Initial Attacks

Many players have difficulty with initial attacks, whether a single note or the first in a succession of notes. Coordinating the action of the tongue with the setting of the embouchure is a finicky business that deserves your full attention.

Air Time

First, consider that underlying every tongue attack is a breath attack. A responsive breath attack is indicative of a well-set embouchure. When you add the tongue, don’t change anything about the way you deliver the air; just use the tongue to help focus the delivery. Practice breath attacks as prelude to tongue attacks.

Tongue in Position

A tongue attack involves a forwardand- back movement to produce the syllable “t” or the softer “d.” It is the pulling back of the tongue that releases the air; the forward motion is essentially a setup action. A single note, or the first of a succession of notes, may be tongued with a rapid forward and back motion (like all succeeding notes).

However an alternate possibility is to set the tongue in place in advance of the first note. This technique may produce more consistent and reliable attacks. Setting the tongue in position in advance requires coordination with the inhalation to avoid impeding airflow.

My technique is as follows: I take in the majority of my air with the tongue flat against the floor of the mouth, creating a wide-open passageway. During the last stage of the inhalation, my lips close to embouchure firmness, and the tongue contacts the gum behind the top teeth. The body naturally switches to a nose breath when the lips close. (Try it.)

At the moment of attack, the tip of the tongue snaps back and down, not so much starting the flow of air as getting out of the way of it. The focus is on the air, not the tongue. This may sound complicated, but like any complex physical maneuver (such as walking or talking), it becomes second nature with diligent practice.

Don’t accept mediocrity. When practicing, give yourself three tries at every botched initial attack. Get the first note right, and the others will follow suit.

About the Author

Chase Sanborn is a jazz trumpet player based in Toronto. He is on the faculty at the University of Toronto and is the author of “Brass Tactics,” “Jazz Tactics,” “Tuning Tactics” and “Music Business Tactics.” Chase is a Yamaha Artist.

Visit his website at Questions about all things brass-related can be sent to

About author

Chase Sanborn

Jazz trumpeter Chase Sanborn is a Yamaha Artist and an assistant professor of jazz at the University of Toronto. Chase is the author of a series of educational books and videos on playing music. His most recent is “The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine”. Visit Chase on the web at Also visit

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