The tongue servers more than one function when playing a brass instrument as indicated below-
- The tongue acts as a valve to open and control the air flow from the lunges to the lips.
- The tongue affects the final tone quality or timbre of the sound of the instrument.
- The tongue, through raising and lowering in the mouth cavity controls the velocity of the exiting air stream which affects the various ranges one performs in.
- The tongue facilitates rearticulating of rapidly tongued notes.
- The tongue can affect styling changes such as recognizable jazz articulation.
- The tongue is the only part of the body capable of controlling soft, legato attacks as well as forceful, pointed attacks.
- The tongues position in the oral cavity will determine if the air flow is free and open or tight and restricted.
In many cases, instructors limit their teaching to only the stop and go effects of the air stream when working with students.
How the tongue works-
At the institute, Willis is first introduced to what muscles are activated and to how musicians actually move when they play–musicians, after all, are a lot like sportspeople, in that they have to undergo a lot of training (10.000 hours!) before becoming professionals. Cognitive Science professor Erwin Schoonderwaldt uses motion capture technique to quantify playing techniques: you probably first heard about motion capture because of characters like Gollum in Lord of The Rings. Motion capture technique can, for instance, show even the slightest movement that a violin player has to make in order to fully control his string instrument, as it reaches up to 250 frames per second.
Willis then ventures into the MRI laboratory to get a more detailed picture on the phenomenon. Unlike X-Ray machines, MRI detect soft tissue, which is great for the horn players, as they use those quite a lot: fun fact, the tongue is the fastest muscle in the human body, as the tip moves up to 35 cm per second.
Kinesiology Professor Peter Iltis, a horn player himself got the idea because he developed embouchure dystonia, and he is studying musicians, horn players in particular, to get more insight into the ailment. Have a look at what happens during the crescendo and decrescendo: the oral cavity is able to achieve larger and smaller openings for an optimal environment to produce faster and slower air.