Mental Shifts to Improve Double Tonguing

Double-tonguing is an important and popular topic for flutists, and can present quite a challenge. We are constantly looking to improve speed, clarity and evenness, especially in the notorious excerpt from Mendelssohn's Scherzo from a Midsummer Night's Dream.

While working on my next etude from my Repertoire Action Plan (Update: So far I've been committed to what I've assigned to myself!), a double-tonguing etude, and the Mendelssohn excerpt, I noted that I was having difficulty maintaining clarity for a length of time. 

I know that a consistent, supported airstream is the most important aspect for optimal double tonguing, and slurring the entire passage is the first thing I did to achieve this. Without the interruption of the tongue, we can let the air move through with ease. Sometimes, this helps right away, but today, telling myself to "support" or "maintain the airstream" was not putting me in the right mindset to achieve what I was looking for once I added the written articulation back.


I decided to observe. Here's what I discovered:

First, I noticed the amount of air in the mouth and cheeks. I have been playing with air in my cheeks for a long time, but for the first time, I really noticed it! I mainly hold air in my left cheek, not the right, so I played around with switching cheeks, filling the whole mouth, and playing with no air in the cheeks. 

With a wider awareness of the mouth, I also noticed the feeling of the airstream moving across the roof of the mouth. While single and double tonguing, I really began to feel when I stopped the air by watching the roof of the mouth closely! 

Going along with last week's notes to maintain the "ahh" feeling, versus closing down inside the mouth, I added in the following intention:

"Feel the airstream moving continuously across the roof of the mouth."

Instead of trying to support and maintain the airstream, I simply observed the air traveling through the mouth. The effortlessness that comes from observing versus trying always leads me to feel capable of doing more and expressing exactly as I want to!


Double-Tonguing SyllableS + MENDELSSOHN

I find double-tonguing with short, lighter notes to be more difficult than legato double-tonguing, which naturally encourages a more supported airstream. I tend to go for D-G-D-G whenever double tonguing is required due to its reliability, but sometimes, the notes need to be staccato. In the case of the Mendelssohn Scherzo, I felt the need for greater clarity, lightness, and bounce. I felt brave enough to try T-K-T-K now that I felt more secure in my airstream! Normally, I cannot maintain this for a long time, as I begin to feel my mouth closing in. Shifting my focus to feeling openness and watching the movement of the air through my mouth allowed me to maintain the short, light, crisp T-K-T-K double tongue for the entire excerpt!

How exciting to have options!

Feeling a great awareness of how my airstream moves allowed me the choice to let the air stop or continue flowing, and the greater sense of confidence in support allowed me the flexibility to interchange syllables.



1. Airstream is Everything. The number one idea for improving double-tonguing is to maintain a supported airstream, and nothing is more helpful than slurring the passage and getting the tongue out of the way. While slurring, use the opportunity to observe. Observe the journey of the air and find ease in maintaining expansion in the ribs to encourage support.

2. Next, slur the first few notes of a phrase, then sneak in double-tongue to the remainder of the phrase. We may find that the moment we begin the note after inhaling is the point where we lose space in the mouth and compromise ease of the flowing airstream. Getting to know the feeling of openness that the slur allows right away helped me continue the phrase with the same feeling. 

3. A third exercise that I love (introduced to me by flutist Angela Kelly!), is to blow through a straw with a large and very fast amount of air, then add in a double-tongue. Getting the air out very fast and intensely with the straw naturally encourages a faster airstream once we go back to the flute. In addition, the straw allows us to hear the air alone, rather than a note, and we can hear whether or not our airstream loses intensity when we add in the tongue.


I had double tonguing and the idea of short versus long on the brain after being inspired by Mimi Stillman's wonderful double tonguing videos! 

She perfectly outlines lots of exercises for getting faster and clarifying syllables. I especially find backwards double tonguing and "K" only to be very helpful!

What are your favorite ways to improve double-tonguing?