Let’s talk slurs: part five, the jaw and oral cavity

Today I wanted to talk a little about the movement of the jaw and the tongue (connected, of course, to the jaw) in helping to do slurs. The lower the tongue (and/or jaw), the lower the pitch. The higher the tongue (and/or jaw), the higher the pitch. You probably have seen the cross-section illustration in the Earl Irons book of the tongue movement. If everything else is equal, the jaw and tongue make a difference in pitch, because a more open oral cavity slows down the air, and a more closed oral cavity speeds up our air. Well, the graphic design team here at Trumpet Journey has produced our own illustration of this:

The tongue in the lower position (for lower notes):

Cross section of mouth with lower tongue and jaw

The Tongue in the higher position (for higher notes):

Cross section of mouth with higher tongue and jaw position

Of course this is a little simplistic, because we can play higher notes with a lower tongue position and lower notes with a higher tongue position (by controlling our aperture). Nevertheless, the oral cavity is a very important control point for our playing, and we should try to master it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about slur “stretches,” it is very important to keep the air flowing during slurs–especially BETWEEN the notes. One mental model that I now like to picture is that of a little squishy ball between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. This squishy ball is my airstream. I like to feel that squishy ball as I am going up and down in my slurs. Here are my tongue position graphics, but now with the imaginary squishy balls.

Cross section, lower tongue with imaginary squishy ball
Cross section of mouth in higher position with squishy ball

One of the problems is tension in the jaw. For this reason, I like to soften the jaw muscles while increasing their range of motion. I use a simple wine cork for this. I put the cork between my teeth to open up the jaws, while I “scan” my jaw muscles for tension. If there is tension, I gently try to direct these muscles to relax.

I think it is easier to understand some of these concepts by watching a video.


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