How to effectively communicate flute technique to your students

I feel that good flute technique is difficult to convey using words. Discussions of tone color often are full of abstract descriptions like bright, dark, warm, yellow, purple, spin-- you name it. Discussions about tounguing often make use of abstracts like using du-gu du-gu vs. ti-ki ti-ki tonguing. Breathing and voicing may employ words like warm air, cool air, breathe from your diaphragm, be more open etc.

These cryptic descriptions are supposed to help flute students discern proper technique, but it can take a long time for a student to crack the code of any particular teacher’s language.

As one of my many terrific flute teachers once quipped “Playing flute well isn’t that hard, but it IS elusive.” This might be a good forum to discuss how to effectively communicate the concepts of good technique to students at various levels of achievement.

Here’s one to start us off. Syllables used to describe tonguing contain information about both how far forward or backward in the mouth the tongue touches the teeth and the roof of the mouth and also how high back of the tongue is held while articulating.

My particular use of descriptive tonguing syllables is probably pretty much in line with most flute teachers. Before using these short cut syllables, it is a good idea to make sure the student understands what it is that you are trying to convey.

“T” refers to tonguing on the back of the teeth. “D” means tonguing on the alveilar ridge where the teeth erupt from the roof of the mouth. Likewise “k” is farther forward than “g”

“I” means that the tongue is high in the mouth, “u” (as in bug) means a low tongue and “oo” means a medium (in between) height.

Ti’-ki ti-ki provides a crisp light quick attack. Du-gu du-gu tonguing can improve attacks on the lowest notes.

It’s nice to have a shorthand for discussing tonguing with students, but they must understand physically what it is that you are trying to convey.

What methods do you use to effectively communicate solid flute technique to your students?


I’m familiar with these descriptions from my time learning the recorder.

I’ve heard “du-gu du-gu” and “ti-ki ti-ki” etc to describe how to double tongue. And as far as the other stuff goes I’ve heard it before in elementary, middle and or high school and don’t remember having any problems interpreting them. Also none of the other students appeared to have a problem with those phrases etc you mentioned above.

And for what it’s worth, on the saxophone forum I’m on, players from around the country and the world apparently learned some of the same phrases, abstracts etc I did coming from a small town in North Florida.

It’s like music vernacular. :slight_smile:

That’s awesome to hear! What are your tips on how to communicate good flute technique to flute students?