Similar in technique to the technique of the same name used in woodwind repertoire, the tongue ram is achieved by stopping the airflow and buzzing of the lips with the tongue. This is often done rapidly, creating a rhythmic thump that is readily amplified by the instrument. In practice, the tongue moves forward to literally block the opening of the lips, abruptly stopping any airflow and buzz. The dynamic range of the tongue ram extends fully from nearly inaudible softs all the way to loud, aggressive fortes. The rhythmic pop of the tongue ram carries a diffuse but audible pitch center, corresponding to the fingering that is held down when the tongue strikes the lips. This can be alternated rapidly, creating a pseudo-melodic rhythmic gesture. When done softly and gradually, a much subtler and less-pitched sound results.
One of the most common errors in writing tongue rams is the use of pitches that are not possible in normal usage. Starting in open position, the tongue ram is capable of creating pitched-rhythmic gestures that correspond to all 12 notes of the 1st partial, in descending order. It is not possible to achieve notes above the open 1st partial. Thus, any sort of melodic gesture that ascends above the open 1st partial will not be accurately replicated. This must be taken into account when writing pitched tongue rams.
It is certainly possible to tongue ram at a rapid pace, but the speed of this technique tends to slow down at higher dynamics. This is due to the physiology of the oral cavity, as the effort required to perform a tongue ram grows substantially the higher the dynamic. Thus, rapid tongue rams are most effective at a medium-to-low dynamic.
The tongue ram can be used to build up back-pressure inside the oral cavity, resulting in a sforzando articulation once the tongue ram is released.
Since the tongue ram can be both a melodic and rhythmic gesture, any sort of notation must take both idioms into account. The author has most commonly seen pitched tongue rams notated with X-shape noteheads, which accurately gets across both the pitch and rhythm aspects of the gesture.
Intermediate to Professional
Works to consider (bolded titles are particularly representative examples of this technique)
Diligence is the Magic as Progress is to Flight – Katherine Young
Colossus – Monte Weber
19 E. Main St., Alhambra, CA 91801 – Nicholas Deyoe