Horn Pedagogy Week 7: Slurs, Legato, and Average Tonguing


Tonguing is a huge topic. There are a wide range of ways to articulate notes from the most legato to the shortest articulation possible. A real pro is a master of every articulation. And as I have paraphrased one of my former teachers several times in this website, it all must be mastered because “you never know how short (or long/loud/soft) some idiot, I mean conductor, will ask you to play it.”

Few students if any start out with perfect tonguing. One of our jobs and challenges as teachers is to help improve tonguing, not hinder progress or actually cause problems through how we word or present the topic. This is unfortunately very easy to do when it comes to talking about tonguing, some ways of wording things can tie players up in knots and never get students to the results you know you need to hear.

As it is such a critical topic in learning how to teach (and play!) the horn we have a lot to thoughtfully consider. As an updated, 2016 introduction to the topic, I would highly recommend that readers take ten minutes and listen to this podcast, part of a series of three with Dr. Peter Iltis (more on the series here). 

Pulsations of the tongue? The recent MRI studies referenced in the podcast really do have information that can inform your approach to the topic. If you have a half hour to spare, watch the following video. If not, please take one minute and start at around the 8:00 mark and watch the first MRI presented, looking for the pulsations and for the changes of vowel shape.

From the above it should be clear that we have a lot to look at, thus the online readings are spread over two weeks, all from the Hornmasters series. I know I have said this several times in this series already, but this in particular is a topic on which to think critically and look for physiological accuracy over visualizations. Don’t take what anyone says at face value when it comes to tonguing — think over what they are actually saying in these classic texts and ask yourself is this a visualization? Does the visualization work? Or is it reality?

Whew! Again, try to see the bigger picture in the readings as best you can, and we will have yet more to read and discuss on tonguing next week, this is only part I and we have topics including staccato and multiple tonguing to address.

A final note would be that there is one recent publication to recommend to interested readers that has a physiologically informed approach to tonguing, explained in great detail: Horn Playing from the Inside Out by Eli Epstein. My 2013 review of the first edition (in three parts) starts here and gives a good overview of his publication and approach, and my update review of the third edition, where he updates his pedagogy in relation to the MRI studies, is here.

Continue to Week 8 of Pedagogy Course

This is week 7 of a fourteen week course in horn pedagogy. The introductory article is here, and the series is presented for the educational purposes of our readers. 

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