Friday, April 5, 2013

Double Tonguing on the Oboe

Double tonguing on the oboe isn't magic,  nor is it really difficult.  But it does take time to learn. In fact, the two most important ingredients to learning how to double tongue are PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE.   Add in a really light reed and you'll be double tonging on the oboe in no time. I've been meaning to write this post for some time,  and thanks to a fine oboist and friend who asked about double tonguing,  I'm finally sharing this with you. (Thanks KPK!!! :)

So, first what is double tonguing?  Good question!  Double tonguing is a method of articulation where your tongue alternates between touching the reed and your hard palate (the roof of your mouth).  It can facilitate rapid articulations and should be used when you are unable to maintain single tonguing speed with clarity.


First,  let's find the right placement of your tongue.

 Say KI.   KI-KI-KI.

Notice that you use the middle-back portion of your tongue.  Compare this to KA, Kuh, or Ga/Guh sounds,  which are often taught with double tonguing. I think the KI sound works best for oboe double tonguing because the tongue is in a more forward position on the roof of the mouth than when you say GA or KA.

Next say, ti-KI-ti-KI.  But,  to get the best practice,  say "ti" with an oboe embouchure, exactly where you would articulate if you had a reed in your mouth (lips brought forward,  and your tongue touching the bottom part of your top lip that is rolled over your top teeth--Hope that's clear! )

Now practice this WITHOUT a reed or oboe until you can say ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI-ti-KI OVER and OVER again without getting tired.  Remember that your tongue is a muscle and to double tongue it needs EXERCISE to perfect this technique.  Try practicing this while driving, taking a walk, etc.  In fact,  I developed this technique after my stereo was stolen from my car while I was living in New York City and didn't have music to listen to. Commuting gave me lots of time to practice a new technique!

Here's a sound clip of me saying ti-KI-ti-KI:

KI and TI on the REED ONLY

Next, work with ONLY the reed. It is ESPECIALLY important to use a REALLY light reed with a very thin tip.  It a very thin tip isn't your normal style, you'll need to scrape your reed a little more for these exercises.

First articulate on the reed using a "KI" articulation only.
Use lots of air and a very quick tongue. At first this might feel awkward and "thunky." Keep the tongue motion as light as possible. Say KI again.  Then KI-KI-KI-KI.  Be patient with yourself,  and remember to use a very LIGHT reed,  lots of air,  and a quick tongue that is propelled by your air.  Once you can consistently articulate KI,  move on to the next step.

Second, articulate saying ti-KI and KI-ti on the reed alone. I think that the "KI" articulation must be MUCH stronger than the "ti" articulation because "KI" isn't touching the reed.
Practice the following exercise:

       1. While forming an oboe embouchure, say: :"ti-KI"
      (Make sure your tongue placement of the "ti" is exactly where you would articulate if a reed was in          your  mouth or this won't be a useful exercise!)

       2. Articulate on the reed alone: ti-KI

       rest, then repeat.

Then,  put on a metronome to a SLOW speed (quarter=60?) and articulate 16th notes on the reed only:

Take frequent breaks if your tongue is getting tired.  Be PATIENT with yourself, but be persistent--practice these exercises daily for 10-15 minutes until you can do this with ease. You want to be able to begin an articulation sequence on either a ti or KI articulation.
Next, slowly move the metronome tempo faster until you can articulate on the reed at quarter note=130+

It's important that you don't move to our next step until you can consistently articulate clearly, cleanly, and in time with the metronome.


Once your air, tongue, and reed are coordinated, add in the oboe. I've specifically written these exercises to encourage you to not simply double tongue on one note.  For some reason I've found that the hardest transition for me was coordinating my fingers to move on the "KI" articulations. Hopefully these exercises will help.

Try these exercises at quarter note=60,  then slowly move them faster until you can play them as fast as you can!

Again,  patience and persistence are key.  Repeat each line and take frequent breaks.  Don't move on to another line of music until you have mastered the lines before.   Practice these exercises for 10-15 minutes daily and keep track of your metronome speeds so that you can measure your improvement over time.

I look forward to hearing from you and answering any questions that arise as you practice double tonguing.  Or,  contact for me for a Skype lesson to troubleshoot any difficulties that you have.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist


  1. This made me so excited! I've tried double tonguing a number of times and can always get it without the reed, but as soon as I try to stick a reed in I lose it. This looks like it will help!
    Thank you!

  2. Thanks for commenting! I hope the above suggestions help you. Feel free to write back for more ideas if you get "stuck." Best wishes, CG.

    1. Hi Christa, I am a 'mature' player trying to learn double tonguing after 25 years of playing (having been confronted with Scala di Seta) and I find your advice really helpful. I am at the stage of metronome = 80 just with the reed and am wondering whether, after the Ti articulation, the sound should continue, at even pitch, until the Ki articulation. In other words, is it better to practice with a full legato tongue or more detached? Donal, Cheshire, UK

    2. HI Donal-

      Thanks for your message (and sorry for not responding to your query when you first posted it on the blog---busy week to say the least!)

      Yes, the sound and pitch should remain constant throughout the entire process until the tongue creates another articulation (whether on the reed for another "TI" articulation or on the hard palate for a "KI" articulation). Air stream remains constant, only the tongue is utilized to create change. You can practice either legato or staccato, but as you move the tempo up, the articulations will inevitably become shorter out of necessity of speed.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if you have more questions or desire further clarification.

      Best wishes always and GOOD LUCK on your endeavors!

  3. This is really interesting. I'm in the process of teacing myself to double tongue. I also identified the k bit as the key. When I'd tried in the past I gave up quickly because the results were so ungainly that I couldn't bear how poorly they compared with the rest of my playing. Now I'm a lot older (52), I have more patience and more persistence. Having taught myself to play with a controlled, diapragmatic vibrato as opposed to an uncontrolled throat vibrato I have moved on to double tonging. One thing I realised is that getting a clean k sound was about a clean quick contact between the tongue and the hard palate, exactly as you describe. So far I am really interested in getting this much better, so I'm working my way through the Hinke tonguing exercises doing K only. I reckon that once I have this completely at my command then the reflex t-K-t-K will come much more easily.
    As a side note, but articulation related, I am also in process of re-studying the Mozart concerto. Having thought I knew it as a student, it is fascinating to re-visit after a gap of nearly thirty years. In the meantime, of course, my understanding of clssical style has been transformed. But what fascinates me about the piece, apart from the very peculiar phrase lengths, is how it demands clarity of articulation. A generalised staccato on top of a generalised legato, which is pretty much what I used to do, now seems nowhere near good enough. How to get really crisp quavers (1/8th notes) as well as fluently tongued scalic semis (1/16th notes) and also how to tongue really lightly and cleanly after each slur, so that the line is enhanced rather than destroyed, is a fascinating challenge. And how do you really re-create the 18th century rhetorical gestures, which Mozart has transformed through genius into a quicksilver kaleidoscope?
    I don't pretend to have all the answers, but what I love about playing the oboe as a middle-aged music lover, as opposed to a young adult desperately trying to become a professional player, is that in the end it's the music that matters. And finding my way to the heart of it, to find MY way to express what I think the music is about, with articulate precision, is a simply marvellous way to spend one's time.
    Oops, sorry. I meant to say "great post. thanks for sharing" and ended up writing an essay.
    PS I'm only Anonymous because I don't have a URL yet. Working on it. My name is Richard and I'm a 52yo marketing professional who happens to love playing the oboe.

    1. I've been a pro for 50 years or so and just found this site. What Christa describes is the best explanation I've heard and the best approach I've met to the problem. I've got a fast tongue, so I've not had to learn double tonguing, but I've struggled with students needing to learn.

      My point, though, is I think you are going about almost everything you describe the right way, but isolating the 'Ka' seems counterproductive. You will always be going, 'Ta-Ta-Ta'but probably never, 'Ka-Ka-Ka', so the best approach (to me) seems to be to gain control of the 'Ta-KA Ta-Ka pair and optimize for speed...

    2. Thanks for your comments. I agree with you Richard--the Mozart is so much more enjoyable the second (or seventieth) time around than the first! Taking time to notice and explore the myriad of articulation qualities available to express/ "say" exactly what you want in that concerto definitely makes one's life richer.

      As for practicing the "K" articulation, I'd caution against practicing it as an isolated articulation all on its own. Life's too short to master an exquisite "Ki" single tongue for your Hinke studies! Spend a bit of time isolating the K" articulation on the reed alone, then, as Bob suggests, work on getting clarity with the T-K-T-K sounds *together* as a group. You can even try the ricochet technique (as described on the Nov. 21st post) where either the T or K articulation is stronger and then the tongue bounces or ricochets with the other sound. Just a thought.

  4. Thank you Christa! I am lucky enough to play oboe with KPK and she forwarded this to me. This was my response to her, "Excellent. I think putting an emphasis on the KI is "key" (no pun intended... really!). Double-tonguing is so much easier on the flute because you can be really light on the "K" part and it still breaks the sound. On the oboe, I can give myself a headache trying to get the back of my tongue to close off the throat, but keep the air pressure up enough to get the reed going again. I think maybe having the mid-tongue do the work, rather than the back of the tongue, might be easier (after strength and agility work-outs). Also, changing notes is really important... the tongue-finger coordination is really hard (harder than hand-eye coordination... and we have to do that too)." -LCG

  5. Do you have any video of that? I'd love to find out more details.

    my site: metronome online tap

  6. i can say the ti ki bit but when i put the reed in i couldn't do it! i need help!

    1. Try scraping a LOT out of the tip of the reed (to only be used for practicing to learn how to double tongue). This will make the "ki" articulation easier to create. Then try using MUCH more air for the "KI" sound than you would for normal articulations. Next try REALLY, REALLY SLOW ti-KI articulations. Think about almost moving your tongue in slow motion. Study how your air and tongue must work together. Then try to speed things up (this step often takes a while--be patient!) :)

      Hope those suggestions help. Feel free to write with more questions or to have a short online lesson with me.
      Best wishes,


  7. Thank you! As a student wanting to learn how to double tongue, it's nice to have someone who knows exactly how to address the problems that it present to younger oboe players. Thank you again!

  8. Kaela B. The young oboeistMarch 30, 2018 at 10:00 PM

    This site helped emensly. I've been playing the oboe for almost a year now and I have always worked on always having nice tone, dynamics, and intonation, but I can never do any fast tonguing as hard as I try it just doesn't work. I had seen this site once before but I never actually read much but this time I actually read it and it healed a bunch so thank you.

    I still have one problem. I can't keep the oboe in tune when I try to double tounge. And as hard as I try my embouchure does not want to co-operate. If there is anything anyone can suggest I'm open for suggestions. Thank you!

  9. should we do the same methods in semiquaver scales in the Lebrun Concerto?