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What is Flutter Tongue?

Learn more about this peculiar flute technique

In this video, Florence and Robert Estrin talk about flutter tongue and how to approach it on the flute.

Released on June 3, 2015

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert: Hi, and welcome to The Flute Show with Florence Estrin here on virtualsheetmusic.com. I'm Robert Estrin. Today's subject is 'what is flutter tongue?' You know, you've probably all heard it and wondered what the heck it is. I can tell you honestly it's kind of a distorted sound, it's not the most pleasant sound, but it creates a wonderful effect in the right situations. Florence, maybe you can tell us what flutter tongue is first of all, and when it's used and how to go about achieving it.

Florence: Okay, well you know, it's interesting because when I was a kid, and you probably remember this, too, when we were kids there was a product called Ruffles, and there was a commercial that said, "Ruffles have Ridges," and all of the kids used to, we all used to do that. Ruffles have . . . Well, you know, I can do it better on flute than I can say it but . . .

Robert: You mean they don't have that anymore?

Florence: I don't know, I don't know. But basically, it's rolling your Rs, and so it's fluttering your tongue, and it's like you have to let your tip of your mouth be relaxed, your tongue be relaxed enough, and you have to use a little bit more air to get that rolling going.

Robert: Maybe before we even go further, just give a little example of what this is.

Florence: Okay.

Robert: That's it, huh?

Florence: Yeah, that's a little passage out of Dutilleux Sonatine.

Robert: Mm-hmm.

Florence: And basically it's rolling the Rs and then . . .

Robert: So Italians probably can do this naturally?

Florence: And Spaniards and, except there are people, as a matter of fact, I had a friend who was Spanish and he used to get criticized by his father because he wasn't rolling his Rs, and it turned out underneath his tongue, it was too connected and people do run into that. Some people have too much connective tissue to roll their Rs. And for those people, generally, there's the gargling type of flutter tongue, which I am not very skilled at because I always roll my tongue.

Robert: You do it with the back of the tongue, kind of?

Florence: You're doing it in the back of your throat, just like gargling.

Robert: Oh my gosh. Can you see if you can do that or am I putting you on the spot?

Florence: Well I've never really mastered this but . . . well, I can't.

Robert: And that answered that question

Florence: No, seriously, I just, I have never really, because I could always do it with the tongue and it was so easy, it came so naturally to just do it like that.

Robert: So why would any composers want to mess up a beautiful sound with flutter tongue, well, in your opinion?

Florence: Well, why would any composer want to use a minor second?

Robert: Okay.

Florence: You know, any kind of . . .

Robert: Good answer.

Florence: It gives some spice to the music.

Robert: Minor seconds are very dissonant, by the way.

Florence: Yes. I played a woodwind quintet by Francais, and it's really cool because at a certain point the french horn goes [sound] and it's really loud and obnoxious and just fantastic. It's just so much fun.

Robert: Right.

Florence: So, you know, if you're having trouble with flutter tonguing, experiment with both types. I learned how to flutter, you know, obviously I could roll my Rs easily before I had to try it on flute and it was one of those things where, you know, I think it was at a band class where they explained what it was and we all went, "Where, you go like, oh," and then we all could, most of us could do it.

Robert: Right.

Florence: And that's usually the easier way to do it but if you can't there is the gargling method.

Robert: On the french horn, doing flutter tongue, it almost just feels terribly, though, because you work so hard to get a nice clean, clear sound and then you go mess it up, you know.

Florence: Yeah, you're right. And, you know, the other thing is that you end up spitting all over the instrument sometimes, but one thing I did want to point out is that because you, it take, sometimes you need to use more air to make it work, you've got to be more careful of your pitch and you have to compensate and bring it down because you might blow a little sharp when you try to flutter tongue.

Robert: Cool. Well, I think that covers flutter tongue really well and I guess there's no analogy on the piano for that except maybe putting metal objects on the strings which we've covered in a video of a prepared piano, that's as close as we come as pianists. Alright well I want to thank you so much for another great Flute Show. Florence Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com. I'm Robert Estrin, see you next time.
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Elo * VSM MEMBER * on November 4, 2015 @7:23 am PST
Thanks for another fine video.
I once (1978, playing recorder) got to play Britten's Noye's Fludde and in that work is the "cooing of the dove" done with recorder's flutter tonguing.
Gloria on June 25, 2015 @9:48 pm PST
Thank you, I always enjoy your videos very much. Could you do one video showing the notes of the third scale? Specially upper A, B and C, thank you.
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