Some thoughts on Articulation

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate flute student at Ithaca College, I was asked by my teacher to purchase a copy of Marcel Moyse’s “De La Sonorite.” When I had worked through the first section my teacher then assigned the third section of the book to me. There Moyse had asked his readers to work on articulation studies specifically to be practiced “with the tongue out”. My teacher where upon proceeded to adamently corss out those very words. Interestingly, I had initially as a total beginner first gotten a sound “with my tongue out”, which my band director also proceeded to tell me “not to do!” Now for a second time I was being  told not to do that yet again.

Well….. I was a good little flute student and listened to both my band director and my flute teacher and learned to play my single tongue with my tongue inside my mouth— not even behind my upper teeth but intead on upper pallette.

Fast forward to 1994 when I went to a Trevor Wye Masterclass at Connecticut College and was just as adamently told by Trevor that my tonguing was all wrong! Voila… the two schools of thought on articulation! American and French.

So…. at a rather ripe old age I proceeded to re-learn what I had initially found by myself as a beginner flute student…. and subsequently have spent almost twenty years perfecting my “forward tongue technique”.

Now as a teacher I have had quite a bit of Suzuki flute training. The Suzuki people start all their students with spitting rice which gets the beginner student to tongue with the tip of the tongue outside of the lips. ! What to do???

American flute students of my generation who wre spefically taught to tongue with the syllable “too” behind our teeth or the syllable “doo” on our upper pallette were not tonguing this way at all!

To be up front about all this…. I now do not tongue ( at least unless I want to because of the music) with my tongue inside my mouth any more. And furthermore I do not teach any of my students to do it any more either.

This is most likely still heresy to many American flute teachers even today…. but after having re-learned what I intially found on my own to work for me…. and had to un-learn because my teachers told me it was wrong…..really DOES work!!!

Time after time I see and hear my students’ tone imporve instantly when they forward tongue. Time after time when I try to play softly and lightly both on my flute and on my piccolo with a forward (ok…. let’s call the  animal what it really also gets called in America….i.e. French tonguing) or French tongue stroke my  own sound also improves. So… what’s the deal?

It seems to me that flute pedagogy just isn’t the same everywhere nor is there any consensus on what is the right way or the wrong way to do many things when playing the flute. Time after time I have read so-called experts discuss something such as artuclation like this and read one expert say the total opposite of the other! So—How do we non-experts make any sense of  all this?It really seems confusing, doesn’t it,  to read one famous teacher say one thing and another famous teacher to say something quite the opposite.

Well, sorry to say… I don’t actually have an answer . Unfortunately. But regarding articulation  I do have anecdotal evidence to say that for me and my students that the French or forward tongue stroke usually sounds much better and that  I now definitely advocate that way of articulation.(Clearly there is nothing new in the flute world afterall Because…. this tonguing argument apparently goes way back….. even to Quantz… who states somewhere in his “Versuch” that advocates for the forward tongue stroke are wrong!)

SO if you would like to experiment with French tonguing and see if it works for you and/or your students….. I will outline some ways below to practice it.

1. Start with a “ha” sound on every note in  the Reichert Daily Excercise #2. Go all the way through the complete 24 keys this way. You will find that some keys are easier than others. No matter… just do it and do it every single day so that your abdominal muscles get used to supporting the sound….. without your tongue.

2. After a while when you have gotten the hang of this, try  single tonguing triplets on each note. This will take a good 15-20 minutes of your time every day. But it is the best way I know to make your tongue get independent enough to produce an absolutely clear tone at the very initial  beginning of the sound.

3. Then work on the Moyse 24 Little Studies. He has several short etudes in that classic book where you can try to forward tongue  clearly. The Boehm Exercises also have several wonderful excercises where you can practice this new technique as does the famous single and double tonguing excercise from the Andersen Etudes opus 15.

4. Don’t assume that learning this forward tongue technique  will be easy or quick. Initially your mouth will produce prodigious amounts of saliva…. your salvatory glands just don’t realize that you are not eating. But after a while, this will cease( and you will most likely actually be hungry anyway) and  your tongue eventually will get strong and your tone will amazingly improve in addtion to your tonguing because articulation studies are really a version of tone studies.

5. Aha!!! You didn’t know that did you? But as your tonguing gets clearer so will your tone.

6. Don’t give up on your old way of “too” and “doo”! Just intergrate this new French tongue into yout arsenal of tricks.!

Hope this all is helpful! Perhaps more on this in a future Blog entry……..





Posted on April 10, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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