The Weird and Wonderful Uvula

The Weird and Wonderful Uvula

What do uvulas have to do with flute playing and teaching? Quite a bit, actually. Read on for a wacky slow motion video of the uvula in action and an explanation for why this might be of interest to musicians.

The uvula is the fleshy bit of skin that hangs down in the back of your mouth. It’s useful for gargling, though nobody really knows why we have one. Two fascinating facts: 1. if a large uvula causes you to snore, you can have it removed – and 2. some people pierce them. Yuck!

I saw this video today by the Slow-Mo Guys and had to share it with you:


Slow-Mo Uvula Video

Flute players use the uvula for a special technique called flutter tonguing.

To flutter tongue with the back of the throat, a player must be able to control the tempo of the “uvulations” – faster for high notes and slower for low notes – and keep the beats steady. Flutter tonguing can also be done by rolling the tongue, and some people prefer this method. Flutter tonguing with the rolled Rs will sound a bit more percussive, but it works well… if you can do it! However, after 31 years of flute playing, I’m still trying to learn how to roll my tongue. Fortunately, I am really good at gargling!

How To Flutter Tongue with the Uvula

Keep the air strong and steady to flutter tongue with the back of the throat. Focus on keeping the back of the mouth open and relaxed. The trick is to be able to let the uvula flap on the airstream while maintaining a good embouchure. Then you have to forget about what is happening at the back of the mouth and play the notes as usual.

Here’s a good YouTube video on the two types of flutter tonguing. The video begins describing and demonstrating the uvula, or throat, method. (By the way, I love the little pop-ups on this video.)

Flutter tonguing on the flute is really fun and it sounds neat. Most people can’t tell how this sound is produced, especially because it doesn’t look different from regular flute playing.

Have fun, be silly, and don’t forget to practice everyday!


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