Brass Articulation- Why We Use Tah and Dah

It is now 4:26 AM in the morning of Saturday, January 8, 2011 and you are probable asleep in your bed. You may ask, “Why am I sitting at my computer writing this post”? Moments ago, while laying in bed a question flashed through my head “why do we use the syllable tah when we articulate a note on a brass instrument. I hope to explain this practice by the time we finish this post.

What are letters, what are syllables and what are words?

In order to establish an understandable vocabulary for this discussion, we will have to agree on the common use of simple terms. Letters are these- a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k,l,m,n,o,p,q,r,s,t,u,v,w,x,y and z. Syllables are these- a (a-bout), b (be-fore), c (see-ing), d (de-bark). Words are these- a (a), b (bee), c (see, sea, si- yes in Spanish). When I refer to a letter, I will mean a letter and when I refer to a syllable, I will mean a syllable. Please keep this in mind as you read this material for I will clearly state what I mean and you will have to follow what I say in order to understand my logic on this topic.

There are three areas which affect the pronunciation of letters.

Tongue- c, d, g, h, j, k, l, n, q, s, t, u, w, x, z

Jaw- f, h, j

Lip- b, f, h, m, p, v, w, y

Which areas will best serve articulations for brass players?

Tongue- This would be the best area for it does not interfere in the vibration of the lip or the anchoring of the mouthpiece on the lip.

Jaw- Opening and closing the area between the teeth will have a detrimental effect on the position of the mouthpiece.

Lip- Any letter or syllable used will hinder the lip’s vibration.

Which letters produced with the tongue are best to start a note on a brass instrument?

These are workable letters- d, k, q, t.

These are unusable letters because of the lack of enough air pressure to start a note- c, g, h, j, l, n, q, s, u, w, x, z.

Which of these workable letters are best for brass articulations?

D- best because it is begun in the front of the mouth which is easier to control.

T- best because it is begun in the front of the mouth which is easier to control.

K- Not usable for it is produced too back in the throat.

Q- Not usable for it is also produced farther back in the throat.

Conclussion; The letters T and D simulate the best location for the tongue when starting notes on a brass instrument.

What are the advantages between the use of T and the use of D when starting a note on a brass instrument?

Slowly repeat the letter T and listen to the sound. Now do the same to the letter D. How do the two differ in sound?. Repeat this pattern a few times to get the feel of what is happening- TTTTTTTT DDDDDDDD TTTTTTTT DDDDDDDD. Which letter has more of an explosion to its sound? Which letter has a softer sound? You should be able to hear and feel the difference. The letter T is more explosive and the letter D is a little softer. Why do you think this happens?

Why is the T a harder attack than the D?

When we pronounce the letter T, we create more back pressure of air behind the tongue than when we pronounce the letter D. This difference in back pressure is the reason we use a T attack on our stronger notes and use a D attack on our more legato articulation.

And these are the reasons we use the syllables Tah and Dah when we articulate notes on brass instruments.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

3 thoughts on “Brass Articulation- Why We Use Tah and Dah

  1. Emmett

    Great post!

    I really appreciate that you went and discussed all of the syllables and their pros and cons.

    • Bruce Chidester

      Thank you Emmett for your comments.
      We all have our favorite ways of getting things done and that was one of mine. I am arranging a VERY difficult quintet version of Buglers Holiday which will require everything I have to get that one played.
      Great hearing from you and keep practicing, it does help.

  2. Ray vignovich

    I think the d has a softer attack from using the vocal chords. The d and t tongue articulations seem identical to me.

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