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Multiple tonguing is an advanced trumpet playing technique. During normal playing, blowing air through the horn produces sound, and "notes" are produced by stopping that air using the tip of your tongue. Visualizing the syllable “ta”, where the tip of the tongue taps the roof of the mouth near the gums, does this. However, single tonguing (as this is called) has limits to speed. The tip of your tongue can only tap so fast, and therefore can produce only so many notes. This is where multiple tonguing comes into play.

Multiple tonguing is a technique often wholly unknown to younger players. It involves the use of the back of the tongue as well as the tip. There are two kinds: double tonguing and triple tonguing. Triple tonguing is taught first:

The sounds produced are "tu tu ku", "tu ku tu" or "ku tu tu" the first of which is most common. The back of the tongue strikes the roof of the mouth near the back just after the tip strikes the front, utilizing a sort of see-saw motion to gain speed. In order to get high notes, the sound may be visualized as “te te ke”.

Double tonguing is triple tonguing minus one “tu”. In other words, you go “tu ku tu ku”. This gives speed, but is hard on less experienced players for whom the “ku” sound is unnatural.

Multiple tonguing is the method used by professionals that most astounds audiences. The amazing speed in some compositions (Carnival of Venice, etc.) seems unreal. With practice, most players can get amazing speed too.

The best way to learn multiple tonguing is with the aid of a private teacher. I learn from the trumpet bible, “Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method For Trumpet” with the help of a teacher.
Actually, multiple tonguing - especially double - is possible on a variety of wind instruments besides just trumpet and other brass. For flautists and piccolo players, the technique is near-essential. To compare the speed of the notes, try saying "tuh tuh tuh" repeatedly as fast as you can for a while. Now switch to a "tuh-kuh." Feel the difference? For a neat effect not possible on most woodwinds (at least I've never heard it used on any others!), flute players can also produce an effect known as butterfly tonguing by rolling their tongues - this produces a "buzzing" tone, something like an insect flying by, and is often heard on Jethro Tull albums.

Other instruments compatible with double and triple tonguing that don't require it as often include clarinets, saxophones, and even oboes and bassoons (or so my bassoon professor tells me... I haven't worked on the technique too much due to the high cost of reeds.)

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