Monday, August 13, 2012

Double Tonguing

A few weeks ago we played an all-Mozart concert.  Comprised of The Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio, the Clarinet Concerto and Symphonies #35 and #41, all pieces contained passages that required double tonguing. 

After the concert I felt as though I had used up my quota of double tongues for the summer! 

The Old Days

The ability to double tongue has become a necessity for the bassoonist.  According to Sol Schoenbach, it was a common practice in earlier days, but fell out of usage in the 20th century.  This seems odd to me because multiple tonguing has been part of brass playing consistently for centuries. 

For some reason (perhaps because it's more difficult to learn for reed players than for brass) it wasn't standard practice on the bassoon until the past few decades.  I know when I was studying, no one impressed upon me its importance.  Former Cleveland Orchestra bassoonists, George Goslee and Ron Phillips never learned to double tongue.

You can listen to old recordings of Beethoven's 4th and hear the bassoonist using slurs in the articulated passages in the last movement (e.g., Toscanini/NBC Symphony).  Bassoonists of this time period simply put in slurs or modified the parts to make them workable. 

Stubbornness and Speed

My personal journey in learning to double tongue was slow and difficult.  I am blessed with a pretty fast single tongue.  I can tongue a series of 16th notes at between 138 and 144 for the quarter note.  This delayed my learning to double tongue because I could get by with moderate performance tempos for such pieces like Beethoven 4th and Marriage of Figaro.

However, if the tempo went a bit faster, I struggled.

In addition, I hated and still dislike the sound of my articulation when I double tongue. Very few people can double tongue with such finesse that you can't tell the difference between the two syllables used.

It took me 10 years before I felt comfortable using my double tongue in public.  If you haven't learned to double tongue, however, don't assume that it will take you this long!  Many others have learned this skill faster, so don't assume because it took me so long, that's just the way it is.  My stubbornness in committing to work on it and my fast single tongue speed made it take longer!

Why Double Tongue?

Double tonguing uses two syllables, one of which involves contacting the reed with the tongue, the other does not.  By giving the tongue a rest from contacting the reed on every other note, the articulation can be faster than normal tonguing in which the tongue contacts the reed for each note.

How to Double Tongue

There are many successful ways to learn to double tongue.  Here are some ways I teach it:

I think the best way to teach something is to impart the skill as simply as possible.  Playing the bassoon is hard enough without an overload of information. Analysis can lead to paralysis!

Method 1

Therefore, I start by asking the student to say the word "ticket" into the reed, immediately repeating the word over and over very quickly. "ticketicketicketicketicketicketicketicketicketicketicketicke"

Some students will pick this up right away, so don't ruin it by over-explaining!

Method 2

Most students, however, won't pick this up right away, so you need some more options.
  • Learning to say and repeat the word, "ticket" quickly is essential for articulation and speech are closely related. The ability to say "ticket" over and over quickly without stuttering or tiring is extremely important.  I drove my mother crazy with this by saying this to myself as I walked around the house!  Use the car for this or do it while walking somewhere, taking a shower, etc.  Keep a reed or two in glove compartment of your car for practice                
  • Repeating it on the reed is the next step.  Listen for the two syllables and make any adjustments necessary for them to start the same way and be at the same pitch. Often the "Ki" syllable comes out mushy and flat in pitch.  This, by the way, is why I say "ticket" instead of the often recommended "Da-ga" or "Ta-ka". To sharpen the "Ki" syllable, try to keep the middle of the tongue closer to the front of the mouth and raise it towards the upper palate.
 Method 3

Some students can make a good "ticket" but can't repeat it many times.  Start with baby steps. 
  • Using just the reed, play the famous "Lone Ranger" motive from Rossini's William Tell Overture.  "Ticketah, ticketah, ticketah-tah-tah"
  • Add beats of "ticketahs"
  • Then try four 16ths and a quarter "ticke-ticke-tah, ticke-ticke-tah, etc."
  • Continue adding parts until you're able to sustain a pattern of double tonguing for several measures of 4/4 time.
After learning to articulate in this manner clearly and consistently on the reed, add the bassoon.  The added resistance can cause difficulty.  If this is the case, do it with just reed and bocal for a while. 

With the reed on the assembled bassoon, choose a note in the bass clef staff on which to repeat articulation.  Open F or the C below it are good ones to start with. Try the exercises above with the reed on the bassoon.

Method 4

You may have noticed I teach double tonguing with a fast speed.  Some teach it first with a slow repetition.  This would be Method 4.  I feel that since double tonguing is used only for speedy passages it isn't absolutely essential to learn to do it slowly.  In fact, some students have trouble speeding it up after learning it slowly because they are so focused on feeling how their tongue is moving inside their mouth during the slow repetition. Believe me, no one thinks about this when they're double tonguing at a  fast tempo!  There's no time for that. This is an example of "analysis leads to paralysis"!

However, for those who don't pick up the skill using the above methods, it is helpful to slow things down.  The placement of the tongue and the airspeed during double tonguing are very different from normal bassoon articulation.  Sometimes it's helpful to focus on those changes.

With the reed --
  • Repeat the "Ki" syllable slowly.  One for each quarter note at about quarter=72 or so.  Work for consistency in pitch and clear starts to the notes.
  • Say "kitty, kitty" (reverse of "ticket"!) many times slowly.
  • Add to bassoon as above, but keep it slow.
Other Tips

When I double tongue if I think about it,
  • The sides of the back of my tongue contact my upper molars.  Like an old shoe the sole of which has come apart from the upper near the toe, but remains fastened at the instep and heel.
  • I blow as though I'm playing notes a fifth or an octave higher in range.  I use a faster and more concentrated airspeed than usual for the range I'm playing in. Don't forget about breath support or airspeed when double tonguing!
  • I try to use a lighter reed than usual.  Older reeds are more reliable than new ones.
  • When playing a scale or anything that involves changing pitches while double tonguing, make sure that your finger technique is secure before double tonguing.  You don't want to have that to worry about when double tonguing.
Applying the Technique to the Music

The brass players use pages from the Arban Method for applying double tonguing to actual music.  Getting this book and putting the passages in range is helpful.  Making up your own studies is good, too.  Practicing your scales by double tonguing is also helpful.

We can use the Milde 25 Studies in All Keys for the application of double tonguing.  These are lengthy, however, and are best utilized after you've got some endurance.

Milde Concert Study #4 is excellent for double tonguing.

I don't find it profitable to practice double tonguing for more than 5 or 10 minutes in a practice session.  My tongue wears out and things just get worse from then on.  Let it go and pick it up the next day.

My double tongue skill withers quickly if I don't keep on it.  I've never felt like it's just "always there for me."

Make sure that you can double tongue slow enough to cover speeds just a little bit slower than your top single tongue speed so there's no "gap" in your ability to cover all articulation speeds.

There -- I've given you a lot information about double tonguing.  Maybe you won't need all of it!  Hopefully not.  I really do believe keeping it simple is the best way.  True for teaching in general, I think!

Lastly, I know there are readers of this who have other successful ways of double tonguing and ways of teaching double tonguing. 

Let's hear from you!!


  1. I can't turn down such an invite to post :)

    I have noticed that the reason some people don't know DT has more to do with being not expected to learn it, than that it's hard. When I studied in Stockholm, DT was black magic that.

    Then I came to Mannheim to study, and everyone knew it. I learned it because it was expected of me to learn it. I managed to go from not playing DT at all, to being able to struggle myself through the Lohengrin (~90bpm) place in just under 2 weeks.

    I, on orders from my prof, practised it on my reed for a short amount of time every day. Trying to find the minimal amount of motion to stop the reed from vibrating ( stopping on every syllable in Ti - CKe - Ti - Cke ...) without getting the infamous Tioe - Ckeoit (the chinese party orchestra). The support should be "on" the whole time, and you should watch yourself in a mirror the whole time to make sure you don't take it away (your throat changing in girth from taking the support away).

    If you can double tongue without any change of pitch on the reed between the T and the G/K tongue, you have the right technique (or really really non-vibrating asthmatic reeds, but that's another chapter).

    I also have my own theories of practising DT without anything at all, and making sure you get a rectangular air flow, so that the tongue cuts the air cleanly without turbulence. Do a slow DT without your reed, but with your lips shaped as if you would be playing and listen to the sound. The wind noise should be the same for the T and the K/G, and if they aren't you are probably changing too much in your mouth.

    Thanks for a yet another good post.

    1. Thanks, Linus,

      Good comments for everyone to read. Who else has some ideas or experiences they'd like to share?

  2. I was fortunate enough to learn double tonguing as a 13-year old from Mark Popkin, so it's always been like second nature to me. I also teach the ticket or tik-kit syllables, as they place the tongue the farthest forward in the mouth. The reason it's so easy on brass instruments and flutes, of course, is because they don't have a reed sticking in their mouth. I agree that it's easiest on light and quite responsive reeds and I have my students put as little reed in their mouth as possible when they're learning. I learned double tonguing by doing it very slowly and with exaggeratedly short syllables (Popkin always referred to this as weight training for your tongue and especially emphasized doing series of explosive puffs with just the kit syllable: kit-kit-kit-kit, in order to train that series of relatively unused muscles). I like the control that I get by being able to double tongue at any speed whatsoever, so I do teach it with the initial slow method (quarter notes at 60, very slow) that Popkin recommended. I use many different syllables in double tonguing depending on the effect I want to achieve: primarily T and K when I want a very articulate sound, and D and G when I want a softer articulation. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Also: I use the Arban's trombone method double-tonguing studies for my students once they have a good grasp of the basic technique on simpler exercises. The range used in the trombone exercises works perfectly for bassoon as it coincides with the range of the bassoon in which double tonguing is easiest to learn.

  4. I've been following the blog for a while now, but this will make my first comment. You mentioned practicing the DT at slower tempos to fill in any gaps between the two. I've adopted a technique which my teacher calls "modified double tonguing". With this technique you tongue D G D D (or T's and K's if you prefer). My single tongue is too slow for any fast tonguing so I use this to fill in the gap between my single and my double. I also toss it in every now and then to clean up problems such as in the first Bb scale in the Mozart concerto. I tongue the C on beat two with a G syllable to add clarity to the run.

  5. I'm so sorry, I'm still learning and this doesn't makes that much sense to me personally. Is the T and K one with tonguing and the other without? I'm so confused right now. I read so many websites and double tonguing still doesn't quite make sense to me. Can someone please explain this concept to me please?

  6. Ronald Phillips was able to double tongue. He tried to teach me when I attended Baldwin-Wallace in the mid-80's but it was a difficult task for me.