Using articulation to shape sound

Using articulation to convert notes into music

Notes can be produced quite differently by using articulation. 

A player produces various articulations by combining the use of the tongue and the air stream in different ways. 

Tonguing techniques

A player will use his tounge to shape each note to achieve the desired effect. An accomplished brass player will master each of the techniques below.

  • No tongue – slurring (legato) across partials and glissing  (blowing while moving the slide, or pressing the valves down half way)    
  • “Da” – or soft tongue allows for smooth playing – essential for slurring (legato) on trombone
  • “Ta” – gives a clean attack.  Imagine there is a tea leaf on the tip of your tongue – spit it off.
  • “Ta Ka” or “Da Ga” – double tonguing used when the speed makes single tonguing impractical
  • “Ta Ka Ta” or “Ta Ka Ka” – triple tonguing – useful for rapid triplets
  • Flutter – rolled “R” tonguing creating a raspy sound

A list of articulations

This is a list of common brass articulations that are used frequently in music of all genres:


Tenuto – Full note lengths – legato playing. Notes are broad and connect to subsequent notes.

Staccato – Short and detached. Start the note with the tongue but stop the air to stop the note.

Accent – Use “Ta” to produce an explosive start to the note.

Marcato – Short accented note. To exaggerate the effect, start and stop the note with the tongue.

Rip – a quick gliss up to a note with an indefinite starting point.

Doit” – Establish the base note, blow hard and upwards. Trombone players can shoot their slide out towards 7th position while lipping up through the partials.  The partials become closer together as the pitch goes up and as slide becomes longer.

Fall – Opposite to “Doit” – down instead of up. Trombones should slide out on the same partial.

Trill – Alternating quickly between 2 distinct notes. Trombones slur 2 notes in the same position.

Shake – Rapidly moving between the base note and the note on the partial just above it without moving the slide.

Vibrato – A subtle undulating pitch change produced by moving the chin up and down slowly.  Trombone players can also produce vibrato by subtlety moving the slide up and down around a note but should favour shifting above the note to keep the vibrato sounding bright rather than flat.

Altering the sound quality

Mutes – Used to alter the sound of the instrument by changing the tone and lowing the volume. Each type of mute produces its own distinctive sound. The most used mute is the straight mute. A jazz player uses the toilet plunger to great effect to make the trombone ‘speak’.

mutes produce effects which can be combined with articulations

Articulation is like punctuation in grammar – it brings music to life.

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