As woodwind players we are often taught that articulation requires the use of the tip of the tongue and no more—to use more than the tip would just be wrong!
For reed instruments, I think this is essentially true, but I don’t think it works that way on the flute. Try this:
- Using a reed instrument mouthpiece, or substituting a (clean) finger, simulate “tip of the tongue” articulation. Find the very tip of the tongue and touch it lightly to the tip of the reed (real or imaginary). With the tongue frozen in this position, apply some air pressure. If you allow the lips to “unseal” from around the mouthpiece at this point, air escapes.
- Now try it with nothing inside your mouth, in the manner of a flutist. Touch just the very tip of the tongue to your favorite articulation spot (palate, teeth, or maybe lip, depending on your pedagogical pedigree) as though about to tongue a note, and apply air pressure. Notice all the air leaking out? Me neither.
Are you really holding back all that air with just the very tip of your tongue? While I think “tip of the tongue” is still a useful fiction for flute playing, it seems to me that I must actually use a surprising amount of tongue to seal off the air from escaping—the sides of my tongue contact my molars to help contain the air until I am ready to release it.
(The tip of the tongue is effective for reed instruments because it is only necessary to prevent the reed from vibrating as the air pressure is applied—a very small amount of tongue is quite effective for this.)
The “tip of the tongue” is a good concept for helping flutists to keep their articulation light, crisp, and relaxed, and I don’t particularly recommend teaching the sides-of-the-tongue thing to students as it can easily be misunderstood or taken too far. But I do think a clearer understanding of the invisible parts of woodwind playing can help advanced students and their teachers diagnose and solve subtler problems.