In my previous blog I wrote about one approach to basic or default articulation. For this post, I thought I would look at another form of tonguing that is also quite common and useful, namely tonguing between the lips.

Tonguing between the lips produces a very precise and clear beginning to a note and is the articulation method favoured by the Suzuki method of learning, analogous to spitting a grain of rice.

To achieve this articulation, place the tip of the tongue on the inside lower edge of the upper lip. The tongue will act like a gentle plug in the aperture. Once your tongue is in place quickly draw it back into your mouth releasing the air. Try this with a grain of rice by placing one grain of rice on your tongue, put your tongue into position and literally spit the grain of rice out of your mouth.

This method of articulation is beautifully clear and  can work very well for situations such as the opening B of the Faure Fantasie.

I’m quite slow at repeating notes with this method but probably I just need to practise it more. Some players even choose to use this articulation for the first note after each breath or rest. It’s certainly a lovely clear way to start a note and worth adding to your repertoire of articulation.

Impressive articulation can bring a lot of interest, variety and clarity into your playing so it is worth incorporating articulation practice into your daily practice routine. This may be as part of your tone development exercises, your technical practice or heightened awareness of your articulation in your studies and repertoire.

A good place to begin is to ensure that your basic or default articulation is serving you well. There are many different ways to articulate but my preferred first or default option is to use the tongue just behind the top teeth as in saying ti or tee. This is the first style of articulation that I teach my new students. There are other approaches and they are all valid. The thing to always ask yourself is, ‘how does it sound?’

To explore this type of articulation, go on a journey of discovery within your mouth. Place your tongue on the bottom, inside edge of your upper front teeth. With your tongue, travel up the inside of these teeth and find the spot where your teeth stop and your gum begins. Continue into your mouth along the flat surface behind your teeth, known as the alveolar ridge. Move further into your mouth and you will feel the curve up into the palette or roof of your mouth.

Now that you have a basic geography of your mouth in place, say ‘ti’ a few times and notice where your tongue is touching within your mouth. For most people, but not all, it is usually behind the top teeth on the alveolar ridge. This is an effective place to articulate from. There a few points you can think about when using your tongue in this manner:

Where on the alveolar ridge is your tongue striking?

Which part of your tongue are you using?

How firmly is your tongue pressing into the ridge?

What movement is your tongue making? Up and down or forward and back?

For a beautifully clear articulation I aim to use just the tip of my tongue and place it quite close behind the top teeth, almost at the point where the teeth and gum meet. The action that seems to work well is to draw the tongue into the mouth as opposed to a strong up and down action. I also use as little effort with my tongue as possible, just lightly tipping the alveolar ridge.

  • Tip of the tongue
    • Just behind the top teeth
    • Back and forth like a snake’s tongue
    • Imagine the roof of your mouth is super hot. You have to touch it but you don’t want to stay there too long.
    • Use the tongue lightly, like a feather

There are two important points to remember when articulating:

  • The tongue makes zero sound on the flute. It does not generate the note but merely acts as a valve to release the air so be gentle but precise
  • The tongue is only involved in the beginning of a note, not the end. Your tongue only returns to the roof of your mouth in time for the subsequent note and doesn’t flick back up to stop the note.

Try some of these ideas out on some scales or simple exercises. Trevor Wye’s third book, Articulation, in his Practice Books For The Flute has plenty of exercises to work on. Many simple studies are excellent such as Andersen’s 24 Studies, op 33 No. 2 or some of the 24 Little Melodic Studies by Moyse. For the younger player 76 Graded Studies For Flute, Book One, has many options to explore articulation as well.

As I stated earlier, there are many approaches to articulation that are valid. By listening carefully and noticing how you are articulating, you will be able to create a whole new layer of interest into your playing which I think you will find is well worth the effort.