How to tongue fast on the oboe

Articulation on the oboe, and double reed instruments in general, if often seen as complicated and cumbersome, but this need not be so. In practice oboists need to be able to articulate with as much variation and agility as any flautist or saxophonist. If the correct muscles are trained slowly and efficiently, developing a fast single tongue on the oboe is simply a matter of time and discipline. I have outlined the process in the main and with a link to YouTube below.


Staccato VS Legato single tonguing

The first myth that needs to be dispelled is that the only way to develop a fast single tongue is to play the notes staccato. While a fast staccato articulation is very useful. Some musical passages will be more easily executed the desired fluidity and speed by using a legato style. 

No matter the style of articulation the most important component is not the strength of the tongue but the consistency and direction of the air. 

Before you worry about the style be sure to train the tongue and air on the reed alone so you can examine the efficiency of each component without the instrument `getting in the way’. Different rhythmic variations and busts of speed can be valuable to increase the dexterity of the tongue and  to coordinate tonguing with different air speeds. To train the tongue and the air I have included a series of workouts in the video above.

When practicing staccato tonguing it is important to gain control over the abdominal muscles in producing short bursts of faster air while maintaining a supported air column. This can be practiced on the reed alone by sustaining a long tone and saying a “Ha Ha Ha”  through the reed without dropping the tone. There should never be a break or silence in the tone. When this is easy to control coordinate the burst of air with the movement of the tongue to produce a neat staccato articulation. Slowly increase the tempo. 

Eventually you should be able to produce the same articulation while playing on the instrument. Try on single notes and then scales and then eventually on Barret Melodic Study number 16. I have included a video of this useful etude below.


Eventually the tempo will be too fast for staccato articulations to be useful. Excerpts like Mendelsohn’s Scotch symphony or   La Scala de Seta will require a clear but smooth articulation with plenty of air direction. To develop the clarity in your tonguing in this style the airstream needs to have direction and never drop in intensity or speed. In fact at times it may be necessary to increase the speed over time. 

Practice the feeling of the tongue producing both the beginning and ending of the note by saying the syllable “tot, hot ,hot”  notice that the tongue only hits once as both the ending of one syllable and the beginning of the next. When this is easily controlled try performing it on the reed alone as before. It should be easier to increase the speed than when using staccato style because there is less to coordinate. Eventually you can incorporate this technique into single note bursts or scales or even the etudes and excerpts mentioned above. Above all else make sure you are having fun practicing and playing the oboe! 

This article was written by guest author Danny Cruz who loves to play and teach about the oboe. You can find more of his content at