing” together. It was an interesting lesson for me. It made me realise that I was actually quite embarrassed to let go and play “jazzilly” in front of him. When I eventually did – on some blues in concert F – Oren said, in his usually flattering way, that I was loaded with all the right tools but that I didn’t have the feel. Nice of him – and I suppose I kind of knew that. He also said a lot of interesting, thoughtful stuff about how it can be refreshing to hear someone new to jazz playing their own unique stuff and that the “novice” can have a certain amount of freedom that perhaps would be difficult for an experienced jazzer to express. A difficult concept to argue, I think, but it was very nice of him to be so encouraging. We played a few rounds of blues but I don’t think I achieved much.

We talked about Derek Bailey a bit – I’ve done a fair bit of improvising (free, non-jazz) with Derek, donkey’s years ago, and so has Oren only much more recently. It seems Oren was able to make much more sense of Derek’s style of improvisation, which always had me confused. I told him about my general frustration with performing free improvisation to which he had some interesting responses.