Buckner, Dr. Jim: Multiple Tonguing

When learning to double or triple tongue tongue, it is best to remember that we learn to crawl before we walk and eventually run.  The only difference between multiple and single tonguing is the use of the letter “K” to allow the front of the tongue to reset.  (After about two or three “T’s” the tongue begins to slow down.)  It is important to be mentally and physically relaxed throughout this entire process.  Think of multiple tonguing as essentially lyrical — smooth and connected. By using a sharp T and K you get a really good attack, or you can switch to a D and G for for something less powerful.

Multiple tonguing is primarily about the tongue with a healthy dose of air added.  It only makes sense to start with the tongue.  Some people find the double tongue (TK TK) easier to begin with and some find the triple tongue more natural.  (The triple tongue is TTK TTK, or TKT TKT, depending on which feels easiest.)  Experiment to find which pattern seems the most natural, and then practice saying it over and over until you can do many repetitions without getting tongue tied.  The pronunciation should be sharp.

The next step is to shut off the vocal cords:  simply whisper while you practice your pattern.  Occasionally you will hear someone make vocal noises while they play.  By whispering, this is prevented.  The amount of air used in whispering is insufficient for trumpet playing, so begin blowing a lot of air while practicing the tonguing.

When you are comfortable with these steps it is time to pick up the trumpet.  No doubt you will want to see how fast you can go, and a little practice like that is okay, but it is probably not the most efficient use of your time.  At this point it is necessary to develop a good, clear “K.”  Susan Slaughter, first trumpet with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, helped me a great deal with this.  It is necessary to practice slowly, which none of us really enjoy, but it does get the job done quickly.  Practice the K’s with an extremely heavy accent.  Shift the pattern around to provide more practice and prevent boredom.  For example with double tonguing, you can use these patterns:

Let the air do most of the work and play the “K” about five times louder than the “T.”  While this may sound pretty bad at first, the tongue begins to learn what it has to do to get a good, sharp attack.  Don’t be concerned if it takes a while for this to happen.  Once you learn what to do, all that is left is to learn to do it fast and with endurance.

Change rhythms around, again for variety.  For example, change



Stay with the ultra-slow tempo until the “K’s” develop a sharp attack.  Use a metronome to slowly add speed without sacrificing any clarity in the attack.

One of the most important aspects of multiple tonguing is sheer repetition.  Think how many tens and hundreds of thousands of “T’s” you have used and how few “K’s.”  Lack of familiarity is one of the biggest reasons multiple tonguing feels awkward and doen’t sound good.

A terrific idea is to alternate single and multiple tongue.  Play a measure single tongue and immediately repeat it with the double or triple tongue.  Be sure that the single tongue sounds sharp and precise and let that be the role model for the multiple tongue.  It can be rather embarrassing to hear how bad the multiple tongue is compared to the single tongue, and that is exactly what you want.  Soon the difference will begin to diminish, and eventually only you will know if you are single or multiple tonguing.

Many conductors have a knack for conducting at a tempo that is too fast for single tonguing and too slow for many people to multiple tongue.  By starting out with a very slow speed, you will not have a gap.  Instead, you will have a large range of tempo whee you can use either style of tonguing.  As the tempo increases for the single tongue we need to lighten up to attain the necessary speed.  If we need to play heavy, we can use the multiple tongue at the single tongue speed.

When we shift from the single tongue to the double or triple tongue, the effort decreases and we need to relax more.  Think of a car shifting gears.  When the car shifts, the engine speed drops, but the speed of the car remains the same.

A few other things that can help with multiple tonguing:

Keep the corners firm.

Keep the air stream long – blow through the notes with continuous air.  Glue the notes together with your air.

Remember that you already know how to make the “T.”  Only fifty percent of double tonguing or one third of triple tonguing should ever sound
bad.  Keep the “T” sharp!

Use the tip of the tongue — keep it light and relaxed.  Think about the vowel “Ah” or “Oh,” both of which relax the tongue, instead of the “T” and
“K,” both of which tend to stiffen the tongue.

There are two particular triple tongue passages where the “K” in the middle is more effective than at the end:

Rising arpeggios:

Before rests:

The “K” is best at the end of triple tonguing if there is a leap between the first two pitches:

 When you can multiple tongue repeated notes quite well, go on to scale passages.  Don’t be surprised if you feel like you are starting over again.  The challenge increases sharply, but sheer repetition guided by the desire for clear attacks will produce great results.

Set aside a certain amount of time each day, and faithfully practice your multiple tonguing.  The more you practice each day, the sooner you will have a useable skill.  Be alert, however, for the point of diminishing return where your brain loses concentration or the tongue simply is too tired.  Rest for a while or wait until the following day.  Soon you will be as good as anyone!