In trying to place my most recent essay, “Dow”, somewhere in the outline on my Impressions and Reflections page, I had to decide where articulation belongs in that order. Is articulation a physical rudiment or is it a stylistic aspect of our art?

Certainly, articulation is a physical rudiment. I practice this rudiment every day. But the subject of my “Dow” essay has nothing to do with the rudiment of articulation.

I’ve been searching for a distinction between these parallel usages of the term “articulation” for several years. I even wrote about it a few times, but always in passing. It had never become it’s own topic until now.

What is it which distinguishes one use of the term “Articulation” from the other?

Here’s what I’ve come up with and I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you HERE if you think I’m wrong. The first distinction is that “Articulation” in the stylistic sense is a musical device reliant upon differences from one style to the next. This variety is a musical necessity. When all articulation is the same, the music becomes mechanical, no better than the midi playback on your computer.

This is something I didn’t realize when I wrote my book called “The Physical Trumpet Pyramid”. Much of my writing about articulation in that book should have been reserved for a discussion on the subject of style. But I didn’t the distinction then which I make now between the two usages of that term.

See what I mean?


It’s important that I emphasize the role articulation plays in the overall style makeup. I like to define “Style” as those things which are attached to the tone to create an overall sound picture. In a master class at Rice University, Jim Thompson made a distinction between “Sound” and “Tone Quality” saying that “Sound” is “Tone Quality” with all the other stuff added; stuff like vibrato and articulation. His comments support my point entirely. To me, “Style” is those changes you make to the things attached to the tone, those things Jim Thompson listed, including “Articulation”.

Unless we are using musical effects, our tones should never change, whether we’re performing jazz, classical, rock or salsa. One of the differences we make when we play in these different idioms is in our articulation. I do not tongue the same way playing salsa as I do playing in an
orchestra. I do not tongue the same way playing jazz as I do in a brass quintet. I do not tongue the same way playing Bach as I do playing Wagner.

The differences I’m referring to include not only the striking point but also the shape of the tongue and the manner in which the note is released. It also includes the speed of the tongue……not as in “How fast can you tongue?” but as in “How quickly do you get it out of the way?” Different tongue speeds create different articulation styles.


So, if the differences I’m talking about now do not fall in the realm of physical rudiments, then what is “Articulation” when you use it as a rudiment?

In my opinion, articulation exercises practiced as rudiments are not articulation exercises at all. They are studies in “Air” which are commonly referred to as “Flow Studies” in today’s trumpet community. When I practice “Articulation” as a rudiment, I’m not thinking about articulation at all. I’m concentrating on my air. I’m concentrating on playing that exercise as if it was what Herbert L. Clarke called a “moving long tone”.

The difference between these two usages of the word “Articulation” helps to support my on going argument that people should NEVER practice only rudiments. At least half of all your practice time should be spent practicing literature. Worded conversely, the time you spend practicing rudiments should never be more than half of your total practice time.

Style is connected to literature. The style of a composition is connected specifically to that composition. There are so many styles required of us as trumpet players that physical rudiments could never possibly prepare us for that sort of flexibility.

Articulation vs. Tonguing

I began this essay the way I begin most of my essays…..without a title. But I knew when I got through it, I would have something which represents the content of the essay. “Articulation vs.
Tonguing” helps to differentiate between the two topics. Instead of referring to the rudiment as “Articulation”, from now on I will call it a “Tonguing Exercise”. I will reserve the term “Articulation” for its use in describing style.