The Victorian Flute Guild is delighted that Kathryn Moorhead, Associate Principal Flute of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, will be presenting the annual Professional Development Day next Friday, August 30th, at Saint Catherine’s School in Melbourne. This is certainly a wonderful opportunity for flute teachers to learn from a fabulous flautist and teacher. Here is the flyer for the day and please register your attendance in advance.

The Victorian Flute Guild turns 50 this year. To celebrate they are having a 50th Anniversary Gala Concert on Wednesday July 10th featuring Wissam Boustany, Ian Clarke and Matthias Ziegler and some fantastic local musicians. Here is the flyer and hopefully, if you live in the vicinity, you can come along and celebrate this momentous occasion with the Flute Guild.

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.

In my previous blog I wrote about one approach to basic or default articulation. For this post, I thought I would look at another form of tonguing that is also quite common and useful, namely tonguing between the lips.

Tonguing between the lips produces a very precise and clear beginning to a note and is the articulation method favoured by the Suzuki method of learning, analogous to spitting a grain of rice.

To achieve this articulation, place the tip of the tongue on the inside lower edge of the upper lip. The tongue will act like a gentle plug in the aperture. Once your tongue is in place quickly draw it back into your mouth releasing the air. Try this with a grain of rice by placing one grain of rice on your tongue, put your tongue into position and literally spit the grain of rice out of your mouth.

This method of articulation is beautifully clear and  can work very well for situations such as the opening B of the Faure Fantasie.

I’m quite slow at repeating notes with this method but probably I just need to practise it more. Some players even choose to use this articulation for the first note after each breath or rest. It’s certainly a lovely clear way to start a note and worth adding to your repertoire of articulation.

Impressive articulation can bring a lot of interest, variety and clarity into your playing so it is worth incorporating articulation practice into your daily practice routine. This may be as part of your tone development exercises, your technical practice or heightened awareness of your articulation in your studies and repertoire.

A good place to begin is to ensure that your basic or default articulation is serving you well. There are many different ways to articulate but my preferred first or default option is to use the tongue just behind the top teeth as in saying ti or tee. This is the first style of articulation that I teach my new students. There are other approaches and they are all valid. The thing to always ask yourself is, ‘how does it sound?’

To explore this type of articulation, go on a journey of discovery within your mouth. Place your tongue on the bottom, inside edge of your upper front teeth. With your tongue, travel up the inside of these teeth and find the spot where your teeth stop and your gum begins. Continue into your mouth along the flat surface behind your teeth, known as the alveolar ridge. Move further into your mouth and you will feel the curve up into the palette or roof of your mouth.

Now that you have a basic geography of your mouth in place, say ‘ti’ a few times and notice where your tongue is touching within your mouth. For most people, but not all, it is usually behind the top teeth on the alveolar ridge. This is an effective place to articulate from. There a few points you can think about when using your tongue in this manner:

Where on the alveolar ridge is your tongue striking?

Which part of your tongue are you using?

How firmly is your tongue pressing into the ridge?

What movement is your tongue making? Up and down or forward and back?

For a beautifully clear articulation I aim to use just the tip of my tongue and place it quite close behind the top teeth, almost at the point where the teeth and gum meet. The action that seems to work well is to draw the tongue into the mouth as opposed to a strong up and down action. I also use as little effort with my tongue as possible, just lightly tipping the alveolar ridge.

  • 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

There are two important points to remember when articulating:

  • The tongue makes zero sound on the flute. It does not generate the note but merely acts as a valve to release the air so be gentle but precise
  • The tongue is only involved in the beginning of a note, not the end. Your tongue only returns to the roof of your mouth in time for the subsequent note and doesn’t flick back up to stop the note.

Try some of these ideas out on some scales or simple exercises. Trevor Wye’s third book, Articulation, in his Practice Books For The Flute has plenty of exercises to work on. Many simple studies are excellent such as Andersen’s 24 Studies, op 33 No. 2 or some of the 24 Little Melodic Studies by Moyse. For the younger player 76 Graded Studies For Flute, Book One, has many options to explore articulation as well.

As I stated earlier, there are many approaches to articulation that are valid. By listening carefully and noticing how you are articulating, you will be able to create a whole new layer of interest into your playing which I think you will find is well worth the effort.