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Saxophone/I forget using the tongue when I play.


I think it should be a reflex to use my tongue on every second note I play when I play swing. But if I don't think about it I forget it. If I begin to think too much about the rhythm, the melody or making a nice tone I forget to use my tongue.
Do you know how I can make it a habit to automatically do this so I can focus more on the rhythm, melody etc.?

It's absolutely not necessary to tongue every second note with swing, however it is also OK to do so. Both ways are perfectly acceptable.

But if you do want to make it more automatic, then you just need to consciously use this tonguing (known as bebop tonguing) whenever you practise, on scales, arpeggios, studies, transcriptions - everything.

I think it's good to be versatile and be natural at both tonguing and legato, but if you find the legato more natural, then concentrating just on the tonging while playing scales etc. should make this just as automatic for when you want.

I have found that when you do use bebop tonguing, it is often a good idea to make the rhythmic "swing" a bit straighter, so a bit less of a triplet feel.

I have a page on articulation, which you may find useful:

One more important thing is to be able to vary the intensity of the tonguing. You should be able to make it quite marked, or very light so it's only just audible but still gives a slight "kick" to the note, or even ghost the tonguing a bit so it just slightly chokes the note. This is often called dooden tonguing or half tonguing and it involves lightly closing the gap between the tip of the reed and mouthpiece, but still allowing a bit of air through:

In my opinion the more varied you can make this, the more interesting you can make your playing


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Pete Thomas


Please note: I am not able to answer questions on saxophone ages or values, but am happy to answer questions about playing the saxophone. I have never really thought of myself as an expert, but I have learnt a lot from my long experience, much of it trial and error. I'm happy to see what you all think of my answers to your questions, I hope you find them helpful (if not please tell me!), and I hope you find them at the very least thought provoking. I am happy to answer questions on all aspects of saxophone playing and performance techniques. I am not a saxophone technician so can not answer queries related to advanced areas of saxophone repair, but I am familiar with routine maintenance useful for players.


I have been a professional saxophonist most of my life. I have recorded with many rock, blues and jazz greats including REM, Elton John, Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Jackson and Richard Thompson. Most of my current work is as a composer and producer of music for TV and Film.

Sax on the Web - SOTW and my own site -

Sax on the Web - SOTW and my own sites: Taming the Saxophone - intermediate to advanced saxophone studies. Saxophone- the Easy Way to Learn (instruction DVD) and Taming The Saxophone Vol 1 (Tone Without Tears)

I studied saxophone at Leeds College of Music (Diploma 1st class). I devised and presented the Music Makers saxophone tuition DVD. I have worked as head of jazz and pop performance at Southampton University, where I also taught saxophone and composition.

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