Understanding the Connection Between Your Arms and Tongue Can Improve Your Articulation

By Rena Urso

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade.  Saint-Saëns Voliere. Mendelssohn Scherzo.  Delibes Coppélia. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4.

Each of these pieces have one major thing in common; they shine a light on our articulation.  Exactly what that light illuminates is the question.  Does it showcase a crisp and clear articulation, one with ease and fluidity?  Or, something else? If you’re finding that your double and triple tonguing is laborious with a general lack of consistency and clarity, then you’re in luck because this month’s column is for you!

My mentor Clem Barone had a terrific analogy for fast articulated passages, one that I paraphrase routinely.  “Think of your swift airstream as ocean waves and your tongue as a little tiny surf board riding those waves.  Don’t stop your air, rather, ride the airstream.”  Great words from the master.

So, what’s the connection between your arms and tongue?  

Feel the front of your neck, along the front air tube which has a ridged feel.  This is your trachea and it’s where your air goes when you inhale. Food, by the way, goes down the tube behind this, the esophagus.  Back to the trachea; as you work upward toward the top of this tube you will feel something slightly bigger along either side of it. This small, horseshoe shaped bone is called the HYOID bone.  The base of your tongue connects to this bone, as do two narrow, ribbon-like muscles called the OMOHYOID muscles. Google both of these so you can get a picture of what they look like and exactly where they live inside your body.  The omohyoid muscles connect at the hyoid bone and run down, underneath all of the neck muscles and collarbones, to their origin, attaching to the inside of your shoulder blades (scapulae).

Unfortunately, when we are struggling with the aforementioned excerpts, we have a tendency to grip when things don’t feel or sound the way we want them to.  The trouble with gripping our instruments, our muscles, etc., is that we make it that much more challenging to do the thing we’re trying to do. In this case, play with a beautiful, free, fluid, crisp and clear articulation.  That little voice inside our head telling us to work harder creates unwanted tension.  When we carry unnecessary tension in our arms, we often shorten the space between the tops of our arms (some think of this as their shoulders) and earlobes.  You can imagine the affect this may have on our articulation.

Try this:

Put your thumbs together, side by side, underneath your jaw and swallow.  Do you feel that movement? That’s the part of your tongue that is responsible for swallowing.  The part of our tongues responsible for articulation when we speak, sing, or play a wind or brass instrument is the blade and tip of the tongue.  Aim to do the fine, detail work in your playing with the tip of your tongue, and simply allow the rest of your tongue to go along for the ride. When you look in the mirror and stick your tongue out, realize a portion of your tongue is something you cannot see because it goes down the back of your throat and connects to the hyoid bone.  The front of your throat is also the back of your tongue.

In these moments when your articulation isn’t happening for you, instead of working harder, allow the front of your neck to be free and find a place of no-work with your arm structure, letting them gracefully float over your ribs.  Just by virtue of understanding that there is literally a connection between your tongue and arms ought to make a world of difference.  If you’ve not had the opportunity to read my column about the arms in the September issue of The Flute View, take a few minutes to do that now, it’ll be an excellent companion piece to this.

Remember, it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter.  With Body Mapping, we all can correct and refine what we do, and do it better and more efficiently, with greater ease and joy.


Rena Urso is a member of the faculties at California State University Long Beach and California State University Stanislaus and a Course Coordinator for California State University Summer Arts.  Additionally, Rena is the course coordinator for The Complete 21st Century Flutist at CSU Summer Arts, a biennial summer flute course.  As a licensed Body Mapping educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops all over the world.  An active California based freelance musician, Rena is also a member of the Oakland Symphony and the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra.  She enjoys balancing her time between her homes in the Chicago area and California’s Central Valley with her husband John and their beagle Lillie.  

For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.

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