Out-of-tune accents

selective focus beige and brown goat

Young woodwind players often have trouble playing elegant, well-controlled accents. Accented notes are too often thumpy and out of tune. The most common manifestations are accented notes that are too flat, or that scoop up to pitch.

This is usually a side effect of the mistaken idea that accented notes should be tongued “harder.” The underlying misconception here is that the tongue “strikes” the reed in some way to kickstart its vibration. But the tongue merely releases the air that does the real work of starting the note, and releasing the air… harder?… doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In a misguided attempt to tongue harder, less-experienced players end up moving more of the tongue than is necessary. In good woodwind playing, the tongue serves at least two separate functions: the tip of the tongue releases the reed/air for articulation effects, and the back of the tongue controls the space in the oral cavity for voicing. Tonguing “harder” often involves the back of the tongue in the articulation process, which means the voicing changes, and thus the pitch changes.

Solve this problem by teaching a correct conception of articulation. Treat accents as note shapes, a dynamic effect.

Written jazz articulation problems

In classical music for wind players, articulation markings are gospel—part of the composer’s intent, to be performed with accuracy. But printed jazz music, such as arrangements published for high school or college big bands, can take varied approaches to articulation markings.

Interpreting wind articulation markings

It’s easy to think of articulation markings as being black and white (and not just literally). But sometimes the instructions aren’t completely clear. For example, I think most people would see this marking… …and understand it to mean that the D gets some extra length, perhaps so much that there’s no silence between the D … Read more

Bassoon jaw movement: survey of published opinions

I was under the impression that there were advocates of jaw movement in bassoon articulation. A skimming of some pedagogical materials at hand seems to debunk this.

The bassoon’s special(?) staccato

I have a vague memory from childhood, well before my bassoon-playing days, of learning that the bassoon had some special quality to its staccato notes. (From an educational tv show? a children’s book on musical instruments? I can’t recall.) My impression was that this sound was different in some way than staccato produced on other … Read more

Saxophone low notes

The saxophone’s lowest notes can be notoriously unresponsive. For the best chance at successful low notes, here’s what you will need.

Avoiding clarinet undertones: published techniques

Clarinet “undertones” or “grunts” are the unpleasant low sounds that happen usually at the beginning of tongued upper-clarion-register notes (about written G to C, above the staff). My sense is that there isn’t a lot of consensus or clarity among clarinetists about how exactly to prevent this.

Aspects of articulation

The concept of “articulation” in woodwind playing is really a bunch of concepts mashed together. Suppose one of my students comes in for a lesson and I tell them their “articulation” needs work. Do I mean they should:

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Accents and the tongue (or not)

As a follow-up to my previous post on the role of the tongue in articulation, I would like to address the problem of accents. When I hear my students playing heavy, thumpy accents, I ask them how they are playing the accents. The answer is usually the same: “tongue harder?” But when the tongue is properly … Read more

“Starting” notes with the tongue

There’s a common misconception about woodwind articulation, that notes somehow “start” with the tongue. So, how do you start notes with your tongue? Does your tongue somehow strike the reed, making it vibrate?