When studying with George Garzone in the mid 1980’s, I learned to practice and play without using any tongue. In my experience, playing without any tonguing exposes your finger technique and thus, through improved awareness, helps both the time and feel in your fingers. Secondly, it seems to really help improve overall sound and breath support since you won’t be breaking the airstream at all with the tongue which allows for a smoother more consistent air stream and sound. If you do use your tongue a lot and you try this approach, you might find yourself running out of air much sooner than usual.
Surprisingly, this is difficult to do, since our tongue is often tied habitually to our process of playing and improvising on the saxophone.
The trick that I use myself and with my students is to fold the tongue back in the mouth so that you cannot use it even if you try. The result is that for a while you’re aware of holding your tongue there, folded back, but after a period of conscious effort you will forget that you’re doing it and it will become much easier. At that point you can simply not tongue because you get used to what it feels like not to.
Here are a few pictures of what I mean by “folding back your tongue”. If this is difficult, just hold it against the roof of your mouth or behind your bottom teeth, in whatever way is active and deliberate.
Obviously tonguing on saxophone is important, but chances are it has become a bad habit and on some level is holding back your awareness of technical problems in your hands as well causing a subtle lack of air support. I encourage everyone to try it for a week and notice any changes in finger technique, sound and general conception.
After you have mastered this technique, bring the tongue back into your playing and you’ll enjoy a whole new level of awareness in terms of what the tongue is good for and what it isn’t.
Below is a video of me playing over Emily with my tongue folded back in order to not use it at all.
What you’ll notice is that I’m using a breath attack to create a sound similar to tonguing, using a “ha” sound, while breathing out quickly from the diaphragm.
George Garzone, “If I had it my way, I would cut your tongue out.”