In-depth Tongue Training (Part 2): Strength or Endurance?


In my previous installment, I showed you how to find a good starting position (origin) for your tongue and how to channel the airflow and modulate it with tongue movements. The advanced exercises shown below are based on three focal points and aims:

1.    Stamina
2.    Strength/precision
3.    Speed

Before starting your practice session, you need to be clear about what you want to work on. What do you need to pay attention to? Further to the principle of rotating attention (borrowed from Gerhard Mantel, “Einfach üben!”, Schottverlag, Mainz 2001), it is a good idea to start out by concentrating on one aspect. After a while, you are ready to combine several focal points or to discover which of the items that need to fall into place while playing still require your attention for a satisfactory performance.

Again, the order in which the exercises are presented may not be the perfect sequence for your way of practicing. It would therefore be a good idea to decide beforehand in which areas you need more control and flexibility, and to change the order accordingly.

All exercises presented here require that you (at first) ignore the other aspects.


These exercises focus on prolonged regular tongue movements.

The basic version is as simple as can be:

  • Choose a note in a comfortable range—G’’, say
  • Set your metronome to a tempo that allows you to easily play sixteenth notes on all quarter-note beats. The idea behind the “four per beat” approach will allow to remain more fluid and to play tenuto (“tongued legato”). We don’t need to work on our speed here!
  • The tongue movements need to be (relatively) soft. Pay attention to channeling your air in a sound way—try to imagine that the air “provides the energy” for your tongue.
  • Always play as long as your breath lasts, in a controlled mezzoforte fashion, without ever exerting pressure. Then, breathe in—and continue!
  • Repeat this slightly more often than your comfort zone tells you. At some point, your tongue will get tired. Now is the time to breath in at least three more times and to repeat! If you also work out, you probably know that your body is programmed to save energy and to terminate the effort before tapping its energy reserves or starting to build new muscles for the long term…
  • Continuing when you reach this stage will probably cause more erratic movements. Now is the time to avoid tenseness in the larynx, neck and/or jaw. Keep concentrating on channeling the air.
  • Your clue should be: if you have a tendency to lisp or have the impression that your tongue feels heavy after the exercise, you have done a good job (luckily, the tongue muscles are not prone to soreness ;-

Power Training

This is where you will work on precise, hard tongue pushes.

  • Choose a note in the third octave. A hard tongue push increases the air speed, You may at first overblow here and there, which is nothing to worry about…
  • Set the metronome to 60BPM. Now play the shortest and hardest notes you can muster.
  • Whenever you overblow a note, try to determine whether that particular tongue push also caused other areas to become rigid, like your larynx or lips. Then try to coordinate the required looseness of that particular area with an energetic push of the tongue.
  • When you feel that you have mastered this exercise, start experimenting with notes in other registers. Again pay attention to the threshold that causes you to overblow—and work on raising it by establishing where you could create more space to slightly reduce the speed of the outgoing air.
  • The most important consideration is that the note should not only be produced by the tongue’s momentum. If you forget to “send some air”, such notes are likely to be toneless in that particular context.


This training item is about performing rapid movements right from the start. Let’s start with rather short, but rapid “slices”—again playing a single note. And again, first familiarize yourself with the exercise, find out what you need to concentrate on, and then use your metronome as a sparring partner.

  • Start with a note in a comfortable range-G’’, say.
  • Choose a tempo that will allow you to play four notes per metronome beat, such as 100BPM.
  • Vary the number of notes (with respect to the imagined quarter-note pulse).
    -    One quarter note on one beat, four 16th notes on the next…
  • There are two ways of upping the ante:
    -    Increase the metronome tempo.
    -    Stick to 100BPM but play more notes on every beat: quintuplets, sextuplets, etc.

Tongue training is similar to working out: you need to keep at it, do it regularly and remain aware of what you are doing. There will be times when you feel tired or just can’t seem to make it work. Sometimes, you may even have the feeling that you are not making any progress. The reward for your hard work will, however, be that playing intricate passages is no longer be hampered by your tongue’s response. Keep at it—it’s worth it!

Onwards and upwards with your exercises!

Sandra Engelhardt

Sandra Engelhardt made her public flute education debut in 2015, with the publication of her teaching concept “Wir flöten QUER!” (Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden). A certified instrumental teacher and flautist, she teaches at the music academy of Langenhagen (Germany). She is also a professor at the University of Music, Drama and Media in Hanover where she teaches the flute as major and minor courses and heads the “Didactics of Flute Lessons” seminar. As a professor of the further-training curriculum, she is also active on several instrumental teaching levels.