Teaching Tonguing Technique for Woodwinds

When you learn to play a woodwind, you need to learn how to get the right sound out of your instrument with tonguing. The way you teach tonguing not only affects how precise the time of the notes are, but also if the notes sound sharp or flat. Here’s a great experiment to try and keep in mind for your next lesson on tonguing.

First, make sure no one can hear you. This experiment may sound a little funny to someone who doesn’t understand.

Clench your teeth and say, “tu-tu-tu-tu.” Then say, “daw-daw-daw-daw,” and alternate between the two four or five times.

Now, drop your jaw and pucker your lips as though you are trying to breathe through a straw, and repeat, “tu-tu-tu-tu” and “daw-daw-daw-daw.”

Then alternate all four, one after the other and repeat it a few times. Clenched teeth: “tu-tu-tu-tu daw-daw-daw-daw,” and puckered lips: “tu-tu-tu-tu daw-daw-daw-daw.” Try doing it as rapidly as possible. Which of the four is the easiest?

It should be pretty obvious that dropping your chin and saying “daw-daw-daw-daw” is the easiest when it comes to tonguing rapidly.

In most classrooms tonguing is taught by emulating a “T” sound (like tu or tee), when emulating a “D” sound (like daw) is a better option when learning a woodwind instrument.

Try this same experiment again with just your reed and your mouthpiece in your mouth. Your tongue should be touching the tip of your reed and mouthpiece, and be close to your bottom teeth. Alternate the four techniques (at a whisper of course), and see how they feel.

Then, speed up to staccato tonguing and see which is easiest.

What did you find? Let us know in the comments!