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Flutter Tonguing


Flutter tonguing is performed with a silent rolling of the “r” (i.e., without vocalization), adding a rhythmic flutter to the sound. Different speeds are possible, changing the perceived height of fluttering independent of other sonic elements (e.g., ordinario pitch). In the case of an aspirated flutter tongue (breath instead of ordinario), the result is similar to the revving of a motorcycle engine.

Pitch range. Depends on the technique being “fluttered.” In the case of ordinario, pitch range is unchanged.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario for standard flutter tongue; niente to f for aspirated flutter tongue. At higher dynamics, this technique uses up the player’s air very quickly.

Tongue Rams and Flicks

Tongue ram

00:00-21 – dynamic variation with pitch held constant
00:22-end – pitch variation with dynamic held constant

This technique involves ramming the tongue forward, completely stopping the flow of air. The resulting sound is that of a rush of air (which can be accentuated or diminished as desired), followed by a percussive reverberation of pitch, a sort of thump.

Pitch range. Given the nature of the technique, overblowing is impossible, meaning the only pitches available are the instrument’s fundamentals. Tongue ram pitch, however, appears to be perceived as an octave above these fundamentals, perhaps as the second partial, yielding the following pitch range on an F tuba:

Dynamic range. Niente to mf.

Maximum speed. Approximately six to seven per second.

Practice tip(s). The easiest way to conceive of a tongue ram is by closing off the opening of the lips with the tongue. It might be helpful to imagine the air as propelling the tongue forward.

Tongue flick

00:00-12 – dynamic variation with pitch held constant
00:12-19 – maximum loudness/pitch content
00:20-end – pitch variation with dynamic held constant

The tongue flick is similar to the tongue ram, but instead of stopping the flow of air completely, the tongue merely interrupts it with a flick. Thus, with a steady underlying bed of breath, flicks can be performed at higher speeds and with greater dexterity than rams. An experienced player will be able to perform most rhythms as flicks without much difficulty.

There is a fairly smooth transition from noise to pitch as tongue flicks are made louder, from niente to mf. However, even at the full mf, pitch differentiation is relatively weak. Individual pitches are perceptible, but at fast speeds—and especially in this very low register—changes in pitch are perceived more in terms of relative height.

A notational remark is in order: Inherent to this technique is the activation of breath before the flick itself can take place. Thus, in seeing a notehead at the desired point of flick articulation, the player’s first instinct is to start the physical effort (breath) at that point, resulting in a delayed entrance of the flick itself. One possible solution we arrived at was to use breath–notehead grace notes as a preemptive direction. This approach was noticeably helpful in bringing the flicks in at their desired entrance.

Pitch range. Like the tongue ram, the flick cannot be overblown for differentiation of pitch; only the instrument’s fundamentals are available. However, with the tongue flick, whatever pitch content is perceivable seems to occur at the fundamental frequency, rather than an octave up (like the tongue ram):

Dynamic range. Niente to mf.

Maximum speed. Approximately eight per second.

Practice tip(s). Think of the technique like a tongue ram, but without fully stopping the airstream. Instead, produce a rapid back-and-forth motion, possibly with a soft th, as in through.


00:00-46 – single and double tonguing in different registers
00:47-end – fast-as-possible (double) tonguing

Tonguing is the articulation and/or rearticulation of phonation by means of an enunciated ta or tu, or for softer articulation, da or du. There are three main varieties—single, double, and triple—the latter two generally faster than the former, though this may not hold true for all players. Double and triple tonguing involve the alternation between ta/da (or tu/du) and ka (or ku). For example, double tonguing is performed with repetitions of ta-ka (yielding a duple emphasis), and triple, with ta-ka-ta, ta-ta-ka, or even ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka (yielding a ternary emphasis).

As a general note to composers, it is not necessary to specify tonguing, unless one wants to for compositional purposes. Players study this traditional technique early in their training and are used to figuring it out for themselves as part of learning a piece.

With extensive use of fast tonguing, fatigue is likely to set in and hinder a player’s ability to continue tonguing at maximum capacity. How quickly a player will tire depends on physical ability and practice regimen.

Single tonguing

Pitch range. Same as ordinario.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 9–10 per second.

Double tonguing

Pitch range. Same as ordinario, though more difficult and sloppier at extremes.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 12 per second and faster.

Triple tonguing

Pitch range. All registers, though more difficult and sloppier at extremes.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 12 per second and faster.