Flutter Tongue

flutter tongue

What is it Flutter Tongue?

Flutter tongue  has been in use for all woodwinds and brass instruments for centuries, and there are two main methods to achieve this effect. It was initially a classical effect which has not been used much in mainstream jazz. However many great R & B players have used it to great effect. These include King Curtis, Junior Walker (see video below) and Lee Allen. In classical notation you may see the direction as German flatterzunge or Italian frullato. Sometimes it will appear abbreviated or as a symbol: flt, fl or ftz.

Method 1: Rolling Rs

The technical (linguistic) term for this is the alveolar trill. This involves blowing a note while vibrating the tongue  as if rolling the syllable “r” – “rrrrrr”.

This is probably the most popular way to do a fluttertongue onn the saxophone. This effect usually works best on long notes but can be used while playing phrases. However it isn’t really possible to articulate to separate notes while doing it as your tongue is otherwise occupied doing the flutter.

Method 2: Vibrating your uvula

uvula for flutter tongue

Some people find it extremely difficult to do the R rolling. If so you may be able to adapt the uvular flute method to the saxophone. The uvula is the small appendage hanging down at the front of your throat. This method may be more common on flute, and can be used (especially if you are already able to do this).

My experience is that neither came to me at all easily, but the alveolar was easier to practise than the uvular. Everyone is different and it’s probably best to go with whatever comes most naturally to you.  Tonguing notes may be possible with uvular flutter tongue, but very difficult.

Flutter tonguing on a low G on the tenor

Flutter tonguing by Lee Allen in a solo

Listen to Junior Walker playing flutter tongue – at 11 seconds into the video:

Flutter tongue exercises

(based on method 1 above)

  • Without the saxophone, say and sustain a rolled “rrrrr.” Some people will find this very easy, others may find it very difficult. Try to make both sides and front of the tongue do the fluttering.
  • Try to avoid clopsing off your throat with the back of your tongue.
  • Continue until you can sustain for several seconds. I recommend practising this only for short periods of a few minutes, otherwise you may get a sore throat.
  • Now try this while playing a note on the saxophone, starting with notes around the low to middle of the range as these are easier to flutter tongue.
  • Progress to higher and lower notes.

Flutter tongue tips

  • Flutter tongue is much easier if you take in a small amount of mouthpiece – as there is more room for your tongue top do what it does. (I recommend a small amount of mouthpiece as part of a good embouchure anyway.
  • Blowing relatively hard will be quite helpful.


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