This article is about Anchor Tonguing (also known as K-Tongue Modified) for trumpet playing.
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What Anchor Tonguing / KTM is, what it’s supposedly good for, and a few suggestions for incorporating Anchor Tonguing / K-Tongue Modified into your own playing.
The author Anchor-Tongues.
To Begin: Be Wary of Vowel Shapes!
We are going to experiment with some word/vowel/mouth-shapes throughout this article. Before we do that though, please watch the following 20 second video on the sound “Ta.”
For some reason, when I say the word, “tea,” the “t” sound is made with the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth (exhibit A). But when I say, “some tacos,” the “t” sound is made with the middle of the tongue against the roof of the mouth (exhibit B).
Keep that in mind. Since you’re capable of making generally the same “ta” sound with different tongue strokes, vowels can be somewhat unreliable on their own as a teaching aid.
To Understand Anchor Tonguing & K-Tongue Modified…
…Read the following sentence aloud at your normal reading speed:
“Let’s go eat some tacos.”
Now read it again, a little slower, and pay attention to your tongue; specifically these parts…
“Let’s go eaT some TAcos.”
The “T” at the end of the word “eaT” is close to what some might call “traditional” articulation.
The tip, or front part of the tongue is hitting the roof of the mouth somewhere behind the top teeth. It might hit right at the gum line, it might hit a little further back. The main point is that the front of the tongue is hitting the roof of the mouth at or near (behind) the top row of teeth.
Anchor Tonguing / K-Tongue Modified
When I say, “some tacos” the “ta” is made with the middle, fat part of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. This movement is close to what’s called Anchor-Tonguing, or the K-Tongue Modified.
Now say the sound “ka” or “car.” Notice that the articulation is made by the back, fat part of the tongue. Making the “K” sound in this way is what’s referred to as the “K-Tongue,” usually in regards to Double and Triple-Tonguing.
The “modification” from K-Tonguing to Anchor-Tonguing is that the articulation, while still happening with the center (left to right), fat part of the tongue, is striking further forward (toward teeth) on the roof of the mouth. The similarities between K-Tonguing and Anchor Tonguing is why Claude Gordon called it “K-Tongue Modified” in his publication Brass Playing is No Harder than Deep Breathing.
It’s been awhile since I read the book, but remember it as a good read. Importantly for myself and a few others I’ve come across, the text gave a name to something we were doing naturally (KTM), and is often misunderstood by players and educators alike.
Anchor or Buoy?
The tongue resting behind the bottom teeth is what’s referred to as the “anchor.” While playing with an Anchor-Tongue set, the tip of the tongue remains set behind the bottom teeth during most normal playing as dictated by the musician’s technical development.
Contrary to what the name may imply, the front of the tongue is not forcibly “held down” or “pressed in,” but rather, when learned, more “floating” behind the bottom teeth. You can get a good feel for this by pronouncing the “eau” part of the world “beautiful.”
Anchor Tonguing vs the Tongue-Controlled Embouchure (TCE)
You may stumble across something online called the “Tongue-Controlled Embouchure.”
As far as I know, the guy who codified TCE is Jerome Callet, in his program “Superchops.” And from what I can tell, the main difference between TCE and Anchor Tonguing / KTM is that with TCE, the tongue passes over the bottom teeth to make direct contact with the lower lip. In this way the tongue helps to maintain the position of the lower lip and aperture set.
Remember that with Anchor Tonguing and K-Tongue Modified, the tip of the tongue remains behind the lower teeth and does not touch the lip*.
*Sometimes, as my embouchure fatigues, the front of the tongue presses over the bottom teeth and into the lower lip. With my own playing, I see this as something to minimize through practice as my playing gets a heck of a lot squirlier when the tongue starts creeping toward the lip. To each his own.
What’s the Point of Anchor Tonguing?
While there may be more pros and cons to Anchor-Tongueing than I’m currently aware of, I would say the main benefit I’ve noticed is that with Anchor-Tonguing you can maintain a higher tongue-arch while articulating. This translates into greater ease in the upper register.
What’s a Tongue Arch?
To understand the tongue arch do a bit of free-style whistling.
Regardless of how you whistle, or even if you’re any good at it, the pitch is changed, at least in part, by the tongue wiggling around in your mouth. Generally speaking, a higher frequency (note) is made by raising the tongue toward the roof of the mouth.
This is because the raising of the tongue toward the roof of the mouth compresses the air-stream inside the mouth creating a faster air-speed passing through the lips. If you’re new to this idea, it’s kind of like sticking your thumb over the end of a hose. By channeling the same amount of air-pressure (or water-pressure) through a more focused channel, you get a faster speed of travel. Increases in air-speed, balanced with the tension / resistance in the embouchure produces higher frequencies of vibration at the aperture (& higher notes).
Try This to Feel the Tongue Arch:
Say the sound, “eeee,” as in the word beneath.
When you make the “ee” sound, the back sides of the tongue are arched up toward (and touching) the back molars. By creating a shape inside the mouth similar to this “ee” sound, you effectively channel the air traveling up from the lungs and focus it toward the lip aperture.
The compression created by the tongue arch helps to give a greater feeling of “support” along with a more consistent airflow. This makes things like developing flexibility and learning to play high easier.
Tongue Arch + Anchor = (Part of) Playing the Upper Register Like it’s the Middle Register
Remember, “some tacos?”
Now try, “some teecos.”
That’s pretty darn close to what’s happening while you play with a developed Anchor Tongue. It’s not exactly what’s happening, but it’s pretty darn close.
Combining the tongue arch with the articulation-style of the Anchor-Tongue gives you a system that is capable of maintaining good air compression while being able to articulate each note. I find it’s also helpful with starting phrases on notes in the upper register since you can start the note in what may be called the “stop” position (keep reading).
One Players Trash is Another Players Anchor-Tongue
When folks start debating about the pros and cons of one playing technique versus another, I find it’s at least helpful to keep an open mind and follow your intuition.
In regards to the Anchor-Tongue / KTM I have heard people claim that this technique ultimately leads to a smoother, more-rapid articulation since the movement of the tongue can become smaller than with a traditional articulation. Perhaps it can. However, I have Anchored-Tongued for as long as I’ve been aware as a trumpet player and have always had the greatest difficulties in playing developing my speed of articulation.
I’ve also spent months and months practicing and listening for a distinctive “popping” sound at the front of my articulation. It just felt like a good idea and I followed it to what I feel were positive results. That said, a colleague of mine switched from Anchor-Tonguing because he couldn’t get an aggravating “pop” out of his sound.
Should You Switch To Anchor Tonguing?
Many players who do not naturally Anchor-Tongue wonder if they should switch to the new method of playing, especially if they are interested in developing their range.
Now this is just an observation, but Anchor-Tonguing does not seem to be required, even for lead players.
As mainly a lead player myself (and as of writing this article), I get the job done by rolling in my chops a bit, playing on a firm embouchure and Anchor-Tonguing nearly everything. Another lead player I regularly work with plays on rolled-out chops, tongues between his lips and uses air-pulses to navigate the harmonics.
So there you go.
I Recommend Learning Anchor-Tonguing;
#1) If you want to.
#2) As a skill on the side if you’d rather not “switch.”
#3) Or, you can keep what you’ve learned from this article in the back of your mind, and let a greater awareness come to you at a time of its choosing.
What you don’t want to do is overwhelm yourself.
Suggestions for Practicing Anchor-Tonguing
The following video demonstrates:
- How the Tongue Articulates Each Note While Anchor-Tonguing / KTM
- The “Stop” Position and How to Practice it
- The Skill of Chill
- What to Listen For While Learning to Anchor-Tongue
- Tongue Cut-Off Drills for Developing Range and Upper Register Articulations
- Two Exercises for Developing a Good Tongue-Arch
- YouTube Video: Try This to Make Lead Trumpet Playing Easier! (BTBLOG 53)
- Range Builder PDF: Sent to Your Inbox
If you are having trouble getting the knack of Anchor-Tonguing, or are concerned it isn’t working its way into your regular trumpet playing, here are two bits of advice:
First, pick an exercise that is easy, manageable and serves one single purpose: learning to Anchor-Tongue.
The exercise you choose is not meant to develop your range, finger technique, vocabulary, or anything else for that matter. It might (and probably will) build auxiliary skills, but if you want to get down to internalizing the fundamentals, a two-birds-with-one-stone approach is overly- complicated.
Once you have an exercise you like, do it all the time. Could be five minutes a day, could be more. Start with one easy session per day and revisit the drill as often as you please. Go slow, get comfortable and keep practicing the same exercise until you can do it with the Anchor-Tongue, every time, without thinking about it.
From there, pick another exercise and stick with that one until it’s learned on a deeper level than the drill before. That’s Effortless Mastery. Learn the next exercise a bit faster. Maybe a note or two higher. Or lower. The point is to slowly and systematically increase your abilities with Anchor-Tonguing.
In my experience, a slow-and-steady approach of progressive overload will handle most issues. If the tongue is raising too far toward the roof of the mouth and closing off the airflow – cool; Keep practicing in a comfortable range. If the tongue is passing over the lower teeth as you ascend or descend – cool; Keep practicing in a comfortable register.
You Sure About That, BTB?
That’s fair, Dearest Reader. And this could definitely be a guy-with-a-hammer-thinks-everything-is-a-nail-type situation.
But the thing is, there are a lot of nails out there that need a good hammering. And there’s more to getting your Anchor-Tongue to work than putting the tongue in the right place. Each time you change something about your trumpet playing it takes a while for the rest of the body to figure out what it needs to do.
Sticking with the basics for a good long while is a tried-and-true method for letting that happen.
I hope you found this article helpful and informative. Please say hello in the comments below.
And which term do you prefer, “Anchor Tonguing,” or, “K-Tongue Modified?”
All the best,