To tongue or not to tongue

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Chris Lee, Nov 8, 2011.

  1. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Member

    To avoid any misunderstanding, we are talking about playing the Tuba here ....
    I started playing Eflat Bass in a brass band environment and understood that good strong tonguing is essential to produce a good clean note. (Arban: "In blowing, it is necessary to always articulate the syllable Tu...") But I am told discourages this and encourages 'breathing' the note (or very soft tonguing) unless it is specifically staccato or, say, a series of fast quavers. So from treating tonguing as the norm and breathing the note as the exception for use in legato passages, it seems that breathing notes is the norm and tonguing used only for staccato and fast passages.
    Before you say it: yes, of course I recognise that they are many shades of grey in between the two approaches - but what's your preferred technique?


    Chris Lee
    Newbieish EEflat Bass. Besson Sovereign
  2. bassmittens

    bassmittens Member

    Kind of agree with your tutor in many ways. The moving valves do so much in defining the start of notes for you. I used to use very little/or a very 'low impact' tongue in normal playing passages that us Basses get.

    Of course when it comes to accents, rhythmic passages, and fast short playing for example then you have no choice.

    I guess everyone will have their own way of playing that suits them. Listen to other peoples styles, techniques and "habits" and try them out for yourself to see what suits. What suited me may not suit you (it worked for me.................but that's probably just cos i'm odd!)

    Good Luck!
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2011
  3. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Member

    Thx for this response BM. In your experience is this specifically relevant to the lower instruments rather than the top end, where I'd have thought that breathing a note must be nigh on impossible?

    Very Best, Chris
  4. euph77

    euph77 Member

    Hi Chris,

    I'd agree with breathing technique, too. Not so much tongue as diaphragm support and definitely more relevant to lower end (euphoniums down). We are always being told to use more "belly" on things like hymn tunes, but as Bassmittens says, "when it comes to accents, rhythmic passages, and fast short playing for example then you have no choice".
    Don't forget, either, that Arban wrote a cornet method, rather than a brass method, and for them I would agree with the tonguing technique.

    Kind regards,
  5. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Member

    Thx for your response Philip. Your comment "We are always being told to use more "belly" on things like hymn tunes" rings absolutely true - I thought it was just me! Good point about Arban too

    Very Best, Chris Lee
  6. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    You should tongue most stuff, with the "huff" attack being for ghosting in etc. Your best practising "kickstarts" huffing notes in up and down the scale, various lengths, dynamics then practice doing exactly the same thing but with the tongue. dont fall into all this soft attact hard attack nonsense, its no more than slow tongue and fast tongue. for more low range security practice sluring down arpeggios down there then start adding the tongue agreed its 90% air below a brass band G but anything above that should always be tongued. The tongue is a muscle, it gets lazy, all not using it regually will do is encurage throat attact or even worse "pu pu pu pu" I only know 1 top play who never used his tongue but he was a freek, (player) He even did Diversions on a Bass theme huff huff huffin....
  7. bassmittens

    bassmittens Member

    Hmm yes and no......

    In my opinion, there is a place for practicing "blowing the notes" (rather than tonguing them) across all instruments, to help with breathing correctly, breath control, building the diagphram (sp??) muscles etc etc But playing in the band, i suppose breathing the notes through would be more relevant (in general terms) to the lower pitched instruments as you suggest.

    A higher pitched instrument may still use such a technique if for example - sharing the breathing on a very long note or phrase. If one drops off to get some air, you don't want them thumping back in with a tongued note, but a gentle breathed re-entry would be more subtle. Or on slow hymn tune like pieces, there may still be times when a breathed note has a softer, less attacked entry and may suit the style of the music. I suppose knowing what to do where all comes with experience or with guidance.

    Toby makes a good point above, that if you don't use your tongue enough, it will also become lazy. it needs to be practiced with just like everything else.

    Like i said, try it out and see what feels and sounds best for you.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2011
  8. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Some really good advice in this thread, particularly toby's advice about 'huffing' notes in practice sessions. Great for strengthening diaphragm, improving embouchure control, and preventing over-reliance on tongue to produce a note.

    The only thing I would add is that you need both approaches in your locker. There's be times when you need to tongue something to death to get the definition and make it work, fast bass-solos in american 'screamer' marches being the perfect example - but don't forget that even then all the tongue does is break up the stream of air from the diaphragm. It's still the lungs doing the real work.

    But you'll need the broad-brush soft-tongue approach just as often or you'll end up 'kicking' notes more than they should be in legato passages. Plus you'll also need to be able to creep in with no articulation as well when staggering things through with the section around you.

    It's all about context, and the right approach depends on what you're playing. If what you're doing sounds right, it probably is, and if not, the MD will tell you! ;)
  9. George BB

    George BB Member

    That is true as I have found I have been huffing and puffing with a BB for the last thirty five years but have recently changed to Baritone and now have to concentrate on tonguing the notes or they just don't start. With the bucket mouthpiece there is more room to use the lips alone but as previously said it needs both approaches so keep trying all methods.
  10. pbirch

    pbirch Member

    the imaginary sounds we use to start a note are "T" the hard tongue and "D" the soft tongue and sometimes 'L" as a very soft tongue, but using "H" (different from Huffing) gives that sort of breathing start to a note, and it is quite counter intuitive to do that and it is not easy, but really effective once you can do it.
    Just a note about the diaphragm, it is not a muscle amenable to strengthening exercises, it has no sensory nerves so you can't feel it and you can't really control it beyond the time that you can hold your breath, It just does its thing breathing and keeping you alive, you can, however strengthen your abdominal muscles (the "belly" referred to above) and it is these muscles that give the power to the tuba sound.
  11. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    The amount of tongue needed in a particular circumstance depends almost entirely on your sense of appropriateness. Some passages require a hard tongue, others a softer or non-existent tongue. I would be wary of anyone who says there is only one way to do anything.
  12. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Member

    Apologies but my original post at the start of the thread was inaccurate, so to clarify here - my tutor does, of course, not condemn strong tonguing per se, but condemns my over-strong tonguing in legato passages where it is inappropriate

    Chris Lee
  13. pbirch

    pbirch Member

    quite so, you do need to consider the music being played and think how you need to approach it, a march style requires a hard tongue, unless otherwise directed, and a hymn tune or slow melody requires a different style of attack, it doesn't mean a lack of articulation, and it does require effort as well as thought. For legato passages think about how you would sing it, and play it that way.
    Take care as well not to think of your tutors feedback as "condemnation" but more as an opportunity to think about what you are doing and how you are going to improve your playing
  14. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    A common flaw when playing fast passages is to over-use the tongue and to use too much of the tongue's length in the formation of the note. That kind of tonguing makes even a fluent performance sound as if it is clumsy and difficult - sometimes described as 'pecking'. Cornet players (in my experience) tend to do this more than bass players, but we're all prone to it in difficult passages. I suspect you need to be a bit more relaxed about playing semiquaver passages and use only the tip of the tongue, if anything. Sometimes just picturing the shape and movement of your tongue in your mind can help you make it better.

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