Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Pip Eastop Hornplayer Photographer Trumpetplayer

Posts tagged “tonguing

Teaching a beginner

This blog entry is quite a large one. It’s taken from a much earlier version of my website (8 years ago) and I’m re-publishing it here because lots of people have requested to read it again since it disappeared a year or two ago in the re-write and re-design of my website.

Teaching my first beginner

I’ve often thought that, for a change, I’d like to teach a complete beginner rather than taking over, as I always have done in my horn teaching, from where the previous teacher has left off. I’ve relished the possibility of having a big influence over the setting up of a brand new embouchure, a new playing posture, new habits of breathing, sounding, listening, thinking – the whole player. Even recently I’ve been wishing for it without realising that already I have that very thing sitting so closely under my nose that I hadn’t noticed it. It, or he, is in the form of my youngest child, Zachary, now aged four [now aged 12!],  who is learning to play the Eb tenor horn.
First, a bit of background: when Zak’s older brother, Mordecai, was about one year old I constructed a playable toy horn for him using a length of garden hosepipe, a plastic kitchen funnel, an old crook from a military band piston horn and an old horn mouthpiece.

Zak playing the homemade hosepipe horn

Zak playing the homemade hosepipe horn

It’s was more or less the right length for a horn in F but, due the acoustic properties of hosepipes, did not have an in-tune harmonic series. Suffice to say that it has roughly the same number of playable harmonics as a horn in F. This kind of instrument is robust enough to be kicked around the floor and left in a toy box rather than needing a case. Another advantage is that it’s not loud enough ever to become irritating. Well, maybe sometimes…

Zak playing the horn

Zak playing the horn

Mo enjoyed playing it, made a reasonable sound and soon had a range of almost an octave. However, it was Zak, his younger brother, who a couple of years later really took to it and seemed to spend a lot of time carrying it around the house with him, blowing it, really enjoying the sounds and sensations. By the time he was three years old he had stopped puffing his cheeks out (nagging parents) and had refined his technique to the extent of being able to articulate notes by tonguing. The most amazing thing, though, was that by the time he was 4 years old he could play recognisable tunes, the first of which was “Jingle Bells”.

When he was four years old we began thinking that Zak needed something a bit more like a real musical instrument to play. What would be good, we thought, was some kind of three-valved brass instrument which would be light in weight, easy to hold, relatively easy to play and would not require a very strong embouchure (i.e. not a trumpet). It should also have a well cushioned mouthpiece to spread the load of any pressure applied so as not to distort a child’s growing teeth. There seemed to be only one choice – it had to be the Eb tenor horn.

I phoned Gale Lawson (the man I get to do all my instrument repairs – and the managing director of the PipStick factory) and asked him to look out for a cheap old wrecked tenor horn which could be patched up and made to play reasonably well and would be suitable for hurling into a toy box at the end of each day. A couple of weeks later we heard back from Gale that he found the very thing. Fifty quid and it was Zak’s – a very fine Christmas present indeed!

Zak Xmas horn

Zak Xmas horn

Since then he has played it quite a lot, encouraged somewhat by the fact of his big brother having weekly violin lessons and practising a bit each day. However, Zak would often forget about it for a week or two and so there was little chance of much progressive development of embouchure strength or of building up technique from one day to the next. Don’t get me wrong – we were really not pushy, ambitious parents – it’s just that we felt Zak would enjoy it even more if he could notice himself getting better at it and that could only happen if we could get him to practise a bit every day.

So, how do you motivate a four year old to practise on a tenor horn every day? A very persuasive “sticker chart” combined with carefully set cash incentives is what’s behind Zak’s current burst of progress (I still don’t think we were pushy parents!). At the time of writing Zak’s chart (identical to his brother’s) was set up 28 days ago and now has a sticker, awarded for having done an acceptable amount of good practise, in every square representing each day since then. There are lots of ways to set up a sticker chart but the way we chose to do it goes like this:

A week is represented by a row of 8 squares – that’s one square for everyday of the week plus a bonus square for putting in an 8th sticker if all seven of the day squares get filled. Each Sunday, we add up all the stickers for the week and hand over cash to the value of 5 pence for each one of them. The presence of a bonus sticker doubles the sum, so o a full week of stickers gets Zak (and his brother Mordecai, violin) a massive 70 pence. It has to be good practise, not just going through the motions, and so far neither of them have missed a day.

I’ve already said that we got him to tongue quite early on but it would be fairer to say that he worked this out for himself. Zak was an early whistler, learning to do it rather well while he was only 3 and very quickly worked out how to whistle tunes, including “Happy Birthday” with even some slurs in. One day his mother noticed that he was using some tonguing in his whistling and she had the presence of mind to ask him if he could do the same trick while playing the tenor horn. He certainly could – and that was that – he didn’t really need teaching how to do it.

Then the sticker chart started and I found myself doing his daily practise with him, just as my Dad did with me from when I was 9 years old. There were definitely echoes of that happy scene – my dad sitting by my side exploring and mapping with me the rugged terrain of horn technique. The way my Dad taught me to play the horn (and the recorder for a couple of years before that) was pure genius and I still think of him as the best horn teacher I ever had, even though he was not a horn player (he was an oboist and marching bass-drummer in a military band). Clearly, it was a more difficult task for him teaching me than it is now for me to teach Zak and yet the things he taught me about learning to play the horn were so pithy and essential that I still work on my playing in the same way he taught me all those years ago. His and my only guide at the time was that excellent and inspiring book, “The Art of Playing French Horn”, by Philip Farkas. My clever Dad was able to extract from that book many essential nuggets of expertise and pass them on to me in an exciting and meaningful way.

Something that may surprise some readers of this journal is that I am not planning to link Zak’s learning of his instrument to teaching to read music – at least not yet. Shock horror! Why not? Read on:

When I was seven I started learning to play the recorder and the first thing I was shown in my school recorder class, along with about eight other kids, was that I had to cover certain finger-holes and blow in order to get certain notes. I walked home from school that day working at those notes and kept on playing them while doing just about everything else that seven-year-olds do …for years.

The next lesson was the one which taught me that the notes I was playing were actually not just musical sounds but were in fact black dots on a printed page. This is confusing at first but young kids soon get the hang of it – just as certain words you say are the same as printed written words on paper. A problem arises in reading music, though, when this idea is turned around and fixed so that the dots on the page become the notes – they literally become the notes.

It happens like this: typically, a teacher will point to a black dot on a page and say “Now, this is a B. Left hand index finger and thumb – play it”. The learner stares at the black dot and executes the note while still staring at it. The black dot becomes the sound, the note.

The drive to learn to read music in this way – simultaneoulsy with learning to play – has become so entrenched in our culture of playing pre-composed music that, for most musicians, the “permission” to play a particular note seems to come only from printed commands rather than directly from musical the imagination of the player.

I was lucky. I escaped from school with my brand new recorder and played it all the way home and all the way back again for the next lesson before anyone had time to tell me I couldn’t play anything unless I was reading it in the form of black dots from a music book. Many were not so lucky. I know this because in all my career as a dot-reading horn player (one who subversively always made music up when nobody was listening [insert link to improvisation page] I have been amazed at how most of my colleagues seemed chained to the printed pages. Like slaves to someone else’s music these exclusively dot-reading musicians seem happy to play only what is written down for them.

Maybe you, the person reading this, are a dot-reading-only musician. Do you refer to a sheet of dot-covered printed paper as “The Music”? Could you play something you never heard or played before to an audience, without reading it from a page of dots and symbols? You might like to think seriously about this.

I don’t want my son to be musically imprisoned so that he can only play written notes. Similarly, his mother and I haven’t taught him to speak only when there are written words to read – he can say anything that comes into his mind, and usually does! In fact, he is quite a vocal improviser, as are most people.

When you think about it, it’s quite a bad state of affairs. Most so-called “Classical” (or Western European Art Music) music is created by non-performing people – Composers – with pens and sheets of paper or computers. Other non-playing people called Conductors keep control of the herds of dot-readers and even coach them through rehearsals to check that they are reading the dots correctly and – worse – make them play the the dots the way THEY want them played. Not really much room here for any creative input from the dot-readers – that is all controlled by the Composers and Conductors. And guess who gets most of the money? Ho-ho! Yep, it’s those silent folk, the Conductors and Composers. Hey, the bastards have stolen our music!

Thankfully there’s still jazz and other forms of improvisation.

Zak can learn to read music when he can play without it first. Just like he could speak before we started teaching him to read.

This rant is now over. Phew!

27th July 2002
Zak and I have been working on his tonguing. In particular getting clean, accurate starts to every note by trying to get six good ones in a row and turning this into a game to make it fun. He’s 4 years old so everything has to be fun. I have also been trying to prevent Zak from ending notes with his tongue by getting him always to diminuendo quickly away to nothing. A diminuendo requires skillful control of the air pressure and both the size and muscle-tone of the aperture so we do quite a lot of work on long notes, starting quiet, getting louder then getting quiter again.

Sometimes we turn this into a competition, which Zak likes. We start playing the same mid-register note together – me playing my horn, him playing his tenor horn – and we see who can hold it the longest. Of course he always wins, so he wants to do it over and over again. His record is 20 seconds. That is very long! Try it yourself and imagine you are the size of a 4 year old. If you don’t play a brass instrument try singing a 20 second note.

I suppose 4 years old is a bit young for an embouchure change and I’m pretty amazed by what Zak has managed to achieve. His natural tendency is to get down into the lower half of his range by tipping his lower tip forward a bit into the mouthpiece. I think it’s the way many beginners first try to descend in pitch – by instinctively opening the aperture and forming it with a softer and slower-vibrating part of the lip. Having found moderate success with it many then stick with that until either they decide to change it or learn to live with the fact that they are never going to have a really good low register. I’m sticking my neck out a bit here, I know, but it’s what I have observed and I believe it to be the case.

Seeing that Zak was indeed doing this I decided to try to get him to do it in a different and, I hope, better way. I showed him how to put his top lip a little in front of his lower lip, rather than the other way around, and hold the centre of the bottom lip back and a little puckered. I combined this with the idea of blowing the airstream “down your chin” a little. Once it looked and sounded better, which it did almost immediately, I got him to think of a name for the new setting and he immediately came up with “Nitwit Lips!”

A later tweak, to tone up the corners of his mouth a little and ensure that no bits of his lip were protruding, became known as “Whistling Nitwit Lips”.
The new setting is certainly more difficult for him so he quite often reverts to his original embouchure. However, whenever he forgets, just by saying “Whistling Nitwit Lips” I can conveniently and quickly get him to switch back to the new improved setup. I just have to keep an eye on how it looks when we are doing his practise but as you can see in the follwing photos it’s quite easy to see the difference.

The first of these two embouchures gives Zak much greater control of diminuendo and crescendo, a wider range and a much warmer and fuller sound.

Here’s a close-up of what I reckon is an almost perfect embouchure.
The overlap is perhaps just a little too exaggerated.

Here’s Zak doing a bit of practice.
The tenor horn is a very comfortable instrument for a small person.

1st August 2002
I’m not bragging or anything but Zak played a very high note today. He was trying to get a concert G (E on the tenor horn) when he overshot and out popped a high Bb, clear as a bell, and a bit flat, it being a 7th harmonic. (Db on the piano, more than one octave above middle C). He used a very nice embouchure and quite a lot of effort but he is only four so I think this proves what I’ve believed for a long time – that success in the high register is a more to do with getting the chops set up right rather than having very powerful muscles.

We found this for Zak in a car boot sale near Nottingham – for twenty quid!

Zak Xmas Horn

Zak Xmas Horn

It’s qite a nice instrument, a Weltklang, in much better condition than his first one and makes a slightly more refined sound. Now that we have the two instruments it’s much easier for me to illustrate things for him as we go along

26th August 2002
I think what’s needed now is a glossary of teaching terms (funny words) which Zak and I have come up with to help us.

  • Whistling Nitwits:
    As described earlier on this page: this is a short code word for a slightly puckered embouchure with the lower lip held slightly behind the upper so it feels as if the airstream is aimed slightly downwards. It is used to correct that very strong urge to roll the lower lip forwards – which is a very common fault among beginners particularly in trying to get down into the low register. The aim here is to get Zak set up with a fully integrated (no breaks across the enitre range) embouchure right from the start so he’ll never have to go through any major embouchure overhauls.
  • DiddyEdds:
    This word means “Get the fingers of your right hands on top of those valve buttons so they are ready for action”. Zak got into the habit of swooping his right hand away from the instrument in an extravagant flourish whenever none of the valves were needed, for example moving to a C or a G. It looked quite cool but meant that he was always late with the valves when they were next needed. The DiddyEds seems to be correcting this, although his third finger is quite lazy and often curls up next to the valve casing.
  • Chimes:
    A chime is a note lasting a couple of seconds which starts with a bell-like accent and then fades evenly to silence. It’s very good for developing a lot of things: Clean, accurate tonguing, control of pitch during a diminuendo and adjustment of the aperture to cope with extremes of dynamic range, from ff down past ppp to nothing. It’s an attractive sounding note and Zak seems to like doing it. Most days we do a few of these. They soon developed into…
  • Double chimes:
    This is like a miniature fanfare and is the same as a single chime apart from having a very short fast note just before it, slightly quieter than the main note – like an upbeat 16th, or semiquaver. This gets his tongue working and it’s fun.
  • Ghosts:
    Ghosts is our name for a twilight sounding note whch you can produce if you fade into our out of a note without using the tongue. It’s a sort of sonic glow. We use it to warm up on sometimes. Very often Zak can get a ghost to appear out of a gentle breath-flow sound and then control this perfectly as it grows into a real solid note. He can often do it in reverse too, fading to nothing so that it’s not possible to hear precisely when the note stops. I’m amazed a four year old can do this as I’ve only been able to do it myself comparatively recently.
  • A hill chopped in half:
    This is a long note which starts quietly then crescendos towards its middle where it is suddenly cut and then immediately restarted with a loud accent. This is then followed by a long diminuendo to nothing. This exercise is totally brilliant as it exercises all of the following:
    Control over pitch steadiness through changing volume.
    Control over the timing of the breath delivery through changing volume.
    Control over timbre variation through changing volume.
    Starting and ending very quietly
    Getting a clean, polished loud end to the first part of the note (the “chop”) and a clean, polished loud attack just after it.
    The chop itself is particularly important as the air pressure must be kept up to challenge 1) the tongue in resisting air pressure prior to loudly tonging the second part of the note and, 2) the glottis (vocal cords) in suddenly blocking the flow of air in order to stop the first part of the note without an audible “tongue-off”.
    (Sorry if that sounded a bit technical!)
  • Horn Tennis:
    Horn Tennis* is a game I’be played a lot with my college students. It is pure non-verbal form of teaching by example. The server (usually me but not always) plays something fairly simple and short (the ball) which has to be returned as accurately as possible. If the return is perfect a slightly more complex ball can be served etc. This is a great game because it’s fun and develops so many skills in both participants. The server has to pitch the ball with care not just to play it perfectly but so that it is finely judged for the other player to be able to copy it but not find it too easy. Zak loves this game, so I’m using it to get him to learn how to play simple rhythmic patterns with uncomplicated note changes. As soon as he can copy something easily I make things a little more difficult.
    Whether with Zak or with any of my students I’m always amazed by the steepnes of their learning gradient during this game.

*One of my students wrote about his experiences with Horn Tennis. Please click here [insert link to Tom Allard’s article]  to read it.

28th August 2002
We tried some jazz today. I put on one of the tracks from the Aebersold series of playalongs. The particular one I chose was of a swing accompaniment which stays on the chord of Eb – it’s a few minutes long. It worked a treat. Zak was able to play any of the notes of his C major (except the F, which is an “avoid” note, F# sounds better, making it a Lydian mode).

30th August
Zak was very reluctant to do his practise this morning, saying very gloomily, “I hate horn practise!” Still, I managed to cajole him into it by offering that we skip it today and leave a gap in his sticker chart. No! he didn’t want to do that and lose his bonus.
I must admit now, after my recent rant, to have buckled under pressure from his mother to start showing him how to read music. I feel slightly unhappy about this but she has a point because in a couple of weeks I’m going to be away for nine days and she wants to do Zak’s practise with him during that time. She doesn’t feel she can keep it going without having some musical dots to point at. Fair enough, I suppose.
So, I gave him a nice big book, the Arban Cornet Tutor. Never do things by halves. And I wrote his name on the front and opened it where the endless ghastly egg-notes exercises start. Before doing this I had drawn for him a stave (staff?) with a few notes on he knew to show him how easy it is to figure out which ones they are. He seemed quite excited by it.

1st September
Today, Zak completed nine weeks of practicing without missing a single day! I find this quite incredible – he’s still only four years old. He’ll be five in October.
Everything has improved. He now has a lovely full and rich sound which is very well controlled. He can crescendo and diminuendo without any pitch change over nearly all of his range. He’s pretty good all the way up to top E and has a remarkably good fruity pedal C. He can tongue any note or creep into any note from silence and then creep back away to silence. Some of these things I’ve only recently learned to do myself, after 34 years of serious study!
Parental bias aside, I am totally amazed by what he has been able to master in such a short time. However, it must be born in mind that he has had a 63 lessons in the last 63 days, with a very careful and focused teacher! Also, he started with no preconceptions or bad habits.

2nd September
Started actually playing from the Arban Cornet Tutor today. Zak didn’t have much trouble with the first exercise although I think he was reading from the letters I’d pencilled in above each note. In a few days I’ll erase them and see how he gets on. We didn’t spend too much time in this, however, and got on with some slurring practice instead. Starting on C (2nd space down) I got him to play a chime start, hold it for four finger clicks (at about 100 beats per minute) and then slur down to a B. No problem, so next a slur from C to Bb. Again, no problem, so a slur from C to A, then C to G, then C to F… all the way down to C to C. The last one was a bit tricky for him but only inasmuch as he found it hard to prevent the G from sounding briefly on the way down. I got him to repeat that downward slur and then slur directly back up to the higher C. This he did amazingly well – in fact the upwards C-to-C was absolutely perfect. Great chops! We finished off with some high E chimes and then some quietly held long ones. It’s a truly beautiful sound he makes.

Here are some sound files recorded on 24th September. I just want to show what Zak can do. I recorded these direct to my PC with a normal cheapo computer microphone.

Zak’s bell note

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Zak’s bell note 2

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Zak’s bell note 3

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Zak’s cresc and dim

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Zak’s Harry Potter snippet

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Zak’s Harry Potter snippet 2

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Zak’s little fanfare

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Zak’s long bell note

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Zak’s long bell note 2

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This last clip was recorded a few months later on Christmas day 2002. A duet of Silent Night played by Zak (5) and his fiddle-playing brother, Mordecai (7)

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19th April 2003
Here’s Zak with his new tenor horn – very generously given by Jim Gourlay, Head of Wind and Brass at Royal Northern College of Music.

Zak with new Besson on April 1st

Zak with new Besson on April 1st

It’s a Besson “International”, from about 1975. Since receiving it from Jim we’ve had it completely renovated and silver plated, by Gale Lawson. Gale also made the telescopic leg which, as you can see, supports the horn for Zak perfectly.

This picture was taken today just after we gave the new instrument to Zak for the first time. He loves playing it and he sounds great on it. He’s still only 5.

Besson Engraving

Besson Engraving

3rd January 2004

Hmmm…. I’ve not been very good at keeping up with this teaching journal, but now here’s an update:

Zak is now 6 years old and has been practising the tenor horn every day – without missing a single day – for just over 18 months. The sticker chart with cash incentive has proved to be extremely effective. Total cost to us in weekly seventy pences has is now about £57. What’s he being doing with all that money?! In truth, he has missed about three days due to illness – and earned himself crosses on the chart instead of stickers – these, however, he has made up for by occasionally doing double practise and converted the crosses back to stickers. You can’t lose with this system. There’s always a cunning way around.

We’ve been doing a lot of work on scales. Zak likes scales more than anything else – something I am very pleased about because it proves that anything, no matter how arduous, can be made fun, if enough care is taken. So, how can you make scales fun for a 6 year old? Well, the rule seems to be that you have to make it as easy as possible and constantly to show clear proof of improvement – and also dangle rewards along the way.
To make the scales easy you need good graphics. Here is what I have been using – for many months now – with Zak. It’s in pencil, on a large piece of card and has taken quite a battering as it has travelled with us to various holiday places and moved around the house.

Zak Scale Chart

Zak Scale Chart

It’s a “circle of fourths” with one octave of the relevant major scale drawn in at each point. Zak and I are working towards the “ultimate” goal of him playing all twelve of these one-octave scales in one day, up and down at 120 notes per minute. Step by step we have worked on each scale carefully, patiently, a little each day, to get each one up to speed. A tick is earned when it’s completed perfectly (and I am the judge, and a tough one at that) and eventually all twelve have become ticked. We have been around the circle three times now and if you look you can see that each scale has been ticked three times already. My next plan is to get him to do four scales in a day over three days. He can have as many attempts as he likes – he just has to get them all done once perfectly in the same day. When he’s done this we’ll do six per day and then, eventually, and I’ve no doubt quite soon, he’ll manage to play all twelve in one day. He knows that when he achieves that he gets a BIG prize. He wants a minidisc player but we’ll see a bit nearer the time. Perhaps just a minidisc….

He’s pretty excited about starting work on the minor scales after that. I’m going to do all twelve of the Dorian modes (jazz minor scales) with him rather than the stupid “harmonic” minors that nobody knows why you have to learn at music college! The nice thing about the Dorians is that they use the same notes as the majors, but starting on the 2nd of the scale so, in effect, he already knows them. They won’t take long and after that he can get into some pretty interesting improvisation – using real chord symbols.

It hasn’t been all major scales – quite… we’ve had brief respites from them, looking at wholetone scales, chromatics and diminished arpeggios, all using the cirle of fourths. I’m not kidding – Zak finds these things fun! Is he abnormal?

I try to encourage Zak to improvise each day, as far as possible in the key of the scale we have been working on. Slowly, this is building up his ability to traverse the keys freely as he improvises. It’s a massive job but he’s onto it.

4th January 2004

If you look back at Zak’s circle of fourths again you’ll see that the scales have coloured patches at the end of each one. Zak successfully played all the blue ones today – with a metronome at 120 notes per minute. That’s Db major, A major, D major and Eb major. Progress.

5th January 2004

Oh dear! It’s all gone wrong!

Today Zachary decided he hated practise and didn’t want to do any. Furthermore, he never wants to play the tenor horn again and seems perfectly happy with the idea that it might get sent back to where it came from – AND he’s not even bothered about not getting a fabulous prize.  (he did do a bit of practise in the end but nothing to do with scales)

7th January 2004

Zak has still decided against practising scales. And it was a little difficult persuading him to get started this morning (before school – groan! It’s the best time to do it, though). So today’s dangling carrot was the “Band In A Box” program. I told him that we could make up nice pieces – which indeed he did. The program provides an instant backing for your improvisations – all you have to do is type in the chord symbols you want and which bars you want them in. I set up something quickly (all automatically transposed into Eb – tenor horn pitch) with C major, Eb major and G major over a sort of slushy Latin style backing. What did he do? He played up and down the scales and found it all fitted very nicely. He seemed pretty pleased. I didn’t say anything about how useful scales seemed to be and just pointed the relevant scales on his circle of fourths scale chart as an indicator of which notes would sound good. After that I showed him that he could use the notes of C major to improvise over D minor chords. This is a nice feature from jazz musical theory – it’s modalness – D minor uses exactly the same notes as C major – and G7 for that matter (…and a whole bunch of others, like B7-9 or F+11…)

So, he continues. I think it’s time I bought him a book of tunes. I think he’d like to be able to take his hooter to school and entertain his classmates with themes from Harry Potter or Shrek …or perhaps I should write some tunes for him.

9th May 2004.

Zak Xmas Horn

Zak Xmas Horn

Zak is doing incredibly well. It’s now seven weeks short of two years that he has been practising regularly and he still hasn’t missed a single day. An incredible acheivement for a 6 year old, I think.

Last week he played all his major scales in one day, something he’d been working towards, a little each day, for the best part of a year. He did them all perfectly, one octave, up and down, at two notes per second. This won him a prize: a Sony CD Discman.

He’s lost one of his upper incisors. This could be a problem but I’m playing it down for the moment. It’s altered his sound a little and I think he’s got one or two pressure points from the remaining tooth on his inner upper lip which is uncomfortable for him. I’m keeping him out of the upper register for a while to see what happens. I’d be pretty sad if he had to stop for a while but I’m not going to make him play if it hurts or if it means he has to invent some weird temporary embouchure.

The photo looks okay, doesn’t it? And he sounds really great. A full bodied, warm and satisfying sound. I’d have been really glad to have a sound like that when I was 12. He’s 6.

*******************************

Since then:
For several years after this Zak and I continued in much the same way and at some point he switched to trumpet. He learned ALL the scales and modes and we started working more on jazz improvisation. The sticker chart continued to be a great success. His sound and his chops were absolutely perfect and he could improvise freely in all sorts of ways and was making good progress with the mundane skill of reading printed musical notation (please note my resistance to calling it “music”). In 2007 I bought him a wonderful Yamaha Custom trumpet – the Wayne Bergeron model. A stunningly good instrument which is powerful but light in weight and thus suitable for a young and growing player.
By this time I had been expelled from my family home and, tragically, was not able to keep up regular work with Zak. He still works on his trumpet playing,  although without my supervision. He spends each Saturday at the excellent Junior Department of  Guildhall School of Music and Drama where his obvious musical skills are being nurtured and developed in a wonderful environment teeming with similarly motivated kids.
I’m am extremely proud that I was able to give so much to Zak, in the way that my Dad gave so much to me when I was starting off. I hope that in a few years, when he’s well into his teens, he and I will be able to continue the work we started together…

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Update:
It’s now early 2015 and Zak is 17 and he is know by many to be an outstanding young trumpet player. Just yesterday he asked me for a trumpet lesson.
100% happiness 🙂


The starts of notes

I’d like to try to explain why the quality of the starts of notes is so important and I’ll start off by saying something which may sound surprising, or even silly:

After you start the note, nobody is listening any more.


They are still hearing you – but they’re not hearing what you are playing right now because they are still hearing the start of the note – its very first instant. That is the way human ears work. There’s no escaping it.

Try this:
Pick a note somewhere comfortably within your singing range and sing one of these (it doesn’t matter which one), lasting a few seconds:

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

The interesting thing here is that although the consonant at the beginning lasts only, say, one hundredth of the duration of the sound, it pervades the whole thing. In other words, the sound at the start, and its meaning, pervades the entire length of the sound.

To test this, try the same sound again, this time without the consonant at the beginning, for example:
Compare “POOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, (sing it out loud) with “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”.

Despite the fact that the difference is absolutely minute (in that only the first fraction of a second is different) the meaning is quite different all the way through.

The same thing happens when we play the horn. If you play a note with a perfect start, the whole duration of the note sounds great. Whereas if you fluff, crack, split or even slightly wobble at the start of a note, this effect is perceived throughout its duration. In other words the entire note is permeated by whatever evil happens right at the beginning.

What this means is that the quality of the first instant of any note is crucially important. In fact, it’s the only thing people will hear. Whatever you do to the remainder of the note, you cannot fix a bad start.

In other words, you cannot hear “POOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, as, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, or vice versa. Try it.

So if you crack a note and it’s a long one, the crack stays there all the way through the note.

So, in terms of investment of precious practice time, that first fraction of a second is where to do some serious work.


Byron Fulcher – the quiet attack

Here area a couple of photos of Byron – principal trombonist in The Philharmonia Orchestra

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The first is backstage just before a concert in Munich. I managed to capture him practising his devastating stealth-attack. It is so powerful it can blast open the doors of a lift.

The second photo is another of Byron which I’ve sort of “posterized” to more accurately show the heat coming off him when he plays. He has to wear flame-retardant tails suits during concerts.


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.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

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!)

My hornplaying sucks

What are your thoughts about breathing and breath control for hornplayers? Try summarising them to an imaginary class of gullible horn students. What do you hear yourself saying?

Now, let me ask you how your thoughts about breathing and breath control might change if (in an imaginary world) you found it was possible to play the horn not just by blowing it but also by sucking? Would it change your ideas about breath support and the use of the diaphragm or any other bits?

A few years ago I became interested in the similarity between what happens at the the lips of a hornplayer and what happens when a violin bow moves across a string. Also, what happens when a flute player blows gently across the blowhole, or whatever it’s called…

One day I’d been doing some very quiet practise and found it interesting that a note could fade away to nothingness and then fade back in again. All that was needed to bring it back was a little air flowing through the horn making a faint wind noise, and for the lip aperture to be exactly right. For the ghost of a tone to emerge from nothing, out of a breathy wind sound, a bit of turbulence builds up inside the mouthpiece, or between the lips, and quickly falls into a stable pattern of vibration. It settles on a frequency – or a pitch – allowed by the mass of air inside the horn. It wobbles like a jelly in there – a very fast jelly. Any note produced will be from the harmonic series controlled by the length of the horn.

From this bit of experimentation I am convinced that you don’t have to “buzz your lips” to get a note going. It’s not the case that notes are produced by forcing air through your lips like “blowing a raspberry”. It seems to me that all you need is a flow of air and the right sort aperture, i.e. the right shape and the right muscle tone in the lips.

So, just as in playing a flute (not that I can) – the flow of air makes the air vibrate; and with a violin – the flow of the horsehairs across the catgut (or metal, or polyester or whatever) makes the air vibrate.

So, isn’t it perhaps a little strange that a violin bow can work in both directions – up and down – but the flowing air between a hornplayer’s lips can only do out – but not in. If the bow is the breath and the lip is the string, then why can we only make a sound by blowing, whereas a violin bow can work in both directions?

After a bit of personal research I discovered something amazing – that I can play the horn by sucking! Not only that – it’s almost exactly the same sound. How cool is that?

Tonguing during the suck is a bit tricky, as you might imagine, and the horn gets colder as I play it, which is weird – and my lungs slowly fill up with musty air from the depths of the horn, which is probably unhealthy, but apart from that it’s the same as blowing. Try it yourself.

Persevere until you can do it. Then go back to the first paragraph here and see what you now think about breathing and breath support for the hornplayer!

Okay. So you don’t believe me? Listen to this: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

By the way, there’s much more about breathing and breath support to come in later posts.


Second lesson with Martin Shaw

I’ve had another amazing lesson with Martin Shaw. 

We spent quite a long time looking into what we have agreed to call “Ghost” tonguing. Having done a bit of work on it since the last lesson and got somewhere (though by no means anywhere near it yet) it’s now got a little clearer exactly what I have to do. So now I have an exercise I will put into my work-out to teach my tongue to jump in and out of that precise position on my upper incisors which damps the sound. It’s a great effect and I’m chasing after it seriously.

The second half of the lesson was spent trying to find a way of using the ghost tonguing in context. Martin wrote out a couple of little riffs for me, which would work over a 2-5-1 sequence and which contain obvious places to do the ghost notes. 

We talked quite a lot about how dificult it is for me actually to hear some of the things that Martin does (he does play really beautifully) well enough to even try to copy him. He worked through a variety of ways of slowing it down, with me listening and copying, but not getting anywhere near it. Mine always sounded clumsy and awkward – his always fresh and alive and perfect.

I think next time I’ll have to bring the minidisc recorder so I can better analyzing exactly what’s going on. I need to do this not just with the ghost notes but with many other aspects of style. 

My articulation still needs to be blunter, firmer and more immediate at the front of the notes. I still sound too much like a horn player – shaping everything. Despite this being quite a profound change in style, I’m completely confident it won’t mess up my horn playing , as it seems to me that people who learn to speak French don’t lose their Engish accent in the process. I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing. The parallel with learning a foreign language is very clear to me

Martin also said I need to listen to tons of Clifford Brown. Fantastic! I’ll try to learn some more of his solos. 

Homework: 

  1. Continue the chromatic runs and practise ghost tonguing as workout exercises.
  2. Practise the riffs Martin gave me. 
  3. Study “Confirmation” by Charlie Parker – from the copy Martin lent me with articulations and other useful pencil marks added. 
  4. Get hold of David Baker’s book on Clifford Brown in the Giants Of Jazz series. 
  5. Get hold of the Charlie Parker Onmibus.
  6. Tongue firmer all the time. 
  7. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown.

First lesson with Martin Shaw – before and after

Before:
I’ve been practising pretty regularly and, I feel, steadily improving but increasingly feeling myself to be in a musical vacuum. What I need now is fresh air, not my own stale stuff to breathe; so with that in mind I’ve arranged to have a lesson with Martin Shaw, who has been enthusiastically recommended by both John Barclay and Derek Watkins. 

I’m taking a trumpet and a flugelhorn but no books or printed stuff of any kind – jazz is supposed to improvised – plus I don’t want to be telling Martin the way I want the lesson to go.

What do I want? Not sure, but I’d like him to get me to loosen up my playing and then guide me towards better ways of doing it. The fact is I don’t know if I’m any good at any aspect of it. John Barclay has been vey encouraging, even flattering, as have Valentin and Dan Newall, but I don’t really know if I’m heading in the right direction, hence the need for a lesson …or several.

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After:
Well, that was amazing. Martin Shaw is a terrific teacher, and very generous with his time. He gave me two hours! It felt like half an hour. It seems that I’m basically on the right track and he was very encouraging about my attempts – after hearing me struggling through All The Things You Are, although several things came up which I’m writing down now to remind myself about.

1. General articulation: I’m doing it too softly! My tonguing needs to be more positive, or harder, less “classical” – this surprised me but he demonstrated the difference and convinced me. It’s part of coming from my highly classical horn technique and rounding the starts of the notes. “It’s a beautiful sound but not right for jazz trumpet”, I think he said…  So I must try to remember that.

2. Learning the modal flavours: Up and down scales thinking in terms of raised and lowered 2nds, 3rds, 6ths etc.. Make cards or use Psion… Go to the ninth and back down each time. Then learn them from the ninth down then up. Then in broken thirds, fourths etc…

3. Playing Aebersolds using only the chord notes. Up, then up and down the scale notes.

4. Playing Aebersolds up and down the straight simple scales notes – so, for example, when encountering the altered scale Calt, just stick to C7 (for now).

5. Same as above but improvising using only the scale notes first in minims, then in triplet minims, then crotchets, then triplet crotchets then quavers, then, triplet quevers etc…

6. Don’t use double tonguing in the fast stuff – it’s almost never done in jazz. The fast licks seem to all be slurred pairs or threes, across the main beats.

7. Learn the closed-tongue Clifford Brown thingy sound. Like muting the sound by putting the toungue against the teeth so the air has to squeeze around the teeth to get through. This is a new departure – something unheard of in classical technique and I don’t think it’s been analyzed much by jazz trumpet players. They just seem do it. I don’t know what it’s called, even.

8. The timbre can be less bright – Martin’s was considerably smokier, or more lush than mine. No idea how to do this.

9. Chromatic scales: very useful and need to be clean and accurate and fast. Good for warming up. Use a more postive finger action – slam the valves down a bit more !


Lodes Of Modes

I’m on holiday with the family in a cottage in Sherringham Park, Norfolk. Nobody lives anywhere nearby so I can practice at anytime and most of what I’ve done so far has been outside.

I’ve brought Kenny’s Benge pocket trumpet with me and I’m doing irregular bursts of modes and jazz-chord arpeggios from an exercise I’ve written called “Lodes of Modes”. See below.  

I’ve also had the odd stab at repeat tonguing in the high register – something I find rather difficult. So, I’m not really being very systematic but then this is a holiday. I guess what I’m doing adds up to about 90 minutes or so each day.

The little Benge is perfect for a holiday practice trumpet. It takes up almost no space – it even fits inside my regular horn case, next to my horn, and, most importantly, it’s a serious piece of gear – an excellent instrument by any standards.

Benge Pocket Trumpet

Benge Pocket Trumpet

With a cup mute in it’s nice and quiet so it doesn’t disturb the kids trying to get to sleep.

Here’s “Lodes Of Modes”: 

This evening, I’ve just discovered a good way forward. I sat down with Aebersold’s Turnarounds book and CD (volume 16) and tackled the progressions for what are called “Turnarounds No 3”. It’s basically this progression: DM,F7, BbM,Eb7 repeated three times followed by a variety of unsubtle modulations into another key – and through all the keys.

I started off by playing along with the CD but soon realised I was just deepening previous grooves I had made rather than finding new pathways. I turned off the playalong and started to play just the chord notes of each chord symbol. Difficult! Ken Bartells was right – I must learn to know what notes I am playing and learn play ones I choose rather than playing exclusively by ear.


Tounguing difference between horn and trumpet

I’m trying to get a bit of practice in every day.

More books and playalongs have arrived, so there’s no shortage of stuff to work on. The trumpet and the flugel are hanging up next to the piano, and the cornet (and mute) are upstairs next to the bed. Most of the playalongs and tons of other jazz recordings are on minidisc so I’ve always got stuff to listen to or play-along with. Also, my Revo has an ever increasing selection of “Grigson” grids to study.

It’s going quite well, although I detect a certain reluctance to get stuck into any standards. I’m not sure quite why this is but I’m hoping that Kenny might help me work this out when I go to see him this afternoon. He’s reluctantly agreed to see me for some kind of “lesson” although it’s clear he really doesn’t want to be a “teacher”.

I think what I should do is ask him to help me work on Stella – I think I have a bit of a foothold in that one.
What I really need is a tame pianist to help me work on some tunes. I’m going to phone Julian Jacobson (a very good pianist, who dabbles in jazz) in a few weeks, when he’s back from some cruise or other, and I’m hoping we can work up some tunes together.

The “LoadsOfModes” is working well. I think I’ll know them all in a couple of weeks and then I’ll just have to start speeding them up.

I’ve noticed something important. There is a tonguing difference between the horn and the trumpet. It’s a larger mass of air inside the horn so starting it and stopping it takes a bit more clout and steadier air pressure. This is the dreaded “support” but I hate the term it means totally different things to different people. I don’t think the trumpet needs any less of it than the horn but the tongue has to be used in quite a different way. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to switch tonguing styles as I switch instruments – rather like people who play both violin and viola have to learn to switch gears as move from one to the other.


Horn Tennis

Written by Thomas Allard (horn student at Royal College of Music)

(Year 3 Teaching Skills Assignment)

Horn Tennis”

“It is impossible to teach the horn. It is only possible to teach the students how to teach themselves.”

This is Pip Eastop’s main philosophy, and over the last three years I have gradually come to agree with it. The main reason for this is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to give a totally accurate description of the physical processes involved in tone production. Furthermore, even if the professor can describe accurately what he does, it does not mean that students can do the same thing, simply due to the fact that the physical make-up of the inside of the mouth differs from person to person.

To tackle this problem, my professor has devised a practise method to help students address all aspects of technique and discover for themselves the way to attain an ideal sound and technique. Hopefully this eventually allows them to express themselves musically without succumbing to the technical limitations of the instrument. He calls this method the “workout”. It is a period of intense practise incorporating self-styled exercises for breath control and tonguing at different dynamic levels throughout the horn’s range, slurring over different widths of interval, double and triple tonguing, lip trills and attacks on high notes.

Emphasis is on having a heightened level of awareness of what you play, and on only playing to a level at which you can play everything perfectly. Trying to push past this level too quickly does not help you to improve. However, by playing only what you can play perfectly day in, day out, it becomes apparent that the level at which you can do this is always increasing. Once students have an understanding of how the “workout” works, they can tailor existing exercises and invent new ones to meet their specific needs at any given time.

There can come times, however, when the student has trouble advancing with a certain area of their technique, possibly due to the fact that the exercise they have been using does not quite address the problem or perhaps because they are not quite sure what outcome they are aiming at (e.g. tone, type of attack etc.). In an attempt to overcome this problem my professor has invented a teaching method based less on verbal description and more on the aural perception of both the professor and student.

It is called “horn tennis” and involves the professor and student sitting in such a way that their bells face each other so that they can hear each other as clearly as possible. Then, taking into account the student’s description of their particular problem the professor will play something short, usually from a “workout” exercise, which the student then has to imitate exactly. If the student is unable to do this, the professor will play something easier so that the student can imitate it perfectly. Then he will see how far his student can improve by gradually increasing the difficulty of what he plays (without, of course, allowing them to play anything that isn’t perfect) as they continually bounce these small snippets of exercises off each other.

I have seen many of the benefits of this teaching method. Firstly, when there have been faults in the way I have been practising exercises I have been able to spot them straight away. Often I realise that I have not had enough patience in slowly building up what I am able to do. Other times it has been a case of me not quite having had high enough a level of awareness and thus having allowed mistakes to creep in.

Furthermore, there have been times when suggestions of a new approach to a problem by either my professor or myself have led to the discovery of new exercises which have ended up benefiting both parties.

When I have felt stuck because of being unsure of my aims I have benefited from “horn tennis” simply because I have been able to listen to how my professor thinks something should sound and slowly infiltrate this into my way of playing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “horn tennis” has given me a valuable insight into the way in which my professor practises. This alone can often put my playing back on track. After all, if it can make him as good a player as he is, it can hopefully do the same for me!

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Tom - thanks for allowing me to reproduce this on my website!
Cheers, 
Pip 

The Tongue Cut Off!

The Tongue Cut Off!

( This article was published in “The Horn Magazine”, Vol. 5 No. 2, Summer 1997)

Those readers whose quality of repetitive tonguing stays consistently tidy and clear from the quiet and slow through to the loud and fast, will probably find little of use in this article. Please jump directly to the very interesting section on historic brass-rubbings, later in this journal.

For the rest, perhaps you have wondered why it is that, below a certain speed, you can articulate a string of repeated notes with good clean attacks, whereas, at a faster tempo, each tends to begin roughly and muddies your overall clarity of playing. For years this puzzled me, but I think I Have now found an explanation and, even better, a solution. Better still, it’s free.

First, to clarify the problem, let me start with an illustration which everyone knows the first whole bar in the rondo from W A.M.’s fourth horn concerto(see below). Whether it is played on the Bb valve-horn, the F valve horn or the Eb hand horn, the problem is there: you might find that when you play it up to speed, forte, you get six rather rough attacks so you try it slowly and the articulation comes out nice and clean. You do the obvious thing and practise it slowly, a lot, maybe for days, but when you play it up to speed again it has hardly improved it still sounds rough and ragged. Help! What is going on here?

I aim to show that if your symptoms match those I have just described, then a potential solution lies just around the corner. But first we need to home in on the problem and highlight it, so lease follow these instructions carefully:

At a metronome speed of dotted crotchet = 126, take the first whole bar of the rondo; put repeat brackets around it and keep on cycling through the bar at about mezzoforte. Make sure you are playing sufficiently staccato so that there is a detectable silence between each note.

This next bit is difficult, so be very careful and persevere until you can do it and get someone else to listen to you if you are not sure you are doing it right. Begin to lengthen the silences so that the notes get pushed apart and the tempo becomes increasingly retarded until it is down to about dotted crotchet =45. Make sure the notes themselves do not become elongated as they move further apart.Meanwhile, keep an eye on every thing else you are doing, particularly with your abdominal muscles and your throat, to make sure that the only thing that changes from note to note is the speed of events not the way you do them.<

Next, maintaining the silences at the duration you have just reached, start to deliberately lengthen the notes. Again, take care not to change anything but the note lengths. Keep slowing until you arrive at around quaver= 76.

Now, by this point you should find yourself playing a string of very ugly, loud, square-sounding notes, each of which starts with the tongue and is cut off by the tongue to make silences roughly equal in length to the notes you are playing. If not, please try again and persevere until you can do it. Remember; some find this very difficult for reasons I hope will become apparent.

What I hope I have proved to you by putting this little excerpt under what is, in effect, an aural microscope, is that during fast staccato tonguing you stop each note with your tongue, Actually, there is no other way, at high speed, to get the little silences between the notes which produce the staccato effect, so rest assured you are doing the right thing by tonguing off at high speed. Incase you had not noticed this before, you have been breaking one of the fundamental laws of modern horn technique, “NEVER END A NOTE WITH THE TONGUE!”. Good for you, I say it was a pretty daft rule anyway. If, by this point, you are still with me and haven’t skipped in disgust to the brass-rubbings, there are, in the light of this revelation, several things to do. The first is to work out why such a rule exists and is so pervasive in horn playing. Then, having admitted to yourself that you really do, at least sometimes, end notes with the tongue, work out what can be gained from such a discovery .

So, why does this rule exist? Primarily to get novice horn players out of the habit of ending each and every note abruptly, which is the easy thing to do, and to encourage them instead to”tail-off” musically the ends of notes or phrases which is very difficult.

It may be interesting to consider the possible origins of this “classical” shaping of the ends (and to some extent the attacks) of notes and phrases. Tradition has it that a typically horn sounding single note should start more or less abruptly, reach its fullest sonority almost immediately and then taper away to silence. There are probably many reasons why this particular teardrop, or pear shaped “envelope”has become, in our musical culture, the one we default to when none other is specified, but the most compelling one I can think of is that when contrived on; brass instrument it imitates the envelope of a note played in a church-like acoustic. Inside a large resonant building even a staccato hand clap is transformed by reverberation, the proliferation of contained sound reflections, into a longer sound which will be perceived as having the teardrop envelope, i.e. it has a smooth tail off added to it.

Contriving such envelopes in non-resonant environments comes easily to the human voice but is much more difficult for the lips and breath of a horn player. It requires the kind of complex technical facility which is central to horn technique but very difficult to develop to a high degree. Inexperienced players who have not yet acquired the rounded attack and the taper to silence will tend to reveal their lack of both by playing square sounding heads and tails of notes which at least helps to avoid the embarrassment of accidentally slipping up or down a harmonic or two. So the rule: “Never End A Note With A Tongue Stop” can be thought of as a preventative teaching aid, at least in its origin. But time moves on and sometimes rules need breaking, or at least bending, to keep them flexible and to allow advanced players a little more freedom.

Now, to explore what can be gained from having found the bath-plug tongue-stop, alive and well, hiding between the notes of your fast staccato articulation: As I have suggested, cleaning up articulation by practising things slowly may not necessarily work. You play the thing up to speed again and nothing has changed, however wonderful it may have sounded at a slow tempo. My hypothesis, then, is that when we slow something down with the intention of working on the articulation we might inadvertently change not just the tempo but also the method of our articulation. We slow it down and then, without realising it, waste time practising some thing quite different, i.e. because we now have time to fit them in we give each note a nice tail off.

Traditionally, the requirement in horn playing to end all notes and phrases with a taper to silence has been so universal that the abrupt tongue-stop way of ending a note has become redundant, and is widely frowned upon. In contemporary music, however, the effect is often specifically required. 1 must say that I really enjoy playing these backward sounding notes. I like the way they end with a thump similar to the effect of letting the bath plug slam back in the plughole as the water is runningú out. In fact, broadly speaking, the bath plug analogy is not a bad one for explaining the simple mechanics of tonguing in horn playing: you pull out the plug and the water/air starts moving again (this is of course a simplification of what really happens) .

Go back to the WAM example. Does it sound even more ragged played on longer lengths of tube? Try it on the Bb horn, then on the F horn. If you are like the rest of us you will probably find it worse on the longer tubing, which is an interesting clue if we continue comparing the tongue to a bath plug.

When playing our example on the Bb horn a relatively small volume of air is flowing along a relatively short length of tube. This mass of moving air is abruptly halted at the precise moment the tongue plugs the passage of air through the mouth. When doing the same thing on the F horn there is a considerably larger, and therefore heavier, volume of air (travelling at the same speed) which has to be stopped dead. The result is a much heavier yank on the tongue caused by the inertia of all that suddenly arrested air flow which then immediately needs the powerful kick of a tongue-release to get it moving again for the next note. Simply put, this means that a stronger tongue is needed to stop and then release the flow of air in longer tube lengths or, alternatively, the shorter the length of tube, the less ragged and burbly the tonguing will sound. Please note my use of the words “stop and release”. I have chosen these carefully to avoid supporting the common misunderstanding that the tongue in some way catapults air out between the lips and down the instrument as if it were some kind of powerful piston. A similar common misconception is that the tongue accts in a way similar to a piano hammer miraculously striking the roof of the mouth to produce sound. The truth is that the tongue stops the flow of air by blocking its path, or allows it to flow by simply getting out of the way.

Having proposed that a strong tongue might be better than a weaker one at producing clean sounding staccato tonguing, it would be a sensible idea to test this out for yourself by setting up  an exercise to strengthen it in the right sort of way. This is simple if you follow the instructions I gave earlier and spend some time working at the slow, rather ugly, square sounding abrupt starts and stops. If you do this exactly as I have explained you will probably find, after some time that the roots of your tongue will be aching with the unaccustomed work load which is a good sign that the tongue, which is nearly all muscle, is responding and will naturally become stronger with the exercise. You should feel this ache approximately half way between the tip or your chin and your Adam’s apple, up in the soft tissue between the bones of your jaw.

In my opinion there are very good reasons why tonguing, rather than merely blowing to start a sound, is a good idea. There are some players who advocate starting notes without involving the tongue at all. Presumably, this is to defend potential listeners from the imagined unpleasantness of abrupt attacks. To my mind this is taking the idea of smoothing and rounding everything off a bit too far. It is somewhat analogous to speaking without consonants (try saying this sentence with only the vowel sounds, omitting all vocal tonguing i.e. all the consonants).Playing just about anything without the added colour brought by at least some tongued articulation will probably sound dull and laboured.

Also there is a danger, when non-tonguing, of sounding late to the beat, particularly within a horn section. Generally speaking, it is almost always necessary to synchronise starts of notes with stimuli coming outside ourselves the flick of a baton, the nod of another player, the click of a metronome or click track. With untongued notes this is precarious as there will inevitably be an element of waiting for your note to get going when it is ready, rather than being in precise control as you are when tonguing.<

However, while I definitely advocate the use of the tongue to begin notes and phrases I must make it clear that it is not my intention to encourage the use of the tongue-stop in general playing this would be awful. I only hope to illuminate its specific usefulness as a technical practice aid. As such I have found it to be very useful in my own playing as have many of my students in theirs.

©1997 Pip Eastop


Note: When first published this article was met with a deafening silence from readers of the Horn Magazine and nearly all of my professional colleagues. So far I only know one professional horn player or teacher who has enthusiastically endorsed it – Anthony Halstead.

I have a suspicion that there may be many closet tongue stoppers out there. What do you think? Please email me with any confessions.