If you’ve been playing flute for more than a couple of years, or if there’s a budding flautist in your life, chances are you’re starting to come across passages in your practicing with a lot of notes that need to be played quickly. Perhaps you’ve attempted them at tempo, only to realize your tongue just isn’t going to move that quickly! What’s the solution? Double tonguing! Double tonguing is an essential skill for intermediate flute players to learn, and although it can feel awkward and challenging at first, it really does make playing fast passages so much easier once you’ve mastered it.

Dr. Cate lists three essential components to make double-tonguing successful: air, embouchure, and the tonguing itself.
Air: “how you use your air is probably the most important part of effective double and triple tonguing. If you don’t blow sufficient or fast moving enough air, all the tricky tonguing in the world will be worth nothing if not supported by a fast, controlled airstream.” Often, as students are learning this skill, they become very tense in body and sound, which restricts their air flow. Improper technique or tightness in the throat will further cut off the air flow, resulting in a weak sound or the fingers not lining up properly with the notes. The solution is counterintuitive: relax (I know, easier said than done), open your throat, keep the tongue light, and push more air through the instrument.

Embochure/articulation: a well-formed aperture is essential to good double-tonguing, Dr. Cate says. Tonguing too hard or a weak embouchure will lead to an unfocused sound and make double-tonguing much more difficult. Again, the solution is to do less with regards to the tongue, not more. Relaxing is key!

The actual tonguing process: there are several syllables that can be used when double-tonguing, and most of them are correct, so it’s more about finding what works and responds best to your playing and embouchure. For me personally, I use something between a “T-K” and a “D-G”–a true “K” is too harsh and cuts my sound off too much, and a “G” feels too “mushy.” Oh, and did I mention…relax!! Finally, Doctor Flute has a very detailed article on the double tonguing process and some helpful exercises here. Happy practicing!