An Inside Look at Double and Triple Tonguing


Over a year ago the focus of an article on breaking the embouchure was an X-ray video of a horn player which showed the jaw motion clearly. But a lot more can be gleaned from this same video, which was filmed as a part of Joseph A. Meidt’s 1967 dissertation, “A Cinefluorographic Investigation of Oral Adjustments for Various Aspects of Brass Instrument Performance.” A related article from the period may be found here, and David Wilken has an analysis of the same video here.

In particular another valuable angle to explore in this video is double and triple tonguing on horn and on trumpet. It is very interesting to see this inside look into the process, giving a view of the actual contact points and the actual motion, which is a bit different than we might imagine it to be.

I was thinking of this video again recently not only because the Hornmasters series in Horn Matters will arrive at the topic of double tonguing next, but also because one of my colleagues this year at ASU, Joshua Gardner, recently completed a doctoral project titled “Ultrasonographic Investigation of Clarinet Multiple Articulation.” In this project he used ultrasound technology to look at multiple tonguing on the clarinet, this quote from the study giving some flavor of what was covered.

Articulation and voicing, both involving highly refined tongue motion, are the primary intraoral mechanics that clarinet teachers must address with students of all ages and abilities. Articulation presents the most evident tongue motion during clarinet performance because the tongue dictates the initiation of a sound. During single articulation, the tongue moves from a resting position to touch the reed and then returns to the resting position, continuing in a cycle defined by the articulation pattern of the music being played. Multiple articulation adds a posterior articulation, with the tongue moving in a compound cycle: touching the reed, followed by a posterior tongue segment touching the hard palate.

With both types of articulation, the persistent pedagogical problem is the inability to see the tongue during performance. Consequently, when teaching, clarinetists often use spoken vowel sounds to approximate the appropriate tongue positions for specific registers or notes; however, these phonetic syllables may not accurately replicate performance tongue shape. Syllables are also used to teach articulation; however, the consonant context of the syllable (such as /t/ in “tee”) moves the tongue in the general location with correct motion to complete the articulation (to either the tip of the reed or the hard palate), while the vowel context shapes the rest of the tongue during the articulation and between articulations. Again, the linguistic model may not be a perfect fit.

A video of Gardner using the ultrasound may be found on this page, with the image at right being from a conference presentation handout.

It is a line of study that I am not aware of any brass player taking but would be a great topic to address with new, safe technology. Any takers out there? Has it already been done?

University of Horn Matters