Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001 00:11:38 +0000
From: "Eric Berlin" <>
Subject: My ideas about trumpet playing. LONG! was arched tongue

>I'd like to see what the consensus is out there re: the "arched tongue".

Hey JP and all,

This may be a lot more than you asked for but here goes. I will begin with this disclaimer. There are a lot of people that do things differently than I do and many sound better than I. With that said, this is how I approach things. Many of you have probably noticed that my whole approach to the physical part of playing the trumpet is based on efficiency. I find that over the past several years, my progress has not been due to gaining new skills or building more muscle strength, but streamlining what I do to get the most out of it. My ultimate goal is to play with no physical exertion at all! ;-) Seriously, I don't want to do any more work than I have to. I boil trumpet playing down to these three basic components:

1)      Air
2)      Lips
3)      Tongue

Each of these components in my model has only one job. Each component is able to perform with much more precision while applying itself to one task than if it must do two or more tasks simultaneously.

1)      Air - Air is the sound. Quality and quantity of air are directly proportional to the sound we create with this air. The air has one job and that is to move. If it is not moving out, it should be moving in. This means that the air should come in and out in one fluid motion. Once in motion, it should stay in motion. How much air we resonate is due in large part to the size of the oral cavity. To get the most air resonating, I need that oral cavity to be as large and open as possible. This means that once the tongue releases the air at the attack, I drop the tongue to the bottom of my mouth. This is the Arnold Jacobs idea of TOH articulation. Regardless of register, anything we play should feel like a long tone in the middle register at that some volume and timbre. This is the foundation upon which everything else is to be built. Notice that the volume of air does not serve any purpose other than creating sound. The idea of support to me is usually a matter of maintaining air intensity as one descends as opposed to blowing more air as we ascend.

2)      Lips - The lips control the pitch of the sound. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I often see the lips used to articulate and other muscles used to change the pitch of the sound. With the air constant, the lips can maneuver to where they need to go with much more precision.

3)      Tongue - The tongue defines the duration of the sound. This will ultimately stir up some controversy, but the tongue should be the only thing that ever gets in the way of the air, which is the sound. In legato, the tongue defines the point at which one note becomes the next. In staccato, the tongue defines the silence, which connects the notes. During that silence, the air is ready for release behind the sealed tongue.

These ideas have been distilled over numerous years of studying my own playing as well as that of my students. While observing my own playing I found (among a variety of sins) that:

A)      I blew harder for high notes (probably a remnant from hitting a high note while trying to deafen my sister) This kept me from being able to achieve a softer and less penetrating sound in the upper register. It also made it harder to get a real burn in the low register. This blowing harder usually also meant creating more compression. You cannot create compression without a nearly closed container. Try to compress the air in your torso with out closing the throat. Hmmm, I canít do it...  Imagine what that did to the sound.

B)      I tried to arch my tongue for the upper register. I found that although the notes came out, they had a different quality or timbre of sound than my middle and low registers. It was thinner and brighter. Rapidly changing registers sounded like different players altogether because of the different sounds being produced. As I arched my tongue higher, the pitch on each note got progressively sharper. I pulled my slide out and I was still sharp. My tone began to suffer because I was unable to lock into the instrument's natural resonance. I found that especially high attacks would splash because the instrument and I disagreed on where the pitch should be. I also found that as I tried to go higher, I reached a point where my tongue hit the roof of my mouth and kept me from getting any sound at all.

C)      I was ending notes by letting the air die after the attack. This resulted in uneven sound throughout the duration of the note, changing intonation and insecure connections to the following note. I found that because I let the air die, I had to kick-start it as I set my tongue for the next note. Three times the effort for poorer results. Rapid passages were difficult and I looked ridiculous bouncing up and down as I huffed each note.

As my students and I began to apply these ideas of efficient use of each component we found that with much less physical exertion, we are able to do more. This leaves a lot more energy and thought to apply to making music. It is also easier to diagnose problems and isolate the weak link. If I have problems with changing registers, with consistent airflow and timbre, I can easily work with my lips and discover where the problem is. With changing air and tongue level as well as lip movement, I found myself with no clear idea where to turn. Reducing the number of variables in the equation gives you a much better chance of accomplishing any task.

This is the way I approach the physical part of playing the trumpet. The idea is to make the mechanism as efficient as possible so that the focus can be on music. With these components working alone but in sync, we can play in any register and easily make it louder or softer and change colors as we wish. We should strive to be able to play (as opposed to always play) everything as if it was just the same note on the same never-ending line of air. This may even sound monotonous, but it is the baseline of tone production and what you do with it from there is your decision and now it is completely in your control.

The most remarkable result of this efficient approach is a freedom to express music as we think it should be played, not just playing in a way that facilitates getting the notes out. How many times have we heard a phrase like "Blow through the high notes." or "Let those high notes soar" or "Crescendo to the top" Even some of our method books use this concept in range builders. Has anyone ever stopped to think...

"Is the top note always the focal point of the phrase?"
"Do my high notes always have to soar and be the brightest sound I make?"

Open yourself up to the opposite ideas and you have a world of endless possibilities at your feet.

Back to the idea of tongue arching. The tongue does serve a dual purpose in a way. It affects the volume of air, which resonates based on where it rests in the mouth. If your tongue is resting at the bottom of your mouth, it will allow the most air to vibrate, when the tongue goes up, it reduces the resonating space within the mouth. Try this. Say TOOOOHEEEEEEEOOOOOOH very slowly. Notice the change in the timbre of the voice. Do the same thing on the trumpet and notice the change in sound. If you want to get the smaller, brighter sound that comes from TEEE, by all means, adjust where you allow your tongue to rest after attacks, but apply it to all notes that you want to sound like that. This is a decision that you make about the sound you want to produce, now you are in control of it. When I really want to scream on a high note at the end of a pops tune or in a show pit, I can get that sizzle by raising the tongue. The difference now is that I make the decision about how it sounds instead of letting it sound that way because it was high.

So, yet another long-winded dissertation from Eric. It should serve as food for thought. Think about it, at this price, you can feed the whole family!

Good luck!

Eric Berlin Majestic Brass Quintet
Principal Trumpet-Albany Symphony
Majestic Brass Quintet