Tonguing, and developing articulation, on the trombone requires some additional focus compared with the other brass instruments.
Good tonguing technique should enable a clean start to the beginning of the note. It’s important to always remember that the tongue shouldn’t be used to actually start the note by blocking air flow. To enable good single tonguing, the tip of the tongue should make contact with the back of the top teeth. This will produce a good clean tuh or tah sound.
Getting good co-ordination between air flow and tongue movement is crucial for producing a good sound and it is really important to avoid using the tongue too heavily – this is a really common problem with trombonists. With single tonguing you can experiment with using different sounds such as dah, gah, too, doo, goo etc and this will give a variety of subtleties when using single tonguing.
The trombone is fairly unique within the brass family in the way in which it can produce a glissando – simply moving the slide from 7th up the positions, or from 1st downwards will give the glissando sound. The important thing to consider when completing a glissando slur is that the sound is fully supported with the required air flow.
After the tongue is used to help gain a clear production of sound, it should then remain flat in the mouth. It is important to remember that just as the tongue is not used to start the note, it should not be used to stop the note by blocking the flow of air. Bringing the tongue up to stop the sound produces extremely undesirable results for the majority of playing that is required. (Having said that, it can be a useful technique for achieving some of the required sounds within specific types of jazz)
Trombonists also need to consider the cross-grain slur (slurring from a note on one harmonic series to a note on another harmonic series using different slide positions), lip slurs (from a note on one harmonic series to a note on another harmonic series with the same slide position) and legato tonguing.
When moving from the lower note to the upper note it is really useful to think tah-eee and ensure that the air flow is consistent or increases toward the upper note. When moving from the upper note to the lower note it is useful to think tah-aah. This gives a good quality sound and allows the notes to be produced clearly. Remember to aim for a clear, smooth sound without any lumps or bumps as the notes change. For more information on lip slurs, click here!
Cross-Grain or Natural Slurs:
This type of articulation uses similar ideas to the lip slur, but also includes movement of the slide. An example of this slur can be seen below.
It is worth practicing cross-grain or natural slurs in all slide positions across the range to ensure that smoothness and sound quality is maintained.
This is initially one of the slightly more tricky types of articulation to master as it combines a number of the skills covered above simultaneously. Legato tonguing is used to move from a note to another note on the same harmonic series. The problem that can occur with this type of tonguing is that without the correct technique it can easily turn into a glissando.
Achieving legato tonguing requires simultaneous control of:
- Air flow
The air flow should remain consistent and it is important to keep the air flow constant irrespective of bodily changes or slide movement. This is the only real way of keeping the sound clear, consistent and even.
- The slide
The slide needs to move extremely quickly, but in a smooth and fluid way. Consider carefully how you can best use your slide hand to control the speed of the slide from 0mph as well as the slide stopping so that the sound and embouchure are not disturbed. Always aim to keep a very relaxed wrist as this will allow for smoother movement between notes.
- Tongue placement
It is of course completely possible to achieve great legato tonguing without really dealing with different syllables and sound. The change of the air flow is really what determines the sound, but I often think that considering different vowel sounds can enable the air flow to change in an easier and more pro-active way. The way that I have found this works most effectively is to think of ‘too’ for the first note of the slur and ‘too’ (with a very soft ‘d’ sound) for the second (or subsequent) note(s) of the slur. It is important to ensure that the stroke of the tongue occurs roughly half-way between the slide positions. To be honest, it is almost impossible for you to achieve this perfectly every time so it is important to really allow your ears to be the guide. Listen to whether there is a short glissando in the sound that you are making before or after the shift and then adjust things as required.
Here are some good exercises to try:
To develop this further, try playing some melodious etudes without any tongue (this will sound like a glissando) and then try putting in the tonguing after significant practice.
Good luck with developing this aspect of your trombone playing – remember to always let your ears be the guide and keep listening!
What experiences have you had with trombone articulation that have made things work more consistently and easily for you? Share your ideas here by adding a comment below.