​John Freeman

Classical Trumpet Performance, Teaching

Trumpet Articulation



     Being able to articulate in a quick, precise manner is a requirement for all good trumpet players. Also being comfortable employing a wide variety of styles of tonguing- from super legato to secco and accented to feathery is necessary. Without a clear articulation at the beginning of the tone, all of our notes would sound sloppy even if the middle of the note was beautiful.  Time practicing articulation is time well spent.  Most high school and even college students I encounter do not articulate very well, and 90% of the time it’s just that they don’t articulate enough.  Notes start with “muu” or “phhuuu”.  Their playing can most of the time be dramatically improved if they simple pay attention to it, or copy the sound of a good player.

     In general, good control of articulation comes from practicing it a lot, and paying attention to it.  Students who spend a good amount of time in Arban, Clarke and Schlossberg rarely have problems with articulation.  Most of the time it’s just awareness.

Improving Single Tongue Speed

   Our single tongue is capable of different speeds depending on how many notes we need to tongue in a row.  We might be able to single tongue 1 beat of 16th notes at 160 beats a minute, but when tonguing 2 full beats of 16ths, we might have to slow it down to 140.  Then maybe a whole measure of 16ths we can do at 120, and 2 measures of 16ths at 110.  You get the idea.  Eventually we would get down to our lowest base speed, possibly something we could comfortably tongue for a minute or longer. (Look up Clarke’s 1 minute drill)

    You will make the fastest and best progress if you practice all of these segments of tonguing.  If you only practice only one speed, say a Clarke 2nd study that you can play at 100, but not much faster, then you are not developing all the other speeds.  Find exercises that can address all the different amount of consecutive notes, 1 quarters worth, 2, 4, and 8.  I use repeated notes for the shorter ones, using the different pitches from a scale, and also include some moving lines, especially Half Scales.  For the long strings, I gravitate towards Chris Gekker’s book, Articulation Studies, and using the 1st exercise, or of course, Clarke’s 2nd Study.


Keep a log with the date and the fastest speeds you can do for different lengths of strings of 16ths.  Try to little by little increase the speed of each group, day by day.  If you have made progress in any of the areas, your single tongue is improving.  You can probably think of many months where it didn't improve at all.  


"Anything we can put a number on we can improve"


   If you ever hope to be able to single tongue Clarke 2nd study anywhere near 160, you need to give your tongue a small taste of what that feels like by just doing one quarter note worth at that speed.  This process is similar to weight training or running.  You can lift 10LBs one hundred times, or 100LBs five times.  (and everything in between on a sliding scale) By working the muscle from all angles, you’ll make continual progress.


A word on technique:

   When practicing single tonguing, stay in a softer mp range, and go for a light, quick stroke, without any heaviness or strain. The distance that the tongue travels should be very small, lightly touching whatever spot on the roof of your mouth that gives the best clarity to the sound, usually right behind the teeth.  In a moving passage, the air behind the tongue should feel the same as when slurring.  For that reason, I will usually practice a moving passage slurred first, and then try to maintain the same flow when I tongue it.  “The tongue rides the air.”