Quick tip: Tongue Ram or Tongue Thrust

Here's a quick tip regarding the extended technique known as the Tongue Ram (also known as "Tongue Thrust" or "Tongue Stop"). 

To achieve a Tongue Ram, the flutist vibrates the air inside the flute by quickly plugging the embochure hole with the tongue. It's only possible on the lowest octave of the flute. The flutist completely covers the lip plate with their mouth, then "stops" the tongue into the embouchure hole and plugs it up. Blowing fast air into the flute followed by the stop can yield a louder effect. The result is a percussive thud with a pitch that can sound a major 7th to minor 7th lower than the written note.

At the lowest end of the flute, the sounding pitch is a major 7th below the fingered note. Due to the variation in conical head joint design of different flutes, the sounding pitch will become a minor 7th lower than the fingered note as the notes fingered get higher. In the examples below, you will hear that my particular Bass flute sounds a minor 7th lower than fingered note starting at Ab. My C flute flips to minor 7th at A-natural. 

It can be notated like this:

Tongue Ram notation example

Tongue Ram notation example

It sounds like this (1st time = Bass Flute, 2nd time = C Flute):

 

TIPS FOR FLUTISTS:

  • To play a loud Tongue Stop note, you do need to blow harder right before the Stop. If you find that you are getting a Jet Whistle sound, you can try "rolling in" with the flute and it should help reduce the Whistle. 
  • If you are still getting too much air sound or too much jet whistle action, and not enough percussive "thud" sound, you might be trying too hard. It's tempting to ram forcefully but it's usually counterproductive to use a lot of force for this technique (and for most techniques, actually). Aim for a resonant sound rather than a loud one and you might find that the most resonant sound usually yields the loudest and most effective sound. 

TIPS FOR COMPOSERS:

  • This technique will never really be as loud as a normally blown note (unless the flutist is Robert Dick). Always get a live demonstration from a flutist friend instead of relying on recordings such as the one on this blog, since you have no context for dynamics and acoustics in a space.
  • The flutist needs time to prepare before and after a Tongue Ram note. We can only effectively switch from a regularly played note to a tongue ram note (and vice versa) if you give us time to do so. 
  • "Slap Tongue" is a single-reed instrument technique and it is not useful to use this term on any flute part. 
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This Blog Post (including Image and Sound Recording) by Meerenai Shim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

For more useful tips for flutists and composers, please check out Helen Bledsoe's excellent website. It's one of my favorite flutists' blogs. And of course, the modern flutists' bible: Robert Dick's The Other Flute.