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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000621.txt from 1997/12

From: Neil Leupold <>
Subj: Re: Tonguing
Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 01:47:35 -0500

On Thu, 11 Dec 1997, J. Blake Arrington wrote:

> I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for increasing my
> tonguing speed. Are there any exercises that I could do that any of
> you have had success with?

It has been said that people are simply born with the ability
to tongue quickly, and that others must learn to double-tongue.
I'm not wholly convinced of this and believe, at the very least,
the a person can reach their optimum potential for tongue speed
by applying certain principles. The principle that worked for
me, and enabled me to reach a single-tongue velocity of 160, is
based on cultivating the lightest tongue possible, thereby
enabling the tongue to function at any speed, in any style,
and remain relaxed at all times. Those last five words are
the magic key.

First of all, Kell's notion of "tip to tip" really works for
me, and I paid extremely close attention to this idea when
working on lightening up my tongue. There were times when
I practiced articulation for so many hours that my tongue
bled quite a lot by the end of a session, and there was a
nice chunk of the tip missing. Fear not, as gross as it
may sound, the tongue heals very quickly. I do not have a
divot in my tongue these days. The blood and the divot,
however, did inform me conclusively with regard to the area
of my tongue which was making contact with the reed. I
aimed at all times for evidence that the very tip was being
used. This is not critical for others, however, for many
other players tongue slightly back from the tip and achieve
the same speed.

Thus, my exercise. Keep in mind that the success of learning
to tongue quickly will also entail developing other areas of
technique as well, for the tongue does not operate in a vacuum.
It is affected -- and has an effect upon -- every other area of
technique involved in playing the clarinet. Yes, even by and upon
the fingers. We can get into that idea some other time. For now,
here's the exercise. It starts with long tones. The long tones
are necessary because, in order to cultivate a light tongue, it
is vital that the air column be a consistent and uninterrupted
stream, travelling from the lungs across the reed and through the
clarinet. One must learn to divorce the elements of technique,
then synthesize them to commensurate effect.

This exercise does not render instantaneous results. It takes a
few days, sometimes a couple of weeks, and you must apply other
forms of articulation to witness progress. Set your metronome at
50. Induce a tone as if you were going to simply play a long tone
for 4 clicks of the metronome at its present setting. In fact, do
just that. Play a long tone. Let the metronome click, but pay no
attention to how many clicks go by at first. Play the note for as
long as you can sustain a full tone prior to running out of air.
You must be using your lower diaphragm for this, not just your chest.
The idea is that you become accustomed to proper inducement of the
air stream before introducing the tongue into the equation. Your
objective in this exercise is to develop the lightest tongue possible.
When I tongue, it is so light that I can barely feel it making contact
with the reed. The only reason I know that it is working properly is
because of the countless hours I spent working on it. When I'm whipping
away on something like the Ginastera Clarinet & Harp duo, or Mendelssohn's
Scherzo, the only thing I'm aware of is the amount of pressure I'm applying
from the diaphragm.

Having established a solid, uninterrupted air stream, the clicks of
the metrononme now become relevant. Sorry, another aside: if your
embouchure is weak or not fully toned, this exercise will encourage
it to solidify as well. Remember, the clarinet-playing mechanism
of the human body is organic, integrally related. This cannot be
avoided and, ultimately, shouldn't be. Induce another full tone,
preferably with an air attack (i.e.; don't use the tongue to start
the note). The best note to use is throat G, everything open, but
if your embouchure still needs work, you might start on a chalumeau
C or D instead. I won't explain why in this message. Whichever note
you choose, here's what's next. After starting the note, touch the
tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed once for each click of the
metronome. If the tone is full and the air fully supporting it, there
should not be an interruption of sound as the tongue brushes across the
tip of the reed. This takes practice to achieve, so don't expect it to
happen right away. Continue contacting the tip of the tongue to the
tip of the reed -- once for each click -- until you run out of air.
Remember that your air should be compelled from the lungs across the
reed, through the clarinet, in precisely the same fashion as if you
were merely playing a long tone. The only role of the embouchure is
to support the reed and allow it vibrate to its fullest. If the
embouchure needs any kind of work, then it might be applying more
pressure than is necessary, and the reed will not vibrate to its
fullest capacity. The faster your tongue gets, the more you will
use the lips to support the mouthpiece -- less and less of the jaw
or teeth. And, needless to say, the diaphragm is the driving force
behind all of this.

After articulating in tempo with the metronome for one full breath,
initiate the exercise again, except this time do it twice as fast.
The metronome is only at 50, so this shouldn't tax you at all. You're
still going to touch the reed with a feather-light tongue stroke,
allowing the air to keep the reed vibrating, but you'll make contact
twice for each click. Do this for another full breath.

Next, articulate triplets per click.. All of the same principles apply.
Use the air. Let the tongue float on your air stream, where the very
tip is the only part which really moves. The rest of the tongue
should be stationary, although it will probably take time to dis-
cover how to do this. The motion of the tongue should ultimately
be limited to about an 8th of an inch at the very tip. The less
tongue that moves, the more relaxed the whole muscle will be, and
the faster you will be able to articulate. Do triplets for a whole

Naturally, your next step is quadruplets for a whole breath, and
then sextuplets. If you do this exercise daily, preferably near
the beginning of your practice regimen, you will develop cues based
on physical sensation, which will inform you that your body is changing.
Aim to get the tongue to contact the reed in the exact same place (of
the tongue) every single time, at every tempo. When you begin to sense
a change in physical sensation following the previous day's application
of this regimen, attempt to maintain that new sensation as you go through
the rest of your practice regimen. Notice that your embouchure must
strengthen in order to maintain the sensation...that the air stream
must be maintained as well in order to sustain the sensation. A tense
embouchure is anathema to progress in rapid tonguing development. You
will need to open up and use more and more *lip* pressure, drawing the
jaw further and further away from the reed as the lips develop muscle
tone. The process of developing a relaxed tongue will inform you,
through trial and error, of what the most relaxed (but well toned)
embouchure should feel like.

The final goal: to be able to initiate a tone via a well-supported
air stream from the diaphragm, and engage in articulation at any
speed, in any style (from legato to the shortest staccato), without
any change in the physical sensation which arises from using the
tongue. The tip never moves back away from the reed more than
the smallest of distances, and the whole tongue remains relaxed
at all times, whether you're playing the Mozart adagio or the
quick staccato run in Beethoven's 4th.

Happy tonguing!


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