Woodwind techniques

During my listening research for Part 2 of this course, I have noticed some interesting instrumental effects being used and so decided to do a little fact finding.  I chose to concentrate on two instruments I am particularly interested in writing for, flute and clarinet (although some of the techniques extend to other woodwind instruments).  Here is a brief summary.

Flutter tonguing

Created with a rapid rolling of the tongue (different techniques have been developed for both flute and clarinet), and usually indicated with a tremolo mark.  This effect has sometimes been used to mimic bird sounds.


Can be created either by the lips or the tongue.  Both techniques create a short percussive effect which can’t be repeated too quickly.  On the flute this sounds a little like a dart being thrown.

White noise

Created by breathing through the flute, can’t be sustained for too long.

Key pressing

As the name suggests, the performer makes an intentionally audible sound when pressing down the keys.  If an ascending passage is required, since this involves removing rather than placing fingers the player has to ‘fake’ the sound with another finger.

Tongue ram / stop

The flute embouchure is covered with the lips and the exhaled air stopped with the tongue.  The sounded pitch is usually a major 7th below the keyed pitch.

Lip glissando

A flautist can slide the pitch of a note up/down to the next finger position, creating a smooth glissando effect.   This is not so easy in the higher register and works best in slow music.


As the name suggests – singing whilst playing the instrument!  I have seen this demonstrated for clarinet, a very odd effect.


Creating two pitches simultaneously, based on harmonics of the fundamental note.

Microtonal sounds

Playing quarter-tones is possible on both flute and clarinet, specialist fingering charts have been developed.


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