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The top 3 articulation mistakes to avoid

I’ve been making the rounds in middle and high schools, and one of the common issues I’ve discussed lately is how to properly articulate notes. I’ve addressed different parts of articulation here in the past: fast articulation, and a discussion about articulation as dynamic and note length issue. I realized, though, that I haven’t addressed the very basic subject of how to articulate, so that’s what I’m going to discuss today.

Mistake #1: The tongue

The most common issue I see when students struggle to get crisp, clear articulation is the part of the tongue they use to hit the reed. They will use part of the top of the tongue to touch the reed. The result is that their tongue moves slowly and covers the reed for too long. This gives a muddy sound to the articulation, and sometimes too much space between notes.

It’s nearly impossible to articulate fast passages using the top of the tongue. Instead, use the very edge of the tip of the tongue to touch the reed. While this takes some adjustment and practice, it will provide the greatest flexibility and a gentle sound.

Mistake #2: The reed

The most common issue among beginners is hitting the side rather than the tip of the reed with the tongue. This happens a lot with students who switch from a single-reed instrument to the oboe.

Instead, use the tip of the tongue to fully close the tip of the reed. The withdrawal of the tongue allows air to flow through the reed and the sound to start. Work on this slowly at first to build the habit of closing the entire tip of the reed with the tongue.

(Note: if it feels like your reed is pinching your tongue, this means there’s too much mouth pressure on the blades of the reed. Make more space between your teeth while keeping your lips sealed around the reed for a more comfortable experience!)

Mistake #3: The end of the note

Many teachers instruct students to stop the vibration of the reed with the tongue to stop sound, but I find this to be incredibly unhelpful. Instead, work on developing a fast stop to the flow of air going through the reed. Using the air to stop the sound instead of the tongue provides more options for expression, which is the end goal to playing music.


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