Klarinet Archive - Posting 000359.txt from 2001/05
From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: [kl] Professor Wheeler's tongue
Date: Sun, 13 May 2001 10:50:07 -0400
Roget Garrett wrote:
> I suppose I am trying to make sure, after receiving my own post, that
> no one thinks I was challenging Tony's statement - he is essentially
> quite correct.
Though of course it's nice to be agreed with, in fact I said nothing
myself. I just reported what Professor Wheeler had said, and that I
found it interesting.
In fact, if I understand Professor Wheeler properly, his point is that
we don't *know* whether what he says is correct or not.
Here is a more extended extract from the paper.
In the Fall, 1973 issue of this journal this writer reported information
and conclusions gained from a research project that studied tongue
positions and movements during performance on single and double reed
instruments. With the assistance of medical doctors in 1967, 1971, and
1972, an image intensifier fluoroscope coordinated with a 16 mm. camera
had been used to record motion picture x-ray images as viewed from the
left side of the writer's face. Because of so many conflicting opinions
among performer-teachers about oral cavity functions during performance,
the writer's objective was at least to be able to ascertain tongue
positions, etc., that he used during performance, regardless of opinions
expressed by others.
Readers of that report will recall the writer's surprise in finding his
tongue positions were not at all what he presumed, but later were found
to coincide with findings by Anfinson in a similar study. Briefly, for
Bb soprano clarinet, alto saxophone, oboe, and bassoon the rear portion
of the tongue was high and to the rear for low tones, and gradually
moved down and forward as scales or intervals ascended into higher
register tones. Movement of the front of the tongue did not affect the
tone, nor did it matter whether tones were detached by the tongue or
sustained. Also, tests of syllable-vowel combinations commonly used for
wind instrument instruction were found to be of no value in helping
single and double reed instrument players learn appropriate tongue
positions for notes on their instruments.
More specifically, and after considerable analysis of implications
within these facts, it had to be concluded that, for instruments in the
study, precise tongue positions were required for each tone played, all
players would use the same positions, and those positions dare not vary.
If movement occurred during a tone, the tone would be forced to jump to
a fingering's overtone or undertone in another register. A glissando or
pitch inflection might also be the result on clarinet or saxophone if
the tone was in a higher register.
Lecture-demonstrations using the project film were presented at various
MENC meetings in northwest states, at the 1973 International Clarinet
Clinic in Denver, and most recently at a NACWPI session in Atlantic
City, New Jersey, during the 1976 national MENC meetings. In those
sessions the writer tried to explain facts as presently known and
attempted to offer insight as to how teaching techniques can be changed
to be consistent with phenomena observed.
In the several years since the project began there also has been much
thought about why performers were misled about tongue positions. If a
consensus existed about tongue positions for reed instrumentalists (and
other wind instruments), it revolved around the theory that an open
throat (low tongue) permitted slow air, slow reed vibrations, and
consequently a low register tone. As the throat passage was narrowed
(raised tongue) the air stream would be accelerated, causing faster
vibration and high register tones. As that theory is compared with
images of tongue positions for the instruments studied, it is clear that
other explanations are needed, at least for single and double reed
instruments. The old theory just is not correct.
Still, some clarinetists and saxophonists who have seen the film insist
that they can "feel" the tongue rise as they move to higher tones.
Explanations for this sensation are mere conjecture for the writer, but
one possibility is presented, based on the fact that the tongue's
relaxed position is near the roof of the mouth. Unless it is purposely
moved, the tongue prefers to rest high in the mouth, almost touching the
hard and soft palates. Muscular effort is needed for the tongue to move
down and forward from its resting position and perhaps sustaining that
effect was incorrectly determined to be a tongue elevation for high
The uvula also may be a factor. During ascending vocalizations it moves
downward noticeably and moves upward when vocalizations descend. During
pauses in instrument performance samples the uvula is forward, away from
the upper rear throat wall. But, in the brief moment before a tonal
attack and while a tone is being sustained (or tones are repeated by the
tongue during one breath), the uvula moves backward and holds its
position to seal the upper section of the throat so that air can not
escape into the nasal passageway. When performing the sealing function,
the uvula does not appear to move significantly. It is entirely
speculation, of course, but perhaps muscular tension of the uvula is a
factor that misled performers. Eye, ear, nose, and throat medical
specialists, unfortunately, are not much help in analyzing this either,
since they're not experienced with the musculature efforts wind
instrumentalists require of the oral physiology.
Furthermore, while working with inexperienced students it has become
very clear that initially they do not have voluntary control of the rear
portion of the tongue when learning to play. While advanced players do
have deliberate control of the rear portion of the tongue, it seems
clear that even they are not able to discern the spatial placement of
the rear portion of their tongues, else we surely could not have been
misled in these tone production matters. Inexperienced students must
discover how to shape the tongue and practice many hours until they
deliberately can move their tongues when required during performance to
positions other than the high relaxed position.
By this, it is meant that if a student sounds a very common undertone
"growl" while fingering C above the staff (because of a high tongue
position), and then is correctly instructed to position the tongue lower
and forward, he can not deliberately move the tongue to that position.
Other instructions are needed, but definitely not the one suggested by
so many writers -- to arch the tongue to stabilize the C. If, indeed,
the students were even able to do that, they never would sound the C,
since the high tongue position forces the low register undertone to
Another strategy often was used if all instructions for tongue movement
were not immediately successful. Clarinetists will recall that beginning
students may sound third-space C and quickly slur up the scale an octave
and sustain that upper C for a few seconds before the undertone growl
appears again in the tone. Automatically the tongue will have lowered
appropriately for the higher C. but probably will soon relax (i.e.,
return upward to its high resting position) and permit the growl to
reappear. The student then was told to practice the exercise until he
could sustain the C indefinitely without any hint of the growl. The
acoustical reason the player could reach the upper C and sustain it
briefly will be explained later when three physical laws are recalled.
The point of the foregoing is that verbal instructions of any kind about
tongue positions do not produce instant success, even with motivated
students. In all cases students simply have to rely on practice drills
to discover correct tongue positions for all tones and, with practice,
muscles eventually will memorize positions required.
One other claim bothered the writer concerning tone quality improvement
that resulted after students had experimented as instructed to find
better tongue positions for various notes. Some performer-teachers have
been quoted as assigning practice drills that involve changing the
tongue's syllable-vowel shape while sustaining a tone. Since the drill
undoubtedly did improve tone quality, the teachers felt secure in their
belief that tongue modifications caused the improvement.
The writer, on the other hand, knows that any tongue movement involving
syllable-vowel, tongue changes would not allow that tone to continue to
sound. Instead, as stated before, that tone would have to jump either to
a higher or lower register tone, or cause glissando or pitch inflections
to occur on higher tones.
Nevertheless, tone quality improvement was evident. If not because of
better tongue position, what caused the improvemment? Parenthetically,
it ought to be recalled that in the 1973 report the writer used the term
"stabilize" to indicate that a tone was sounding securely in its
register, without any attempt to define quality. Any number of tone
qualities can sound without changing the "security" of a tone. The
security or stability of a tone was entirely a function of tongue shape
or position (which affects the shape of the oral cavity), and if better
tone quality were desired the clarinetist had several options which are
1. Gain more skill at controlling lmth functions of the tongue so that
movement at the front of the tongue during articulation at the reed
doesn't disturb the position of the tongue's main body, which determines
the register in which a tone will appear with a given fingering.
2. Develop a flexible embouchure that permits efficient reed vibration
and coordinates the reed-mouthpiece aperature with the air supply blown
into the instrument.
Options 3, 4, and 5 involved reed selection, mouthpiece, and instrument
For those who still feel that syllable-vowel changes caused better tone
quality for their students, it is the writer's opinion that the
embouchure pad against the reed received some desirable change. although
not immediately felt by the player. This is not really far-fetched when
we realize how the lips coordinate with the tongue for many spoken
sounds. Consider this by verbalizing "ooh" and "aye", or other sounds of
your choice. No stretching of the imagination is needed then to perceive
how a suggestion for a tongue shape change could unconsciously produce
an embouchure pad modification that improved a clarinetist's tone
The foregoing has been both a review of the previous article and an
attempt to explain how reed instrument players were mistaken about
spatial placement of their tongues. Since required tongue positions are
now known, we need to adjust teaching concepts to agree with facts in
these matters. The remainder of this article will deal with concepts
used by the writer for teaching single and double reed instrument
students, and will raise questions which physicists may elect to study,
as well as other topics deemed worthy of research.
_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN artist: http://www.gmn.com
tel/fax 01865 553339
.... Beam me up, Scotty, This planet sucks!
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