Native language influence on brass instrument performance

Matthias Heyne, myself, and Jalal Al-Tamimi recently published the results of the most important paper from Matthias’ PhD Dissertation. The study is huge, with ultrasound tongue recordings of 10 New Zealand English (NZE) and 10 Tongan trombone players. There are 12,256 individual tongue contours of vowel tokens (7,834 for NZE, 4,422 for Tongan) and 7,428
515 tongue contours of sustained note production (3,715 for NZE, 3,713 for Tongan).

The results show that native language influences tongue position during Trombone note production. This includes tongue position and note variability. The results also support Dispersion Theory (Liljencrants and Lindblom 1972; Lindblom, 1986; Al-Tamimi and Ferragne,
832 2005) in that vowel production is more variable in Tongan, which has few vowels, then in NZE, which has many.

The results also show that note production at the back of the tongue maps to low-back vowel production (schwa and ‘lot’ for NZE, /o/ and /u/ for schwa). These two result sets support an analysis of local optimization with semi-independent tongue regions (Ganesh et al., 2010, Loeb, 2012).

The results do not, however, support the traditional brass pedagogy hypothesis that higher notes are played with a closer (higher) tongue position. However, Matthias is currently working with MRI data that *does* support the brass pedagogy hypothesis, and that we might not have seen this because of the ultrasound transducer stabilization system needed to keep the ultrasound probe aligned to the participant’s head.

The abstract is currently online, and the full article will be up soon.

Liljencrants, Johan, and Björn Lindblom. 1972. “Numerical Simulation of Vowel Quality Systems:
The Role of Perceptual Contrast.” Language, 839–62.

Lindblom, Björn. 1963. Spectrographic study of vowel reduction. The Journal of the Acoustical
Society of America 35(11): 1773–1781.

Ferragne, Emmanuel, and François Pellegrino. 2010. “Formant Frequencies of Vowels in 13 Accents of the British Isles.” Journal of the International Phonetic Association 40 (1): 1–34.

Ganesh, Gowrishankar, Masahiko Haruno, Mitsuo Kawato, and Etienne Burdet. 2010. “Motor
Memory and Local Minimization of Error and Effort, Not Global Optimization, Determine
Motor Behavior.” Journal of Neurophysiology 104 (1): 382–90.

Loeb, Gerald E. 2012. “Optimal Isn’t Good Enough.” Biological Cybernetics 106 (11–12): 757–65.

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