Klarinet Archive - Posting 000395.txt from 1999/09
From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: Re: [kl] tonguing (long)
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 18:01:13 -0400
On Mon, 13 Sep 1999 16:33:55 -0700, david-patty@-----.net said:
> One metaphor for clarinet tonguing lies in the articulation difference
> between piano and organ. On the piano, the articulation is created
> primarily by how one strikes the key, whereas on the organ, it is
> created by the release of the key. If the tongue remains on the reed
> for long it pretty much closes things up, so the tongue can be seen
> much as a valve (?) opening an organ pipe; when one releases the key,
> the pipe is open. When the tongue is removed, the clarinet sounds.
I think metaphors are an essential tool in the communication of skills
like articulation. A few years ago I wrote a series of articles
collecting a number of metaphors that could apply to clarinet playing.
(Some of them are similar to the ones you use:-)
Probably in the end I will publish a small book. Some of this material
has appeared in the "Cambridge Companion to the Clarinet", CUP.
Here is a fuller version of what is there on the subject of "Tonguing".
It complements and refers also to another article I've reproduced here,
called "All that stuff about the diaphragm", and repeats in a different
form some of the content of that article.
METAPHORS FOR ARTICULATION
Why are metaphors useful?
The ability to perform some complex skill (like playing a clarinet) is
experienced by the performer as a whole. It is impossible to teach this
whole to another directly. We could say that it has various components
-- physical, intellectual and emotional. Any way in which we describe it
has to be incomplete.
When we begin learning a skill, obviously we make mistakes. If those
mistakes go uncorrected, and get built into our performance, we create
another whole, different from the one we were aiming at. It may then be
difficult to take this counterproductive 'whole' apart and find out
where we might change things in order to get better. It may even be the
case that we have several things wrong, and changing just one of them
won't be good enough to show us we are on the right track.
Wise teachers, or wise students, will try a number of different ways of
approaching the problem. These approaches may be in the realm of direct
instruction; but they will almost always be more successful if they
operate also on a higher level of experience, so that they take
advantage of the naturalness of our already highly sophisticated
experience of how the world works.
One thing we can try is to ask the student, or ourselves, to imagine the
experience of playing as though it is like the experience of *something
else*. This 'something else' will usually have been generated by
someone who already has a successful experience of the particular
technique. If we try out a number of things that a more expert player
knows the experience is like for him or her, we stand a chance of
catching on to that expertise for ourselves.
It may be that we are already imagining the experience in terms of a
wrong 'something else', which holds us in a grip that we must break.
Indeed, we may be reinforcing this grip by the way in which we 'talk
about' the situation to ourselves.
Language is constructed metaphorically. Often we are not aware that we
are held by a metaphor, because it is built into an idiom of our
language that we use without thinking about it.
'Languaging' a point of view
Here is an example of how we may make such an assumption, without
noticing it, and lead ourselves astray.
If we say of someone, "he is full of anger," we inevitably talk
ourselves into a 'container' metaphor for emotions. We imagine his
anger 'filling' him in some sense. Then, the normal behaviour of
containers filled with things influences us in our assessment ot the
possibilities open to him, and therefore, on other occasions, to
ourselves. Whether this is a good idea or not depends on the
One consequence might be that we think of our anger as something that we
can only 'let out' or 'hold in'. On the other hand, we might imagine
instead that anger is a substance that can 'evaporate' -- this is of
course a further metaphor, and possibly a more useful one on occasion.
But now consider a superficially similar concept, that of 'confidence'.
Here the 'container' metaphor is almost wholly counterproductive.
Someone who observes another's inspiring and 'confident' performance may
be tempted to say "she is full of confidence," and then work on getting
himself full of this elusive substance. Evaporation might be even more
counterproductive! In any case, the similarity of language has
concealed the fact that confidence and anger have different structures.
(As we shall see in a later chapter, confidence is best thought of not
as an emotion.)
So one way of proceeding when we are improving any skill is:
First, to notice, if we can, what sort of metaphor we are already using.
How can we do this? The best way is to try out another metaphor. If
there is a collision -- that is, if the metaphors are inconsistent -- we
may be able to see how we are limiting ourselves.
Second, to work towards a whole, successful experience of the skill in
the context of better chosen metaphors.
Unfortunately, neither of these instructions is easy to follow. But one
thing is certain: if we find that we are going through struggle and
effort, then it makes sense to look at the assumptions we are making.
The hard work of real self-examination may be less painful.
Any really able exponent of an instrument demonstrates that playing need
not be experienced as difficult. It is as though we are clearly shown
what is required: that we find out what works and what doesn't work ™-
and then do what works rather than what doesn't.
With all this in mind, let us look first at how all English-speaking
people are prone to deal with the notion of staccato.
How we 'language' staccato is a problem.
The very first step ™- the verb "to tongue" ™- is a major difficulty.
This is because in common usage it can be applied to a single note (as
in, "that note is tongued"), and it carries the implication that it is
something that we do to that note, with our tongue, at its beginning.
Conductors sometimes ask us to "tongue that note harder" when they want
more of an attack. This use of the verb again gives the impression that
it is the action of the tongue that begins the note. Moreover, it
suggests that the harder we tongue, the louder will be the beginning.
In fact, the tongue begins the note only in the same sense that the
light-switch lights the room. We don't get more light if we push it
harder! Many people, though, start off by making this sort of mistake
on the clarinet.
In Italian, staccato means 'separated', which is more suggestive of the
idea that the action of the tongue will occur both at the beginning and
the end of the note, if we are to use the tongue to perform the
A better English word for our purposes is 'articulation'. This word is
suggestive of both separating and joining.
For example, we speak of the elbow as an 'articulated' joint, and use
the phrase 'articulated lorry'; it is clear in each case that both arm
and lorry can be regarded as one and as two things.
The word 'articulation' also applies naturally to a group of notes,
indicating that those notes are to be separated to a greater or lesser
degree whilst nevertheless remaining a group.
We can say, "this group of semiquavers is to be articulated", meaning,
"what we have to do is separate these joined-up notes".
Each of the sequence of metaphors I am about to outline communicates
this experience of unity in separation. The metaphors approach the
experience in a variety of ways, via language, mental images and
Metaphor 1 -- 'Mud'
If we imagine a series of notes that we want to be staccato, or
articulated, we may think of them as represented in the diagram.
<The diagram is a series of shaded rectangles, representing the notes
which appear above them, separated by silences. Under each silence is
the letter 'd', and under each rectangle is the letter 'u'.>
This is a very schematic representation. The idea is that the shaded
rectangles represent the sound of the semiquavers above them. The
letters underneath are the usual vocalisations, with the letter d
occurring where the tongue is on the reed and the letter u where it
comes off, allowing the reed to vibrate.
It is a sort of graph of sound intensity against time, although in
reality such a graph would not have sharp corners, or even be
rectangular. The reed takes a moment to begin vibrating, and the air
inside the clarinet continues to vibrate for a moment when the reed
stops, so the result would be much less mechanical. Even so, it is a
preliminary picture we might make of a crisply articulated short burst
In the conventional vocal representation of staccato, we are often asked
to say the syllables du-du-du-du-du etc. This again has the effect that
we are likely to imagine the d initiating each note.
Looking at the middle of the passage, though, there is no particular
reason to group the d and the u in this way. We can just as well say
the syllables ud-ud-ud-ud-ud, or, as I would suggest, creating a real
English word, mud-ud-ud-ud-ud etc. We can imagine ourselves continually
interrupting the word 'mud'.
The advantage of this move is twofold. Firstly it has the effect of
emphasising the unity of the passage -- there is just one word 'mud' to
be interrupted. Secondly, it makes clear that each individual note
begins with a pure sound, one that is created by the air pressure.
There is no percussive 'clonk' made by the tongue. Rather than
imagining that we start a note with the tongue, we imagine that we 'stop
stopping' the previous one.
Now, the question immediately arises: how much force does it require to
stop a note? Taking this question as a sort of research project, we can
begin to experience the process of articulation from a diametrically
opposed viewpoint to that suggested by the word "tonguing". (You've got
to do it with the clarinet, though -- thinking about it isn't enough.)
First you must be sure that you really are producing a good firm sound
before proceeding. Then, if you play a low E, say, it is possible to
place the tongue gently on the reed without stopping the sound. The
pitch of the note becomes flatter, but the reed is able to continue to
vibrate even though it has a 'passenger' to carry.
It's absolutely necessary to continue blowing strongly throughout the
process. Some people find this difficult to do, because their tongue
action is already bound up with their blowing. For them, breaking this
connection is perhaps the most powerful move they can make to improve
their playing, quite apart from their staccato. In fact, with a little
practice, by changing the embouchure and tongue position and increasing
the air pressure, we can in this way play quite a strong note at the
pitch almost of an E flat.
Speaking technically, the reed is able to vibrate, despite extra
damping, but the vibration has to carry an added mass. The elementary
theory of oscillations then tells us that the result will be a lower
frequency of vibration -- hence, a lower note.
By contrast, and quite strikingly, in the upper register it is
impossible to touch the reed at all without immediately stopping the
note. This can come as a great surprise to many players. Those of us
who have had the misfortune to get a small particle of biscuit or other
material between the reed and the mouthpiece whilst playing will find
it, on reflection, less strange. (You can almost tell which are the
reed players among other orchestral musicians by the fact that they
always finish their coffee break with several mouthfuls of coffee ™ or
even skip the biscuit entirely.)
Anyhow, we immediately become aware of a possible difference in the
action of the tongue, depending on the register of the passage. Notice
that this discovery is the result of an experiment that we could not
have thought of making had we not been open to the idea that the job of
the tongue in "tonguing" may be to stop rather than to start a note.
It also becomes clear that in articulating a passage we must never blow
less. In fact, if we don't blow strongly enough, so that there is
insufficient pressure difference between the inside of the mouth and the
inside of the mouthpiece, the reed is unlikely to start to vibrate again
in a smooth and well-behaved way (particularly in the high register)
when we 'stop stopping' it.
Metaphor 2 ™ A Pendulum
One way to think about the situation involves another metaphor. The
idea is to imagine that the reed behaves like a pendulum of greater or
lesser length, according to whether it is vibrating to produce a low
note or a high note. This mini-pendulum comes to an abrupt halt if we
stop blowing. Real pendulums oscillate much more slowly, and also
gradually come to a standstill, unless their oscillation is maintained
by an applied force. In a clock, this force is supplied either by a
spring or by an electromagnetic system.
The vibration of the reed is similarly maintained, in this case by the
pressure difference between the air in the mouth and the air inside the
We can imagine, then, that a high note, looked at in slow motion, is
like a fast-swinging, light and delicate pendulum, and a low note like a
long, slow-swinging and massive one.
Now imagine stopping each of these pendulums, just as we imagined
stopping the reed with the tongue. We would clearly need a stronger
grip to stop the long and massive pendulum. We might only use two
fingers for the small one. Also, if we needed to release a pendulum
afterwards so that it went on swinging nicely as before, we would be
careful about precisely how we gripped it in stopping it. Probably we
would hold the small one particularly carefully, so that it would begin
again by slipping between our two fingers as we opened them slightly.
All of these considerations have their analogues in how we touch the
reed with the tongue. The simplest and most delicate action that
succeeds in stopping the reed is likely to be the most effective in
allowing it to start when we let it go again. This is why we are often
recommended to touch the reed at the tip. But if we try to give more
specific details of how the tongue should touch the reed, we begin to be
in trouble. Because players have very different physiques, including
differing lengths and shapes of tongue, what works well for one player
may be useless for another, We have to be flexible in our approach.
Every player has the opportunity to find out personally what works best;
though there is more than one way of going about this, too, and not
every method has an equal chance of success.
Controlling the tongue
You can try out how much control you have over your tongue by sticking
it out at yourself in a mirror, and telling it to keep still.
If you can do this at all, it will be with great difficulty. It seems
that the tongue can perform miraculous feats, but resists direct,
precise instruction. Children beginning to talk learn to perform
incredibly subtle movements of the tongue, though they have no sense of
directing their own physical actions. They can even talk and eat at the
So if you are trying to instruct yourself or others in related skills,
such as articulation, a delicate approach is in order. It has rightly
been said that if it were possible for us to teach children to speak
directly, by telling them exactly how to do it, they would probably
Of course, it is impossible for us to interfere, because children can
already deal with much of the mechanics of speaking by the time they can
understand any such instruction. It's a sobering thought, though, that
if we could in some way offer direct instruction, we would not only rush
in to do it, but also probably have competing systems, and experts, and
lots of reasons why it wasn't working.
As children, we learn skills like speaking or singing by imitation,
approximating more and more closely the sounds around us. As adults, we
have the tendency to introduce an intermediate stage in this process:
we try to find out and then describe to ourselves what we should do to
achieve the required result, and then concentrate on doing that thing.
We try, in other words, to tell ourselves how to do it.
Sometimes this may be a sensible move, particularly if the time-scale we
are dealing with is long, as when we are planning a picnic; but it is
wise to moderate the process by trusting ourselves to learn even without
knowing how. This is particularly true when the complication of what we
have to do is such that we cannot keep track of our actions. In this
way we are also less likely to make the mistake of being so interested
in the intermediate stage that we lose sight of what we were trying to
do in the first place.
Several interesting and useful books have been written about the
possibilities of this approach, mostly as applied to sports. (A famous
violin player is quoted as saying that 'The Inner Game of Tennis' by
Timothy Gallwey is the best book about playing the violin he knows.)
Essentially, the idea is to have a good model or notion of what you want
to achieve, and then perform the action whilst remaining as conscious or
aware as possible of one aspect of your experience, always in a
This particular aspect might be a body sensation or behaviour, or
alternatively part of the actual result obtained. After a while, it
becomes possible to make an intelligent choice of what to concentrate on
at any given moment. Progress is often much more fluent and natural
than with a more traditional method of immediate error-correction. What
happens is that we tie up our conscious mind with the job of describing
something useful for us to know in some sense, with the added advantage
that our intellect is disabled from delivering its customary
evaluations, instructions and fears, most of which would be too late to
be effective even if they were appropriate.
In many ways, these activities of our mind are our greatest enemy, and
constitute the opponent in Gallwey's metaphor of the 'inner game'. They
also give rise to the vicious circle of the psychological block, as we
shall see, where the anxiety arising from our fear of failure is the
fuel of that very fear.
It is easy to approach staccato on the clarinet with too rigid an
attitude to controlling the tongue. In finding how the tongue can most
effectively stop the reed from vibrating, and move neatly away in order
to allow it to continue, we do best by indulging freely in experiment.
When we already have a problem, our experience of playing the instrument
tend to fix many of the variables we may want to alter, immediately we
put the instrument in our mouth. This makes experiment difficult,
because though we may feel uncomfortable about the defects in our
playing we already know about, we feel even more uncomfortable about
ones that we are generating and observing for the first time.
The metaphors I have already described constitute a minimally
confronting context for such experiment. Fundamentally, they move our
actions in the direction of using much less force, particularly in the
higher register, and encourage us to think of the action of the tongue
more like that of a switch than that of an impulse. Here is a further
metaphor that may help.
Metaphor 3 -- Pickup and Turntable
Imagine we have a hi-fi gramophone with a powerful amplifier and speaker
at our disposal. We have also a recording that includes a loud
sustained passage, and our job is to produce a loud, clear, short sound
(i.e. a staccato chord) from the equipment. How would we go about it?
If we turn up the volume control, we can lower the stylus of the pickup
arm until it is just above the part of the rotating record that contains
the loud passage. At this point we can delicately lower the stylus on
to the record for an instant, thereby producing the loud, abrupt chord.
But notice that there is nothing in our action that corresponds to the
abruptness or the energy of the result. The powerful component of the
system is the amplifier, which is operating constantly at the same
level. In fact, if we were to match the intended loudness with a
similarly violent action with the pickup arm, we would most likely
fail to achieve our objective.
The same situation obtains when we play a loud short note on the
clarinet. The power comes from the air-stream, which is what causes the
note to begin as the tongue stops stopping it.
Compare the situation when we enunciate a very loud syllable, beginning
and ending with a 'd'. Here it really does seem that the tongue is
working hard, especially just before and just afterwards. But this is
because the tongue has to hold back the airstream, which indeed must be
forceful. Admittedly it does also seem that a violent action of the
tongue is being performed when we hear a fortissimo staccato note on the
clarinet. But as we have seen from our experiment, it takes very little
contact with the tongue to stop the reed, even when it is vibrating
The helpful analogy for the action of the tongue is the analogy with a
control system, rather than a power system. Remember the light switch!
You can play a very loud short note with a very delicate and precise
tongue action, just as, in principle, you could turn on and off even an
atomic power station with your little finger.
This last analogy might seem ridiculously extreme. But in the world of
our imagination, it may be really useful. Many players are very
surprised to discover quite how much they habitually overestimate the
amount of tongue action required. We really need practically no contact
between tongue and reed in the high register. The area of contact can
be reduced almost to nothing and the effect still achieved, even in
fortissimo. Nor is it necessary to specify exactly how the tongue
I personally find that in the higher register I tend to touch the reed
with the underside of the tip of my tongue, which seems to alter shape
rather than move bodily, especially in fast passages, whilst lower down
the action is larger. (A student once said to me, "But, my teacher says
that's *wrong*!") Also the degree of tension in the tongue can vary.
Perhaps those with a very fast staccato have succeeded in controlling
the sort of oscillations that we sometimes get in flexed groups of
muscles, though in general, in my experience, less rather than more
tension is to be encouraged.
We are really lucky to have this flexibility of control with the reed.
We can play a staccato that is more rapid than the speed at which we
could fully interrupt the word "mud" in reasonably loud speech. To do
so, we must be able to touch the reed without interrupting the airstream
or compromising the embouchure, which is another reason why
experimenting with stopping the note whilst still blowing is so
important. Sometimes players with long tongues find this difficult, but
they have all learned to talk acceptably, which required some gymnastic
lingual ability. Playing staccato on the clarinet is a minor feat by
Some players have a phenomenally fast, "rattlesnake" staccato, and it is
probably hoping too much to think of developing such a special ability
from scratch; but a good medium-fast tongue action, fast enough for the
classical repertoire, and above all variable in its weight and area of
contact, should be accessible to most if not all players.
Metaphor 4 -- Half full or half empty?
The next metaphor is a sort of correction or complement to the first
three. The metaphors so far have involved giving centre-stage in
consciousness to the airstream, reducing concern with the precise
details of the tongue action, even to the point of allowing these
details be unconscious. Now I want to return to the business of
becoming aware of the tongue, but with the idea that we may be more
spectators than participants in its action. We can switch between two
ways of looking at the situation, keeping the relative energies of the
airstream and tongue action as they were. The only movement, as they
say in Zen, is in the mind.
We are all familiar with the figure/ground reversal whereby a white
goblet on a black background appears to turn into two faces in
silhouette against a white background. We know that we can also describe
the land as being the part of the seabed that is out of water, or
alternatively the bottom of the sea as the part of the land that is
underwater; or a glass of wine as half-full or half-empty. A cousin of
these sorts of reversal of perception occurred when we changed the
organisation of the 'd' and the 'u' in Metaphor 1 from the grouping du-du-du
to the grouping ud-ud-ud. The idea was to break the association of the
d with the beginning of the note so that we could experiment with the
idea that the tongue stops the note.
Independently of the sound, though, we can look on the action of the
tongue in a sequence of staccato notes in two complementary ways: as
resting gently on the reed and leaving it momentarily, or as poised near
the reed and visiting it momentarily.
The first way of looking at the situation gives a clearer experience of
how lightly or firmly, and where, the tongue rests on the reed, and
mostly gives rise to a short staccato, whilst the other gives a clearer
experience of the distance the tongue withdraws from the reed, and
mostly gives a longer or mezzo-staccato. It's worth trying both in turn
for a passage that is giving difficulty. Sometimes I find that thinking
about the distance of my tongue from the reed (second point of view)
helps me to slow down and control a staccato that is suddenly moving too
fast for the context.
The sound in staccato
Anyone who has tried to emulate Danny Kaye doing his virtuoso
tongue-twisting prestissimo "patter" will know from personal experience
that one particular sort of voice works better than any other. The
sound that gives clarity to his breakneck verbal delivery is quite light
and bright ™ there are lots of consonants, too.
(Danny Kaye, by the way, was a very good musician. We can all learn
from his performances conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.)
But why is it that fast, dense passages seem to require this particular
timbre to sound at their best?
Before answering this question, we should convince ourselves that we
indeed are capable of producing a variety of basic sounds on the
clarinet, by varying, among other things, the embouchure and the
resonance of the cavity behind the reed, which includes the mouth, the
larynx and probably more. When we speak of someone having a good sound,
it is not always realised that a really able player uses a number of
different sounds, or, more accurately changes the sound from moment to
moment, even if we as listeners perceive just one basic quality.
The reason why faster moving music needs a timbre with more higher
frequencies in it, in order to sound as clear as slower music for a
given acoustic, is this. Lower frequencies persist longer, and muddy
the change from one note to the next, if they are predominant in the
sound. We know (from listening to late-night parties next door) that
bass notes resist absorption more effectively than the higher partials.
If these higher partials are present, they die faster, and form a
non-overlapping sequence in a fast moving passage. The result is a
clarity of movement from one note to the next. This is why we find we
need softer reeds, which produce more defined high partials, in a very
It is also easier for us to stop a high frequency vibration than a lower
one. The effect of articulation is therefore more marked when the sound
is more brilliant. Even when we have completely stopped the reed,
doubtless the tube vibrates for a moment longer, and the hall for longer
than that. Again, the high frequencies dominate the perceived division
between one note and its successor, and so it makes sense to keep the
sound rich in upper partials.
A large resonating cavity behind the reed makes the sound richer in the
medium range harmonics, which doesn't help with this clarity. Therefore
it may be better to choose a smaller mouth shape and an embouchure that
brightens the sound, as we might naturally do for fast legato
This is just a biasing of the sorts of movements of tongue and
embouchure we make when we play any passage. In the end it is probable
that any passage, however articulated, requires a whole range of tongue
movements or techniques, modulated not consciously but after the manner
of speech, which is to say governed by the character of the executant's
intention or view of the music.
Beginnings and Phrasing
Till now, we have looked at articulation as something best thought of
not as an action that begins a note, but instead as an action mostly to
do with the end of the previous note.
But then, how do we deal with the awkward question of how we use the
tongue when there are no other notes? In other words, what metaphor do
we use when we begin a smooth phrase, or just one note?
Firstly, it's useful to clear aside the idea that there is one 'right'
way to do it. If you speak to professional players, you will find a
variety of responses on the subject. Some players almost always use the
tongue, others sometimes do and sometimes don't, depending on the
context. We should have at our disposal metaphors that can embrace all
the techniques that successful players use.
It is said: there was a famous magician who specialised in card tricks.
He was a renowned technician, but one trick in particular baffled his
colleagues. It became an obsession with them to discover his secret.
Every time he performed it, they would watch closely, and from time to
time one of them was convinced he had solved the riddle. But
immediately the master magician would smile, and do the trick again in
such a way that it was obvious that the proposed solution was not the
Finally, when he retired, he put his colleagues out of their misery.
There was no one trick. He had three or four ways of producing the same
illusion, and when anyone thought they had him cornered, he would switch
to another method.
There is a moral in this story that has a wider application than the
present discussion. When someone is expert at something that we find
difficult, we tend to think that their playing contains some 'secret
ingredient'. Perhaps it's the make of reeds, or mouthpiece, or the
shape of their mouth, or the strength of their embouchure and so on.
Students sometimes mob famous players after concerts in search of this
sort of information. But like the 'good sound' which is in fact many
sounds, the answer is almost always more plural. We may need to enrich
our own plurality and flexibility to succeed.
So, the metaphors are as follows.
Metaphors 5 and 6 -- The Bow and the Hosepipe
The diagram illustrates, again in schematic form, the beginning of a
note, supposed to be begun without the tongue.
<The diagram is a sharply rising curve, starting from nothing, that
reaches a maximum after a short time, and remains steady thereafter.>
There are a number of possible shapes, depending on the steepness of the
beginning of the curve, and the variety of these shapes is mediated by
the details of the muscular opposition abdominal/diaphragm which we
usually call support. As I pointed out in "All that stuff about the
diaphragm", this process is mostly unconscious, occurs when we have the
opposition set up as we begin the note, and allows the result to follow
the sort of shape that we have imagined. You can, for example, imagine
a shallower or a steeper curve to begin with, and continue the shape
after the high point, either maintaining the dynamic or making a gradual
As the opposition is set up, we can imagine a drawn bow, about to shoot
an arrow. The abdominal muscles take the role of the bow, whilst the
diaphragm corresponds to the hand and arm, which provide the equal and
opposite force holding the system in equilibrium. The more the support,
the more the bow is drawn and the greater are the forces involved. More
support thus means a steeper initial curve in the diagram if the
diaphragm is suddenly relaxed, whilst very little support gives a more
gentle entry. But this is as though we actually shoot the arrow.
Sometimes we will want to maintain control through the initial curve, as
though we simply allow the arrow to move forward as the force of the bow
overcomes the reduced pull of our arm. If we maintain the support in
this way, we can often achieve a very focussed and precise entry, even
without the use of the tongue, and control of how the note subseqently
develops can give all the varieties of accent, fortepiano and
phrase-shaping which are the life-blood especially of slow and
The one thing we cannot do in this way is to completely eradicate the
initial upward curve.
But we can do so using the tongue. The effect is as though by very
delicately stroking the reed at the beginning of the note, we shave off
the initial curve, so that the note reaches the peak almost immediately.
Remember, the note begins when we imagine it beginning (see, 'All that
stuff about the diaphragm'), not when we experience doing something to
begin it -- so, here, we imagine it beginning and then simultaneously
perform the tongue stroke. The duration of contact of the tongue with
the reed is very short, and the touch very gentle (imagine a feather).
Even if we want an explosive accent, the holding back of the attack is
done by the diaphragm.
The important point is that the action of the tongue can be cosmetic.
We can imagine the attack first and then clean it up with the tongue as
The 'hosepipe' metaphor applies to the situation where it is just the
tongue that holds back the attack. We play without support ™ and then
the action of the tongue takes longer, because it must remain on the
reed during the build up of air pressure from the abdominal muscles.
When the air pressure is at the level we require, we release the reed,
which begins to vibrate. The analogy is with a garden hose, controlled
at the 'business end' by a valve (or a thumb). The water pressure is
constant after the tap connecting the hose to the water supply is turned
Personally I usually find this less satisfactory, because I dislike the
artificial feeling of the air pushing against a non-vibrating reed for
such a long time. Also it is possible to achieve effects of any
subtlety as we articulate notes in quiet dynamcs only by using a
combination of tongue and diaphragm, or diaphragm alone. Still, using
the tongue alone can be useful, though it seems ironic that this less
flexible method is the one that is most commonly taught. The 'hosepipe'
method is in fact the special case of the 'bow plus cleanup' method in
the limiting case where we don't use support.
Finally, on the subject of support in fast staccato passages, we should
note that very often sub-phrasing needs to be shown. Playing with
support is the ideal way to do this, as then we have a natural control
of the dynamic envelope, as we would in legato. Yet there is no
interruption of the airstream, so the reed still behaves well.
It is not my purpose here to provide exercises for staccato, which can
be found in many books, methods and tutors. Moreover, exercises
divorced from music have the disadvantage that they lead to the habit of
regarding articulation as a monochrome technique. I want to hear a
staccato that makes it clear to me why it is being used. There is
brilliant staccato; and also staccato to make notes light, staccato to
make notes heavy, staccato to make audible, bubbly staccato,
'travelling' staccato and many more. I could have said virtuoso
staccato instead of brilliant staccato and not been misunderstood, but
this is a detestable use of the word 'virtuoso'. True virtuosity
consists of the ability to make a piece sound necessary in its own
terms, so that the response of the public might well be to say, "What
wonderful music!" more than, "What a wonderful player!" Thus staccato
should always be studied relative to a musical context.
However, it's worthwhile mentioning one small exercise that is
sufficiently effective and innocent to be worth recommendation.
I said before that it's often advantageous to get one's mind out of the
way to allow one's body to learn more fluently and naturally (the 'inner
game' techniques). If we tie our minds up with another difficulty than
the one of articulating, our minds can't interfere.
Now, one of the abilities we sometimes need when we play music is the
ability to change between semiquavers and triplets, say, or between
straight quavers and quintuplets, whilst the beat itself remains
constant. This can be made into an exercise in staccato, using a
metronome. We switch at random between groupings of two, three, four,
five and even six to a beat, against a constant pulse. The mental
difficulty of imagining the shift accurately and adjusting when we prove
mistaken I find an excellent context in which to develop basic
© Antony Pay 1993/1997
_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist: www.gmn.com
tel/fax 01865 553339
..... Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
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