Articulation

Saxophone v. Trombone

Articulation refers to the manner in which the beginning of a note is controlled. On the saxophone, the musician articulates each note by “bouncing” the tongue off the reed. This temporarily stops its vibration, creating distinction between notes. Ideally, the tongue should come in contact with the reed as little as possible, although this is very difficult to master. Furthermore, the tongue should not move in a poking motion. Instead, the tongue should be arched and positioned with the tongue close to the reed. This allows for the tongue to only swing forward in order to articulate. Not only does the articulation act as the "consonants" of music, it often helps notes speak. The reed is held from vibrating until necessary pressure builds up inside the mouth for the note to speak. This eliminates undesired whispery sounds at the beginning of notes.

Articulation for the trombone operates with fundamentally the same principals but a different approach. Unlike a saxophonist, a trombonist cannot directly pause the vibration of his or her lips. Instead, a trombonist halts the airflow with the tongue by briefly touching it to the ridge behind the teeth as if pronouncing “T” or “D.” The lips only vibrate when air flows, so the very brief break in airflow causes a very brief break in the sound, allowing the note's beginning to be controlled. 

Saxophone Articulation - William Sims
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Trombone Articulation - William Sims
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Intensity

These sound files demonstrate what articulation on each instrument really sounds like. Each file begins with no initial articulation, which then builds in intensity.