What I’m about to tell you is so incredibly simple, you’ll be mad you didn’t think of it on your own (unless you already know, in which case, carry on with your Friday).
You don’t have to use your tongue to start a note.
Mind blown? In beginning band, most wind instrumentalists are taught to tongue every note, and we do so diligently as we progress. (This is not an article on proper tonguing technique – that’s for another day). There is nothing wrong with tonguing every note, but by using a breath attack, you are able to get a more delicate response from your instrument. If you didn’t already know, an “attack” is musician-speak for the beginning of a note, albeit a rather violent term for such a simple act.
By just using your air to begin a note, you can achieve a softer and more subtle entrance. Tongued attacks are great for louder and more abrupt entrances. For example, I always use a breath attack for the first note of Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and a tongued attack for the third movement of the Poulenc Sonata for Clarinet. Keep in mind that these attacks are not just for the first notes of movements – they can be applied to any note from any section of any piece. Preferred method of attack (I told you it sounds aggressive!) is different for each person, so when you practice this weekend, experiment with using different attacks to achieve different responses.