Trouble With Tonguing

I have a student that is having trouble tonguing.She is tonging in the middle of her tongue and getting a very slow response. She has abeautiful tone, but her tonguing is not real clean, particularly the scales. She can run all the scales quite well slurring but has trouble tonguing.Please advise.

Let us assume that the student is a fairly new student and has a good embouchure and does not have to wear braces. Perhaps the most important aspect of playing the clarinet is the sound, the quality of tone. The teacher deserves high praise for that, as does the student. Whatever follows must happen with the same quality, for detached notes are nothing but detached notes.

They should not be of a different quality of sound. One of the worst sins we commit as early students is to adopt a quality of detached playing that differs from the basic tone. Staccato is almost always too short. The word means detached, not short.

So conceptually, the idea must be not specifically technical, but musical, from the aspect of the sound. Every mouth is different as are teeth, lips and tongue. Stay on the side of the sound itself. Work from that aspect, for not only will it work for everyone, it will also make the student concentrate fully on exactly what is coming from the instrument. Then start in the low register with articulation, for it is much easier, much more direct. Always go very slowly, and keep the sound in mind. The tongue can be in a dozen different position depending upon your use of the language and the particular set of the student’s embouchure.

This takes work and concentration, but almost always works: Have the student take a note that is well liked, (usually because it always comes out well). Place the tongue, the smallest amount possible at what is considered the tip of the reed and allow a bit of air to escape into the instrument (you will hear the air escaping). Maintain the support you will need to play and remove more of the tongue until (usually suddenly), the sound will come. Basically, and in slow motion, this is correct clarinet articulation. This should be repeated, but not so many times so that the student either loses concentration or her sound begins to suffer. One or two low notes at a time is fine until the teacher is sure the concept is correct. Keep the ratio of staccato practising well below that of sound, five or ten minutes at a practise session is just fine.

When I was a beginning student, I progressed very quickly, mostly I think (now) because I imitated my teacher. But I did NOT place my tongue against the reed, for it sounded terrible, so I avoided it completely, and progressed very rapidly. It took me a year or two before I dared (after knowing I was playing incorrectly) to try correct playing. It was awful, but only for a little while. Remember, articulation comes last with the development of the young player, and if you practise your weaker aspect slowly, really slowly, it will become your strongest. I hope that this is a help. It has worked over and over again with literally hundreds of young students.


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