What does a brass player's tongue do?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack E, May 1, 2016.

  1. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Skipping round the net, tonight, following from one link to another, I came across this video showing Sarah Willis, a french horn player, being filmed playing a sort of horn inside a CT scanner. I thought this might be of interest to others, as well as me.

    The Biomedical NMR Lab at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany made a valveless horn out of copper for her to play. I don't know what the mouthpiece was made of, but it was connected by a long plastic tube to the horn, so the sound quality was not of the best; the horn was too big to fit inside the scanner with her, and would doubtless have interfered with the images.

    The scan shows a side view of her face, while she plays different notes, scales, diminuendos and crescendos, and accented notes, legato and staccato, so you can see the way the shape and position of her tongue varies - which it does to a very high degree.

    Here's a link to the YouTube film:

    And this is a link to an interview between Peter Iltis, professor of Kinesiology at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and Sarah Willis about this research:

    With best regards,

    Jack E.
    andybass and wkt like this.
  2. Gtrom

    Gtrom Member


    Thanks Jack.

    We don't often think about what happens inside only how we sound on the outside.

    I found this fascinating.

    I understand the physics of what happens with different frequencies but it almost seems to me that the tongue fills up so much of the cavity on the high notes that for any air to come through is impossible !

    Thanks once again.
  3. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    That was the part which amazed me, too, Mark - quite astonishing! I can only assume that the tongue spreads sideways, so that, even though the vertical gap between the tongue and the roof of the mouth is very shallow, if you looked at it from the front, the 'slot' would be reasonably wide. That film really reinforces what my teacher says, repeatedly; that it's the player who makes the sound, not the instrument, which only filters out a few unwanted harmonics from the initial buzz.

    Glad you found it as interesting as I did! :)

    With best regards,

    Jack E.
  4. GordonH

    GordonH Active Member

    Depends how you play.
    I play naturally with what is technically called a "tongue controlled embouchure". This means that my tongue is well forward all the time and touching at least my bottom lip. The tonguing action allows the lip to start buzzing. It is probably due to me having an over bite.