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Slap Tongue Technique

Ponce Julius

New Orleans
Being a bass player switching to sax, I use to play a lot of slap technique on the bass in previous bands I was in. I nearly fell on the floor when I saw a youtube vid of Joshua Redman using the slap tongue technique to make a very percussive and funky sound on sax. I thought to myself...I got to learn this technique! I found a few youtube vids explaining how to do it, but none of them were in dept. Does anyone know how to do this technique and can offer any tips?

Andrew Sanders

Northern Commissioner for Caslm
Ilkley West Yorkshire
Look on Pete's Tamimg the saxophone part of the site. Info and sound clips are there.

John Laughter

In addition to Pete's excellent explanation the following may be of some help;

The “slap tongue” effect can be heard in a 1923 recording by King Oliver and is notated in a piece of published music dated 1928. It also appears in a 1926 publication titled SAX-ACROBATIX by Henri Weber.

● According to a SOTW contributor some contemporary classical music arrangements have made use of the effect as follows; “And it’s use in classical music; Drastic Measures by Russell Peck (SATB, recorded by the New Century quartet), uses slap tongue in all parts as a special accent. Sonata by Mark Kilstofte (recorded by Cliff Leaman and Derek Parsons), a tour de force of the technique. One of the middle movements starts with a (literal) metronome obbligato, adds a bit of piano, then requires the saxophonist to play a slap tongue back-beat for the rest of the movement.”

I recall hearing a sax section in a 40s big band movie using it in a novelty type arrangement.

James Brown’s tenor player, J. C. Davis used it on the 1962 version of "Night Train" in the 2nd part of the melody as an 8th note answer to the low C that is played at the end of the melody line. This can be found on Youtube.

● Another point of view from a contributor on the SOTW message board indicates; “The technique actually originated in jazz and pop. First record I can recall offhand is a 1923 King Oliver side with an obscurity named “Stomp” Evans playing the C melody. By ‘24 Rudy Wiedoeft and Coleman Hawkins had picked it up. Bennie Krueger was another novelty sax guy, and I think he did it too. You might have thought it came later to pop/jazz, because it got corny very quickly and disappeared from popular taste.”

Very early user and master of the slap tongue, as well as all manner of possible effects on the saxophone was Rudy Wiedoeft, check out his “Sax-O-Phun” from 1926. Plenty of slapping all the way through. Also his version of “La Paloma” begins with a slapped intro. gruss - spike

● And per Dave Dolson of SOTW; “Another recorded example of slap-tongue would be Joe Darensbourg’s Dixie Flyers’ pop-hit recording of YELLOW DOG BLUES in the late 1950s. Joe was a marvelous slap-tongue clarinetist who played with Louis Armstrong and Teddy Buckner.

Jazz artists John Klemmer, James Carter and Yoseff Lateef have all used it in their solos.

The sound is created as a result of the release of suction in the mouth and the popping sound that the reed produces which amplifies as it travels through the horn.

Lay the tongue against a lot of the reed. Gently push upward so that the tip and rail of the reed is closed. Get rid of as much air in the oral cavity as you can and seal off the lip so that you have an airtight fit. The tongue is quickly released in a “downward” motion. When you release the tongue downward, you also drop your jaw and open your mouth in a “popping” motion. This is all done very quickly. DO NOT pull the tongue back towards your throat. It needs to pop downward away from the roof of the mouth to get the most volume. Do not blow air through the horn and do not inhale when you release the tongue.

Low F or G fingering works the best for me. They produce the most volume but I would imagine that fingerings differ from player to player.

● Additional info from a SOTW member; “While I was learning how to slap tongue, I came across this. I forget where I got it, perhaps the NASA list, but, who knows. I’ve listed the author at the bottom so as NOT to take credit for the information that follows. Hope this helps.”—

“Slap-tonguing requires some time and patience to develop. Most people take several months of attempts before they get a true slap on the attack. Things to keep in mind are:

1. Make certain you use your normal embouchure for the pitched slap tongue. The non-pitched variety requires that you pull the lower jaw away from the mouthpiece in one motion as you articulate; but the pitched variety requires that you keep your normal embouchure through the process.

2. It is far easier to slap tongue on low notes than high. Think about the heavy clicks we tend to get in the low register with the tongue when we’re not careful. These are mild slap tongue sounds, so try it on your low Bb and B until you have some success. Also, you might want to begin on the tenor or baritone saxophone until you have the feel for it.

3. Place your tongue on the entire exposed reed inside your mouth. Cover the whole reed with the tongue and do some short, staccato articulations. This generally leads to heaviness or a “click” at the beginning of the articulation, much like what a beginning student would get. Eventually this tends to work better when you do not end the tone with the tongue, and again, this sound is especially easy to produce in the low register.

4. The amount of tone you want to have with the slap tongue is determined by the amount of air you put through the instrument -- it is not determined by the tongue. You can play either a very short note, or a very long note or passage of notes with the slap as a beginning attack. I find that the shorter notes seem to be easier to produce the slap, at least initially.

5. Basically, the slapping procedure involves pulling the reed away from the mouthpiece with the tongue. When the strength of the reed is too much for the tongue, it pulls away and cracks back against the mouthpiece, producing the slap sound. Over time I have learned to do this with far less effort than I thought was necessary originally. Most people who concentrate on the tongue flicking the tip of the reed initially tend to break a lot of reeds, so you may want to do this on a softer, old reed that won't be on your recital program any time soon.”

Cliff Leaman Associate Professor of Saxophone University of South Carolina Columbia, SC 29208

Jay C. Easton: Extended saxophone techniques

Rock & Roll Sax, Instrumental - Hal Leonard Online

Slaptongue & Smacktongue

Intro by Joshua Redman;

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Ponce Julius

New Orleans
Thank you for that history on the technique but how to do it....I'm going to try this out asap!


ex Landrover Nut
Café Supporter
Just north of Munich
Thanks John, I'm going to print this out and use it as a refernce for learning!

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