Jen Cluff ~ Single & Double Tonguing

Canadian Flutist and Teacher



















Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY





















Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY




























Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY

















Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY




















Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY


















Also see More articles on tonguing CLARITY

Hints for fast and clean single and double tonguing.

By: Jennifer Cluff and other Flutenutters. Sept. 2000.

How do I tongue quickly?

Flutenet question: Is there such a thing of being "scared" of tongueing quickly? I sound far more in control slurring quickly but add tongue and its out of control, mistakes being made that dont happen when slurring and it
sounds tense and heavy<snip>I have got fairly clear tongueing at slower tempos but mm=100-120+ is impossible when I try and tongue at speed.

Answer: Dear C,
Here are some tonguing ideas.
Huge apologies if I'm about to say something you already are familiar with but:

I wonder if you could tell me whether your tongue is staying forward after it strikes? Often a 'breakthrough idea' is needed just when you are learning to tongue quickly and lightly.
I always ask the flutist (at this point) where their tongue goes right after it says: "tu". ? If you're not sure where your tongue goes, it *is* possible that it's pulling back at the root, and sliding backward slightly into the throat, as when we say:" Tuck" or "Talk".

Say those words and see what happens.
Notice the long distance that the tongue tip retreats from its striking point.
This is not useful for fast tonguing and (creates a bit of an air block through a bit of glottal stopping to boot).

For flute, because we have to strike the tongue tip repeatedly and quickly we have to keep it forward in the mouth and very close to the place where it is going to strike again.

Say the word: "Tew" and when you've released the "w" let your tongue touch the back of your lower front teeth and rest there for the "ewe" part of the word.
Notice that if you say: "tew, tew, tew" and then lay your tongue tip so that it touches the bottom front teeth, that the root or back of the tongue does not slide backwards anymore.

In fact you've "rolled out the red carpet" so to speak, and propelled the air in your mouth forward with "tew".

Next change the "tew" to "tu" (as pronounced in french) and keep your tongue touching those same front bottom teeth. You'll soon notice that you can tongue much faster with the tongue tip
staying forward like that.

The best thing to do, if you're new to this idea is say:'tu tu tu' (never "toot toot toot' BTW!!) while you're sitting around watching a movie, doing the dishes or walking somewhere.
Leave the tongue deliberately forward at the end of each "tu"...and starting very slowly, (so that you can sense the new sensation)gradually speed it up while you're walking along etc.

Don't bother trying to go as fast as possible. That'll take several months work, and is too stressful. Start slow and only gradually increase. Please! :>)

Slowly apply this to your scales etc. giving four or more "tu" s to each note, endeavouring to check that your tongue is staying forward. Later you can go to two "tus" per note, and finally one "tu".
But again, progress slowly, because you'll also want to be able to hear if all the "tus" can be made to sound identical to eachother. Tonguing very low notes and E2s take more time, so don't worry if at first those notes seem to be more difficult.
(Hint: aim the airstream higher for low D and middle E2 to see if that helps.)

This "slow and heavy" tonguing is a very normal stage to have to go through, because keeping the tongue forward never becomes a noticable need until you get to a certain speed of tonguing that's required at the higher levels of repertoire.
So congrats. You're at the higher level now!! :>D

After a week or so of checking every time you say "tu", the sensation of "the tongue tip staying forward" will become familiar, and if you WERE pulling your tongue backwards (as in "Talk") it'll soon cease.

Secondly, and this is probably of equal if not greater importance:

The tongue can only make neat and precise movements when there is sufficient air-support. Use the Breath Pulse to add airspeed and tone quality to a passage, all-slurred, before adding the tongue's neat movements.

There is a fantastic book that covers this topic fully:

The Flute Player's Book by Vernon Hill. See index and overview here.

Having sufficient air-speed when you play all-slurred is not so challenging, if you are listening for full rich tone. But it is typical of flute students that when they begin to tongue for clarity and staccato effects, especially in the high register where the air-speed MUST be faster, that they forget to use the abdominally supported air-column, and somehow think of their tongue as a 'hurling' device for sending fast shots of air.

It's a typicl problem. And easily overcome.

Instead of 'hurling' the air with the tongue like a sling-shot, think of the tongue as a gate or valve, that merely interupts a fast stream of air supported low in the body. For images that may help with this see my other articles on tonguing clarity and the role of the air-stream in clear tonguing.

Best, Jen

Air Support relationship to Tonguing?

Another query from same Flutenet member as above:

Jennifer, I tried the ideas you said and it worked.

Lynn, I also thought about your air-support idea, and that was a bit of a "head's up!" no pun intended.

I played around on some pieces (instead of the scales I'd been doing---I like to play on Baroque stuff from memory), and the tonguing is ok up to mm=100, tongueing 4 on each notes and 2 on each, but this all gets harder when I'm doing single tonguing on normal scales. Middle register is best, but I have problems with the extremes of register ie below low G1 and above high G3.

Thanks to Lynn, who suggested that more air-speed from the abdominal "kicks" was needed, I found that I'd been inconistent with air support. More is better seems to be true. I was blowing with moderate ab-support, but not starting off too well supported, particularly in the low register below G1. That has been a problem. I guess it takes practice to make all these things automatic....sigh....
Posture - Im glad someone else said that having an arched back and stiff shoulders wasnt an idea for good posture for sustained blowing. Too true. It adds to the tonguing tension I'm trying to get rid of. I found that arm swinging and deep breathing followed by "easing" the shoulders back helps. Thanks.I
Jen replies:
I'm glad that my "tongue forward" suggestion worked. Scales may be a problem at first because you're changing air-speed over the course of two octave or more.

I would start more basically, and simply practice just taking a high G and blowing it with full, rich, centered tone, and asking yourself "How much abdominal support and what lips am I using? That is a good starting place for judging abdominal support and precision aim with the lips, to which tonguing can later be added.

So get a single note singing and clear first, and only then add the tonguing *TO* that high G or low D, once the air support has already been established. Tonguing repeated high notes or repeating low notes is a very good way to find both the air speed AND the embouchure for best tone. Tonguing should always be added secondarily to a good long longtone, if you ask me.

And I also must recommend the great "air support while tonguing" article from the April 1998 Flute Talk Magazine, by Tom Kennedy etitled: Maquarre's Daily Exercises. (pg. 15.)

It has you practice air support while tonguing by getting you to play just one of the Maquarre exercies #1 (two lines long, then repeat) many times with all different variations. I'll quote it below

Double Tonguing - Air Support Exercise by Tom Kennedy/Flutetalk '98

Sample for one Maquarre exercise per day or any other Daily Flute Exercise that's 1-3 lines long, and made for scale/arpeggio fingerings:

(This method is suggested by: Tom Kennedy in an article from Flutetalk Magazine, April '98)

On each repeat of a two-line Marquarre exercise (or any other etude or daily exercise), play the short excerpt with the following additions:

a) all slurred, full tone, open throat (very slowly, breathing as
necessary.) quarter=60 mm.

b) same but with the abdominal support of saying silently "hoo-hoo-hoo" (one on each note)

c) same but with "du du du" at the same time as the "hoo-hoo-hoo" (this engages your air support while adding a soft attack.)

d) [Expressly for learning double tonguing at this point:]
Say: "gu gu gu" while continuing the "hoo hoo hoo" (saying "gu" may mean going slower than before but is the first step in double

e) Play the same exercise #1 but play it fast and evenly, all slurred,
rhythmically accurate: (you've done it four times now, so you should
find the notes very familiar at this point.)
Make it like one long, supported "hoooooooo". Full tone, open throat.

f) Play as fast as in e) but with the tongue forward, say
"dududududududu" (author says: "like controlled stuttering.")

g) Play as e) (and you may have to go a trifle slower) and say: "gu gu
gu gu gu" with one "gu" on each note.

h) Switch to "du gu du gu du gu" giving a full abdominal kick on each
one, especially the "gu" which needs the air to reach the mouth
quickly in order to sound equal to the "du".

i) reverse the syllables to "gu du gu du".

You may use this series of variations on any exercise or scale, not just the Maquarre no.1 exercise. The idea, however is to repeat the same eight or so bars of scale/arpeggio-type music, and not to tackle anything that is difficult for the lips at the same time.

Plus, if you're not yet ready for double tonguing (and if your single tonguing is being worked on currently, leave double tonguing for 6 months from now, or it'll just add too much too soon!!!) then just go as far as letter f) above and eliminate any that ask you to say "gu" just yet.

Du and Tu are both useful, by the way, and Du is especially good for those tough low notes (below G1) which you mentioned.

The Hoo will really help your single tonguing in the high register!!!!
Anything above a B2 needs constant breath support to tongue cleanly.

Note on Staccato double tonguing passages:

Remember too that when using a double-tongued etude or piece that the faster you play, the less you need to worry about playing staccato. Playing double tongued staccato passages using DuGuDuGu usually give short enough note values.

Longer, clearer note values are fine for many passages that are otherwise marked "staccato". You don't want to "clip" the notes too short and sacrifice tone quality unless necessary. Consult your teacher.


Jen Cluff.

Good tonguing starts with good slurring

Grace the Bass's answer to:

Question: Is there such a thing of being "scared" of tongueing
quickly? I sound far more in control slurring quickly but add tongue and its out of control, mistakes being made that don't happen when slurring and it sounds tense and heavy.

Grace answers: Good tonguing starts with good slurs. I teach that tongued passages are really broken up slurs. In other words, the breath does not stop and start with the tongue, but is continuous. Many beginning students start a bad habit of moving the tongue too far; but it's much faster to move a very short distance for each articulation. Next the finger changes must be even. Without the flute, most people can tongue very quickly and evenly by just blowing and whispering too, tu, do, koo, goo, or any chosen syllable. So it is the fingers that must coordinate with the tongue. Moving your arms, head, etc. while playing also can mess up your tonguing coordination. [How many pianists play a moving piano?] So sit still. My teacher used to gently hold the end of my flute to help me feel how much I was trying to move.

Finally, I practice various tonguing patterns [dgdg, tkt-ktd, ttk-ttk, etc.] away from the flute, while driving, watching TV, mopping the floor, whenever there's nobody around laugh.

End of tongue tricks lesson 1.

Grace [the bass]

Small area of the tongue, quick small neat motions

Keith writes:

Hello All - Please allow me to make a few fairly brief comments about tonguing. (not that others have not done a great job of explaining, but several explanations are often useful). First of all, the most important thing in tonguing is AIR. When you tongue rapidly, the air must keep moving. The tongue only acts as a valve to interrupt the air flow, *the air flow does not stop*.
Remember, the faster you tongue, the less short the notes can be. In most fast passages, even those marked staccato, can not be played short. The sheer speed of the tongue, if done cleanly will make it sound short enough. As Jenni pointed out, we must also use the muscles in the abdominal region to help with articulation. (you remember, the ha ha ha or hoo hoo hoo bit).
Second, use as small an area of the tongue as possible. The tongue itself is a wad of muscles. They are very flexible. Trying to move too much of the tongue when you articulate is like using an elephant gun to kill a mouse.
Enough for now. Hope this will help in addition to the information
already offered.

Keith Pettway

More articles on tonguing clearly and cleanly by famous flute teachers

Clear tonguing on the flute by Jen Cluff

Vernon Hill's excellent book with demo-CD

John Wion on Articulation & Breath Support (scroll down upon arrival)

Breath support article based on Peter Lloyd's teaching

Back to Jen's homepage

Copyright © 2005 Jennifer Cluff