I have been either not using my tongue (air attacks) or tonguing through my teeth since sixth grade. I somehow learned how to tongue correctly for legato playing, but other than that, I wasn’t using my tongue or not using it the way I thought I was. I only was able to get help with my debauched kinesthesia (not being able to feel how you're ACTUALLY using your body) from an Alexander Technique instructor named Ariel Weiss. Ariel helped me realize how I also was tightening my jaw and holding my tongue almost all the time. I believe that this holding and tightening of my tongue and throat for years is what largely contributed to me not being able to feel what I was actually doing and to be able to curve the tip of my tongue in the way needed for T and D articulations. What we discovered was that I was moving the tip of my tongue forward as opposed to gently curving up and ever so slightly back to create, specifically a T articulation. This happened during the pandemic of 2020 when I was 38 ya’ll! That felt like more of a curve backward then just touching one’s teeth that so many teachers (including myself) have said to me over the years. 3 huge lessons from this discovery were:
1. Even if your directions/thoughts are super concise and clear, a student may not interpret your instructions correctly in their body because of your language choice or their lack of understanding of your words or their body. Ask the student to verbally say consonants and words to make sure they understand what way they should be shaping their mouth and using their tongue.
2. If you are sure they understand what to do, they may have debauched kinesthesia. Patience and Sherlock Holmes level analyzing skills are required to help this student know what they’re doing and if they need to change, and how. After the first year of learning a wind instrument, it is very difficult to change the way someone articulates. The student HAS to practice daily, with and without their instrument to use their tongue and air in a different way. The student must understand that if they don’t practice daily or at least five days a week, they will not improve their articulation.
3. A student's first language can impact their ability to articulate clearly or can cause them to over or under articulate. Don't be scared to switch in between tah and dah depending on what sound comes out the bell. Be lead by sound. Being too orthodox in pedagogy can be paralyzing for the teacher and student.
It's imperative that patience is present and the foundation of this work. I have felt, and at times continue to feel, despondent frustration when I don't articulate well enough.
Teachers and students: please give yourselves patience, grace, and time for lasting change.