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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningPractice Room(Moderator: blast) Slow vs. Late: Increasing Single Tongue Speed
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LX

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« on: Jul 15, 2015, 08:53PM »

Another article I thought I'd share with everyone here. Hoping it will give some of you some ideas for new things to practice this summer!!

Feedback and questions welcome!!

Best,

LX
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Single tonguing is a big topic of interest to brass players. We all wish we could play with the clarity and speed of the great virtuoso brass players we hear and wish to emulate. But many players focus on tongue speed alone without addressing other musical skills which can improve single tonguing in ways besides speed alone.

It is my strongly held belief that the clearest articulation performed at any tempo is a result of a well-developed and deeply ingrained sense of time and rhythm.

Let me say at the outset, I have never, nor am I aware of any empirical evidence to support this claim. It's little more than an anecdotal hunch. I wouldn't even considerate it a theory at this point.

But...

In my over thirty years of playing professionally and observing and performing alongside numerous players (beginners to seasoned professionals) I have noticed that many brass players with the fastest and cleanest single tongue articulation also tend to possess the most consistent internal sense of time.

My friend and colleague, the amazing trombonist Andy Martin, has one of the fastest single tongues I've ever heard. He can single tongue sixteenth notes in his improvised lines or written parts comfortably around 160 bpm. He also possesses one of the most consistent internal senses of time of all the brass musicians I have ever heard or played with on a regular basis. I noticed this tendency (and it's opposite!) among other players and students over the years, regardless of the idiom. Good sense of time correlates with a clearer and faster tongue. Less consistent sense of time correlates with a muddier and slower tongue speeds.

Based on this very general observation, I created a little experiment I decided to perform on myself a few years ago. I set out to address and develop my own single tongue speed and clarity but remain equally committed to develop my sense of time and rhythmic feel.

Before starting this experiment, I'd say I could single tongue repeated sixteenth notes for four consecutive beats in a row at about between 112-120 bpm. Pretty average among the players I know. There were good days and bad days, of course, but above my maximum speed, my results were inconsistent at best. Also, I noticed that even when I performed certain sixteenth-laden patterns, phrases and licks at slower tempi approaching my maximum tempo, I noticed significant timbral changes in my sound which I did not like. The starts of note, especially on certain partials, sounded muddy or had a slight "burr" or flam-like effect to them. It was time to get to work!

I did a considerable amount work, experimenting with different routines and reviewing out old lesson notes (student players take note: file your notes/recordings from old lessons ..they can be used again to help you, a colleague, or a student someday!). I also digitally recorded myself every day.

I whittled my routine down to some real basics which helped me improve my sense of time and it also helped the sound I was making as the metronome beat went by faster and faster.

Granted, if all you did was robotically practice sixteenth note patterns and exercises every day for a few weeks, you would probably still notice some improvement. But I found breaking the process down and focussing on a few key components made my progress more permanent.

Here is the routine I found helped clean up my single tongue articulation at faster tempi. The material I found myself drawing from the most was from the Alessi/Bowman edition of "The Arban Complete Method", page 35, exercises 19-27.

I found that by focusing my attention on details beside just speed, I started to discover ways to expand musically and not just find a way to "go faster for the sake of going faster". I noticed that I began to improve other musical qualities I need to be a clearer musical communicator. Like range, speed (or "velocity") is something that sometimes "comes and goes" for many players. I have discovered that I often return to this routine when I am having "off" days or if I'm coming back after a lay off.

Take a look at the Arban's exercises on page 35. For the first few exercises in 2/4 and 4/4, set the metronome at a very comfortable single tongue tempo between 72 and 88 bpm. NO FASTER. As you play through each exercise, sub-divide each beat extremely deliberately. Record yourself playing them. Don't let one eighth or sixteenth sub-division fall anywhere but exactly where it should. For example in an eighth followed by two sixteenth note rhythm the second note (the first sixteenth) falls on the "and" of that beat. Be sure to place it right THERE.

Focusing your attention on the rhythm this way serves three purposes:
1) Rhythmic Accuracy: You're making sure that the "and" of each beat occurs in the correct place. RIGHT IN TIME!

2) Slow vs. Late Tongue: As you start playing this rhythm at a faster tempo, it is very easy to drag to the point where you may have to squeeze out two sixteenths in less than an eighth note's time. Many players will perceive this as a "slow single tongue" when it is, more accurately, a "late" single tongue.

3) Sound: Pay meticulous attention to your sound here too. Is your sound on each note just as resonant as your best sound on that note on a relaxed sustained note? If not, think about why this may be the case. Perhaps you are creating excess tension somewhere (jaw, neck, mouth) that you need to release. Or your tongue placement has changed as you play faster so that the sound will change with it, or you have made some type of unintentional embouchure change transitioning from slow and longer note lengths to fast and short. Perhaps you applying an excess amount of lip/mouthpiece pressure at the peak tempo. Perhaps you are misusing a combination of these traits. Each of these things are worth investigating. You may not have to eliminate all these things, but experimenting with lessening them or releasing a few of them might free up your skill in other areas.

I also encourage students to experiment with tongue placement for maximum clarity with minimum distortion on each attack. It can help to think first of the tongue as the timekeeper, not the note starter. Even in detached playing, there should be a sensation of the tongue "floating" on the airstream, and not getting in the way of the sound itself. Each note should have life and be vibrant at any and ALL durations!!

Different players can achieve this end in different ways.

I encourage adjusting the tongue position slightly in different registers and these Arbans exercises are a perfect place to conduct this experiment. Think of a note consisting of vowels and consonants. And by "tongue placement", that includes various consonant sounds : the tip on the back of teeth (T or t) where teeth meet the gums (D or d), between teeth (TH or th) or away from the front teeth or up towards the soft palette (n, L) and the placement of the back of the tongue which directs the air via vowel sounds: ah, ee, eh, oo (as in "cool") oh, ie, ay (as in "pay").

Play through all the well thought out subdivisions in each of these short exercises in Arban's Method and you will discover that the author was very deliberate organizing these rhythmic exercises. They are progressive. You start by tonguing two of the same note in a sixteenth note rhythm and eventually articulate multiple sixteenths. Don't rush through them and keep the same basic tempo for several days. Focus on one or two exercises a day. By the end of the week, start over and up the tempo by 5-10 bpm. Don't be afraid to knock it back a few bpm to double check that your accuracy and best tone quality follow you up to the next notch up in tempo.

Having said all this...

While I believe the majority players will benefit most from a step by step approach, I also believe there is nothing wrong for "going for it" once in a while! Every few days, flip the metronome up to a tempo up about 15% faster than your previous maximum single tongue tempo. Pick a comfortable middle register note and play two sixteens on each beat. Repeat this for 4 measures. Rest and repeat. Most people find it is much easier to execute fewer sixteenths per beat at a wildly fast tempo, sometimes 40 bpm faster than their peak tempo. I think this is what Arban might have had in mind when he assembled the articulation exercises.

I also think it is a good idea to turn off the metronome and test your internal sense of time at the end of a days practicing the routine.

Press "record" on your recording device and begin by recording the metronome at your tempo-for-the-day for a few measures. Then, turn off the metronome and start tapping your foot or snapping your fingers for a few measures striving to keep that same tempo. Then, think and/or whisper the opening rhythm to yourself as you pick up your horn. Strive to keep the same tempo in your mind the whole time. Then pick up your horn and play through the exercise.

Then listen back to this whole recording, from metronome, to hearing your foot taps, to hearing you whispering the rhythm to hearing yourself playing the exercise. This can be very revealing for the average musician! What did you notice about the tempo as you transferred from the metronome to your tapping/snapping to you playing? Did it rush? Drag? Sometimes one, then the other!!?? If so, by how much?

Go back and pay special attention to feel the time deeply, especially at those moments where you dropped/added beats on your recording.

In several weeks or months of practicing in this steady deliberate manner, you are programming yourself to play with more consistent rhythmic accuracy, much in the same way as percussionists work on their snare drum rudiments. When you are more consistently placing notes in time, you will find that you are minimizing that "catch up" feeling that is often perceived pas a "slow" single tongue. Experimenting with tongue placement will also help you find the sweet spot for getting the note to speak clearly with your best sound, and how to minimize how much your tongue has to work to play faster passages. Working with the metronome and recordings will reveal how well you can maintain an even tempo and allow all your rhythmic feel carry you along at faster tempos. Then you will be freer to play in a more relaxed and communicative way.

Good luck!

Alex Iles
Los Angeles, CA
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« Reply #1 on: Jul 15, 2015, 09:41PM »

One of the best things I've read on TTF. Probably since your last article!

 Good!
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« Reply #2 on: Jul 16, 2015, 04:40AM »

Great article Alex Idea!
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« Reply #3 on: Jul 17, 2015, 06:09AM »

Note to self to read/comment.
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« Reply #4 on: Jul 17, 2015, 06:42AM »

Thanks Alex, this is fantastic. I love that section of Arban's and find myself there whenever I feel a little off in my playing.

It's my conviction that the common belief about low brass sounding late because of distance and length of tubing is mostly our fault - that so many low brass players have habitually late articulations.


If I may, I'll make a couple of suggestions of additional things to do:

I like to play simple scale and arpeggio patterns (like the earlier section of Arban's) in what I call a marcato-legato style - firm tongue but with legato air, not stopping the sound at all. This absolutely requires finding efficiency in both tongue motion and slide motion. I've discovered that some excellent trumpet teachers teach the same thing.

Also, something I picked up from Carmine Caruso via Sam Burtis, who expanded on it: without an etude book at all, practice any fundamental exercises - lip slurs, scale patterns - while tapping your foot and subdividing internally, making sure that the sounds you make are absolutely in time with your foot. Move the beginnings of notes off of the beat to different subdivisions within it: the 2nd 16th note, 3rd triplet, etc. I find that this makes the internal connection (at the neurological level I believe) between the thought of subdivided rhythm and the physical action of playing.

Incidentally, Charlie Vernon taps his foot 100% of the time while he's practicing and is relentless with himself that everything he does lines up in time with it. This is actually the heart of all his tremendous achievements in range and sound. Not just that he makes himself play in extreme ranges, but that he makes himself play in extreme ranges in great rhythm.

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« Reply #5 on: Jul 17, 2015, 11:14AM »

Hi Alex - Could you point to where these exercises are to be found in the regular old Arban's editions?
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« Reply #6 on: Jul 17, 2015, 01:31PM »

Thank's  :)

It is a lot to digest. It sounds perfectly logical to work like that. I do agree the single tongue is more often late instead of slow when two sixteenth notes follows one eighth note. It is also common that sixteenth notes starts late if the first sixteenth note in a figure is a sustained note that is held over from the previous beat (at least for me). I noticed this when I started to use a metronome.

 Hi

/Tom

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« Reply #7 on: Jul 18, 2015, 07:56AM »

Hi Alex - Could you point to where these exercises are to be found in the regular old Arban's editions?

it will be in the same approx. area, and the execise numbers are the same if I understand Alex correctly.

In my Arbans (Carl Fischer), the page started on 34 instead of 35.
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« Reply #8 on: Jul 19, 2015, 05:51AM »

Tremendously valuable post.

Thank you for making the time to put this out there for us.  I have added this to my daily routine.  Humbling, but very helpful!  Good!

-Andy in OKC
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« Reply #9 on: Jul 19, 2015, 01:35PM »

it will be in the same approx. area, and the execise numbers are the same if I understand Alex correctly.

In my Arbans (Carl Fischer), the page started on 34 instead of 35.

That seems right, as they are exercises on the 16th note.  But I can't find any exercises numbered 19-27 in this area of the book, nor do I see any in 4/4 time.  I'd really like to try this, it sounds like just the sort of focused technique work I'd like to be doing right now.

Can someone share what is the name of this section of exercises (e.g. Exercises on tongueing (sic), Studies in 16th Notes)?  I have an old public domain copy.
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« Reply #10 on: Jul 19, 2015, 03:20PM »

Have you got the full Arbans version? Or, the smaller one?
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« Reply #11 on: Jul 19, 2015, 03:45PM »

Have you got the full Arbans version? Or, the smaller one?

I'm thinking it's the latter, and that it does not contain these particular exercises.
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« Reply #12 on: Jul 19, 2015, 04:23PM »

My friend and colleague, the amazing trombonist Andy Martin, has one of the fastest single tongues I've ever heard. He can single tongue sixteenth notes in his improvised lines or written parts comfortably around 160 bpm. He also possesses one of the most consistent internal senses of time of all the brass musicians I have ever heard or played with on a regular basis. I noticed this tendency (and it's opposite!) among other players and students over the years, regardless of the idiom.

I haven't met Andy, but I'm not surprised by this at all. I have had the great fortune to work with one of his colleagues, Carl Saunders, who also has a fantastic (that is, ridiculous) sense of internal rhythm and who also has fantastic articulations. Carl has talked about constantly working on that internal pulse, and while playing, putting the articulation right up on the front edge of the pulse, and not "laying back" unless it's appropriate for a particular phrase. Working with him while I had the chance drastically improved my musicianship, just to see how thoroughly a master like him puts it together. Talking the talk and walking the walk, so to speak.
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« Reply #13 on: Jul 21, 2015, 12:55AM »

I am going to sticky this topic... I could not bear to see it slip away. Thanks so much for sharing Alex. Amazing insight... got me thinking... and that doesn't happen too often.

Chris Stearn
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« Reply #14 on: Jul 22, 2015, 03:24AM »

The subject Arban's technical etudes --I'm intentionally not refering to them as "exercises"-- are some of my favorites to dissect and practice.

It took me a while to read and comprehend all of your article. Well done. Thank you. I will definitely share with my students.

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« Reply #15 on: Aug 18, 2015, 11:23AM »

The subject Arban's technical etudes --I'm intentionally not refering to them as "exercises"-- are some of my favorites to dissect and practice.
 



Some people correlate the word "exercise" to something unmusical. This is a totally fair criticism. I guess I make a distinction because in certain musical "exercises", which to me,makes up most of Arban's method, are an opportunity for me to be mindful and fine tune certain details where an  " etude" is puts musical context to those specifics so that I am NOT attending to the technical detail specifically. To me, the etude is a place to see how automatic the lessons I have (hopefully) learned in the "exercises" show up musically. I don't create an exercise routine for every technical detail. Single tongue clarity, variety, and velocity is one that I have found that working in a detailed way (without HAVING) to answer to certain musical demands helps me to address ONLY those musical demands when called upon.

I hope this makes sense.

LX
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« Reply #16 on: Aug 26, 2015, 03:22AM »

Some people correlate the word "exercise" to something unmusical. This is a totally fair criticism. I guess I make a distinction because in certain musical "exercises", which to me,makes up most of Arban's method, are an opportunity for me to be mindful and fine tune certain details where an  " etude" is puts musical context to those specifics so that I am NOT attending to the technical detail specifically. To me, the etude is a place to see how automatic the lessons I have (hopefully) learned in the "exercises" show up musically. I don't create an exercise routine for every technical detail. Single tongue clarity, variety, and velocity is one that I have found that working in a detailed way (without HAVING) to answer to certain musical demands helps me to address ONLY those musical demands when called upon.

I hope this makes sense.

LX

Excellent points. Thank you again for sharing your insights and experience.
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« Reply #17 on: Nov 16, 2015, 06:35AM »

Alex, you need to assemble all these into a book!  Your articles and insight are certainly worth reading and repeating!

I'll buy the book when you get it published :)  Thanks for taking the time to give us all the benefit of your experience.
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« Reply #18 on: Mar 14, 2017, 05:13PM »

I have to say, it's such a great thing to have this web of trombonists of all degrees of ability.  Good!
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