The tongue is a trumpeter’s secret weapon, with which they can coax some fascinating effects from their instrument. In addition to using the tongue for articulation, it can be used to create some interesting sound colors. Here are three of the most common techniques.
Flutter Tongue is achieved by rolling the tip of the tongue (like the Spanish “r”) while playing. This produces an effect much like a drum roll on one pitch. As it requires more air pressure than ordinary playing, the resulting dynamic is typically loud, though with practice softer dynamics can be achieved.
Flutter tongue can be used at the beginning of a note or after the note has already started, as in the following example.
Flutter tongue is possible in most, if not all, registers of the trumpet. However, it becomes increasingly difficult in the high register and nearly impossible in the extreme high register (see Range), especially in softer dynamics. The extreme pedal register is also a difficult area for flutter tongue. Flutter tongue, in general, is more strenuous than ordinary playing.
A tremolo marking with a “Fl.” above the note is a simple and clear way to notate flutter tongue. “Flutter”, “Flz.” and “Frull.” are also common ways to indicate flutter tongue.
If using several different techniques in one piece it may be necessary to differentiate between them by coming up with different notation for flutter tongue. I personally like Rebecca Saunders’ solution of a stylized squiggle on the stem for flutter tongue while reserving the more traditional notation for other techniques such as valve tremolos or rapid note repetitions:
Berio on the other hand uses the same traditional notation for similar techniques while specifying with a short text marking above the notes:
Controlling Flutter Speed
I know a few players who have found a way to control the speed of their flutter tongue. By rolling the back of the tongue against the soft pallet (similar to growling), they use varying air pressure to control the speed of the flutter. I’ve tried to reproduce it myself but just can’t seem to make it work. Maybe it’s genetic, like the ability to roll your tongue into a taco. In any case, here is my friend and colleague Matthew Conley demonstrating flutter tongue in varying speeds:
The first use of this technique, as far as I’m aware, is in Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza X” for trumpet solo, the same piece referenced above. The effect is similar to the drum roll of flutter tongue, but as if with “softer mallets.” The player tongues as if rapidly repeating the word “doodle” (without vocalizing). The effect is much less abrasive than flutter tongue and is easily used in softer dynamics and all registers. Unlike the conventional flutter tongue technique, the speed of the doodle tongue is easily varied. It is notated like flutter tongue, but with the marking “DL” or “doodle” above the note.
Here is an example of flutter and doodle tongue together from the Berio Sequenza:
Berio even takes doodle tongue a step further and uses it as a form of articulation. It’s difficult to be very precise with the timing of the doodle tongue, but I still find the effect quite nice:
Liza Lim notates the effect “shimmer tonguing” in her trumpet solo. This could be interpreted as double/triple tonguing, but she seemed to like doodle tongue when I offered that effect during rehearsal for the first performance of the piece:
A different kind of flutter tongue is also possible by rolling the back of the tongue. For most players, this produces a much rougher sound than fluttering with the tip of the tongue and is commonly referred to as a “growl”. I rarely see this technique used in contemporary parts.
Growl can be notated like flutter tongue. Just be sure to specify the technique you want to hear in your notation. This technique is so rare that I was hard pressed to find an example from the literature!
Growl is most successful when combined with loud dynamics in the low to mid register. Please also keep in mind that it can be physically painful for the throat of the player if overused!