The Tongue Controls Everything!

The aspect of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure that people find to be the strangest, but is most fundamental, is the idea of playing with the tongue in between the teeth. Some reasons for keeping the tongue against the lips whilst playing have already been mentioned on the pages about use of air and sound concept so there is little left to explain on the topic other than how to apply this practice.

There has been much debate on forums and by those trying to learn about the TCE over where exactly the tongue is meant to be in the mouth. Whether it should curl over between the teeth; how the lips ‘grip’ against the tongue; if the bottom lip should come back between the teeth or up over the top teeth (an idea from Callet’s Superchops (1987)). This endless confusion is caused, in part at least, by Callet’s attempt to refine his method of teaching the technique over forty years. He has produced a huge number of images (many contradictory) that show the relationship between the lips, tongue and teeth and scouring the internet will reveal some of these to you.

Learning the Tongue Controlled Embouchure doesn’t need to be that difficult. One of the big developments that Bahb Civiletti has introduced to the technique is the idea of the five articulations. This is the language of the TCE and is used to train your tongue to stay in the forward position whilst playing. The only articulation you will find explained here is the Spit Attack. This is the primary form of articulation and the one that is initially practised the most. The other articulations are then added in to address other aspects of music such as legato and the double tongue. By exercising the different areas of the tongue and always listening to check that you have a clear, centred sound you will know that you are on the right path.

Getting Started: The Spit Buzz

Spit buzzing is a form of loose-lip buzzing (i.e. without the mouthpiece). It can be done by following these instructions:

Step 1: Keeping the tongue forward

  1. Stick your tongue between your lips and spit out a tiny burst of air.
  2. It is normal for the tongue to pull backwards into your mouth when you do this. Notice whether or not this is something that happens with you.
  3. Hold the tip of your tongue with forefinger and thumb and repeat 1.
  4. When you can spit out a tiny burst of air without the tongue trying to pull itself free from your grip then Step 1 is complete.

Step 2: Making a spit buzz

  1. This time we will keep the tongue in front of the teeth, but inside the closed lips. The jaw must be open for you to be able to do this.
  2. Whilst lightly pushing the tongue down on the bottom lip and feeling the top lip touching the tongue, repeat the process of spitting a tiny burst of air.
  3. With practise this should make a short, sharp buzz.
  4. Try to keep the lips relaxed.

The spit buzz is useful for warm-ups, co-ordination practise, and checking that everything is working as it should. TCE beginners should practise the spit buzz for ten minutes per day until the process is a thoughtless habit.

There are recorded examples of the Spit Buzz on the recordings page.