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How I Discovered + Released Tongue Tension for Effortless, Clear Articulation 

flutearticulation

While experimenting with articulation yesterday, I had a moment where I thought to notice how much effort my tongue was exerting. 

I played a few notes, removed the flute from my face, and looked in the mirror.

I was pulling my jaw down too forcefully, which was pulling my bottom lip back, and my tongue was being pulled up and back within my mouth.


I know that letting the tongue lie low in the mouth helps resonance, and I also know that clear, short articulation is possible with the tongue forward in the mouth.

 

My good intentions of creating space within the mouth - dropping the jaw - actually led me to increase tension and compromise space.

My tongue felt tight and heavy as well, but what was most surprising was how much I wanted to pull the tongue up and back!

 

This might not happen as drastically for everyone, as I may habitually try to bring to my tongue down when I bring the jaw down. When I do both of these things in a forceful way, I end up in a place that feels tight and difficult. 

 

I decided to have a look at how and why my tongue moves the way it does, and uncovered some important relationships between the tongue and jaw.


How Does The Tongue Move?

Take a look at how many muscles move the tongue in all directions. 

In simple terms, there are four extrinsic tongue muscles that move the tongue and connect outside the tongue, and four intrinsic tongue muscles located within the tongue that allow us to change the the shape of the tongue. 

 

The extrinsic muscles that move the tongue:

  • The styloglossus muscle retracts and elevates the tongue.

  • The palatoglossus muscle raises the back of the tongue and lowers the soft palate - required movement for swallowing. 

  • The genioglossus muscle lowers the tongue and brings it forward in the mouth.

  • The hyoglossus lowers the tongue and brings it back in the mouth.

(For a quick chart and simple visual of these muslces, click here! It's enlightening to know just where they are and what they do!)

Understanding that there's a muscle that's both pulling my tongue up and retracting it back gives me some insights about what I was noticing.

Gaining clarity about the relationships between the tongue muscles and their origins, insertions, and functions gave me direction in deciding how to use myself in a different way for different results.


Experiment + Observe Tongue Movement

Try pulling your jaw down far but keeping your lips together, actively aiming to create space inside the mouth:

  • Where is the tongue inside your mouth?
  • Watch the back of the tongue - does it become tense? Is it raised?
  • Does the tip of the tongue move backward?  
  • What happens to the bottom lip? How does this position affect embouchure?

Allow the jaw to become neutral and soft, simply hanging rather than pulling down:

  • What happens to the tongue? 
  • Where is the tip of the tongue naturally lying?
  • How does the back of the tongue feel?
  • What about the soft palate?
  • What happens to the lower lip?

 

Discovery

When I re-set and let my jaw release back up towards neutral, I immediately felt my tongue release down and forward toward the teeth.

Where I was before, I had to actively bring my tongue towards the teeth to get a short articulation. The tongue was heavy and effortful in this movement.

Because I was holding it in a pulled back and up position within my mouth, it was naturally wanting to hit the roof of the mouth further back, where we create a "D" syllable, rather than a "T" syllable at the alveolar ridge. (Where the upper teeth meet the hard palate.) This might be good for a legato articulation, but for short, light, and quick, it wasn't effortless.

From a neutral jaw and a naturally relaxed and forward tongue, I didn't have to exert so much effort in bringing my tongue forward, it was already there. My tongue and articulations could more easily become short, light and quick. Beyond that, my lower lip was more available, allowing me greater freedom to angle well.

 



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Improve Your Double Tonguing: Tips + Exercises [Video]

1. Air Stream and Support (0:20)

Without the instrument, get to know the feeling of support in the body. Use air sounds through the teeth to listen, and feel the natural response and engagement in the body.

2. Add Syllables to Your Air Sounds (1:09)

We often spend time practicing the double tonguing syllables away from the flute, however, using the through-the-teeth airstream exercise, we can multi-task. Airstream and double tonguing syllables should go hand-in-hand! 

Try the exercise of going from closed teeth and air sounds to a relaxed jaw and increased space in the mouth, and consciously keep the air speed fast. (1:24)

3. Breath Accents (2:12)

Improve single tongue articulations by prioritizing air speed and quality with breath accents. Once the attack feels clean and consistent, add in the T and the K syllables on top. This especially helps us understand the feeling of air when using the more difficult back-of-the-tongue syllables.

4. Double Tonguing Syllables: T-K vs. D-G (4:16)

Rather than sticking with just one or the other, I find it useful to understand the difference between both T-K-T-K and D-G-D-G, and practice them both. T-K tends to be more staccato and pointed, while D-G tends to be more smooth and legato. Having both under your belt gives you greater options in the context of a piece!

5. High Maintenance Notes: Low and Middle Register (5:07)

The low register and right hand middle notes tend to be the most prone to cracking if space in the mouth is not abundant. When we play a resonant long tone without articulating, we may be thinking of an "aww" shape in the mouth. Utilize that same "aww" feeling while double tonguing ("daww-gaww") to help these high maintenance notes!

6. Practicing For Longer, Faster Lines (5:58)

In the exercise linked above, use a single note to build up from breath accents to a long, fast line of double-tonguing. Holding the first note (as we did in the initial breath support exercise using only air), reminds us to get the speed going, and keep it the moment the tongue first moves.

7. 3-Stage Chromatic Scale Exercise (Beginning to Add Finger Movement) (7:03)

Use the notes of the chromatic scale to begin translating the single note exercises up the range. With each repetition, begin decreasing the number of articulations per note as you begin coordinating finger movement with tongue movement.

8. Coordinating Finger and Tongue Movement (7:53)

Try saying or whispering the syllables while moving the fingers slowly and precisely to encourage better coordination. This provides a chance to isolate the tongue and fingers without producing a flute sound, so we can really focus and uncover difficulties. Even if you're relatively coordinated, I always find this exercise enhances the connection between movements!

9. The First Note Influences The Rest! (8:31)

Use an expressive tenuto to translate the resonance of the first note of a run into the double-tongued notes that follow. Begin with a held note, and practice making the first note shorter and shorter without losing the sound quality.

10. 2-Octave Major Scales: Slur and Double-Tongue Back-to-Back (9:00)

Break up your 2 octave scales into one octave at a time, first slurred with a singing quality, then translating the feeling to double-tonguing. Try 2 articulations per note, and think of a smooth, legato sound that resembles your singing slurred sound.

11. Singing and Playing (10:56)

Using the first notes of Exercise No. 1 from Taffanel and Gaubert's Daily Exercises, sing and play, slur, and double-tongue in one breath to reap the benefits of a relaxed throat and naturally supported airstream!



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