Good Articulation via Careful Listening

Getting an ensemble to come in together on a note can be a challenge, especially if multiple types of instruments, such as strings and brass, are part of the mix.

Directors strive for a unified sound throughout their ensembles,” say Shelly C. Cooper and Donald L. Hamann in a recent study. “Articulation affects sound uniformity among winds and strings.”

Cooper and Hamann did a baseline study to find out if a trumpet player could match a violin player’s articulation, as perceived by participants listening to performances, when the trumpeter

  • performed the music example with music containing symbols identical to those seen by the violinist in the music, as opposed to when he or she
  • performed the music example after being directed to listen to the violinist’s performance and then match the articulation.

“For detaché, spiccato, louré, and to some extent, the slur and martelé, the trumpeter’s modified symbol had a marked effect on the participants’ choice of the best match,” say the researchers.

However, hearing the violinist first proved to offer the best overall results. “In all but one performance, participants chose the trumpet performance given after hearing the violin performance of the example.”

It still pays to listen.

MENC member Shelly C. Cooper is an associate professor and the music education coordinator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. MENC member Donald L. Hamann is a professor of music education and the director of the Institute for Innovation in String Music Teaching at the same institution. This piece was adapted from their article “Perceived Articulation Uniformity between Trumpet and Violin Performances” from Contributions to Music Education, Vol. 37, no. 2 (2010), 29–44.

 –Ella Wilcox, May 25, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (