Is Tongue Arching Wrong?

The practice of arching the tongue when playing the trumpet has become accepted by many as the definitive way to control a brass instrument. I’m honestly quite pleased to see many top players talking about correct use of the tongue rather than focusing entirely on breathing; but unfortunately we still appear to be operating in an environment where those giving big talks are completely dodging the subject of embouchure entirely. I’d be inclined to believe that the main reason is that if giving a two-hour masterclass then anyone but an expert embouchure teacher is going to struggle giving advice that is going to generate immediate results, which is what an audience wants. The truth is that barely any famous trumpet players are also expert embouchure teachers – why would they need to be? This is just one reason that endorsement of brass playing books and techniques should be taken with a grain of salt.

As a general rule; resting assured in the knowledge that others are going to continue to teach things I disagree with and even get good results from doing so; I’m not bothered either way if people teach tongue arching. After all, I teach anchor tonguing myself – it’s just that the tongue should be anchored to the lip, and not behind the teeth. What does bother me is that their description of why it works is incorrect. There is always talk of air flowing over the tongue like the wing of an aeroplane, or models that describe air flowing like water, which cannot be compressed like air can. Then there’s the matter of air speed – people saying to use less air at greater speed, for example, is a fallacy for the simple reason that air displaced over time would be more or less equal under those conditions, hence you are not using less air…

The quote below is a gem from the Trumpet Herald forum, in which poster LeeC succinctly describes the reasons that the way people describe the use of tongue arching is incorrect. It is one of many such posts and a quick google search with terms such as "LeeC" will lead you to them. Another poster to look out for would be Kalijah, who has contributed to a massive number of conversations on the subject. Something worth observing is that these guys were mostly having these discussions with people whose responses were little more than dogmatic repetition of the principals taught by famous teachers. Their opponents tended not to venture into the territory of demonstrating that they had thought about the topic themselves, only that they had been taught something and that it is forbidden to question it. Over to LeeC:

Every time I hear about air speed & higher notes I always question the validity of the advice from those who recommend the increased tongue arch. Typically a lot of high note books recommend raising the tongue to facilitate the production of high notes. This procedure is probably false. If you doubt me consider this:

When you arch your tongue closer to the roof of your mouth you constrict the air passage and decrease the available air pressure to the vibrating lips. Not such a good idea if you want to raise the pounds of air pressure per square inch (PSI). And increased air pressure is WHAT facilitates the production of high notes combined with a coordinated firmer embouchure with a decreased aperture size.

Some teachers who still adhere to the “Tongue arch for range” method like to compare their theory to the placement of a thumb slightly over the end of a garden hose while the water is running. However this analogy is incorrect. The partially closed tube at the end of the hose DOES push the water out faster, but the thumb closure is analogous to the lips NOT the tongue as the thumb or lips is the last constriction in the line (respectively). If you were to constrict the hose further back from the end of the tube by kinking it it would reduce the water speed flow at the end. So the tongue arch actually “kinks” the tube the same way a twist in your garden hose will slow or shut off the water flow.

The reason teachers think the high note / Tongue Arch method works is because most tongue archers close their teeth slightly to raise their tongue arch as they ascend. By closing their teeth they manipulate the embouchure aperture into a smaller hole. It is the smaller aperture that raises the tone, not the tongue arch.

If there is a true useful application of the tongue arch it is probably for the quick and accurate long interval ascension, but no more than that. I still use a tongue arch for longer intervals when I need to slur quickly. Let’s say I want to slur from third line C to G top of the staff and don’t want to hear the other open note (E) in between. I will usually employ the tongue arch in this case. The reason this helps the slur work more efficiently is because the tongue arch will give my upper lip a temporary “power assist” and help it accelerate the vibrations more quickly. The lips would still have reached the higher tone without the tongue arch but it might have taken longer or I might have hit a piece of the unwanted partial in between.

You can practice your tongue arch for years but it won’t do diddly for your range. You may even constrict your air passages so much that you’ll get a neck puff (a very undesirable characteristic that could physically damage you seriously). The ONLY things that produce higher vibrations are an experienced strong embouchure & experienced strong breathing. PERIOD.

Link to original TH thread: