Problems with Articulation
I have struggled with fast articulation for years. I remember playing Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite years ago and wondering why it was hard for me to double tongue. Attempting to play that piece, and many others, eventually brought me to the incredulous awareness that I almost always used to do air attacks. The only time I actually would use my tongue was for legato playing. For over a decade, I didn’t realize I wasn’t using my tongue. I would’ve sworn on all existing religious texts and my mother that I was...but I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing. What it felt like, wasn’t actually happening. Alexander Technique people call this “debauched kinesthesia”.
I have and have taught many students over the years who didn’t realize they weren’t using their tongue or they aren’t touching the tip of their tongue where they think they are. One of my current students is a mouth-breather. Breathing through his mouth all the time and has deadened his sensation of his mouth. His ability to feel and sense inside his mouth and with his tongue has improved greatly over the past three and a half years. We practice saying ‘t’, ‘d’,’ la’ and what I call capital ‘T’ and ‘D (firmer articulations)’. We practice saying these letters out loud, blowing air without playing, with the horn without playing, and we practice tongue twisters.
There are various reasons why students have debauched kinesthesia. They may also have a speech impediment, they may have an expander to help make space before getting braces. Some students have no anatomical, speech issue at all, but they still have problems knowing and feeling what they are doing with their tongue and feeling sensation inside their mouth.
Educators and wind players: it takes ALOT of dedicated time to improve sensory awareness. Please be patient with yourself. It may take months or years to fix articulation issues.
A great place to start is figuring out what is the nature of my articulation problem? What’s actually happening or NOT happening? With all students who struggle to articulate, I love starting with just listening to them speak. If a student speaks well and normally, it’s most probably debauched kinesthesia. If you can see your tongue, while looking in a mirror and articulating, your tongue is going through your teeth. (Tongueing through teeth is completely fine when playing in the low range. I once taught a student that tongued through his teeth in the staff and it sounded great??!! He was definitely an outlier though.)
I’m realizing that this topic requires multiple blog posts. So to reiterate, find out what’s going on. The WHAT will lead to the HOW ..... how do I start addressing this?
PRO TIP: Try to have a sense of humor and curiosity during exploration and experimentation. Seriousness frequently makes things needlessly.....serious. More on this soon!