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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ricochet Tonguing: Rapid-fire Articulations and Skipping Stones



It must be some sort instinctual habit, because a universal thing happens when kids (of all ages! :) ) are standing near a body of water where rocks are strewn about.  With almost no thinking, the child picks up a rock then throws the rock into the water. With a splash and a thunk,  the rock is gone. The next actions,  however,  build upon the experience learned from that initial throw.  The child might try to pick up a larger rock to create a bigger splash,  or a smaller rock to see how far it can be thrown. And if they're really lucky,  they have an older child or adult teach them how to skip rocks over the surface of the water. The teacher immediately reigns as "coolest person in the world" in the child's eyes,  seemingly able to create magic tricks out of water and rock.  A whole new quest ensues for the child:  finding the perfect skipping rock (flat), learning how to consistently throw the rock at just the right angle (about 20 degrees,  I think),  and how to make the rock skip over the surface many times before sinking.
             
Where I live in Wisconsin we are fortunate to have numerous rivers, ponds, lakes, and even two of the Great Lakes on our borders that are absolutely perfect for the irresistible activity of rock throwing and skipping. It's as if the water is calling us to come near and spend some time leisurely honing our instinctual habits. Rock skipping, like music, is a skill that requires lots of practice, and technique is much more important than brawn.

This got me thinking about the oboe (of course),  specifically about articulation. The initial idea came from a great lesson with oboist Rebecca Henderson (oboe faculty at University of Texas at Austin) many years ago. I've found the articulation technique she taught me to be immensely helpful in my own teaching and playing,  so I thought I'd pass it on.  The technique is called "ricochet tonguing." And apologies to Rebecca if I don't teach this exactly as she does--this is how I've modified the original idea to suit my work with students.

With ricochet tonguing the tongue produces a strong initial articulation,  then creates light and fast secondary articulations that are propelled from the air and action of the initial articulation.  In a sense,  the tongue rebounds on the reed just like a skipping rock bounces over the water after the initial throw. Ricochet tonguing is primarily used in rapid passages using a light,  single tonguing technique. I usually use this for passages that feel too slow for double tonguing, but awkward for "regular" single tonging.

Here's how:

First, say "Ta-da." Now say it REALLY fast, and with much more air on the TA.  "TA-da"
Let the tongue ricochet or bounce off of the first "TA" to create the "da" articulation. Practice this several times just saying the sounds,  without the oboe.  Then try playing the pattern on the oboe, always using a metronome to ensure a steady beat and subdivision:



Next,  say TA-da-da.  One strong "TA" with enough air to support two "da" articulations that lightly bounce off of the reed.  Again,  practice this without the oboe by saying it aloud several times. Once it feels comfortable and you are able to produce clear, light, articulations,  try it on your oboe.




Third,  say "TA-da-da-da." Again practice this without the oboe by saying it several times.  Once it feels comfortable and you are able to produce clear, light, articulations,  try playing it on your oboe. Make sure that the initial "TA" articulation is never harsh; focus on using a lot of air to propel through the ricochet notes instead of at the first "TA". Try to minimize an accent on the first TA articulation to create an even sound throughout the pattern.



If possible,  try for "TA-da-da-da-da"--one strong initial articulation,  then FOUR rebounds. The more rebound or "ricochet" notes that are added,  the more difficult this exercise becomes.  Make sure that the initial "TA" articulation is never harsh, and use a lot of air to propel through the ricochet notes. The articulation quality at all times should be light.  Try to minimize an accent on the first TA articulation to create an even sound throughout the pattern.



Once you feel comfortable with these exercises,  try adding ricochet tonguing into your scale practice,  etudes, and solo work. I've found that it's a fairly simple technique that can significantly improve both the speed clarity of rapid articulations. And, it is almost as fun as skipping rocks on a shore. :) I hope you find this technique useful as well.

Please feel free to write comments and questions below.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time...


Oboe and out,

The Oboist





2 comments:

  1. this is amazing--- so much more accessible for students than double tonguing!! And even the name is more fun!!!

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, Rebecca! Glad you enjoyed it.

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