Tonguing is one of the most difficult subjects to teach because you can't see inside someone's mouth, you kind of have to feel around with your tongue and figure out what to do and where your tongue should be, that is, where to hit the reed and with which part of your tongue.
Today I am going to show you exactly how to tongue, exactly where your tongue should be, and exactly how to tongue faster on saxophone.
There's a lot of moving parts and there is a lot of terrible information out there that you hear from both professional saxophone players and professional teachers.
Bad information exacerbates the problem.
When this article is over, I promise that you'll know where your tongue should be, where it should hit the reed and why.
Hold me to it.
The Fastest, Most Reliable Saxophone Tongue Position
Okay, to get started let's see where your tongue should be.
#1 — Where Your Tongue Should Be
Myth #1 — The Tip of Your Tongue Should Hit the Tip of the Reed
You often hear that the tip of your tongue should hit the tip of your reed.
That is completely incorrect.
Hitting the tip of the reed with the tip of your tongue is not a good way to stop air. That does not work at all. It's a completely unreliable as far as technique goes.
Myth #2 — The Tip of Your Tongue Should Hit Slightly Below the Tip of the Reed
The next thing you hear is that the tip of your tongue hit slightly below the tip of your reed and close it off.
That, also, is not correct.
You can tongue quickly and consistently using either of these approaches. You will notice this immediately you start playing faster.
You can tell that your tongue is fighting to do it.
The first approach is the probably the worst because on top of being hard and inconsistent, it completely kills you tone.
What Part of Your Tongue Should Hit the Reed?
So, what part of your tongue should hit the reed?
The answer is the upper middle part of the anterior of your tongue—where you find filiform papilla, never the apex. The tip or apex of your tongue goes completely down, and the upper middle part of the anterior comes up and hits the reed.
That's a little, right?
Here's the explanation:
If you put your tongue, feel around in your mouth, behind your lower front teeth, you'll feel a little bump. The tip of your tongue goes in the little nook right after the little bump behind your lower teeth.
That's where the tip of your tongue goes and that's where it stays and pivots from.
The middle part of the anterior of your tongue is what comes up and down to hit the tip of the reed.
So you are moving the middle part of your tongue up or down without lifting the tip from behind your lower front teeth, not front to back.
This is the easiest, most consistent way to control tongue movement. It is the fastets way to tongue on saxophone.
The tip of your tongue goes in the nook and stays there, the middle of your tongue comes up and hits the reed.
When you start playing faster, you will be able to tongue super fast using this technique, easily too.
It's a really easy movement with your tongue and it doesn't block your tone so it comes out cleaner and bigger. You can do it all day long and you can do it really fast.
The reason it sound bigger and cleaner is because keeping your tongue lower opens up your throat and keeps it that way, and the more open your throat is the bigger and better your tone.
And it becomes so much easier to control our airflow with our tongue.
Like when you are playing low, you want your tongue in the O position so the notes come out, this is hard to do is you cannot control airflow with your tongue properly.
If your tongue is up, you cannot get into the O position to play low notes.
If you are wondering why you cannot get your low notes out, it's probably because yor are tounging the wrong way.
The same thing with high notes, when you are playing high notes, your tongue should be in the E position.
If your tongue is already in a high position, you can't get your tongue higher and still hit the bottom of your reed properly.
Try all three ways and see the gigantic difference.
Getting your tongue in the correct position, and togueing correctly, will make your tone bigger and fatter and your notes cleaner and faster.
Now you know how to tongue faster on your saxophone.
Saxophone Articulation or Tonguing Techniques (The 'Art of Tounging')
Now, completely from tongue positioning, as you might suspect, there are a couple of different types of tounging.
The two most potent forms of saxophone articulation are T and D tounging. Let's look at those.
Technique #1 — T tounging or Slap tounging (Staccato)
The reason it's called T tounging is because the way you build up air being your tongue is similar to when you go to vocalize the letter T with your mouth.
This build up of air on stopping is what makes the sound explode at the beginning of the letter T sound.
When doing the T tounging on the reed, we have to close the reed off completely by blocking it off with the tongue, air pressure build up and then we release that and air comes through springing the reed into life witth an aggressive punch.
We still keep the correct tongue positioning we learned earlier,the only thing that changes is the pressure we apply to the reed.
We apply more pressure to the reed to close it off completely and build up pressure either to cut off a note or to explode a note at the start.
When you cut off the note, you get a short clipped lovely sound, a bit like putting a soft spice in your food. A really lovely sound to put into your playing.
This is a staccato technique. You should hear the airflow stopping completely and starting when you are playing the notes.
Sometimes you'll hear people talk of tounging a note or giving it a beginning really, this is the technique they are referring to.
Technique #2 — D tounging or Flat tounging (Legato)
When playing scales, not staccato, but articulated, it's important to keep the airflow constant.
Again, the reason it's called a D sound is because when you got to vocalize the letter D, you are just very quickly touching the toungue to the roof of your mouth.
When doing the D tounging on the reed, we are not actually closing the reed. All we are doing is applying just enough pressure to touch the reed to the point where it can't vibrate.
Air still passes through our mouthpiece, so it doesn't build up for the punch, but the reed can't vibrate because we are dumpening it.
This particular technique is used to give you better articulation on fast playing. You don't get the aggressive punch but, in turn, you are able to play faster with better articulation.
This is a fast tonguing, or legato technique. The tongue now stops and starts the reed not the airflow.
You should hear the airflow still continuing and the notes starting and stopping.
The best way to get a feel of the difference between the two is to try them on your saxophone.
With very little contact with the reed, D tounging can bleed over into what might more accurately be considered half-tounging a note. I'm not sure there is a technical term for this.
This half-tounging can kind of emulate what trumpet player call doodle tounging.
Practice trying to build up air at the beginning or a note, trying to cut of a note, and then trying to close the reed with as little pressure as fast as possible to get a hang of these two techniques.
In a nutshell, you use the T tounging, or the explosive kind, when you want to a big string accent on notes but the rest of the time you just want to use the more controlled D tounging.
Bonus Technique — Slap-Tongue Attack (Staccato)
There is another tonguing technique called slap-tongue.
Here you smack out a low note and then not follow through with the air. It's kind of a tricky technique but it's one of things like riding a bicyle, once you've got it, you've got it but it's tricky to get there.
It's almost like heavily articulating a low note but not following through. So it's really just a pocket of air happening in your mouth.
That's a slap tongue attack which is just another of the many techniques of articulation.
The 3 Essential Tips for Tonguing on Saxophone
Next thing I want to do is take you through some tips you can when tounging your saxophone because tounging is such an important part of getting a huge, fat sound on your saxophone.
Tip #1 — Use the Fat Part of Your Tongue
The first tip I want you talk about is fat. The secret is actually right there in the word fat, if you want to get a fat sound you have to use the fat part of your tongue.
Simple enough, right?
Using the fat part of your tongue is how you get the big fat sound on saxophone.
You'll often here of single vs. double or T vs. D tounging saxophone techniques.
What I want you to experiment with is using different parts of your tongue to see what sort of sound you can get.
The technique covered in the earlier section should get you going.
Tip #2 — Keep a lot of Space in Your Mouth
If you combine using the fat, fleshy part of your tongue with keeping a lot of space in your mouth, you can get some huge sounds to come out of your horn.
And it doesn't even matter what your reed is or what your mouthpiece is, this works on any setup. It's all about what's happening in your mouth.
Tip #3 — Keep Only What Sounds Good to You
While trying to create as much space in the mouth as possible, you have to experiment. Experiment with different amounts of tongue in the mouthpiece, taking different amounts of tongue off the reed, all of these stuff.
The only things you really keep doing are the things that sound good to you.