Take a Deep Breath and Blow, Part 2

Mike Lawson • CommentaryJanuary 2021 • January 8, 2021

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Reinforcement, Reinforcement, Reinforcement!

Wouldn’t it be easier if we had signs that we could hold up in front of our students each time we needed to repeat ourselves? Just think of all the vocal rest our vocal cords would get.

There are so many instructions that are necessary, and we find ourselves repeating them from day to day, class to class, and student to student. After all, we’re teachers and that’s part of what we are paid to do. It would be nice if each student understood and remembered each suggestion and guideline that we impart to them. Unfortunately, in most cases it doesn’t work that way. But if we stay after the importance of producing good sounds, our students will really begin to hear the difference and will not settle for anything less.

An Individual’s Sound is Like a Fingerprint

We know that fingerprints are unique to the individual, well, so is the sound that an individual makes. I think that no two people sound alike on a given instrument. I tell my students that their sound quality identifies them from everyone else and that it’s important to develop their own sound quality. They invariably ask me how they should go about this process. It’s easy: listen to great players!

As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, I would listen to live radio broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I was thrilled to listen to Roger Voisin, Andre Comé, and Armando Ghitalla. My high school band director, Ted Durgin, introduced me to the artistry of Rafael Mendez. I could not begin to comprehend how he was able to play all of those trumpet acrobatics. One of my best friends turned me on to Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, and Al Hirt. All of these guys could really play the trumpet and they all had different sounds, but really good ones. I then began to listen to Don Ellis, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Maurice André, Adolph Herseth, and the list goes on.

I found little things in the way each of them shape their trumpet sound and began to try imitating these attributes. Slowly but surely, some of these qualities began to become a part of my trumpet playing. I continue to listen to established trumpet artists and to the up and coming players from around the world. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful, but different, their individual sounds are. At the 2011 Schagerl Brass Festival in Melk, Austria, I was introduced to the trumpet virtuosity of Hans Gansch. This man possesses one of the most glorious and breath-taking trumpet sounds anywhere on this planet. I could not believe what I was hearing.

We can take Rick Vars’ suggestion of playing great music by great artists and ensembles for our students. We can listen to these individuals on our own to help establish the quality of sound that we want our students to posses. We can listen with our students to show that we are interested in beauty of sounds.

The following is a partial list of trumpet players who are virtuosos in their own field of expertise:

Alison Balsom

Wayne Bergeron

Chris Botti

Barbara Butler

Kiku Collins

Hans Gansch

Thomas Gansch

Tine Thing Helseth

Adolph Herseth

Matthias Hoffs

Thomas Hooten

Ingrid Jensen

Christopher Martin

Raymond Mase

Thomas Rolfs

Michael Sachs

Susan Slaughter

Philip Smith

Robert Sullivan

Marvin Stamm

John Swana


How To Teach Single, Double, and Triple Tonguing

Each of us speaks at least one language and we accomplish this by hearing in our head the words that we wish to speak. We move air through our vocal chords and use our tongue and mouth to shape and pronounce those words. We’ve already discussed the fact that vocalists and brass players have much in common: they cannot sing what they cannot hear and brass players are in the same camp. Tonguing is another mechanism that we share with vocalists.

Vocalists use syllables to help them shape the words that they wish to sing. They use their tongue to help with the diction necessary to pronounce the lyrics. Brass players don’t produce lyrics, but we do need to enunciate properly for clarity of attack.

The main syllables that I teach are “TAH” and “DAH.” When we pronounce a “T” syllable, the result is a crisp and clear attack. We use the “TAH” attack when the music or accents require more marcato or pointed attacks. We use the “Dah” syllable when the music requires us to tongue in a very gentle and connected manner.

The “AH” portion of the syllable is most important because it gives a round and warm sound, much like we are singing. I need to mention to you that it is very important that we teach the students to hear and pronounce “AH” in their brain and in their sound. Students who form a “TUH” or “DUH” syllable will produce a dull and colorless sound. In both instances, “AH” adds a depth and resonance that makes the sound pleasing to listen to. I also think that “AH” enhances good intonation.

Basically, the tongue moves forward in our mouth when we begin to articulate. The tip or front of the tongue will strike up and behind the top front teeth. I have my students pronounce words like “TO”, “TOE”, or “TOM” and ask them to feel where their tongue touches inside the mouth. In every case they say that it strikes up and behind their top front teeth, somewhere between the enamel of the teeth and the where the roof of the mouth begins.

I like to have the students practice tonguing in a very connected or legato manner. The purpose is to train them to keep the air moving through each of the tones and not to stop the air between each tone. Remember the six no’s: No air, no vibration; no vibration, no sound; no sound, no music.

Now, I know many of you are saying that we aren’t always required to tongue in a connected manner and you are correct. Students who play in band ensembles are almost always asked to tongue in a separated style. They practice in playing this way quite often, but if we don’t instruct them why it’s necessary to play in a connected manner, they may never be able to do this. Soloistic, as well as ensemble, playing requires us to be able to do both properly. Never stop the tone with the tongue!

My all time favorite book for teaching every form of tonguing is Arban’s The Complete Conservatory Method for Cornet (Trumpet) published by Carl Fischer Music. Most trumpet players refer to it as the bible of trumpet playing. I call it the big red book. Mr. Arban was very knowledgeable about what trumpet players needed to be able to play. He knew exactly how to write exercises that would help us become adept at our craft. There are many books published today on how to instruct people in how to play the trumpet, but the Arban book is still and always will be, my go-to method book.

The following are a number of pages and exercises from the Arban book that I always use when working on tonguing with my students: pages 14 – 22, exercises 16 – 50.

Many of the exercises are marked as staccato and I draw a line through the staccato markings to indicate legato tonguing. My purpose for doing this is to offer the students an opportunity to develop their legato style of tonguing. When most students play in band they are quite often instructed to play articulated notes in a very detached or short manner. While this may be fine for large ensemble playing, it does always carry over into soloistic playing techniques. Many times, I hear students say that they have been taught that staccato means to play short and this is very incorrect. Staccato means to separate or detach notes – not to play them short. In addition, I quite often change the Common Time signatures to Cut Time or 2/2. Once again, maintaining the legato style of tonguing.

Here are some notes regarding the lack of dynamic markings in the aforementioned pages and exercises:

• I encourage the students to adjust their volume as they follow the direction of the line of notes. This teaches them to give more support to the sound as the notes ascend and gives musical thought to the shape of the melodic line.

• I also encourage the students to crescendo slightly as the notes descend so as to keep the sound quality consistent in all registers.

• Just because a composer doesn’t give us indications of dynamic contrasts, this doesn’t mean that we can’t adjust our personal dynamics to make the music easier for us to play and achieve the goal of making the music come to life.

Quite often students are taught to play tones so short that there is no real substance or resonance in their sounds. Why should we instruct students to ignore one of the most basic fundamentals of music making? No, of course not! Aren’t we judged on the quality of how we sound? Aren’t our ensembles judged on the quality of the sound that they produce? Doesn’t the beauty of a soloist’s sound attract us? The answer to each of these questions is yes! So then, why should we teach students to play so short that there is no center or sonority to their sounds? No matter how short the sound is it must always have tone.

Every time I perform as an ensemble player or as a soloist, I feel that one of my basic responsibilities to the audience is to make as pleasing a sound as possible regardless of the tempo, dynamic, speed, or lengths of notes. When we are teaching the students to play staccato correctly, we must remind them to play these articulations with the best sound possible. Listen to any world-class symphony orchestra perform Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, mvmt. 1 Pines of the Villa Borghese. As you listen to this very fast and rhythmic piece you will notice that the instrumentalists are playing all of the articulated passages not only very separated but with a great core to their sound. This is the very reason that I teach students to play in a more connected manner. This does not mean that I don’t teach staccato tonguing. When I work on this aspect of a student’s tonguing ability I always stress the importance of making a great sound on each separated note.

In each of the tonguing exercises mentioned above, I stress using a complete air flow, one that is only separated by the action of the tongue. This action is to only give each new pitch a defined and accurate beginning. The students are instructed to tongue each note exactly alike regardless of the placement below, on, or above the staff. The sounds that the students make should always be the same from register to register. Quite often, I will have the students practice all or part of an exercise slurred rather than tongued so that the student develops the felling of the air being very supported and free flowing at all times. I call this slur surfing.

Multiple tonguing (double and triple) is a necessary art for any brass wind player. Syllable pronunciation is just as important, perhaps more, in achieving accurate and rapid multiple tonguing.

If we refer to page 155 (triple tonguing) and page 175 (double tonguing) in the Arban book, Arban speaks about using the syllables “TU” and “KU” in reference to multiple tonguing. This is where I part company with the book’s author. Mr. Arban was French and both “TU” and “KU” syllables are more common to his native tongue, but not to English speaking individuals. Those syllables never worked for me in practice of multiple tonguing. I just naturally gravitated towards using “TAH” and “KAH” for passages that were more marcato or fanfare in style. I also use “DAH” and “GAH” for quick moving passages that are more soloistic in manner.

I heard the late Roger Voisin, former principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, speak about using “TAH” and “KAH” for English speaking individuals. He said that these were much easier for us to pronounce than “TU” and “KU.” I cannot agree with this statement more.

We have already discussed the need to teaching students to play in a more connected manner and I believe that this applies to multiple tonguing. Many times, I hear students performing works that require double or triple tonguing. Firstly, the sound that they play with is harsh and un-appealing. Secondly, their air stream is tense as are their articulations. The result is a very stiff choppy manner of playing. I believe that they are instructed to multiple tongue in a very short and overly accented manner. I totally disagree with this teaching style. If we listen to the great trumpet virtuoso Rafael Mendez and to any of his recordings where he demonstrates his rapid tonguing ability, we will hear very precise and accurate note placements. The notes may seem short or detached, but I argue that they are not. I believe that Mr. Mendez is using the “T” and “K” syllables to emphasize the beginning of each note. Because the notes are so fast and close together, we are given the impression that he is tonguing in a staccato manner.

If we listen to Mendez or the great Russian trumpet virtuoso Sergei Nakariakov perform Nicolò Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo, they are double tonguing this piece in a connected, not short, manner.

They both know that the air stream must remain constant so that the lips can continue vibrating. In teaching triple tonguing and double tonguing, I begin by having the students pronounce the syllable before actually playing them. We’ll practice triple tonguing by saying:




We practice double tonguing by saying:



By pronouncing the syllables in a rhythmic pattern, the student becomes accustomed to the front and back motion of the tongue. We then practice the syllables by playing a neutral pitch on the mouthpiece alone. Once the student can make clear pronunciations on the mouthpiece we then transition to the trumpet. Arban’s exercises for triple tonguing beginning on page 155 and double tonguing beginning on page 175 are superb exercises to learn to multiple tongue in an even and consistent manner.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to reinforce a supported, flowing, and constant air column, especially as the line of notes ascends. We need to instruct the student to play louder as they go higher. This will increase their air support and allow the lips to vibrate faster and easier.

One word about Arban’s diatonic triple tonging exercises starting on page 158, and double tonguing exercises starting on Page 177. Just because we are tonguing through changing intervals does not mean that we physically tongue in a different manner. Not at all! We tongue as if we are playing repeated notes. Students, including myself at a very young age, may have difficulty with scale like patterns or tonguing through intervals greater than a major or minor second if we don’t reinforce the concept of blowing the notes straight through the trumpet and not thinking about the ascending or descending line of notes. After all, sound travels in a straight line – so should the line of tones that we play.

John Almeida holds a BM in performance from the Univ. of Alabama and an MA in music from Appalachian State Univ. Almeida currently teaches applied trumpet at Eastern Florida State College and Seminole State College. Previously he held the position of associate professor of trumpet studies at UCF from 1993 – 2017. In 2011, the UCF Trumpet Ensemble, under Almeida’s direction, appeared at the 2011 Schagerl International Brass Festival in Melk, Austria. They were the only American brass ensemble invited to perform at this prestigious festival. In July 2014, Almeida was invited to perform as a member of the European Brass Ensemble throughout Austria and in the opening concert of the Schagerl International Brass Festival.

In December 2010, Almeida presented a clinic at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic entitled “Sound Ideas on Playing the Trumpet”. In 2002, Almeida was one of two participants selected to perform in Adolph Herseth’s master class at the DePaul University Trumpet Symposium in Chicago, IL. His students have gone on to receive music performance degrees from Appalachian State Univ., Indiana Univ., Rice Univ., Rutgers Univ., the Univ. of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Univ. of Oklahoma, Vandercook College of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, Florida State Univ., the Univ. of North Florida, the Univ. of South Florida, and the Univ. of Texas at Austin. A number of Almeida’s students have been first place winners in the International Trumpet Guild Solo Jazz Trumpet Competitions, members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors, the U.S. Navy Band, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orch., the Walt Disney All-American College Band, BLAST, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus Band, and professional musicians in the Los Angeles movie and television music industry. He remains active as an adjudicator for the Florida Bandmasters Association. Almeida has been a guest artist/clinician in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, New York City, and Florida. Almeida is a Yamaha Performing Artist.

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