Hornmasters on Average Tonguing, part II: Schuller and Yancich


Gunther Schuller in Horn Technique has a rather different take on the tongue and tonguing than Farkas. He certainly does not agree with the up and down idea of a tongue stroke and offers an alternate approach to tonguing.

The tongue during a note, i.e. after the attack, pulls back into a relatively relaxed suspended position, arched slightly towards the roof of the mouth. For a high note the tongue must be arched high in the mouth, while for a low note the tongue can lie more along the bottom of the mouth. Actually the tongue’s position is directly related to the position of the jaw and lower teeth, since the base of the tongue is connected to the pharynx….

The tongue’s role in the attack of a note is somewhat controversial. I have encountered excellent players who believe that the tip of the tongue must never touch the teeth, but instead should hit the gums on the roof of the mouth. Others think of the tongue’s movement as a ‘forward’ motion; still others think of it as a ‘snapping back’ kind of movement. Strangely enough I have found that, given enough talent and/or hard practice, reasonably clean attacks can be attained with all these different methods.

I personally feel, however, that the approach described below is the most direct and easiest to control. As in the case of tone production, the relative height or level of the tongue is again very important. For high notes the tip of the tongue, which should be pointed (not wide or flat), should produce the syllable ‘tah’ on the teeth. The higher the note, the higher the contact point on the teeth. High notes like high f2 (concert), in fact, are attacked at the edge of the teeth and gum line. By the same token, for low notes the tongue, now a little less pointed, may reach out as far as the inner curve of the upper lip. Between the lowest and highest notes the tongue will adopt correspondingly graded lower or higher positions, as the case may be….

As for the direction of the tongue movement, I believe in a compromise of the ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ positions alluded to above…. Basically I consider both movements to be inseparable parts of one action.

Schuller among other points allows that the tongue can be in a much more forward position than that described by Farkas. Schuller had one other major point on average tonguing, that of the air.

A subtle point often neglected in the study of attacks is that of the air stream must follow immediately to sustain the tone. Even the slightest, physically almost imperceptible delay, will cause a ‘poppy’ attach, or one with a slight ‘bubble’ on it. The cleanest attacks will be those that have a full stream of air to back them up. This means that the air must be ready to go.

Milan Yancich was in an interesting position in relation to the discussion of tonguing. He had performed with Farkas in the Chicago symphony and respected him greatly. They were even associated as business partners with Wind Music, Inc. However, Yancich recognized clearly that the approach presented as correct by Farkas was not the only correct approach to tonguing on the horn. He begins his discussion of the topic in A Practical Guide to French Horn Playing as follows.

There is a great deal of argument concerning the use of the tongue in brass playing. Having been taught to tongue behind my teeth in my early years on the horn and later to tongue between the teeth, I have concluded from both experiences that there is no one-and-only way to articulate. Tonguing is an individual matter depending on the formation of the teeth and jaw. The tongue, its thickness and length, the size of the oral cavity, the bite of the teeth, all these contribute to articulating with the tongue. I usually instruct my beginning students to tongue slightly between the teeth.

Didn’t Farkas say that “One of the most common faults is the method of tonguing forward and backward into the lip opening?” Wouldn’t that be between the teeth? Continuing with Yancich,

It is my opinion, that to produce a precise and pointed attack, a French horn player must use more tongue in his articulation. The reason for this is that unlike the trumpet, trombone, and tuba, the French horn is an instrument slower to respond, and it is also the only instrument of the brass family whose sound is reflected….

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Yes! He continues with an illustration of how he goes about first teaching a student how start notes.

In explaining how to produce a good attack, I first ask a student to point his tongue out between the lips, spit, and blow. After several repetitions I ask him to hold his lips tightly together and blow. Naturally, with no opening in the lips no air passes. Then I ask him to purse his lips tightly together again, but this time forcibly to blow the lips apart. I call this “blowing the lips open” and I warn that this is the wrong way to attack, but that it is quite often heard and causes a “splat” or “splash” attack….

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 further discussion of developing a concept of a release Yancich makes it clear that we have to develop a wide range of articulations on the horn and that those articulations are driven in large part by the placement and action of the tongue.

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. At the beginning, however, a firm, bell-like attack is best for setting the notes into the lip.

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