The Flute Show - flute expert

Tonguing on the Flute - Part 1

What does tonguing mean, and what's the best way to approach it on the flute?

In this first video of a two-part series, Robert and Florence Estrin approach tonguing on the flute, with easy-to-understand, practical examples for any flute player.

Released on March 4, 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. I'm Robert Estrin. Welcome. Today is the first of a two part series on tonguing on the flute. Florence, maybe you could tell us a bit about that.

Florence: Okay. Well, when we start any note of the flute, we want to start it with an articulation so that it's a nice, clean sound. One of the most basic types of tonguing is basically just "ti," which is taking your tongue behind your teeth right at the top of your tooth by your gum and just releasing it. Okay.

A lot of people say, "Well, I've heard 'to' or 'the' or 'this.'" You know what? Yes, these can all work. Part of it is maybe a little bit of personal preference, but also it depends on the type of tonguing you're trying to do.

One thing I would say, especially if you're a beginner, "ti" or "tu" is very easy to do. But when you get to the low notes, sometimes they're too strong, and they pop the notes, so then maybe you want to do "duh, duh, duh." Because you're using the tongue further back in your mouth, it doesn't end up creating such a harsh attack. But other things like if you're playing something and you want it to be wispier, you want to use a further back in the mouth tongue.

Robert: You know, on the French horn, I was always taught to attack "tu." But in the low register, sometimes more of a "dah" just to open the throat. I wonder how much is personal preference and how much is instrument dependent. Like on a reed instrument, sometimes the tongue has to come in contact with the reed, right? Like on a clarinet or saxophone?

Florence: Well, not being a reed player, I'm not going to speak on that. Being a flute player, I can tell you that I would say the type of syllable used is really mostly because of which register you're in. Like I might use a "tu" in the middle register, a "tee", "ti, ti, ti" more for a higher note, and "duh" or "dah" for the low notes.

Robert: That makes sense.

Florence: That really helps get them out.

The other thing is if you have, say, a fairly quick tonguing passage that is not quite quick enough to double tongue, that can be a very big challenge because you really want to use that single tongue because it is a cleaner sound. It's a better sound than a double tongue. Double tonguing is great when you have to go faster than you can go with single tonguing, because you just need it.

When you need to do that and you're trying to coordinate your fingers and your tongue, a little trick that I discovered years ago when I was in high school. We were on our way to Avery Fisher Hall for our big concert. We got stuck in some major traffic. I had this big flute solo that I was really nervous about. I really wanted to get there early enough to warm up. I was very concerned about the tonguing. It was a very ethereal kind of thing. It's just the first flute and the strings.

I remember sitting in the car and just fingering the part and tonguing, just "t, t, t, t" and moving my fingers.

Robert: Coordinating.

Florence: It was interesting because it made you really think harder about what you were doing. It was very interesting because the next time I got to play that solo was actually playing it as the performance was happening. It was the best I had ever done it.

I think that was really a very enlightening experience because I learned that I could practice that way. I sometimes do that even when I can be making noise.

Robert: I've talked about mental practice as well. All practice is ultimately a thought process. That's an interesting lesson.

Florence: Right.

Robert: Next time we're going to discuss double tonguing.

Florence: And maybe even triple.

Robert: Wow. So we have all kinds of exciting things in store for you. Thanks, Florence Estrin.

This is The Flute Show. I'm Robert Estrin. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Jonathan Shopiro * VSM MEMBER * on May 11, 2015 @6:51 pm PST
How about covering flutter tonguing? I have heard there are some people who just can't do it and I am afraid I am one of them.
Robert * VSM MEMBER * on May 13, 2015 @11:38 am PST
There are two ways to flutter tongue on the flute. One is by rolling your R's with your tongue and the other is by using the back of your throat like you are gargling. Some players can't Roll their R's with their tongue because of too much connective tissue on the bottom of their tongues so they need to use the " gargling" method.
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