More on articulation

After posting yesterday’s blog on articulation (single tonguing), I was surprised by some interest in this article–especially philosophical differences.

Today, I’d like to quote a Wikipedia article to start us off with a definition of what articulation is:

Articulation is a fundamental musical parameter that determines how a single note or other discrete event is sounded. Articulations primarily structure an event’s start and end, determining the length of its sound and the shape of its attack and decay. They can also modify an event’s timbre, dynamics, and pitch. Musical articulation is analogous to the articulation of speech, and during the Baroque and Classical periods it was taught by comparison to oratory.

Western music has a set of traditional articulations that were standardized in the 19th Century and remain widely used. Composers are not limited to these, however, and may invent new articulations as a piece requires.

Wikipedia article on music articulation last edited June 13, 2021

In my opinion, and for the purposes of talking about trumpet articulation, I want to first point out that an articulation is the way we begin a note. Notes are sounded by the use of an airstream, so the tongue acts as a valve (not as a striking mallet). But this is also true of the way we talk. Our tongue acts as a multifarious type of valve that releases the air and allows vowels to start. That starting part of a vowel is what we call a consonant. In fact, in my opinion, a linguistic consonant is the exact equivalent to a wind player’s articulation. We can, as trumpet players do most of the linguistic consonants: the coronal, dorsal and laryngeal. But I would argue that we can start a tone with the mouth, too (this is called a breath attack or a “pooh” attack), and this is in the domain of labial consonants.

The 19th-century “tu” is a type of coronal articulation. The “k” attack (during multiple tonguing) is an example of dorsal articulation.  Also, we have a glottal stop that is not supposed to happen in modern trumpet playing (unless a student does this without being able to control it). However, Girolamo Fantini, who wrote the first printed trumpet method (Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba, published in 1638) asks for this in the so-called “trillo” of his day (based on a vocal ornament that was popular). Caccini (famous singer, teacher and writer of early baroque music) describes the cadential trillo as beginning “with the first quarter-note, then re-striking each note with the throat on the vowel.”

Fantini writes:

“E trovando il Groppo si deve battere con lingua puntata, rna il trillo va fatto a forza di petto, e battuto con la gola, e si forma in tutte le note di detto strumento” (and where a ‘Groppo’ is found it must be pointed with the tongue, but the ‘trillo’ it must be performed from the chest and articulated with the throat, and is done with all the notes on this instrument).

In essence we have, as trumpet players, most of the consonants available to us when we speak. Baroque wind players would have encouraged their students to vary the articulations to sound more like a vocalist, whereas a 19th-century wind player would have encouraged a more consistent articulation.

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