Tips on Doubling – Extended Flute Techniques, by Chris Vadala
November 6, 2014 (No Comments) by Peter Westbrook
Chris Vadala

Chris Vadala

Editor’s note: Woodwind artist Chris Vadala is currently Director of Jazz Studies and Saxophone Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. See: As director of various large jazz ensembles, both at Maryland and around the US as part of his work as a Selmer clinician, Chris has, for many years, been very involved with training woodwind performers, which almost invariably involves doubling. As he puts it in his 1991 publication Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers (Dorn Publications, 1991), “To be a woodwind artist in this day and age is to be a doubler.”

Chris will be helping us at Flute Journal to develop a regular column on woodwind doubling issues and techniques. He begins by reproducing some of the columns he wrote for the now-defunct publication Saxophone Journal. The article below, entitled “Extended Flute Techniques,” appeard in the March/April 1993 edition:

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It wasn’t that long ago that I was asked to perform a soundtrack for a current TV series. Some of the demands on me and the other musicians on the session were to execute multiphonics, timbre changes, slap-tonguing, and flutter tonguing. To perform these techniques, knowledge beyond traditional concepts is essential for many of us, not matter what style or medium we perform in. As performers and as educators, it is imperative that we keep up with current performance practice demands.

Recent materials, such as Hello Mr. Sax by Jean-Marie Londeix (Leduc) and The Other Flute by Robert Dick (Oxford University Press), are terrific references for such a variety of advanced concepts, although there are sources on specific subjects, such as multiphonics, circular or rotary breathing, multiple tonguing, and so on. The purpose of this column is not to cover all or any of these in great detail, but to present a synopsis of frequently-used techniques required of all flute doublers.

Many of the advanced techniques, including those I’ve mentioned, are common to sax and flute playing. Despite the fact that tone productions mechanics vary between saxophone and flute, the approach to many of these is produced in a similar manner. However, some special techniques are unique to the flautist, such as whisper or whistle-tones, and glissandi using open holes and key rims; certain techniques that have been expected of flautists, i.e., multiple tonguing, are now something many saxophonists deem necessary to become proficient. As doublers, we may need to draw upon some of these techniques form time to time, therefore, I’ll begin coverage with a few of the more widely used tonguing effects.

Articulations and Tonguing Techniques

Speaking in generalities, tonguing techniques on the flute differ form saxophone and clarinet since there is no reed to set in motion. Instead of the tip or the tongue striking near the tip of the reed, the most common placement of the tip of the tongue for flautists close to the gumline. The pressure is built up with diaphragmatic support and the air is released into the embouchure hold by moving the tongue away as it pronounces syllables such as “ta,” “tu”, “da,” “du,” etc. More advanced performers will notice a difference in these attacks by using a variety of syllables. The beginning of the next note is usually the end of the former note, in a series of articulated notes. Arguably, the tongue should not stop the tone unless a certain sound or effect is desired.

As with all woodwind playing concepts, the throat must remain unrestricted, allowing for an uninhibited stream of air support. Most flute players prefer a higher tongue position near the edge of the upper teeth for softer dynamic levels and higher pitches, while using a lower tongue position for louder dynamics and lower pitches.

A rapid single-tongue technique needs to be developed first of all. Once this vital single-tongue technique has been mastered, it should be supplemented with compound articulations, like multiple tonguing, to satisfy all technical demands. I am sure that all doublers will agree that it is easier to achieve quick multiple tonguing results on the flute than on the saxophone or clarinet primarily due to the fact that a large portion of the mouth is not occupied by a mouthpiece and there is no reed that has to be set in motion. However, this is still an advanced technique that has to be practised diligently and mastered; you can’t wish for it to happen overnight! This technique may be difficult for some to master since tension or pressure can build up and mild, temporary paralysis can develop at an accelerated tempo. In the initial stages, you can expect tongue fatigue, so practice in intervals of five minutes or so. The key is to relax the tongue while maintaining a steady and continuous air stream. Use some slurs in your developmental exercises to give the tongue a brief rest. For example, play sixteenth note scales or melodic passages in common time, slurring the first two notes, and staccato tongue the next tow notes in a continuing pattern.

Double tonguing, using familiar syllable combinations, such as ta-ku, tu-ku, d-ga, doo-g, tik-ki, and the like, is effected by alternating a single-tongued attack using the tongue with a second syllable produced by the back of the tongue and a stable air pressure. The alternation of two syllable choices allows the tongue to move more rapidly than most single-tonguers. It is beneficial to practice these combinations on repeated sets of fast sixteenth notes and alternate these repeated notes with interval patterns. This establishes good finger and tongue coordination.

Just as we may begin multiple tonguing practice on the saxophone mouthpiece alone, try using the flute head joint for starters. I can still hear my brother practicing preliminary double tonguing exercises on his trumpet mouthpiece while walking around the house or watching a ball game on television! Until perfected, the second syllable is generally a bit weaker than the first. Eventually it is desirable to get both syllables dynamically and rhythmically even, so that any difference is virtually imperceptible. Try reversing syllables (i.e., “ka-ta”) to help achieve evenness and parity. Double tonguing is a grouping of twos (duplet), triple tonguing is needed for triplet figures. Some woodwind and brass performers prefer to employ the same syllable choices and alternate them in a pattern, such as “ta-ka-ka-ta” “do-goo-do,” while others find greater success in repeating the first syllable before moving on to the second,or even using the two syllable pattern continuously with an accent shift in each motif. Triple tonguing, similar to double tonguing, can be used on repeated notes or changing notes as well as in patterns of equal or unequal rhythms. More intense air pressure is needed on rapidly repeated notes in order to maintain the preferred dynamic level. Remember that evenness and accuracy must come before speed, although some teachers instruct that the second syllable is merely a reflex action and multiple tonguing should be practiced in short , quick episodes. As always, see what works best for you.

Chris-Vadala-1Chris Vadala is a member of the editorial board of Flute Journal. One of the country’s foremost woodwind artists, Chris has appeared on more than 100 recordings to date, as well as innumerable studio sessions, performing on all the saxophones, flutes, and clarinets. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music , Mr. Vadala’s performance and recording career includes a lengthy tenure with the award-winning Chuck Mangione Quartet, in addition to work with many leading jazz and popular artists, resulting in performing credits on five gold and two platinum albums, plus two Grammy, one Emmy, one AGVA and one Golden Globe Award. See:



For more information on his book Improve Your Doubling go to:

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