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Slap tonguing is a pretty difficult thing to do, and it’s a pretty difficult thing to explain how to do.
One of two things will likely happen if you slap tongue the saxophone wrongly. You will either break your cane reeds and hurt your tongue in the process or never even come close to producing the slap tonguing sound effect in years.
Tongues do get bruised. That’s your fair warning.
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Let’s dive right in.
How to Slap Tongue Saxophone
Slap tongue is created by suction in the mouthpiece (by closing the reed off) and then releasing that suction with an explosive click of the tongue and a little puff of air simultaneously.
The way learn how to do slap tongue is by getting the feeling in your mouth of what it’s like to suck instead of blow.
The quickest way to get a idea of how to go about this is the following finger exercise. We will use our finger in place of a mouthpiece:
- Put your index finger in your mouth
- Create a really strong suction on it
- When you feel like there’s no more air to pull in, release your tongue and drop your jaw simultenously
That’s your first slap tongue.
The way you create that suction on the mouthpiece of the instrument is by closing off the reed with your tongue.
It’s exactly the same sound when you release it.
It kind of the same thing that you did with your tongue when you were a kid, except much stronger, and much more focused.
Now detach your mouthpiece from your horn and repeat the exercise.
So you repeat this exercise on the reed and you don’t get the same sound on your reed as you did on your finger, what are you doing wrong?
The answer is simple. You are are not blowing at the same time—this is the tricky part.
When you suck to create that sound, you should at the same time, as your releasing your tongue give a little puff of air—kind of like a cough.
This little cough is the secret to opening up your slap tongue. Give this a try with your mouthpiece detached from your horn.
You’re going to get the best slap tongue results if you are in the lowest register of the saxophone.
So the lower you go on your instrument, the better the results will be.
Once you get your head around the technique, you can of course begin to experiment with the middle register, and finally, by all means, you should even try the upper register.
If you do not blow out, or cough out as you are releasing the tongue after the suctio, your slap tongue will likely be barely audible.
How to Avoid Breaking Your Reeds or Bruising Your Tongue When Slap Tounging Saxophone
I recommend that you don’t practice slap tongue too much. When I was first learning how to do this, I wound up actually bruising my tongue.
So even though it’s not an easy thing to do and you need practice to get better at it. You can learn slap tongue over a month but you need years to refine the technique into a functional part of your playing.
Take it easy. Take your time.
And it will take some practice and some time before you can even come close to producing the slap tongue effect. It is not easy. Don’t doubt that.
The second thing I recommend you do is practice slap tongue on synthetic reeds, instead of cane reeds.
Broken reeds is, by far, the most common complain people have with slap tongue saxophone. And cane reed give way much more easily than synthetic reeds.
So don’t be surprised if you break your reed trying to learn slap tongue. You’re not the only one.
So only can you bruise your tongue with slap tongue, you can damage your reed.