Variation of Articulation

by Weston Sprott

Originally published to

It is important as a trombonist to have a wide range of articulations at your disposal. Just as players with limited tone colors or dynamic ranges can be uninteresting, so too are players who only have one or two articulations! In my experience, the further forward you place your tongue, the firmer the articulation will sound. The further back you place the tongue, the lighter the articulation.
My “default” articulation is one that speaks clearly and firmly. I generally don’t like to play question marks or sneak into the note, unless the music indicates this is required.
Curve your left hand in front of you with your palm facing down. Imagine that your fingers represent your top row of teeth and the rest of your hand represents the natural arch on the inside of your mouth. My “default” articulation falls at the bottom of the fingers. This articulation would create the syllable “tho”. Think of saying the word “though” as you articulate, or spitting seeds off the tip of your tongue.
For legato tonguing, I like to use the syllable “la” or “lu”. Going back to your curved hand, to create the syllable “la” or “lu” the tongue has to strike on the palm or at the top of the arch inside the mouth. This creates a much lighter sound and can be used to make a very smooth legato. I recommend practicing this articulation over and over again on a single note, aiming to gain consistency of articulation that is light but clearly audible.
You may notice that there is a lot of space between “tho” and “la” on your palette. I encourage those interested in broadening their range of articulation to experiment with this space. Off the top of my head (in order of hard to soft)…. “tho”, “toe”, “doe”, “no”, “nah”, “dah” and “lah” provide a nice range of options. There are definitely many more. These are just a handful that I find myself using.
Some of my brass player friends from other countries who have a different language background have incredibly interesting and useful ways of articulating. I think the tone and inflection of different languages can greatly affect the way someone articulates on the instrument, and if you discuss this with some of your friends, you may learn some truly interesting things. Go to the practice room and experiment to find consistency with a wide range of articulations. Try something you never thought of before and see what happens. I met a GREAT player who articulates quick passages by moving his tongue from side to side. I still haven’t figured out how to do that, but his Blue Bells sounded AWESOME. Who knew?!?

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