Just as with brass instruments, double and triple tonguing is an essential skill for intermediate to advanced flutists. Every single day I am grateful for being able to have double and triple tonguing in my tool kit of playing skills because of how it simplifies rapid tonguing passages, whether I’m performing in an ensemble or playing recital literature.
The main issues for good double and triple tonguing are:
- Air – yes, how you use your air is probably the most important part of effective double and triple tonguing. If you don’t blow sufficient or fast moving enough air, all the tricky tonguing in the world will be worth nothing if not supported by a fast, controlled airstream. Simply put, no air equates to no sound. Encourage your students to practice tongued passages slurred to make sure the air is moving freely. Remember, my teacher, Tom Nyfenger, said tonguing is the anti-tone.
- A well shaped aperture – as has been stated before, articulation is inherently percussive and disruptive to the shape and size of the aperture. It is essential to increase the firmness of the grip on the airstream to play with good tone when double and triple tonguing.
- The actual tonguing needs to be super efficient. Instruct your flute students to think about both the consonant sound being used and the vowel sound associated with it. T and K are good, but at fast speeds, D and G are better. Have them think of a really light vowel sound like I or E. A, O or U put the tongue too low in the mouth and greatly impact the actual speed of tonguing because the tongue has to travel from the top to the bottom of the mouth with each tongue stroke. The better one gets at double and triple tonguing, the further forward both the forward and back tongue strokes become. When I’m double and triple tonguing, I’m using no more than the front third of my tongue.
- Triple tonguing options – I think you have to try them all to see what works for you. For me, TKT TKT is the only thing that has worked consistently. Other options include TKT KTK and TTK TTK. I really think there isn’t one correct solution on this one. Everyone is different. Encourage your students to experiment sufficiently to see which on works best for them.
Some final thoughts: Your students need to make practicing double and triple tonguing a part of their life. Encourage them to practice when walking down the hall to class or when they lie down on their bed at night. Double and triple tonguing become easy and natural if you do it all the time, whether with the instrument on your face or without the instrument. And Less is More. Good multiple tonguing is about using as little of your tongue as is possible. If your tongue is flapping around in your mouth wildly, your tongue will fatigue more quickly. Teach your students to be an expert in efficiency. They will learn to tongue faster and with less fatigue.
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