A recent post by Bruce Hembd is a most interesting one with respect to articulations and in a larger sense accuracy. Bruce studied with the late Milan Yancich at Eastman, a figure I have blogged about in other posts previously. I picked up a number of pointers from him in perhaps a half dozen lessons, seeing him at horn workshops, and from his books, especially A Practical Guide to French Horn Playing. However, a book only goes so far. Bruce studied with Yancich for three years, and had much more contact with him. He recalled in his post,
Along this line of thought, my mind wandered to lessons with Milan Yancich at Eastman. He always insisted on calling the end and the beginning of a note as a “release.” He had strong reservations about the term “attack,” insisting that it encouraged students to overuse the tongue for note production….
“Imagine a bathtub full of water,” he would say, “with a rubber stopper in the drain. You reach in with your finger and pull out the stopper, and the water rushes out.” I like this metaphor for tonguing for several reasons – it gets the imagination going and it gets one thinking more about air flow and less about the tongue….
“It’s not an attack – it’s a release,” Yancich would exclaim when I would hammer out overly-aggressive articulations. When he sang along in lessons, he accentuated the beginnings of notes with a “pull-back” gesture, rather than the typical stabbing gesture. It was like he was pulling a trigger or yanking a rip-cord on a cannon.
Chapter V of A Practical Guide is on the topic of articulation. It is a section that actually Bruce sheds light on in his post. Yancich wrote after a discussion of first teaching a student how not to start notes,
At this point I try to draw a word-picture of an attack. As an analogy I liken the tongue to a plug in a tub of water. When the plug is pulled back or out, the water rushes out. The air we take into our lungs is like the water in the tub, and when the tongue is pulled back or released, the air rushes out like the water from the tub when the plug is pulled.
After more explanation of how he teaches articulations Yancich makes it clear that you have to develop a wide range of articulations on the horn,
I then demonstrate different kinds of articulation: placing the tongue out very far between the teeth for heavy, marcato or hammered playing; placing it behind the upper teeth for legato playing; putting to tongue to the roof of the mouth to give an even more legato articulation; and finally placing the tip of the tongue against the lower teeth, using the flat of the tongue against the roof of the mouth to produce even another attack. The student then understands that the tongue, very much like the bow on a stringed instrument, can be used for many different types of articulation.
A Practical Guide is available directly from Wind Music. Clearly there are many shades of releases! But as Bruce reminds us all attacks are releases in one way, shape, or form.
The side point I would make is it is easy to get into a habit where you are sort of spitting the notes out of the horn when you articulate instead of releasing them. For general playing you want to keep things a bit light, you will be more accurate with this approach.