Tonguing Vs. Slurring

You probably already know how to tongue a note. To do so, just pronounce the letter "T" into the whistle. You can separate any combination of notes this way, and this is probably the instinctive method for most people first picking up an instrument such as the whistle. You can double- or triple-tongue faster combinations of notes by combining a "K" pronunciation with the "T" (as in "T-K" or "T-K-T"). I somtimes like to tongue triplets, depending on the tune. This will take some practice, however, to perform quickly.

Another alternative is to use your fingers instead to separate the notes. How to do this is detailed later; this technique introduces tiny notes called grace notes which don't actually take up any "official" space in the tune, but which separate and/or ornament other notes very nicely. Not tonguing the notes, but blowing continuously, is called slurring and is used to great effect in Irish-style playing.

A third alternative is to use glottal stops to introduce breaks in your breathing similar to tonguing, accomplished by tightening the throat as you breathe. This yields a more abrupt, cleaner sound than tonguing, but I don't recommend it because it is easy to get a slight croaking sound if you are not careful, which will detract from your playing.

You will probably learn to use a combination of both tonguing and slurring in your playing. Different players use different amounts of each, and your choices in this regard will help determine your particular style. I tend to slur most of the time, tonguing only where it is necessary to get a high note cleanly, where I want to give a note more emphasis, or where I want to control the phrasing of a tune.

Tonguing and slurring are each appropriate for different types of tunes. British and American military tunes, and some Scottish tunes, often sound better mostly tongued, while Irish tunes are often better slurred. In any case, slurring will allow you to play faster, sooner, than tonguing will; you will probably find slurring indispensable for playing fast reels. Use your ear as a guide.

These exercises are presented for those who want more practice tonguing; it is not strictly necessary. Start at low D and proceed to high B, tonguing each note, alternating tonguing with "T" or "K". Gradually increase your speed until you are moving quite fast.

Alternate exercise: Start with a low D and proceed to middle D, alternating between the note you are on and the same note one octave above. Tongue each note with a "T" sound. Pay attention to the breath pressure required to hit each note.

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