Crystal Clear Articulation

    There’s a rumor that circulates around the music world, which is false. I don’t know who started this rumor, but they did a great job, because this one won’t go away. Ready for it? Here it is:

    You have it, or you don't.Anonymous

    When it comes to playing a musical instrument, some people think you have what it takes, or you don't. In other words, you’re born with the ability to play music or you’re not. This is absolutely false! Just like anything else in life, if you receive the right instruction, and work is applied, then you can learn to play a musical instrument. For this post, we will apply this specifically to articulation. Yes, we can learn to articulate better and faster.

    Articulation and Speech

    To help bring clarity to the importance of correct articulation, I would like to provide the following analogy. When we hear someone speak, who does not articulate their words clearly, it can be difficult to understand what they are trying to communicate.

    On the other hand, people make a living with their ability to articulate clearly (actors for example) when they speak. If articulation has that much effect in speaking, what can it do for us when playing the saxophone? As we discussed last week, it’s a skill that can separate you from the rest of the pack; just like articulation in speech.

    Strengthen that Muscle

    When we exercise and workout, we are strengthening our muscles, such as our arms and legs. When we’re trying to improve the speed and endurance in our articulation, we strengthen a muscle which allows this result. The muscle we are going to workout is the tongue. We have exercises that make your tongue stronger and faster.

    It Takes Time

    We understand that muscles take time to develop and grow. We understand this when it comes to running or lifting weights. We are patient with our growth because we know this takes time and that our muscles will eventually get stronger.

    When it comes to articulation, we need to have the same mind set. The tongue is a muscle and we need to complete our exercises to allow it become stronger. Have patience with the strength and speed of your tongue, as it will have a similar timeline for growth compared to other muscles in your body.

    Correct Form I

    When someone lifts weights, they need to have the proper form or they could hurt themselves. Another consequence of poor form is the fact that you won’t get the full benefits out of the exercise. Poor form in articulation won’t cause injury, but you won’t see the full benefits of your time spent if the correct form is not used.

    Correct Form II

    Whether I am teaching beginners, or freshman college students, it’s common to find that the form for articulation is incorrect. This severely limits how fast you can play and the clarity of articulation. Here’s the correct form: when articulating, the tip of the tongue touches the tip of the reed. We don’t push on the reed; we just lightly tap the reed when articulating.

    Articulation Cheat

    If you’re having a difficult time articulating with the tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed, try this approach. With a flat tongue, press your tongue up against your top molars. This will keep the tongue from moving forward and backward and will allow you to isolate the movement to just the tip of the tongue (which should just move up and down). You would apply this just for practice, and then once you get the feel, you’ll no longer press the tongue to the molars.

    Try This Exercise

    To begin, we’ll try one exercise that is very simple. However, if you do this every day for a week, you’ll be in good shape for our next exercise. For this week, do the following:

    • Set your metronome to 60
    • Play middle B
    • Articulate the B with every click
    • Keep your air constant (the physical articulation produces the break in the air, not the airstream)
    • Play for one breath
    • Repeat 5-10 times

    That’s It!

    This may seem really simple, but this is how we get started. After a week of this exercise, you’ll notice that articulation becomes more comfortable and you won’t need to think about it as much. We want articulation to become natural because our brains can only think of a few things at once. If we don't get this down it can feel like rubbing your stomach with one hand and tapping the top of your head with the other when trying to learn other concepts.

    How Did it Go?

    If you have any questions about this practice pattern, or you want to share how things are going, please share in the comment section below. Next week, we’ll add another exercise that deals specifically with speed.


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