Tonguing Techniques

While fingering is the most visible aspect of Bansuri playing, tonguing and blowing are less visible but equally important techniques. Let’s discuss tonguing in this section.

The obvious purpose of tonguing is to create breaks in a continuous note. A less obvious purpose is also to create different colors to the break.

The idea of coloring the break is is almost like accents of English all over the world. If you listen to the same English phrase spoken by an Englishman or an Indian or an American, you can make out the difference. The thing to appreciate in this example is how much variation each of these accents creates to the basic phrase. And in music, as indeed in English speaking world, more the variation, the better it is.

Consider this example, let’s say, we want to break a note using tonguing.

First let’s play a simple note –long and continuous.

Then, let’s break it using continuous rhythmic pattern by using syllable Ra Ra

Now, let’s break it using the same pattern but by using syllable Ta Ta

Now, let’s make a combination Ta Ra Ta Ra

Now, let’s use the syllable Ka

Now, let’s use the syllable Pa

What did we observe? While the periodicity of break and the pattern of break is exactly identical, they do sound different with each type of syllable.

Let me elaborate this even further by using just the syllable Ta (as in tiger). When you say Ta, your tongue touches pretty much the top most part inside your mouth. Now say different accent of Ta (as in Taal). In this case, your tongue may be touching your front teeth.

Now play a long note on the Bansuri and then break it using both these variations of Ta.

Ta (Tiger) first

And Ta (Taal) next

Now, gradually move breaks from one extreme to the other (i.e. move the touch of your tongue from your front teeth to inside your mouth) and notice various accents that each break creates. Some of them are very discrete while others are very subtle.

This is the basic idea behind tonguing, using various syllables you can create different effects. While these effects differ very subtly, they do result in overall richness of the presentation.

Some specific deployments of tonguing techniques

Tonguing is extensively used when you present your music in Dhrupad style. (More on styles here.) For example, when one presents Jod Alap, one uses tonguing to create the pulse of rhythm.

Now comes the most underestimated aspect of tonguing. Like fingering, you should be able to control your tonguing to a rhythm. So, when you say all the syllables mentioned above, you should also be able to say them in a rhythm. This takes some practice. You can use a metronome or electronic tabla machine to set pulse and try keeping up cleanly to that pulse with your tonguing.

Another special form of tonguing is called fluttered tonguing. It is extensively used to create the effect of Jhala. It involves saying the phrase Tu-Ku-Tu-Ku-Tu—- very fast but rhythmically.

Finally, you can also deploy tonguing in conjunction with fingering. This is especially hard to do at fast tempo since your tonguing and fingering has to be exactly coordinated.