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I wrote some ideas about tonguing and double tonguing in an email for two good amateur bassoon players who asked me how I did it. That email has been forwarded on to others so I thought I would put this on my site now so I can amend it rather than have the original email wander off into cyberspace with a life of its own. None of these ideas are new and maybe lots of people know these things already. But in the interest of better bassoon playing I wanted to share this:

There are some more references and sources in the next item below this entry.

Tonguing thoughts:

1. The further the tongue has to move the less chance you have of going fast.

2. If there is jaw movement in producing a note then there is no way you will be able to tongue fast. Sometimes this jaw movement is related to a reed length and crook set up that is slightly too flat needing more embouchure tension than necessary. Try playing a C in the stave as normal, then relax and open the throat. If it goes horribly flat then add more air support and see if you can get it back to pitch WITHOUT biting. If so then use this new found "support" in the exercises below. If not (and it's still flat with an open throat and relaxed embouchure) then it's worth researching further how you are producing notes (i.e. are you having to bite to keep the bassoon in tune even WITH air support). This is easier to correct in a lesson situation than by me writing a long explanation, but it is crucial to fast tonguing as well as to a nice resonant open bassoon sound. If you need to play for five or six hours a day regularly there is no chance of doing this with a squeezing type of embouchure!

3. Double tonguing is not possible without sufficient air support to make the notes work with a kuh.

4. A responsive reed is also key as the kuh has to produce a note easily.

5. Most people form a short staccato by tah then put the tongue BACK on the reed. This is fine for slower staccato where the comic dry staccato is needed but for just "separated" notes in the classical repertoire this is too short and often ugly. The note is started with the AIR and the tongue is just the valve to let the air through. The tongue should only lightly touch the reed to start the note and the next movement will be to start the NEXT note (cutting out half the effort many make in putting the tongue back on to STOP the note!!).

6. Fast tonguing is done by thinking LEGATO and lots of air and minute movement of the tongue.

The less movement the better.

Faster Single Tonguing:

A.Stand in front of the mirror and practice starting notes forte. From bottom G up to tenor C is fine as below this and above this involves other problems. See if you can start these notes with NO jaw movement - set the embouchure first and have nothing move when you start the note Tah... Ping pong ball on top of an air stream. toothpaste squeezing out of a tube - whatever analogy gets you thinking about breath support all the way from the tummy up. The "diaphragm" can't PUSH - it's a muscle that you use to pull the air in FAST. It's the rib cage, tummy muscles etc. that are involved in KEEPING the support whilst you breathe out slowly. Once you have really found this you will increase your dynamic range a great deal. If you are really putting the air through in volume you will feel the whole instrument vibrate under your fingers. The embouchre doesn't need to be tight - just support around the reed.

B. Try starting notes with the air alone and no tongue. A kick from the diaphragm (read stomach muscles really but we are so used to talking about the diaphragm as doing the work!). It will usually sound like a sick cow but do a few minutes of easy scales slowly "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa".

It gives you an idea of how much support you need to make the note speak without the tongue.

C. With that SAME sensation of support now introduce the Tah very lightly. Once you find how little you have to move the tongue (and keep the JAW STILL) you will be able to tongue single note semi quavers up to around 120 bpm no problem. Adding moving the fingers for an upward scale will often show it's the co-ordination of the fingers and tongue at fault and not the speed of the tongue! You can overcome this by practicing a fast scale in PAIRS (half the tongue). You will probably develop your own exercises.

Double Tonguing.

A, B above apply here too. Then

E. Try starting notes with the KAH - with at least the same air support as above if not slightly MORE!!

F. Now move onto tah kah tah kah - you can practice this away from the bassoon anywhere you like! Just make sure you keep the mouth still, move the tongue a minute distance. No jaw up and down. Embouchure relaxed but firm and a HUGE amount of air support.

Rather than trying to double tongue continuously it's better to practice two semi quaver then quaver rhythms - the fifth Weisenborn Study in book two (with da da daah da da daah rhythm is great for this.

If tah kah is too aggressive then dah gah may give you a better idea - it is NOT a big TAAAH KAAAAH - it's a small movement with lots of air. Experiment with different vowels (tuu kuu etc) until you find one that has the minimum tongue and embouchure movement but starts the notes cleanly.

Note that in double tonguing the throat position is a little more closed than with single tonguing. This is needed to get kah to speak. But keep everything relaxed. And did I mention SUPPORT the sound? Air column is everything.

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Tonguing - other sources

I put up the above article on tonguing some time ago and see that this is one of the subjects that is a popular search in Google! I thought it time to start to compile other sources of help on tonguing and double tonguing on the bassoon as this is a hot subject.

www.morellibassoon.com/cybermasterclass.html has a detailed approach from one of the world's top bassoon players, Frank Morelli.

Also the two orchestral excerpt CDs on Summit(Classical) both offer fantastic (and different) advice. David McGill is the first bassoon from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and previously from the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra) and presents Volume 1. He does not double tongue and so offers good advice on fast single tonguing and how to maintain this.

Chris Millard was the first bassoon in the Vanouver Symphony Orchestra for years (now in Toronto with the NAC Orchestra as well as presenting podcasts on Classical music that you can find on iTunes) presents Volume Two. He has great advice on double tonguing.

Volume 1 can be previewed on www.emusic.com and both are available from many CD sites. Just google for the best price! Emusic also has a good selection of Chris Millard's solo recordings.