Friday, March 26, 2010

Tonguing from the throat for four years

Dear Flutists,
Here's an inquiry from a student that I thought was really worth sharing. There may be other throat-tonguers reading along on the internet.

Dear Ms. Cluff,
I have been playing flute for 4 years and I'm currently principal flutist of the local Honours Band and National Youth Band.
I have a question about tonguing that I am currently very confused about. Every time when you tongue, does the tip of the tongue must always touch the top of the inside of the mouth - near the top teeth?
Apparently I tongue with my throat all along but this way, I have a beautiful rich and clear tone. I just started studying with another flutist and she told me that tonguing with my throat is not correct at all and that I've never learned how to tongue. So when I do tonguing by touching the tip of my tongue to the top of the inside mouth, my tone is completely lost - I sound like a total beginner (most airy tone i've ever heard)! I cannot tongue fast at all no matter how hard I try. Is this correct? When I tongue you can hear my tongue movement (if this makes sense).
I heard that when you tongue this way (having your tongue touch the top of the inside mouth everytime you tongue), it's hard to have clear articulations and play fast and complicated music when it comes to tonguing. My previous teacher didn't tell me that the tip of the tongue should touch the top mouth but my current teacher emphasizes this! Who is right?! Thank you for your help.

My reply,

Is the syllable too explosive?

Almost every flute student says "Tu" differently at first. You could have an accent or a family speaking trait that makes your "TTTTu" more explosive, and more likely to distort your embouchure right at the "T" part of the word.

It's like Tu in French, or oooTuuTuu.
You can even experiment with Du as in Dude.......or hudu-hoodoo-dootuu-tuuduu to find it.
It's not like that hard "T" as in "I'm going TToo the store."

That almost explodes like a high hat cymbal: Tst!

It's the French "Tu" as in "Tu es, Il est, Elle est..."
It's very slightly like "Du" to a Canadian speaker.

There doesn't have to be any explosion to the pronunciation.
You can touch softly on the pallet. Think about using a softer "T" with only three or four tongue-cells on the very tip of the tongue.

Is your embouchure or lips changing when you tongue?

Additionally, when first learning to tongue, almost every student accidentally moves their embouchure into a slightly off-center aim. They almost "twitch" their lips into a slightly different position when first working on clear "Tu" tonguing. Because it feels much like talking.

Likely this is happening to you. You hear that the tone goes fuzzy but you're unaware of some tiny tiny lip change that you made when you start to tongue with "tu" for the first time.

I've always thought it reasonable that our lips tend to move whenever the tongue is engaged in eating, talking or singing etc. So it's only natural for the lips to move when the tongue moves, and therein lies the problem for your perfectly centered tone.

So the answer is simple: Be aware of keeping the embouchure still and the tone full of air when first adding "Tu".

Try saying: HooodooooHoooodoooo, or HuuuuTuuuuHuuuuuTuuuu and refuse to move your embouchure whatsoever. You should learn to lightly interrupt the flow of tone with the Du or Tu without creating turbulence at the lips.

How is this usually learned?

In lessons a flute student gradually learns to keep the lips EXACTLY the same as when slurring with good tone. So they go back and forth from all-slurred to all-tongued on their etudes and pieces. Small chunks of notes are done with varying articulations and all-slurred is always the default to find the tone and the air-speed for a given phrase of music.

And yes, I do mean that the embouchure stays EXACTLY the same for tonguing as it does for slurring. The air speed remains the same too. The air support remains the same too.
You're not alone in learning tonguing late in your studies. About one in every hundred flutists doesn't tongue conventionally using "Tu" and then at some point (usually first year University flute lessons) they discover they've been doing it with their throat or the wrong part of their tongue all through high school.
It's not uncommon for you to have a problem learning something like this at your stage if you tongued so well with your throat that no one noticed until now.

You may be farther ahead than you think! :>)

What's your maximum single tonguing speed saying "Gu Gu Gu?"
Did you know that you only have to add the syllables "Du Du Du" or "Tu Tu Tu" in order to have a fantastic ability to double tongue?
You're already half way there. :>)

Meanwhile, here's all the help you'll need:

Articles on Tonguing for Flute:

The above two articles contain everything I can possibly say about single and double tonguing for flutists. And I do believe that your flute teacher is correct:
You need to say "Tu" and "Du" for correct tonguing on the flute, and not "Gu" or "Thoo" as some students accidentally teach themselves.

Here are some illustrations of the tongue's best and easiest positions. (click on picture below to make it bigger, and then use back button to return here.)

And here is why your current method of tonguing will not likely be useful in the longrun. The throat is more closed, tighter and less available for resonance space, and "Gu" as a syllable is unlikely to allow speedy tonguing when you get to fast tempo flute pieces that need double or triple tonguing:

If you read the dozens and dozens of "how to play the flute" books, you'll find there is not a single one that states that you should tongue with the throat.
They all say to start a tongued note with "Tu" as in French, and then let the tongue's tip move straight down to behind the lower front teeth.

As students learn to keep their embouchure still during this "Tu Tu Tu" tongue motion, they also learn to use a constant fast air speed from low in the lungs, and only "interrupt it briefly" with the tip of the tongue as in "TuuuuuTuuuuuuTuuuuu...".
If the student explosively utters "TTTTu!" then the lips will distort with the explosive ball of air that is coming through them, causing a squeak or blasty loss of tone. So be aware that the lips must maintain their best position and not distort when performing accents or heavy, loudly tongued passages.

All this takes time, patience and intelligent work. (As Trevor Wye/Marcel Moyse say in their books on flute tone and articulation.)

There are quite a few books, articles, and flute masterclasses on this topic.
Look for "Flute articulation" articles and good flute method books and check it out for yourself.

Best, and let me know how this works out.

Jen Cluff
Comments (34)
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Jennifer

Great website and blog! I tongued behind the top teeth for years but when a new teacher taught me to tongue on the inside of my upper lip I found an immediate improvement. Would you not recommend this for people starting out?



Saturday, March 27, 2010 8:15:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Marguerite,
When I tongue on the inside of my upper lip I get a distorted start to each note, like a "squawk", with a disrupted tone.
I have long been curious as to why this works for a small number of people (it's recommended in some French flute playing texts from the early 1900s, so I have tried it several times to see what it's supposed to do that's an improvement on regular "Tu" syllables.)

I have yet to hear a recording of someone actually using this articulation, and cannot figure it out at all.
Can you send a short recording so I may hear it?

Saturday, March 27, 2010 8:51:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jen: p 14 - 17 in Bel Canto flute - the technique of Alain Marion' teaching as described by Sheryl Cohen.
Best wishes, Rikki

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 10:28:00 PM

Anonymous Triduana said...

new reader :)

I've just picked up the flute after more than a decade away, having given it up to concentrate on other musical things. The break has either killed my critical faculty or done great things for my playing :)

I have been reading more carefully than I did in my yoof De La Sonorite, and am puzzled by what Moyse says on p15, introducing the third set of exercies.

"Langue sortie" ("with the tongue out"). This suggests to me something like what marguerite mentions, or rather, as it were "plugging" the hole of the embouchure with the tongue.

Is this what he has in mind?

Friday, June 11, 2010 11:28:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Triduana,

There have been several large discussions about "With the tongue well out", with some flute pedagogues saying that it means to tongue between the lips, and others arguing that there is no proof that Moyse ever tongued between the lips, and that it is a mis-nomer or obscure reference.
You will find hot debate on both sides of the issue.
I personally think that Moyse would have not insisted on tonguing between the lips, but instead, meant that the tip of the tongue should not be locked behind the lower teeth (anchoring the tip is to be avoided.)

Good luck in finding more clearly stated references, and with your re-emergence on the flute.

Friday, June 11, 2010 11:58:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Hi guys

Trevor Wye's Advanced Practice book has a section 'Tonguing between the lips'

"tonguing nearer to where the sound is produced should give a more immediate start to a note and with less effort. ...point the tongue between the lips and stroking the top lip, withdraw it quickly. It 'pops."

My teacher likened it to taking a cork out of a bottle. Perhaps it's more common practice here in the U.K. It all depends on what sound you want to produce.

I try to get a recording on here at some point. : - )

Saturday, June 12, 2010 5:10:00 AM

Blogger Triduana said...

Thank you for the reply!

Your blog and website are absolutely fascinating. You've no idea how delighted I am to find so much detailed consideration of different aspects of playing: I'm a very analytical player, and was somewhat oppressed by the sheer number of questions that came up as soon as I'd got past the first two hissy-fluffy weeks of playing again. I'd no idea where to begin looking for answers, and here are so many!

So again, many many thanks!

Saturday, June 12, 2010 6:25:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for looking for a recording Marguerite; I've never actually heard a recording where it was factually stated: This is a good example of the benefits of tonguing between the lips.

This topic has been argued on the flute groups, and no recording ever was put forward.

Truth is: When I tongue between the lips, no matter how gently, it always makes a poor quality start to the tone; so I have found no use for it.
I'd much rather use "Tu, Du, Gu, or Ku" and not "Throop", which is what comes out when I try this through-the-lips popping tonguing.


Saturday, June 12, 2010 8:47:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Triduana!
When I first started hunting up flute information sites over ten years ago, I thought it was amazing that there weren't any free, good quality resource sites for eager flute students, so I created this one.
I really appreciate that it's so useful to you! Thanks for letting me know. Jen :>)

Saturday, June 12, 2010 8:49:00 AM

Blogger Triduana said...

Marguerite: thank you!

Saturday, June 12, 2010 2:53:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer,
first of all: Thanks for this wonderful website giving that interesting information.
Second, please excuse my 2 cents as a professional saxplayer with the flute just as a doubling.
I have read read the stuff about articulation on your site and find that also on my other instruments, the clarinet and the sax, that there has to be something wrong with the way books describe to do that.
First of all, maybe we should think about teaching tongueing at the very first steps.
Why? I hear so many people thinking that articulation starts the sound of the instrument.
After a while, many people think that the tongue and not the airstream makes the sound.
As I said, the flute is just my third instrument and I am not sure about it, but what do you think of trying to start the sound by the English "th"? It may not make sense without the instrument, but just to make sure that one understands about the lightness of the tip of the tongue and the relaxedness of the throat...
If I hear something like "too" or "tee" or "tu" or even "doo" it is not what I think it should be.
It just SOUNDS like this..
But isn't there still to much "pressure" on the tongue"
When you say the articulation syllable you move the tongue away to let the air flow, but when you do this with the above mentioned syllables you get a sudden "cloud" of air with a rapid decreasing of air pressure (like an explosion) when you should get a steady flow of air.
So, please excuse if this is absolute nonsense :-)
Thanks again for the wonderful work you do her.
Greetings, Mugger

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:19:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Mugger,

If you say "Th" you get a muffled start to the articulation.
Du and Tu work well on flute, as long as you:
a) use only a few molecules of the tongue tip: don't use more than about 4 mm. of tongue tip
b) don't use the tongue as a battering ram; ie: don't let the pressure build up behind the tongue so much; this reduces explosive note beginnings.

Try: Ooooh-du-du-duuuuuuuu
That should get you started with a light, tiny amount of tongue tip.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010 10:01:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment from C just came in:
Dear Jen,
Wow! Wonderful articles. I have been a flute doubler for over 20 years, and was even a flute minor at conservatory while doing Oboe majors, and never had such concise and useful info on the tongueing techniques.

One day later, 1 day! and already I am doing better. And I think I see ways to incorporate the info back into oboe pedagogy.

'DU'.... in french. Wow! It works.


Jen forwarded comment

Thursday, July 29, 2010 1:16:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Another forwarded comment:

I meant 'tu', and hey! , I continue to find great info and links on your site.

I mentioned it to the flute section of the JSO summer season orch. and encouraged them to have a peek. They were not aware of it.

The articulation improvements in my flute playing are simply amazing a few days later, and now spilling over to oboe. Better tongue 'awareness' overall, and much more minimal and refined movements.

I am single-tongueing things I've always had to double-tongue.

Anyway, thanks again. The oboe world is far behind on web resources compared to the flute world. Seems that mostly oboe players are trying to sell reeds or lessons or to claim academic pub credits.

What really sets yours's apart is the combination of live demos in addition to the documents and other links. C.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 5:18:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Maximo wrote:
Hello Jennifer:

My teacher told me not to tongue with my throat when he noticed the bottom of my chin (and sometimes my throat on loud attacks) moving when I tongue. After reading your articles I make sure to keep my tongue forward and hit the roots of the top teeth when I tongue, but the bottom of my chin still moves (it looks like a frog breathing). It's less noticeable when I use "du", but it does move a lot more when I use "tu", and it moves a whole lot more on loud attacks. sometimes I think my tongue is too big (I can feel it); and I can't seem to keep the bottom of my chin from moving! (I think the movement is caused by the roots of my tongue) I'm determined not to quit the flute but this does worry me. thanks for your patience.
Dear Maximo,
The problem with throat, tongue and other inner-workings, is that the flute student can neither see the effects of what they're doing, nor separate the effects, unless they work super slowly on only one thing at a time.
Only you can really discern all the sensations of what you're doing with all these nerve endings and soft-tissues and small muscles. All you can do is learn to tell the sensations apart.
If you want to change your body's habits, you have to separate all the changes into minute, tiny, self-observations, and play very slowly and listen very carefully.
No one can see what you're doing inside your mouth, so you have to be the expert.
Not all tongue sensitivities are created equally. If your tongue is slow and large, and the throat becomes over-involved, only you can find out how to retrain your aparatus.
Good luck, and let us know if you have a breakthrough.
Best, Jen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 11:00:00 AM

Anonymous Elyse said...


It is such a relief to hear that someone else has had this same experience. I also articulated using ONLY my throat for many many years until my first year of college, and i've never talked to another flutist who has had the same problem. We tend to get a very nice tone and smooth tenuto sort of articulation when throat tonguing, but I am now in my third year of university and have realized that throat tension has contributed to many other tension issues I have, such as TMJ and too-tense of hands. Thank you for writing about this issue!

Sunday, July 22, 2012 11:52:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for your comments Elyse. I'm sure that throat tension and hand tension are very very common in students; so no worries; you're on the right track now. Let us know what works. Thanks.
Best, Jen

Monday, July 23, 2012 9:13:00 AM

Anonymous Sandra said...

I have never before heard of tonguing even though I actually learnt how to play the flute as part of the school band. I mean, I joined the group late and the teacher pretty much ignored me after the first lesson when she had another student show me the basics, but I thought that I learnt to play quite well. I have an excellent sound and I play better than any my classmates do even though I learnt how to a year or two after them.

I only experimented a bit with tonguing after stumbling across your website and it's really messing up my playing. Somehow I cannot envisage how this tonguing thing can help me to improve my sound quality. I control the note lengths by simply stopping and starting the air flow and it works pretty well with every kind of note that I've tried. Just how vital would it be for me to learn how to tongue? Would it impede my progress if I didn't? I'm listening with an open mind, but it's really weird to think that I've hit the top of my class while playing wrong.

Saturday, November 17, 2012 3:17:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Sandra,
Your situation isn't uncommon. There are plenty of young flutists in the world who suddenly find out they've not been tonguing the normal way.
I've even had occasion to hear college level flutists who play very well, but who have neglected to add precise tonguing to their repertoire.
Afterall, tonguing and tone are two completely separate things. If you add tonguing to your excellent tone you'll have a new precision for percussion.
That will add tons of interest to your playing.
Check it out, and keep at it.
It rocks.
Best, Jen

Saturday, November 17, 2012 6:52:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Hello Jen.
I have been tonguing from the throat ever since I started flute, which was three years ago. I want to start tonguing the proper way before I go to high school, which is in 3 months. Would you suggest that I go to a professional flutist for help? I am going in for my first lesson next week, and I want to tell/ask her for assistance, but I'm afraid she will be unable to help me because I already have experience playing the way I am. I built my tone quality and my precise start to notes completely around throat tonguing, and I'm afraid I won't be able to get out of this habit. Help please?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 7:14:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Jacob,
Don't worry in advance. You won't be the first student in the flutey universe who arrives for lessons with throat tonguing. The fix is no problem, and nothing to worry about. Inspiration, dedication and determination created all amazing skills. No doubt you'll find it easy to change. Best, Jen

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 9:36:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always taught my students Tu from the start and moving onto a Du/Dar( for a softer tonguing sound) describing it as posh tonguing for smoother passages and explained as you do the same position but with the extra instruction of 'smiling the tongue' so you only use the tip as you described. Its like holding your top set of false teeth in and this seems to open up the cavity of your mouth and throat! I hope this helps.

Monday, September 15, 2014 12:36:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for the extra description; it sounds useful.
Best, Jen

Monday, September 15, 2014 12:54:00 PM

Blogger Joy said...

I have been playing flute for four years (elementary school and middle school ) and have never really used my tongue just used short breaths and no one told me that I was playing tongued notes incorrectly until this year.but now I cant seem to keep the air moving while I tongue. Any suggestions or tips?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 5:35:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Joy,
Thanks for the question. The comments just wait to be approved, that's why your question didn't appear right away.

The situation you describe is not uncommon. Any good flute teacher can fix you up in a jiffy; you just actually have to find a teacher who can give you ten or so lessons, and the problem will be solved.

Basically, forget tonguing or puffing all together, for now, and just continuously blow one long note that sounds continuously with no silences at all.
It's like blowing a note that lasts for ten continuous seconds.

Then get your breath, and rest for twenty seconds.

Then breathe in and hold a long note for ten seconds.

That is continuous blowing. You already can do it.

Now, apply that continuous blowing to an easy, simple piece of music.
Instead of tonguing or puffing for each note, just slur every note.
Slur the first and second and third notes together (you can breathe where you need to for now, but at least slur three notes together before breathing) just as if you were playing one long ten-second note.

It's the same, later when you tongue.

You blow continuously, with no silences, slurring every note to every other note, and then you just say "T" while doing so.

The flute teacher will walk you through all this in stages.
It's very cool when you suddenly get it. Sounds beautiful.
Best, Jen

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 7:10:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had a few students whose back of their throats move down and up looking like a frog. I have tried to work on lighter tonguing, as I feel the tongue is moving way too much in the throat. Sometimes this works, but when I try to isolate the problem, one of my students does this while he says "hoo" as well. The throat is opening and closing with every breath. Does anyone else have this problem?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 11:44:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

It sounds like you've hit the common problem of kids in band who have no previous private lessons; they are using their throats as a glottal stop instead of leaving the throat open. This is very common (although you'll only see one in thirty who do so, it happens every year). Your best bet is to study yourself with a more experienced teacher so that you can ask them the quickest way to undo glottal throat articulations. It's a multi-step process. I could teach you hear by typing it all out, but it's better you get one-on-one help from a live teacher. Much quicker.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 1:31:00 PM

Anonymous Angela said...

Hi! I am a flutist in high school and I've been throat tonguing for many years. All through 6th grade, I tongued using, "Tu" (the 'correct' way) and when I got to eighth grade, I realized that pieces were getting faster and as a "method of survival", my instinct kicked in and I started tonguing with the flute. I drastically improved, making 3 years of district band and getting awesome seat placements and all that... I then realized that I couldn't double tongue without reverting back the correct way of tonguing. Recently, I started taking flute lessons from a really nice teacher who told me, "We need to get you to start tonguing." And I'm a little scared of the transition because I'm not very quick at tonguing. My tongue is really unresponsive and I can't double tongue fast, so I don't know if learning to tongue will help. In all of our band songs we play in school, they're usually very difficult so I'd be forced to throat tongue all that. I don't know if learning to correct way will make me better or worse.
Just looking for some advice here, Thank you very much!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 2:40:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Angela,
Don't be afraid of changing. You'll likely pick up single and double tonguing with no problem.

If you can say : Tutu (as in a ballerina's tutu) really fast, and you can say DuGu (as in "Do Good" but without the final "D" ie: say really fast: DuGuDuGuDuGu) then you'll have no trouble at all.

Best, Jen

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 2:54:00 PM

Anonymous Angela said...

Thank you very much!!
I'm happy to say I'm slowly but surely improving little by little in my lessons. I can't tongue for school music (they're really fast and difficult.), but I'm practicing at home and starting out with slow, simple warm ups and activities. Can't wait to finally play correctly!

Kind regards,

Friday, March 24, 2017 1:30:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Good luck and let us know how it turns out! :>)

Friday, March 24, 2017 6:34:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

I figured out most of what you describe in the above article before finding it on the Web. And I thought I was rather smart.
But you went beyond: you wrote this article in a very understandable and logical way, with excellent illustrations. And I thank you for that.
I will add that, when using the "Ineffective tonguing", with the whole tongue tending to squeeze backwards, it can create gradual muscular tension in the tongue that can lead to jaw tension, throat tension. And all that is really painful (and of course bad for the sound).
Thanks again.

Thursday, May 07, 2020 4:17:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, May 07, 2020 4:17:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for appreciating the logic components of my thought-process! :>)
I really like hearing that. Makes me grin!

Thursday, May 07, 2020 4:53:00 PM


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