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, but has been used in R & B saxophone playing, notably by King Curtis, Junior Walker and Lee Allen. In classical notation you may see the direction as German flatterzunge or Italian frullato . Sometimes it will appear abbreviated: 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”. With this method, tonguing notes is practically impossible.
Method 2: Vibrating your uvula
This 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).
Some people find it extremely difficult to do the R rolling, in which case it may be possible to adapt the uvular flute method to the saxophone. My experience is that neither came to me at all easily, but the alveolar was easier to practise than the uvular – but 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 tongue Exercises
- Without the saxophone, attempt to sustain a rolled “rrrrr.” Some people will find this very easy, others may find it very difficult.
- Concentrate on generating the flutter between your upper teeth front and sides, not in the throat.
- 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 apply this to the saxophone, staring with notes around the middle of the range.
- Progress to higher and lower notes.