The Flute Show - flute expert

What is French Tonguing

Learn another not-so-well-known flute technique

In this video, Florence teaches you about French Tonguing and how to perform it on the flute.

Released on July 1, 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 here at with Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin and today's subject is, What is French Tonguing? I guess sir this might just be on the flute because there is no analogy on the french horn, ironically enough. Maybe you could tell us about this, Florence.

Florence: I don't know. Have you had a French, french horn teacher?

Robert: That's a very good question. You know I have had a German french horn but I've never had a French, french horn teacher. So maybe there is something in that. Tell us about it.

Florence: Yeah, I was just so lucky that when I was in junior high I had the honor of studying with Ransom Wilson who was a student Jean-Pierre Rampal. And at one point he told he what he described as french tonguing. And it's a very tongue forward kind of thing. You actually put the tongue outside of the mouth to tongue. And it was interesting because I did that for awhile and before that I had teachers who taught me to place the tongue just behind my teeth and do it some right at the roof behind the teeth.

Robert: On french horn is usually a two or in a low register maybe a "daw" but the idea of even putting the tongue in contact with the teeth, between the teeth, is never done because it would be too harsh of a sound.

Florence: Well interestingly, then I ended up with other teachers who again was either "tee" or "too" and I guess the french tongue is more like "poo", a slightly different version of "too." And what I found was that I liked using it for certain applications but not all applications necessarily, but there's a lot of times where I revert to using french tonguing. And what I discovered, for me personally, the most powerful use of the french tonguing. I was in a music festival many years ago in my youth, and one of the things I hated about sitting playing first in orchestra was, especially in rehearsals, you might be sitting there for an eternity while the conductor's working with the strings. And then all of a sudden, it's like "Oh, we started at letter B and maybe I have to come in pianissimo on a high A." And the fear of, "Is this note going to crack?"

Robert: But I'm going to put you on the spot right now, I want you to do that right now and use the french tongue to see if it helps you.

Robert: Not too bad. Well what if you used your traditional regular tonguing on that note, of course you had the benefit to play it once.

Robert: So at this point, do you still use that technique at all?

Florence: Yes, I definitely do. I tend to use it just for ... well you know sometimes you don't realize you're using a lot of different ... until you start analyzing what you're doing but for certain soft entrances it can be very, very useful. Even in any register sometimes, although in low register a lot of times the "daw" is very effective thing as we've talked about in earlier shows.

Robert: Now were those "daw" or or was it french tonguing?

Florence: That was all french tonguing.

Robert: Oh really?

Florence: Yeah so...

Robert: That was a very clean, clear attack isn't it. A little more definite than you get with a "too" or "daw"? Or not?

Florence: Well I just feel that it's more secure. You know with the "doo" or "daw", yes it definitely would be more...

Robert: So here's the question, why wouldn't you just use french tonguing all the time, and some players do that.

Florence: I couldn't speak for other players but I imagine from some of the things I read on the internet that there's two schools of thought. And generally the Europeans tend to use the french tonguing and then the Americans, do not.

Robert: So what is the downside to not ... why would you want to avoid french tonguing? If it's more secure, what's the downside of it?

Florence: Well you know I think its a little bit of personal taste too. I also think perhaps it could have something to do with how you are built. I felt for many years, because I have an overbite, that the french tonguing was very natural feeling to me because my tongue could slip out very easily and...

Robert: So why didn't you use it all the time?

Florence: Because, I just find that application to be the best. When I'm playing loud in the third octave, I don't tend to use that tonguing. I go for the back of my mouth. And that's just what works for me. And I think it's a very personal thing.

Robert: Absolutely.

Florence: Because I think all these kinds of applications can work with the tonguing. It's just what you've practiced doing. Well what I did, this particular summer that I was in this music camp that was an orchestra instructional camp. There were a few practice rooms that actually had mirrors in them. And what great about that is that I spent this enormous amount of time just studying my mouth and what seemed to work for the soft entrances. And that's was when I discovered, Oh it's when I'm sticking my tongue out like I was taught to do french tonguing. That seems to work better for me. And so that's what I did.

Now I do want to point out that it's not just a matter of how you use your tongue. Before you do a high note attack whether you're playing soft or loud, whether it's an eighth note or long note, you need to take a really good breath. You need to use your diaphragm and then the other thing is don't just think of the attack, think of the note following the attack. Because if you just think of the attack then you might actually be paralyzed with your tongue there and you don't even know when to start it. You're just scared to do anything because you're just so focused on that.

Think the phrase, think what you're going to play, think musically, and it'd actually makes it a lot easier so that you won't ... but when you're practicing how to do it in the first place. You have to know what you're doing. So that's what I did at that point. But now many times I'm not thinking about one way or another, and I'm sure I'm using a combination.

Robert: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. I'd love to hear from viewers. Anybody who uses french tonguing exclusively, that would be really interesting. And the pros and cons other people have found with it. Really fascinating subject. I want to thank you Florence Estrin once again, flute expert here at Thanks for joining us, I'm Robert Estrin and see you next one.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2018 @9:48 am PST
Practicing spitting a grain of rice from the tip of the tongue will definitely help to get the feel of where the tongue needs to be placed. Also, the French syllable "tu" when spoken by a native speaker of French will also involve more openness in the cavity of the mouth. This gives more rich color to the flute tone. American speakers saying "tu" tend to keep the mouth much more closed. Thus the instruction to novice flutists to say "tu" really doesn't create the desired result in either tongue placement or size of the oral cavity. Spitting a grain of rice simulates this openness & tongue placement very nicely.
Jonathan Shopiro * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2018 @8:27 am PST
The heavy reverb in this video makes it hard to hear what is really going on.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 2, 2018 @11:04 am PST
I am sorry to know that, we'll keep that in mind for future videos.

Thank you again for your feedback.
George * VSM MEMBER * on January 6, 2016 @9:50 am PST
Thanks, this is a a great tip. I quickly discovered that this tonguing method really does improve my ability to get a clear, confident beginning on a note. The "tongue out of the mouth" description sounds impossible, but the amount of extension of tongue beyond the front teeth is almost microscopically small.
Deborah on July 30, 2015 @11:04 am PST
Hi Florence
I have not heard of French tonguing.I am having a difficult time conceptualizing this...the tongue out of the mouth?
thanks for your help
Florence Estrin on July 30, 2015 @3:49 pm PST
Deborah, place the tongue just past your front teeth on your upper lip. It should be only barely outside your mouth.
Deborah on August 5, 2015 @12:03 am PST
I'll give it a try
Ken on June 13, 2017 @1:24 pm PST
French tonguing for non french could be compared to spit a rice grain out of the tip of your tongue.
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