Mastering the Art of Slap Tongue: Insights from Kenneth Tse

In the world of saxophone playing, mastering extended techniques is crucial for adding depth and versatility to your musical expression. Recently, Kenneth Tse, the renowned classical saxophonist and professor at the University of Iowa, shared invaluable insights during a masterclass. One of the key topics he discussed was the slap tongue, an extended technique for saxophonists seeking to explore new horizons.

Tse’s explanations were clear, concise, and captivating, making it imperative to share his wisdom with fellow saxophonists. In this article, we will delve into Tse’s insights on slap tongue, breaking down the technique step by step. Whether you’re a beginner learning how to slap tongue or an experienced player looking to enhance your technique, Tse’s explanations are bound to dispel any doubts and propel your playing to new heights.

Step 1: Establishing the Foundation

Before diving into the specifics of slap tongue, it’s important to lay a solid foundation. Tse advises allowing yourself ample time, preferably five to seven days, to adapt to any physical changes associated with new techniques. Patience and repetition are key during this initial phase.

To initiate the slap tongue technique, begin by focusing on the sensation of suction. As Tse explains, it’s not about blowing air into the instrument but creating a suction effect. Experiment with using more tongue in the beginning, ensuring that you can feel the suction, even if it requires additional tongue action.

Step 2: Developing the Slap Action

Once you have mastered the suction aspect of slap tongue, it’s time to progress to the next step. Here, Tse suggests gradually increasing the suction and experimenting with pulling the reed down slightly. It’s important to note that this stage can be challenging and may result in some reed breakage initially. However, with time and practice, the technique will become more refined.

To better understand the slap action, it’s recommended to use a neck and mouthpiece setup rather than the entire saxophone. This allows for clearer auditory feedback. By repeating the process of creating suction and then pulling the reed, you’ll start to produce a pop sound, indicating progress in your slap tongue technique.

Step 3: Incorporating Embouchure Control

As your slap tongue technique improves, you can now focus on incorporating embouchure control. Begin by forming the embouchure, while still maintaining the position of your tongue. Tse emphasizes the importance of patience during this step, as it can be the most challenging aspect of mastering slap tongue.

Gradually work on creating a louder pop sound with the suction and tongue placement. It may require additional pressure on the reed, and you might notice the sound of your tongue pulling the reed away from the mouthpiece. These subtleties signify progress and serve as indicators of improved technique.

Step 4: Moving on to Advanced Techniques

As you become more comfortable with the basic slap tongue technique, you can begin exploring more advanced applications. This includes moving your tongue placement forward, closer to the tip of the tongue. While this adjustment may take time and practice, it allows for seamless alternation between slap tongue and regular notes, offering new avenues for musical expression.

Tse advises against rushing through the process, as it can lead to frustration. Instead, take your time to gradually develop each step and practice diligently. Every saxophonist progresses at their own pace, and the time required to master slap tongue can vary significantly.


Slap tongue is a valuable technique for saxophonists to expand their repertoire and add unique sonic elements to their playing. Kenneth Tse’s insights and step-by-step approach provide a comprehensive guide to properly slap tonguing. Practice diligently and allow yourself several days to get comfortable with each step of this method. Happy practicing!

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