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The following ideas will help you to develop good tonguing:
  • Tonguing is closely linked with breath support. Good breath support will allow you to develop quick, light tonguing.
  • In general, the tongue is used to start the tone but not to stop it. The tone is stopped by stopping the flow of air.
  • To start the tone, the motion is not striking the reed with the tongue, but releasing the reed by moving the tongue away from the reed.
  • To prepare for the initial tone, rest the tongue on the reed and bring the supported air up to the tongue. To start the tone, release the tongue at the same instant that you blow the air into the horn.
  • For notes after the starting tone, the motion of tonguing is the same motion as used when saying the syllable "tah" without the mouthpiece in your mouth. The same point on the tongue that touches the roof of your mouth when saying "tah" is the point where you contact the reed.
  • The tongue touches the reed just beyond the reed-tip, not at the tip.
  • For softer attacks, the syllable "doo" or "dah" may be used.
  • For quicker tonguing, think of bouncing the tongue off the reed.
  • Think of the tongue stopping the vibration of the reed, not the flow of air.
  • Work to minimize chin movement when tonguing. You want to disrupt the embouchure as little as possible.
  • In practicing tonguing, aim for consistency. Being able to repeat the same tongue motion will allow you to refine the motion and tongue more cleanly.

Tonguing Exercises

These exercises will develop tonguing coordination.
  • To get the feel for ending the tone with your breath and not your tongue, practice singing a sustained note and ending the note by stopping the air. The air is stopped at the stomach, not by closing the throat. Repeat this exercise with the clarinet, keeping the same feeling at the end of the note.
  • Beginning at the middle of your horn, practice starting notes:
    • Rest the tongue on the reed as described above.
    • Bring the supported air to just behind the tongue.
    • Release the tongue and blow into the horn.
    • By practicing this, you will learn to start the note without an explosive attack (releasing the tongue too late) and without a breathy start (releasing the tongue too soon).
    • Repeat this exercise, moving to the upper and lower ranges of the instrument.
  • For agility, practice scale passages, varying the articulation. For example, for an eighth-note pattern:
    • Tongue all notes
    • Slur in groups of four
    • Slur two, tongue two / Tongue two, slur two
    • Slur three, tongue one / Tongue one, slur three
    • Tongue the note on the upbeat, slur on the downbeat
  • To develop agility in the tongue muscle:
    • Practice tongue-twisters, especially ones using the consonants "t" and "d". (Tie twine to three tree twigs. More Here.)
    • Practice reading aloud. This exercises your articulation as well as your expressiveness.

©2014 Brad Johnson
(206) 525-2329