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Tonguing on the Flute - Part 2

Learn what is double tonguing and when to use it

In this video, Robert and Florence Estrin talk about double-tonguing, and how to apply it in your flute repertoire.

Released on April 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! Welcome to the Flute Show with Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin.

Today is the second part of Tonguing. Last week, Florence showed you how to approach tonguing on the flute. We covered a lot of interesting ground with different instruments and different registers of tonguing. This week is double and even triple tonguing. What's that all about? And why is it even necessary? Florence, this is a great subject for people.

Florence: Yes. As mentioned in the last video, there are times where the flute is required to play faster than is humanly possible to single tongue, and that's where double tonguing comes in.

And why does double tonguing work? Because you're using not just the front of the tongue with "t" or a "d", or a "tu," but also the back of the tongue with a "ga" or a "gi" or a "ka"or a "ki," not so much "kick." I wouldn't use "kick," actually. I mean, you can say "tick-a, tick-a, tick-a, tick-a," but you have to be pretty high up, like more of a "tuck-a, tuck-a, tuck-a, tuck-a, tuck-a."

Okay, as we pointed out in the last video, this all seems very confusing, and you may want to watch the last video to understand the different syllables. But anyway, actually sometimes we have a passage that maybe you can single tongue, but it goes on forever. And it's just too fatiguing to be using the front part of the tongue the whole time. You just want to die. And you lose the quality of your sound when your mouth is starting to ache and whatever. It's very hard to maintain a good sound.

So you know you might use double tonguing for something that you could single tongue, at least part of it, but you find that you can't do the whole page that way. So that's another good reason for using double tonguing.

And a good way is to practice it. If you're starting with double tonguing, don't try to play all your pieces right away that way. Try to practice just the tonguing on the same note, because it's the switching of notes that is what makes it . . .

Robert: Maybe you could demonstrate this.

Florence: Yes, so maybe starting on a third-space C. You start going through, and don't worry about speed. You just do it. Just get the "tick-a, tick-a," or the "tuck-a, tuck-a."

Because at first, it's going to be "tuk tuk tuk tukda tukda," and you want to get it even. So that's the first goal. It's get the tongue even. And as you get it even, and the use of the metronome is great for this. You put the metronome on. You start doing metronome speeds.

But don't just stay on that C. Go down from there chromatically. Go up from there chromatically, because as I pointed out in the last video, as you get to the different registers you're going to want to change how your syllables work. So for the lower notes you're going to go for a "dug-a, dug-a, dug-a," or a "dig-a, dig-a, dig-a."

For the higher notes you're probably going to go more "tick-a, tick-a, tick-a," instead of "tuck-a, tuck-a, tuck-a." And then of course within pieces of music, you may want to play around with that depending on the type of sound you want to get for the passage. If you want a wispy thing, you may might to use further back on the tongue, which would be more of a "dug-a, dug-a, dug-a" sound.

Robert: I've heard you do double tonguing where I would never even believe it's double tonguing because you can't even tell. It just sounds perfectly uniform. Maybe you can demonstrate something so people can hear it, because I think it's really a cool sound.

Florence: Okay, what I also want to point out is that after you master being able to play double tonguing at a good speed, not switching notes, that's when you want to maybe look at some of your easier pieces or exercises where you want to incorporate double tonguing. Not necessarily for the whole thing, but maybe a part of it. There might be some slurs in there, because when you have to coordinate while switching your fingers to different notes, that's the hard part. That's really where a lot of students get really stymied for a long time. It takes a while to get over that edge.

Now when you're practicing a passage that you know you're going to use double tongue, just because you know you're doing to use double tonguing when you get to this tempo, doesn't mean you can't practice it at a much slower tempo. And I think that's really important, because a lot of people just practice single tonguing, single tonguing. And then they get to certain points and like "Oh, this is just too hard to single tongue," and suddenly switch to double tonguing. And maybe they're not aware at that higher speed that they're not being as even.

And what you want to think about is the evenness of all the notes over the beat. So if you have 16th notes, you want the four notes even over the beat. You don't want it to be "tuck-a, tuck, tuck-a," you know, like two notes really close together and the other two notes with a space in between, which is the tendency. So you want to really try to think about getting it over the whole thing.

So if I'm going to work on a passage -- this is from Carmen's Fantasy -- I might want to practice very slowly just so that I can get comfortable with making sure I'm not getting uneven with the tonguing. And then of course using the metronome. Which I'm not going to go through all that because it would take a really long time, because I go notch by notch. I highly recommend it.

So that's very slow for double tonguing.

Robert: What would it sound like if you played exactly the same thing single tonguing?

Florence: Oh, better.

The single tonguing, of course, at that tempo is going to sound better. But this is for the sake of practicing, because you want to be able to get it so that you can do it faster. So then I get it a little faster.

And even faster.

And I'm probably not happy with that. I'd go back three notches, and do it again.

And then I'd work up notch by notch until I could get up to, you know, probably about 1/52 and really play it fast.

Robert: What's the fastest you can do that single tonguing?

Florence: I don't know the number. I can try.

No, see I can't do that.

Robert: So you do need the double tonguing.

Florence: I need the double tonguing.

Robert: Absolutely.

Florence: I need the double tonguing. And also part of it is I've never practiced it that quickly single tonguing, you know, if I had to, because it's not that long a passage.

Robert: Yeah, yeah.

Florence: And quite frankly, around it there is slurred stuff. I probably could do it at that tempo, and do the single tonguing if I practiced it that way.

Robert: Right. Well for the next Flute Show get that together so we can hear it.

Florence: So then I'd want to do it even faster.

Robert: Right.

Florence: Whereas the double tonguing comes into play. And one other thing I did want to mention, because one of the things that got to me. I'd been playing actually a fairly good amount of time, and I had a good double tongue in everything. But I had trouble with both double tonguing and single tonguing sometimes for staccato.

With staccato you want to start and end the note with a syllable, like a "t, t, t," you know. So you actually are stopping the note, too. And what used to happen to me is that my jaw would start bouncing. And so you really don't want that to happen because then the flute starts bouncing on your face. And it's kind of a crazy thing, because so many times my teacher is saying, "Don't move jaw."

I have music that says, "Jaw, jaw, jaw" on a whole bunch of [inaudible 00:08:04] tunes from back then.

Robert: Ka-boom, ka-boom.

Florence: Yeah, right. And that was the same year that the move came out, by the way. But for those who don't know what he just alluded to, the movie "Jaws."

Robert: I think it's pretty popular.

Florence: But anyway, sometimes it's not a matter of just knowing not to do something, but you have to hear somebody do it correctly. And it was funny, because I just happened to be, you know, listening to the radio, and it was actually a little show piece James Galway was playing. And he had this beautiful double tonguing going. And you know, obviously his jaw wasn't bouncing the flute because every note was perfect.

And it was really funny, because as soon as I heard it, I realized how to stop moving my jaw. It wasn't like I knew how to stop moving my jaw. I just knew how to play it that way. And I think the focus really is on knowing what you want to sound like. You know, it's not a matter of just getting the tongue working. It's a matter of getting your sound good also while the tongue is working and keeping it going, and thinking the phrase.

Robert: Yes.

Florence: Because if you're just thinking about the actual tonguing, it's too analytical.

Robert: It's the music after all.

Florence: It's the music. And when you start thinking that way and you think the bigger phrase, it falls into place.

Robert: I'll tell you what, let's continue this on the next Flute Show, and we'll hit on triple tonguing. Where does this end? Is it going to be quadruple tonguing?

Florence: No.

Robert: Awful spoiler alert. All right. Thanks a lot for joining us. This is the Flute Show with Florence Estrin. I'm Robert Estrin. We'll see you next time.
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