Sequence 17

with Paul Edmund-Davies

This is yet another tonguing exercise and this time I am focusing on the tricky business of triple tonguing.

There appear to be very different schools of thought on the best way forward with articulation.

One is that you should always practice it as fast as possible. I am very uncomfortable with this thinking. After all, we are dealing with muscles and surely, for these to get stronger, bullying them is not going to be ideal and we may even cause some damage (a story appears in The Complete Story of the Flute by Leonardo De Lorenzo that Joachim Andersen was not a great believer in the musical worth of double tonguing. He practiced his single tonguing so much, that he injured the tip of his tongue and, in the last years of his life, could not play at all).

The other is that you analyse what is going on in the mouth when tonguing slowly, refine it and then gradually increase the tempo as the muscles become stronger and more in control.

I am much happier working on this second method.

I do however agree with Joachim Andersen about one thing concerning articulation. He firmly believed that single tonguing was vastly superior in its ability to convey musical interest than double tonguing. Most music written for the flute sounds much better when single tonguing is used more readily than double tonguing. Of course, in fast movements, with extended patches of semi-quavers (16th notes) it is utterly logical to use double tonguing. However, when semi-quaver passages are broken up with slurs, groups of two, three, four or even five notes, are usually more characterful if single tongued.

I believe we resort to double tonguing at slow speeds, because it is easier. As long as the tongue isn’t being overworked, we don’t seem to be too bothered about whether or not what we are producing is particularly musical!

Of course, when notes are flying by, we will have to use double tonguing, but again, it is just as important to remember to make these pyrotechnical passages come across as musical, rather than simply flashy!

A problem with all of this is that it is very difficult to make ‘TK’ or ‘DG’ sound convincingly musical. They are both mechanical and rather dull sounds.

If ‘freedom’ is to be expressed in articulated passages, then the tongue should dance on the roof of the mouth.

Now we find ourselves with another problem. We are all built differently and the inside of our mouths will vary greatly.

I for one have quite a narrow and pointed mouth (I blame my parents!) and others have very rounded mouths, where from the front of their teeth to the back ones is almost semi-circular (mine is more of a V shape).

As a result, it is more comfortable for me to articulate further back, as if I am too far forward, I can find myself with ulcers on the side of my tongue.

So, in short, we have to discover the points in the mouth that work best for each individual. It is good to have certain ideas to get us started on all of this, but if we find that these ideas don’t sit comfortably with the way we have been built, then we have to work towards a better solution.

With double and triple tonguing, the vowel sound after the consonant is important and it should constantly be changed so that the tongue will stay fresh.

There are two ways to work on Sequence 17. Firstly, as a standard triple tongue exercise

(Doo-Gah-Di, Doo-Gah-Di) and then as a double tongue exercise cutting across the pulse (Doo-Gah-Dah, Goh-Dah-Gah).

This second way has for me been tantamount to the skills necessary for patting your head and making circles on your stomach at the same time! It is worth persevering with though.

As always, start slowly on Sequence 17 and as confidence grows, gradually increase the tempo.

I very much hope that some of the above will help you on your journey in one of the trickier areas of our flute playing.