“Well, Duh!?!,” a Key to Accuracy


The comments to my recent article on “tut” tonguing are a reminder that tonging is always a good topic to address. You don’t want to paralyze with analysis but then again if you have problems with tonguing simply visualizing the production a sound you can’t make won’t help very much. The following was a post from my original HTML Horn Notes Blog exactly six years ago today, 2/19/05, to which I will add some follow up comments.

I had my first rehearsal as the new solo hornist of the Salt River Brass Band last week, a British style brass band except for we play [French] horns, not alto horns in the group. I am excited to join this group, a very fine, non-paying group that will be a great weekly workout for me (ASU tuba faculty colleague Sam Pilafian also performs in the group). The Salt River Brass Band is conducted by Patrick Sheridan, the well-known tuba soloist and co-author of The Breathing Gym. Pat in the rehearsal spoke about and had us do a number of very interesting things which will undoubtedly show up in my teaching and in the blog in coming weeks. In particular he said several interesting things on articulation.

The last few months I have been thinking about tonguing and how to teach tonguing. No horn teacher I know of has X-ray vision, so this is something that often you have to work with students for some time to sort out the problems fully. As a follow up to my item on Achieving the ultimate articulation, slur, and tone quality from November, one of the top things that Pat advocated was the use of “duh” as a main articulation, and in particular mentioning “duh-guh” as a main pair of syllables for double tonguing and “duh-dee-guh” for triple tonguing. As I said in November, “tuh” or “ta” is just too explosive and harsh an articulation for a lot of what we play, and brass players who have trouble with tonguing tend to labor too hard trying to say “ta” instead of just making the sound they want come out of the horn with lighter articulations.

Another new member of the horn section is a former ASU MM student and horn TA Nathan Stark, who is an elementary band director in the Phoenix area now [2011 update: Currently on the faculty of Case Western Reserve University]. In talking with him it came up that he has been working on tonguing lately in relation to improving accuracy and he noted recently in his playing that he was using too explosive a forward motion of the tongue. He is now trying to visualize the stroke being more of a backwards motion. This again falls into my “well, duh!?!” theory. Say “duh.” Which way does your tongue go? For me anyway it is more of a backwards motion than forwards.

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Back to Pat Sheridan, his triple tonguing syllables are quite interesting too. This first concert is a concert of Latin music and I find myself needing to keep up work on my triple toughing, something that does not show up in a lot of horn music. It may seem a bit non-standard, but give “duh-dee-guh” a try, it works.

I don’t know if “duh” will catch on widely but it is a good way to think of things. “D” is a much better default syllable than “T.” Also, be sure to check out the article linked in the text, which I will also link here again. It contains in particular notes from a master class with Gunther Schuller that points out yet again the level and variety of articulations we have to master on the horn, from the crispest staccato to the longest legato.

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