Slap tonguing is a saxophone technique caused by pulling the reed away from the mouthpiece to create a ‘popping’ or ‘slapping’ sound. To begin to slap tongue, first you must learn to use the back of your tongue to create a suction. Be warned that it can be very damaging to the tips of your reeds especially when you are learning so don’t use your good reeds to practice it! Use a plastic spoon at first. Turn it so it is facing downwards and press your tongue into the scoopy part. Then pull your tongue away and downward until the spoon pops off. Once you have mastered this do the same thing with a saxophone reed (one you don’t like and are willing to sacrifice.) Because a reed isn’t concave like a spoon, you will have to curve your tongue around the edges more. The very tip of the reed is the last to leave the tongue. Then with the reed on the mouthpiece and gooseneck, practice the same action but with your mouth around the mouthpiece in correct embouchure. If you find it hard to produce a percussive slap go back to just the reed to remember what it feels like. Once you can produce the percussive sound while keeping your mouth in a saxophone embouchure, add just a little resonance so that there is an identifiable note, like you are playing a very small staccato. Getting the right balance of resonance vs. slap will take some practice. What balance you use in repertoire will depend on context.
Unpitched Slap or Open Mouth Slap
There is also a variation of slap tongue called open mouth slap tongue where you take your mouth off the mouthpiece as the reed slap. It produces an unpitched percussive attack. It begins the same way as normal slap tongue only differing in that you open your mouth at the same time as letting the reed go with you tongue.
Inverse slap tongue is a percussive effect caused by exhaling through the saxophone with producing a tone then slapping the tongue onto the reed to stop the air. It is quieter and less resonant than conventional slap tonguing. Be sure to use a well formed embouchure and the back part of your tongue to produce as much sound as possible.
Repertoire that Uses Slap Tonguing
- Slap Me by Barry Cockroft (slap tonguing)
- Ku Ku by Barry Cockroft (slap tonguing)
- Beat Me by Barry Cockroft (slap tonguing and inverse slap tonguing)
- Hide And Seek Intro by Joshua Redman