Beginner’s Corner #10
Paul R. Coats
I was wondering if you had any tips on
the proper way to tongue on an alto saxophone. My band director recently
told me that I throat tongue, and that this is a bad thing. I have been
trying to "tongue properly" but I just cannot seem to get it. Your
suggestions are deeply appreciated.
Kris: I did
exactly this when I first started. Fortunately for me, after only a few
months of playing this problem was corrected by an observant clinician.
The longer you play incorrectly, the more difficult it will be to correct
the problem later on. Some players are never able to overcome problems
that began as bad habits early in their playing careers.
If you were my
student, sitting right here for a lesson, this is what you would hear from
me. (OK, put your $20 back in your pocket, this is a freebie.)
People will say,
“Tongue with the tip of the tongue on the tip of the reed,” but that is
not correct. To do this, the tongue would have to move forward and back,
a very unnatural motion, right?
The tongue should
move up and down. You do not hit right on the very tip, but just below
the tip, maybe 1/8” or so. And you do not use the very tip of the tongue,
but the upper side.
Say the syllable “tahhh.”
Feel which part of the tongue touches your upper gum? Touch the reed with
exactly the same motion.
You do NOT need to
close the reed off all the way. The reed is touched with the tongue just
enough to stop it from vibrating. The air does not start at the same time
you lower the tongue away from the reed.
I hate the word
“attack.” The tongue does not “attack” the reed. The tongue moves down
off the reed, “releasing” the air and reed to vibrate and create a tone.
The air pressure should already be there, ready to blow through the gap
between the reed and mouthpiece.
To stop the note,
the air pressure, or breath, is stopped. Some say do not “clip”.
Clipping is to stop the tone with the tongue, but when you are playing
very fast, that is exactly what happens.
You must use the
tongue lightly. When playing very legato, in a solo manner, use a “dah”
syllable for a smoother articulation. When playing with an ensemble, and
when more precision is needed, a “tah” syllable.
Work to not make a
“thunk” sound (“slap tongue”). You must have smooth, clean articulation.
OK, let’s build
control and speed. Would you agree with me that a strong muscle is faster
and has more control than a weak muscle? Of course! So, let us build up
I am going to
suggest an exercise offered in a clinic handout by my good friend and
teacher, Santy Runyon.
“Embouchure Development” by Santy Runyon:
the tongue muscles, try the following exercise.
> > >
> > >
Lea - der, Lea - der,
Lea - der, etc.
“Start slowly, over exaggerating
each syllable. Set the metronome at a comfortable speed and increase the
tempo slightly each day. Exceptional speed can be achieved if you will
diligently practice this routine.”
I promise, this
Paul R. Coats