Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Effect of Changing Syllables to Facilitate Slurring by Middle School Trumpet Students

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Effect of Changing Syllables to Facilitate Slurring by Middle School Trumpet Students

Article excerpt

This study sought to determine if using changing syllables would facilitate a smoother slur for middle school trumpeters playing ascending perfect fifths, both natural and valved. Participants (N = 42) were randomly assigned to one of two groups, control and experimental, and each performed a pretest and a posttest. Students in the control group received no instruction concerning the use (or non-use) of varying syllables. After the pretest, players in the experimental group were instructed to utilize specific syllables ("tah" and "ee"). Results showed that trumpeters using changing syllables performed significantly better (p ≤ .05) on the overall posttest than did those who did not use syllables. Although natural slurred intervals had a lower probability than did valved slurs, both improved significantly (p < .01 and ≤ .05, respectively). In addition, note (pitch) accuracy increased significantly (p ≤ .05) for students in the experimental group.

The process of learning to play a brass instrument is multifaceted. In addition to studying and deciphering the nomenclature of music, students must acquire the basic physical aspects of sound production, including diaphragmatic support, correct embouchure, and coordination of air to slide or valve change. Many pedagogues purport that players also must learn to manipulate portions of the oral cavity, such as the jaw, throat, and teeth. This study focused on the function of the tongue as it relates to the production of various syllables and their effects on slurring.

An extensive review of brass and trumpet method books revealed mixed perspectives concerning the use of syllables. Although a number of these teaching guides included references to the contributing functions of several oral cavity mechanisms, at least half of them did not mention employing syllables in any capacity to assist playing (e.g., Fricke, 2002; Getchell,2002; Ruettiger, 1976; Weast, 1980). However, there is evidence that recommendations for the utilization of varying syllables have existed for at least four centuries. Two early Italian trumpet method books (Bendinelli, 1614/1975; Fantini, 1638/1972) include vowels and syllables as a way to insure proper trumpet calls. Similarly, a number of well-known 20th century method books include references to the practice of changing syllables (e.g., Arban, 1982; Clarke, 1915; Colin, 1980; Farkas, 1962; Gordon, 1965; Irons, 1938; Schlossberg, 1937).

As with method books, a broad search of pedagogical articles indicates no agreement about the application of syllables to facilitate trumpet technique. While some authors do not advocate the practice (e.g., Carter, 1966; Schneider, 1982; Stoutamire, 1972), others support the notion and offer various examples for incorporating syllables into exercises and rehearsal (e.g., Fitzgerald, 1949; Jenkins, 1970; Lillya, 1991; McKee, 1962; Ridgeon, 1986; Whitehill, 1966). However, there is a consensus among all of these practitioners indicating that the trumpet can be divided into three ranges - low, middle, and high - and those that support the use of syllables typically suggest "toh" or "doh," "tah" or "dah," and "tee or "dee," correspondingly.

An examination of the literature reveals a dearth of documented research regarding the use of vowels or syllables to enhance slurring techniques among wind instrumentalists. In a recent study, Sullivan (2007) investigated the effects of syllabic instruction on the articulation accuracy of high school woodwind players. However, despite the centuries-long practice of utilizing changing vowels or syllables to facilitate trumpet playing, there appear to be only four experiments that have attempted to empirically analyze this practice. Hall (1954) used radiography, spectrography, and photography to examine tongue, jaw, and throat actions that accompanied transitions between low, middle, and high registers. Results showed that where there were shifts between the middle and high ranges, the nine accomplished trumpeters investigated moved the high point of the tongue forward. …

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