In this guide, we are going to talk about double tonguing — what it is, how to do itand how to apply it in your music.
In the previous guide we looked at single tonguing on the trumpet. Before jumping into this guide, you might want to have a look at that if you haven’t. The “t” and “d” tonguing detailed in that guide makes up one half of double tonguing.
The point of the double tonguing is to be able to play at faster tempos that single tonguing. As fast as you can single tongue, if you double tongue, you’ll be able to double tongue twice as fast.
You can have a pretty fast single tongue but it’s never going to be as quite as fast as a double tongue.
Let’s dive right into the technique.
What is double tonguing?
In single tonguing, we used the front of our tongue to articulate notes.
The syllables we looked at that come from the front of our tongues were typically “t” and “d” syllables. Examples of these were “ta”, “ti”, “to”, “da”, “do” etc.
Double tonguing is training the back end of your tongue to articulate the notes on your instrument together with the front end.
There are syllables that can come from the back end of the tongue typically “k” or “g” syllables as we’ll see shortly. Examples of these might be “ka”, “ki”, “ko”, “ga”, “gi” etc.
The syllables at the back of the tongue is where the back end of double tonguing comes from.
When we put the front end with the back end that’s when we actually get the double tonguing. You’ve got to use them both to get double tonguing — otherwise it’s just back tonguing.
How to double tongue the trumpet with speed and clarity
You’ll remember from the guide on single tonguing that there are two different ways to articulate. The first is using the syllables “ta” or “da”, and the second is using the syllables “ka” or"ga”.
We’re now going to focus on that “k” consonant tonguing, known as the K tonguing because it has some added benefits for other areas of our playing.
K or “ka” tonguing
First, we use “k” tonguing in multiple articulation—double and triple tonguing, so we want that “k” to be as similar to the “t” as possible.
If we just practice the “k” tonguing by itself, it will help improve that quality of articulation. You can just do scales, and very easy patterns disregarding speed completely.
Working on just “k” tonguing has another benefit beside helping our double articulation, it’s going to help strengthen our tongue.
This is very important because as we go into the upper register our tongue rises.
If your tongue is not strong enough as we play higher and louder, your tongue is going to want to drop because it isn’t strong enough to stay in an arched position.
Working on just “k” tonguing will help strengthen the tongue to stay in that “e” position in the upper register.
If you do your “k” tonguing exercises for 5 minutes, I guarantee you that your tongue is going to be tired. That means that your working that muscle.
Each day, work more and more on improving that “k” tonguing because it will strengthen the tongue while also improving the quality of articulation.
I also encourage you to work on this just on air — no lips or buzzing, just working on getting that tongue in and out of the way as quickly as possible.
And then you should proceed to find other material or exercises to use just that “k”.
Of course, there are many syllables you can use for double tonguing, but we’ll look the the most common “ta-ka-takataka…”. But exactly the same concept applies to, say, “da-ga-da-ga-da-ga…”.
“T” or “ta” tonguing with “k” or “ka” tonguing — “ta-ka” double tonguing
Here’s the thing, we use the front end of our tongue all the time, and so it’s really strong.
There are two steps we need to follow here, we need to do here is train the back end of our tongue, and then we need to lock down the co-ordination of the front and back of our tongue.
Double tonguing exercises come in handy for both of these steps. There are some exercises that I will show you here that will help with that.
Double tonguing exercise
You’ll need a metronome for this exercise. Here are the steps you need to follow for this exercise:
- Start the metronome at a fairly slow tempo, say, 100 bpms.
- Voice these syllables at every click (keep the order) “ta-ta-ta-ta-ka-ka-ka-ka-kaaaaa…”. That is “ta” four times, followed by “ka” four times, closing with a drawn out “ka” (about four clicks). Note that you’ve not touched the trumpet yet.
- Rest for four clicks.
- Then you’re going to go “ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-taaaaa”. This time with the drawn out “ta” at the end, for four clicks, but after alternating between “ta” and “ka” four times at every click.
- Rest for four clicks.
- Then your going to go “ta-ta-ta-ta-ka-ka-ka-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-taaaaa…”. This time we are just combining the second and fourth step without a rest in between.
- Apply the exercise to the instrument.
This is a brilliant exercise to start on. Remember, the idea is to match the front end of the tongue with the back end of the tongue.
You’re going to start this slow, and then over time, you’re going to work the tempo up. You’re goal is however not to kick up the tempo, but to make them as neat and clean as possible.
You want them to be similar in how they sound, despite the change in tempo, whether you’re using the front end or back end of the tongue.
You shouldn’t be able to hear the difference whether you’re using the front end or back end of the tongue.
Getting the co-ordination going will feel much like getting used to a tongue twister. It will take some time but you can get it going properly.
Using double tonguing in your music
Once you get a hang of “ta-ka” double tonguing, instead of just jumping to the “da-ga” double tonguing, try the rest of the vowels to get a feel of different positions also i.e. “tu-ku”, “ti-ki” etc.
This is important because soon you want to apply double tonguing to your music. Just being able to switch between the front and back isn’t the end goal here. The ultimate goal is music, not exercises.
So how do we go about applying double tonguing in a melodic context?
Expanding into other positions, as I mentioned earlier, is a good way to ease yourself into melodic content.
Working up and down a scale with just “ta-ka” is a particularly good starting point. And then you can go to different keys and do the same thing.
I find that it is a little more challenging in the lower register, for instance.
After that, I recommend you do “da-ga” and repeat the same process essentially.
Ultimately, between “ta-ka” and “da-ga”, I recommend you find one that really works for you, but only after trying various position. And then that one will be your go-to double tonguing articulation.
Let’s pretend that we’ve practiced this for a long time and now we are at the ability where we are working up the tempo.
You want to practice double tonguing at your fastest single tonguing tempo. If you do that, you’ll be double tonguing twice as fast as you can single tongue.
Top 3 essential tips for double tonguing on the trumpet
Tip #1 — Start with slow repetition
The thing with double tonguing when you’re not good at it, even when you are pretty good at it, is that doing it slowly sounds terrible, but you just have to keep at it.
What you are going for with this slow speed is just clarity.
You want to hear a clean articulation. When you start, it will sound messy. That is what you want to clean up, slowly.
Working on it slowly really develops the muscle memory of your tongue to be able to get used to the technique. It will feel very heavy to begin with, that’s what you want to work on.
That’s where you need. You want to make your tongue tired.
Double tonguing is a physical muscular skill, you have to build up the endurance to be able to do it for longer periods of time.
The other thing you’ll notice as you work on it slowly is that the heaviness tends to go away and you’re able to use air and a lighter double tongue.
So that’s the trick — slow repetition. Keep it up everyday and you’ll find that it really starts to get better.
Tip #2 — Practice with a mute
Practice double tonguing with a mute.
The resistance of the practice mute helps you to have to tongue more clearly in the beginning when you’re learning. So it’s a great learning aid for double tonguing.
Tip #3 — Learn doodle tonguing
I’m sure you’ve heard of doodle tonguing. Maybe you’re having some challenges with it, it’s not a simple concept. But neither is double tonguing.
In double tonguing the dominant sounds are “t” and “d” and the passive sounds are “g” and “k”, you end with a “ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka…” or “da-ga-da-ga-da-ga…”. As a trumpeter, you have to absolutely have double tonguing in your arsenal.
The problem with double tonguing is that it’s kind of stiff and doesn’t lend itself well to jazz.
Doodle tonguing will allow your double-time ideas to flow smoothly and naturally out of your single-time ideas.
And it really does lend itself well to swinging.
Doodle tonguing is what helped me do what I wanted to do — sound how I wanted to sound.