“Debugging” Tonguing

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Home Forums Pedagogy Teaching – General: Solutions, Question, Tips “Debugging” Tonguing

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    Wai Kit Leung

    Time and time again I get a beginner who started another wind instrument prior, without formal lessons. They usually come with faulty tonguing technique. Many of them sound like they are tonguing using the back of the tongue or something like that (rather like the K in T-K in double tonguing). I speculate that because the tongued notes sound like “wow wow”.

    I usually explain the use of the tip of the tongue instead, but the outcome wouldn’t improve. Hard to break the bad habit, and I have no way of seeing what is going on inside the student’s mouth.

    Any idea what can be done?

    Wai Kit Leung

    Christopher Weait

    There are 4 possibilities: 1) as you suspect they are tonguing too far back with the tongue. Have them move the “strike point” closer to the tongue tip; 2) they are dropping the air speed while tonguing; 3) they are tonguing too hard – banging the reed with the tongue 4) the reed is too hard. crw

    Wai Kit Leung

    More info:

    1) it takes a while after each attack for the air speed to come up to the “steady state” level. I heard that in his playing, and checked that when I asked him to play on the reed alone;

    2) when he tried to tongue using the tip of the tongue, he would miss the attack altogether, or it would be really faint;

    3) he had played the trombone (unguided) for 2 years prior to taking bassoon lessons with me. He claimed that’s the correct way of tonguing on the trombone, which I told him no on the spot

    Christopher Weait

    If the student played the trombone, they might be tonguing on the “pizza ridge”, the roof of the mouth above the top teeth.

    Try this: Using the reed on the bocal, have the student copy your tonguing as you play some short rhythmical patterns. If all is in order the pitch of the reed on the bocal should be close to a “C” – if higher they are biting too much. Have them hold the bocal so that the straight part near the tip is close to horizontal, otherwise pitch is affected. Listen for a crisp start to every note. Encourage them to let the reed vibrate.

    Neville Forsythe

    Strictly speaking the “tip” of the tongue is not where bassoon (and in fact all reeds) tonguing occurs.
    The reed tip sits inside the mouth cavity and presents itself to a point 3 – 4 mm up the tongue. So the student needs to differentiate between the tip of the reed and the tip of the tongue.

    I ask them politely to rudely poke out the ir tongue and then place the reed (already on the bocal) at the point up the tongue where I estimate contact occurs. Having identified this place the tongue and reed (still in contact) are withdrawn inside the mouth and the student attempts to articulate the first attack.

    You can compare it with the feeling of “th” on the teeth in speech.

    Having said all this, “double tongiuing” uses the guttural “k” alternating with the forward “th” attack so it may be worth pointing this out and having the student develop the forward position without eliminating the guttural entirely.


    Vincent Ellin

    Tonguing on the bassoon is done on the top tip of tongue just behind the very tip. This is done with the tongue anchored behind the lower front teeth. Tonguing is always light unless you need a really strong attack. As far as double tonguing is concerned I like more of a da ga or duh guh approach rather than the harder ta ka approach. The harder syllable brings a lot more tension than is needed for rapid tonguing, and can actually slow one down. The most common problem I’ve seen with articulation in students is the lack of constant support when tonguing. I compare articulation to water coming from a garden hose that is being interrupted. The less movement and the more constant the support the better the result. At least that is my experience as a teacher and a player.

    Trent Jacobs

    I usually tongue with the underside of my tongue, not the top. Both are legitimate styles to approach the reed by, they result in different articulation styles. It’s an easier transition to double tonguing for me as well. Tonguing with the top of the tongue results in a far too percussive articulation for my tastes.

    I agree with the “duh guh” approach to double tonguing. I also think we should be teaching double tonguing earlier than we do. Flutists learn it in 5th or 6th grade. I was 22 when I first started even thinking about it. My 7th grade student that’s been playing for less than a year can create a successful double tongue, although it is far slower than his single tongue at this point.

    Definitely love the water hose analogy and have used that in the past. I also use the “flag flapping in the wind” analogy.

    Matthew Page

    When I began playing I used a strange form of tonguing that I’ve never heard of anyone else using. I tongued the reed saying La or Loo with the underside of my tongue striking the top of the reed. I later understood this to be wrong but no one noticed so I figured I could keep it up and not have to change. Then I got to trying double tonguing. HA! Then my improvised tonguing method came back to bite me. I have spent the past year trying to redo my tonguing technique seemingly from scratch. It has been difficult and frustrating at times. I still find myself going back to my old tonguing time to time.

    Christopher Weait

    I was very interested to see discussion of using the underside of the tongue because I do that for tonguing the notes below the bass clef. For me it is especially useful AND reliable for very soft attacks – think opening of Tschaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. For notes above the lowest notes I tongue “normally” using the upper side of the tongue tip.

    Ellin’s description of tonguing reminds me of single-reed player’s description of “anchor” tonguing.

    This exchange of information is evidence that teachers of wind instruments are faced with a distinct reality: all of the important supporting physical mechanisms for playing are hidden from view (e.g., air supply, tonguing, vibrato).

    James Jeter

    Confession time – when I was a senior in high school, during a private lesson with the band director, he asked me where I placed my tongue on the reed. To which, I responded, what are you talking about – I don’t place my tongue on the reed! It turns out that I had spent 4 years ‘ka’ing or ‘guh’ ing the notes and had never used my tongue. Duh – at any rate, we began to remedy this situation, and I slowly learned to use the tongue on the vicinity of the tip (as described above).

    The good news is that a few years later when I was studying with Milan Turkovic, my earlier guttural use came to great use when he taught me double tonguing – Milan had me spend one month, just ka-ing (or guh-ing, or kee-ing, whatever works for you) – I spent 15 minutes each day just playing scales slowly using this. After a month of this, I added the tongue – tuh-ka, tuh-ka, (or again, da-guh or tee-kee) and practiced this way for a month. The 3rd month he had me reverse this – ka-tuh, ka-tuh (guh-da or kee-tee). Again, I did not do this for more than 15 minutes a day – making sure the double-tonguing sounded exactly like single tongue. (If not, I would slow the practice down until it did resemble the single.) After 3 months of this, I had no problems with double-tonguing.

    Although initially learning to ‘tongue’ the wrong way, this mistake was a great help later on. Just sayin’….! Cheers, Jim

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