More On Tonguing

Hi. I’ve been having problems with tonguing lately. First, as you have mentioned before, I tongue with my tongue hitting the roof of my mouth and it gets a very clean sound. I know it’s wrong, so I try to correct it but it sounds so very horrible. I’ve worked many months on some tonguing exercises, etc., but always end up in the same place. What can I do?

Second, even though I’m tonguing the way I am, I get a very loud click before I start a note sometimes. I thought it was because my tongue was tense, so I relaxed it as much as possible, but to no avail. Please help!

Hi: Thanks for your note. I am sorry that you are having difficulty, but will remind you that your difficulties can become your greatest strengths with correct perceptions and actions that carry out these perceptions.

The click that you get is the sound of the tongue transmitted through the reed when the reed is either too stiff or sometimes too soft. Even though you are not touching the reed the sound will sometimes become apparent nonetheless.

One must think about articulating on the clarinet or indeed, any woodwind instrument, or wind instruments in general as first, a mechanical function. You probably know that the organ (not electric) is also a reed instrument and the action that starts the sound is purely mechanical. Air is split, in the same manner as the flute, but the air is started from a windbox, either mechanical or electronic. When the player presses the key, the pipe is opened allowing the air to rush past the pipe and make the immediate sound. Sometimes on the organ that sound can be preceded by another noise, a chiff (almost that sound). Electric organs even simulate that chiff sound.

On the clarinet, we strive to eliminate the chiff totally and get the sound immediately … How?

And here is the practise, to be undertaken slowly and thoughtfully. Be patient, do not rush through this. Once you “get it” it will go very fast. If you don’t “get it”, your staccato will be “toast” as they say.

“Getting it” means understanding the concept and achieving the manifestation of the concept.

When I was a student, I committed all of the above and I have seen dozens of students who make the same mistakes. Let us try a list: raised shoulder; both shoulders raised unnaturally; mouthpiece turned making your head always turned when you play; bad hand position, either one. (All fingers should be curved, none tense, and certainly not slapping the keys when you play or lifting anymore than you need to change a note. Your fingers should hardly be seen moving) What about your chair and how you face the conductor: Can you see him easily? If not, you can give yourself an easy headache trying to find him. Make sure you are sitting comfortably, not slouched, but certainly not “ramrod straight”; that could mean more discomfort.
Make your embouchure. Prepare to make sound.
Take a breath maintaining your lips position and place the smallest amount of your tongue against the smallest amount of reed. (Do not inadvertently take more mouthpiece into your mouth; in this way you will lose control.) I could say tip of the tongue on the tip of the reed, however you cannot find the “tip” of your tongue because there is no point unless you make one and even then you cannot put it on the tip of the reed.
Now allow a bit of air to pass through the reed and the mouthpiece by taking a very small amount of tongue OFF and allowing some air IN. You may hear a sound or better a suggestion of sound, or even better, just the air. SUPPORT the air.
Keeping the same motion, allow your tongue to move away from the reed and allow all the air in. Support must be maintained throughout all of these little steps.
If you get a reasonably acceptable sound in less than a second or so, you are tonguing correctly, no question.
The note to try with at first is “open” G.
Really go slowly. This is a slow exercise, one that is the beginning of undoing what is a useful, but bad habit. Later on in your career you may choose to enter on a ppp with just the air and not the tongue on the reed, but that is much later
Initially, stay in the low register, below “open” G. Do not speed up until you have achieved one through 5 without a problem.
Get a mirror and keep it on the stand (a good idea for all practise). When you tongue your jaw remains pointed down , at least feeling that way, and your jaw must not move when you tongue. That can be very difficult, but it is the absolutely correct way, and the only way to tell is with the mirror.
Maintain your regular proper embouchure.
Sound that is articulated (tongued) should be exactly the same as legato sound … beautiful
Pitch must remain the same. Do NOT scoop

Initially this practise should be no more than ten or fifteen minutes at a session, or once or twice a day, no more. As you begin to progress in the process you will get a clearer, less squeaky, cleaner sound, fairly easy in the low register. Do not go into the upper register until you feel comfortable below. Middle B can be murder because you have to really support to push the air through until the end of the clarinet.

Other things will also begin to happen: your reed choice will probably change and become more discerning. Do not play on a very hard reed, please. If you start to bite and get a ridge in your lower lip and pain, it is because you are either trying too hard, making too severe an embouchure, or practising too long.

Well, there are quite a few mouthfuls above. I hope that this will help. Go slowly, begin to listen and criticize your performance, and don’t mind going slowly. This process becomes second nature after a while and you will do well, I am quite sure.

Best of good luck in your clarinet playing and in all things


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