Hornmasters on Average Tonguing, Part IV: Tuckwell and Cousins


Barry Tuckwell in Playing the Horn is open to the idea that there is no one placement for the tongue in the mouth in articulations.

The exact position of the tongue will vary from player to player. Most people will find that putting it against the hard palate for a ‘D’ sound is best, while there are some who find it more satisfactory to put the tip of the tongue behind the teeth, in some cases actually touching the lips. But whatever position proves to be the best, a flat tongue should be used—‘DA’ rather than ’DE’.

He also cautions that

The most crucial part of tonguing is the withdrawal of the tongue from the hard palate; it should only be forward for the briefest possible moment, and must never rest there—this produces dull, ponderous attacks, and is not efficient for fast articulations.

Farquharson Cousins in On Playing the Horn has quite a bit different take on tonguing in general than seen in sources examined to this point in this series, driven both by different terminology and by different content. For starters he notes

The object of tonguing is to control the start and style of every entry. Since tonguing can make or mar a hornplayer more than any other factor, it is, in a way, his hallmark. Certainly if the muscle set-ups are consistent, then only faulty tonguing can upset the physical side of production.

Cousins notes that “The main difficulty in attempting an analysis is that we cannot see someone else’s tongue and respiratory apparatus in action” but we can observe others and use our sensations to “guide us to the results we seek.” There is much depth to his discussion of tonguing that is difficult to briefly encapsulate, but these bullet points are all direct quotations drawn from his text and follow his narrative.

• The whole air column is not started or stopped except from the tongue outwards
• The sensation is that the air flows all the time and that the tongue merely interpolates
• The movement of the tongue is a stroking or pulsating one, rather than a pointed jab like a bird’s pecking
• The function of the tongue is that of a soft stopper
• If the tip of the tongue is used, we find that this stopper withdraws in such a manner that air rushes violently into the vacuum thus momentarily created
• The initial wave of air accelerates and … the result is a ‘plop’ prior to the production of the note
• ‘Plop’ tonguing is not infrequently the cause of cracked entries
• With the flat of the tongue we can make a sympathetic stopper of a soft and pliable nature
• I believe that the best players all use some form of ‘dah’ with the tip of the tongue below the bottom of the teeth, leaving the flat part of the tongue as the operative part, flapping, as it were, against the roof of the mouth
• The ‘dah’ position minimizes the impact of the air flow meeting the air column of the instrument, and therefore eliminates the vacuum with its attendant whirlpool of air
• An essential part of experimenting consists in constantly referring back to the pure sound which is produced by the instrument when the tongue is not used at all and we have merely breathed ‘whoo’
• The ‘whoo’ becomes a ‘too’ when tongued…. But I hasten to add that it is a ‘da’ or ‘dah’ position ‘too’
• At the moment of tonguing the feeling should be one of blowing air into the tube and not at the mouthpiece
• When entering on a high note, e.g. top ‘G’ near the beginning of “Scheherazade” it is sometimes a good plan to do so without using the tongue at all
• The start of a note is not from a static position
• Our aim should be to mould our embouchure to the notes as closely as possible
• A too large or too thick-rimmed mouthpiece is perhaps our worst enemy
• The main secret of making high entries is to keep the air pressure dominant to the physical tongue movement
• The high notes come out most easily and safely when the tongue is braced with its tip curling downward and pressing forcibly outwards against the inside of the bottom teeth
• The chin in hornplaying must always be drawn in firmly
• Generally speaking the relaxed tongue is for low notes and the taut tongue for high

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Unpacking this briefly, Cousins is looking for a tongue position that is more forward than that of Farkas and also lower generally in the mouth. The primary contact surface of the attack is on the flat of the tongue. Next we have his general approach to starting a note.

The start of a note (the word ‘start’ is preferable to ‘attack’ because the latter invites a stabbing jab) is not from a static position, but is approached much as a long-jumper takes a run of increasing speed at times his take-off to maximum effect. The hornplayer at the moment of ‘start’ will, like the long-jumper, have is muscle ‘set-up’ at its peak. The analogy of the gathering momentum of the long-jump is paralleled: the hornist has a gathering momentum of air-pressure so that he comes on to the note in the process of an overall physical onslaught. The pent-up breath waiting to be delivered into the instrument will be powered exactly to the note and volume required.

Finally, he notes that the tongue position will be different for the high and low ranges (at extremes “O” and “Eeeeh”) with a “relaxed tongue for low notes and the taut tongue for high.”

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