I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this articulation marking, a tenuto line and a staccato dot combined, is the one that confuses people the most.

In fact it is quite straight forward if you think about it logically. The tenuto line is referring to the beginning of the note and the staccato dot is referring to the end of the note.

The tenuto is telling you to start the note with that little bit of weight I mentioned in my previous blog on tenuto.

The staccato marking is telling you not to connect the note to the following note; leave a space. How long that space has to be is determined by the music you are playing and your stylistic choices. What sounds good?

Try this process on a one octave ascending G major scale:

  1. Play the scale with normal, basic tonguing
  2. Play the scale with lovely staccato, remembering your detaché
  3. Play the scale tenuto with that little bit of weight at the start of each note
  4. Now play mezzo-staccato. So each note has a bit of weight at the start but is not connected to the next note.

Try this sequence on a few different scales exploring with the length of your mezzo-staccato notes.

When there is a row of mezzo-staccato notes, they are often placed under a slur. This can look confusing as the slur and the staccato seem to contradict each other. It is played exactly the same as when the note is written with a tenuto line and a staccato dot; slight weight on the beginning of the note but not connected to the following note. A half staccato.

The variations in Studies 1 and 2 of Moyse’s 24 Little Melodic Studies are good for experimenting with the length mezzo-staccato notes.  

The opening of the Faure Fantasie is a brilliant example of mezzo-staccato in our repertoire.

And one last thing, string players refer to mezzo-staccato as portato, which means carried and comes from the Italian portare, to carry. This can be a great image of how to play your mezzo-staccato notes.

A common definition of tenuto that is bandied about is hold for the full value of the note. This definition is half right in that one note is connected to the following note, so still articulated but without a gap.

The one thing however, that is often missing from this definition is the gentle weight that is given to the beginning of each tenuto note. It’s a bit like walking along carrying heavy bags and each step requires a bit of effort to keep the momentum going.

In previous blogs, I’ve written about the tongue being just behind the front teeth on the alveolar ridge. For tenuto however; the tongue tends to move back, away from the teeth, along the ridge as if saying the sounds do or da. It is a gentler and somewhat rounded tongue action.

Using this tongue action with a gentle detaché pulse can give the tenuto note the weight it requires at the beginning. You can even try dropping your chin slightly for each note to darken the sound a little if that is appropriate for the music you are playing.

So if your standard idea for tenuto is hold for its full value, try adding that smidge of weight at the beginning of each note to create more interest in your articulation.

Often when we articulate a lot of our focus is on what the tongue is doing. This seems pretty logical but I think it is always important to remind yourself that the tongue makes zero sound on the flute (excluding extended techniques) and the quality of your articulation is inextricably linked to the quality of your air.

Keeping this in mind, the basis for achieving great sounding staccato is having really good detaché. You should aim to sound really good with your detaché alone and then add in your tongue, to give that final level of clarity and finesse to your staccato playing. Remember the following tips from my recent ‘Basic Tonguing’ blog:

  • Tip of the tongue
  • Just behind the top teeth
  • Back and forth like a snake’s tongue
  • Imagine the roof of your mouth is super hot. You have to touch it but you don’t want to stay there too long. 
  • Use the tongue lightly, like a feather

To start simply; choose a scale and play three short crotchets followed by a rest at around mm = 60. Do this without your tongue but with good detaché kicks. Once this is sounding good, repeat your scale adding in your tongue to achieve a nice clear staccato. This can then be followed by some more challenging exercises.

Try the Reichert inspired single tonguing exercise in Trevor Wye’s Articulation book (from A Practice Book for the Flute). Play this exercise in many different keys with very short notes, using just your detaché. Once this is sounding very clear add your tongue in for sparkling staccato.

I also like to use Studies 12, 15 and 18 from Moyse’s 24 Little Melodic Studies, approaching them in the same manner as the previous exercises. First the detaché and then adding in the tongue.

How about Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercise no 4? Play a whole key with short detaché and then repeat it adding the tongue in as well.

Boehm 24 Caprices No. 6 is one of my go to staccato practice studies. Of course the flute repertoire has many examples of great staccato passages. How about the famous Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream flute excerpt? Feel free to post your favourites in the comments below.

Whatever exercises or pieces you decide to use to sharpen up your staccato, always remind yourself that detaché is the secret you should never forget.