Sequence 21

with Paul Edmund-Davies

This is an articulation exercise, focusing on two formats of triple tonguing.

There are numerous studies for working on double/triple tonguing, but invariably they are two to five page marathons, with little, if any pauses for rest. By the time you have ‘waded’ to the end of these studies, your tongue is utterly exhausted, has become less nimble and slowed down to a miserable speed. The tongue has turned into a hammer and is sounding and behaving more like a diesel tractor!

My belief is that this is counter-productive to developing an agile tongue (and also hugely reduces our ability for musical interpretation and nuance).

After all, we are using muscles and as with any form of physical workout, they should be gradually trained up to meet all musical demands. If the tongue is forced to co-operate, it normally gives up and in a state of near collapse, co-ordination and speed go by the way.

However, if over a period of time, we gradually build our strength up, with ‘pockets’ of short but demanding exercise, the tongue will inevitably become stronger and quicker and as a result, be in a more positive position to respond.

Most important of all in this process, is that the tongue has a chance to ‘relax’ on a regular basis.

Hence in Sequence 21, whilst the aim is to develop fluidity and speed of double/triple tonguing, by mixing this up with single tonguing, there are short periods where the tongue is not being over-worked.

If we want to encourage agility, the tongue needs to operate in a light but precise way. The harder the attack, the more likely it is that the tongue will soon want to slow down.

There are fundamentally two ways to triple tongue.

Perhaps the more common version is Doo-Gah-Dah, Doo-Gah-Dah. As you can see (and hear when you speak these phrases) the vowel sound after the consonant is of great importance. If it is too short (as in TKT, TKT), the tongue is effectively over-worked and will tire quickly.

The longer vowel sound after the consonant, means that the tongue is more likely to dance on the roof of the mouth. TKT, TKT is far less elegant and ends up making the tongue sound like a machine gun. It is too aggressive and the tongue will swiftly seize up.

The other form of triple tonguing (which is quite possibly superior over longer passages) is double tonguing, but in groups of three DGD, GDG. I like this form of tonguing, but to many it isn’t so easy. That game of tapping your head with one hand and making circles on your stomach with the other, springs to mind! However, it is most definitely worth persevering with and is considerably superior at breakneck speeds.

Again, to sustain my tongue’s agility and speed, I would use the following vowels:

Dah-Gah-Dah, Goo-Dah-Guh

However, it is also important to remember that we all have different physiologies and in particular in the region of the mouth, so please do experiment with different vowel sounds. You may well find versions which are better/easier for you than those suggested above.

For the single tongued semi-quavers (16th notes) I would use Doo Doo Doo Doo. Try to observe the crescendo marked over beats 1 and 3 in the first bar. This can act as a launch pad for the groups of six which follow.

Before you put the flute on your lips, do try ‘speaking’ your way through the first page of Sequence 21.

Whilst this exercise has been written out in all keys, there are numerous segments that can also be put up the octave and I would urge you to do this. Due to extra air speed, swift articulation in the top octave brings another set of challenges.

However, with increased air speed, be careful not to add increased tongue activity into the mix. Once again this will only slow you down and make you wish you had never gone up there in the first place!