Double Tonguing - Part 1

I have practiced double tonguing for about two years. I think that one could probably learn how to do it in less than six months of diligent and daily practice, but I took a few breaks of several months to prepare for competitions, so I have not actually practiced it daily for two years. Double tonguing is a difficult skill to learn for two reasons. The first is that all the basic aspects of clarinet technique must function well in order to double tongue. The corners of the embouchure must be very strong, the air stream must be very fast and focused, and the voicing and direction of the air inside the mouth is crucial (especially when articulating above the break). If you have a day in which your air support just is not good, it is probably not even worth practicing double tonguing that day. The second reason double tonguing is difficult is that it sounds bad for quite a long time while you are learning. It can be a bit demoralizing to be an otherwise great clarinetist and yet sound like a beginner when you are practicing double tonguing, but persevere and it will get better over time!

There are a number of steps in learning to double tongue. It is important to stay disciplined and master each step before moving to the next one. This will avoid a lot of frustration. I have listed a series of steps below and through the next several blog posts, I will write in greater detail about each one.

 

1.      Learning the second syllable (‘goo’ or ‘koo’)

2.      Alternating first and second syllable (‘doo-goo,’ ‘too-koo,’ etc)

3.      Double tonguing above the break

4.      Playing scales

5.      Playing arpeggios

6.      Starting ‘cold’

7.      Playing repertoire

8.      The Altissimo register

 

This post deals with learning the second syllable. This second syllable can be a ‘goo’ or a ‘koo.’ Most people find ‘koo’ easiest in the beginning, because it provides a stronger articulation. First practice without the clarinet. Simply blow air and articulate a steady stream of ‘koo’ quarter notes at 60 on the metronome. If this is easy,  articulate eighth notes.  You do not need to use your vocal chords and actually say 'koo' - merely articulating the 'k' sound with your tongue is enough.

The next step is to take the clarinet and play an open G (or lower, don’t try anything above the break just yet). Do the same thing you were doing before and articulate a single ‘koo.’ It will usually take a lot of effort and it will feel like your tongue is making a huge movement in your mouth. Next, articulate eighth notes at quarter note=60 with only ‘koo’s. If you practice this daily for 5-10 minutes, the second syllable will become stronger, which means that the movement of the tongue in the mouth will become smaller and easier to control.

As the movement of the tongue when saying ‘koo’ becomes smaller, try to make the articulation of this syllable as close to the front of the mouth as possible. When you say ‘koo’ you can articulate the ‘k’ at the back of the mouth or more towards the front if you pronounce it more like ‘keu’ or the letter ‘q.’ The closer the second syllable is to the front of the mouth the easier it will be move on to step 2 – Alternating the first and second syllable.

 

Some important things to consider:

1.      Don’t stop practicing your single tongue just because you are now practicing double tonguing. Double tonguing is a supplement, not a replacement, to your existing skills. Your single tongue will get worse if you only do double tonguing, but if you practice both daily, you can have great single- and double articulation.

2.      Practice this early in the day, when you are warming up. I used to practice double tonguing after I had practiced everything else that I thought was more important, but then I would only work on it when I was tired, if at all.

3.      Don’t leak air from the embouchure. Double tonguing requires really strong corners of the embouchure. Practice without leaking air from the beginning, and you won’t have problems with leaking air later.

4.      Practice slowly for now. Just work on strengthening the muscle involved in articulating the second syllable. Try to make the articulation smooth and even, but strong (as if there were accents and tenutos on the notes you are articulating).