Steve Goodson

Beginner’s Corner #10
By Paul R. Coats

Kris wrote:
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.


Paul replied:
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 that tongue!

I am going to suggest an exercise offered in a clinic handout by my good friend and teacher, Santy Runyon.

Excerpt from “Embouchure Development” by Santy Runyon:

“For 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 will help!

Saxophonically yours,
Paul R. Coats

Additional Reading

Want to Talk About It? Visit Our Discussion Groups on Facebook!

Steve Goodson's Nation of Music: Home of Saxgourmet Products