Triple Threat – On Triple Tonguing

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

In a recent lesson with one of my beginning flute students, just as I was introducing the concept of double tonguing, my very clever student asked, “If there is single tonguing, and there is double tonguing, is there such a thing as triple tonguing?”

Of course there is!

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But before I launched into my triple tonguing spiel, I first had to confront my own inner childhood trauma from learning triple tonguing. I tried so very hard to master the TKT KTK method to no avail. It just didn’t click. As an adult, I can accept that this is totally okay. There is a different method that works better for me. Therefore, in order to heal this childhood frustration, and to help my readers (and students) better understand this concept, in today’s blog I will cover the nuts and bolts of triple tonguing; What it is, how to do it, what exercises to practice, and other resources to welcome triple tonguing into the toolbox of flute articulations with open arms.

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What is triple tonguing? Triple tonguing is a pattern of tonguing groups of three notes (aka triplets). Akin to double tonguing, this method uses both the front and back of the tongue to articulate notes faster in a way that is far less physically taxing for your tongue. The tongue is placed just behind the upper teeth for the “tu” syllable and half-way back on the pallet for the “ku” sound. This divides the muscles needed to articulate into two areas rather than one.

How do you do it? There are two primary ways to practice triple tonguing, and both methods vary the syllables used to achieve essentially the same result. In the first way, the basic syllable combination is tu-ku-tu tu-ku-tu (TKT TKT). Notice that these syllables are arranged in triplets to correspond to the notes. The pro to this method is that it is super easy to remember (TKT) and the reiteration of the “tu” sound at the beginning of each triplet grouping acts like secret breath-kick to help you reinforce the beat. The con is that you will need to articulate the “tu” twice in succession, cutting down the effectiveness of alternating muscle groups on the tongue. In the second method, the syllable combination that is used is tu-ku-tu ku-tu-ku (TKT KTK). Again, the syllables are arranged in triples to align with the music. The good thing about this method is that there are no double reiterations of the “tu” syllable, making the most out of the alternating muscles needed to articulate. The downside is that it is more difficult to remember which syllable combo you are on in a given passage (wait, was I on TKT or was I supposed to say KTK???) and it often leads to rushing because you don’t have that natural breath-kick in the line. The method you choose to use is totally up to you! If one works better than the other, use that one!

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What are the benefits of triple tonguing? The primary benefit is that it helps you play your triple figures faster, but it also helps maintain an even tone quality, and it is far less taxing your tonguing. Less work is good!

What are the best ways to practice triple tonguing? Start slowly. Find your favorite exercise or piece of music with triples and slow it waaay down to practice the new syllable combination. Another great approach that will improve both your double and triple tonguing is to practice your triple tonguing passages only on “ku”s. The back of the tongue is naturally weaker than the front as it is not used as often. Practicing only your “ku”s is like weight-lifting for the back of the tongue. You may work on this method using your favorite piece or, if you have a favorite melody, try putting triple figures on each note. If you notice an unsteadiness to your triple-tongued passages, experiment using a ku-tu-ku ku-tu-ku combination. This is essentially the reverse of the standard TKT TKT pattern. This will also strengthen the back of your tongue helping to achieve a better balance between muscle areas.

Hot Tip – You can use different syllables to create different types of sound. Check out my blog You Say Potato, I Say Potahto for a full list of double and triple tonguing syllables you may use and what the corresponding sound is for each pattern. You may try a doo-goo-doo doo-goo-doo pattern for a connected, legato sound or a tut-kut-tut tut-kut-tut for a super staccato pattern. Try practicing a new syllable pattern each day to find the one that resonates the most with your playing.

Recommended Exercises: **Note: This section contains affiliate links.**

YouTube Videos:

Check out this great video from The Flute Practice discussing the triple tonguing method and drills you may practice to refine the technique:


How do you practice triple tonguing? What is your preferred method of triple tonguing? What are your favorite exercise? How do you teach your own students to triple tongue? Please comment below!

Happy fluting (and triple tonguing)!


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