2018 November Subtle Staccatos - FATB 3

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Playing Tips for Flute Players by Zoë Booth

Warm-Ups for Flute Players - Improve Your Playing by Exercises by Zoë Booth (published by Pipeblower Publishing, RRP £8.95)

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“I love the prescriptions for 30 minute and 10 minute warm-ups; it’s easy to work out which exercises to do with limited time.”

November 2018
This month: Subtle Staccatos

Welcome to my flute-playing free Hints and Tips Page; a new page is posted here on the first day of each month.

I hope that October has been brilliant for practising, further to all the tips posted here last month! I know that there is a lot of hard work going on out there towards the next Flutes at the Barns themed Flute Day this month; the focus is "Free Your Playing" and playing away from the music stand - for many people their first time doing so - will be the aim, so send your good wishes for their bravery and success! It will be a fantastic day to pick up lots of tips and inspiration, watch out for the photos after the day!

This month we're looking at staccato-playing. Staccato is defined as "cut short" or "apart," - as such there are a number of ways to approach notes marked with the little dot above or below, it's not necessary to always play them super-short and started abruptly, and we're looking at a more subtle stroke here this month. In the years before "grade five theory was invented(!)" a dot above (or below) a note had a more fluid meaning, many composers using the dot to indicate a half-length note, and as such you may well find old scores which show staccato minims as an unusual example. Nowadays, the meaning of the staccato dot is often to interpretation, depending on context:

- staccatos in modern pieces such as twentieth century wind band arrangements may well be very short and contribute some accented articulation
- staccatos in baroque and classical pieces may be editorial, and often a more subtle attack and variety of note-lengths may be preferable, stylistically, to uniformity
- where many notes are long, some composers use staccatos to show that one single note isn't; occasionally the staccato indicates an accent - not as hard an accent as the > or ^ but an accent nonetheless.

Some of these indications counter one another, so it's up to you and I to use our judgement as to what sounds stylish and musical, taking the score as a starting-point. Listening to other instruments is really helpful in calibrating your personal style-o-meter, and - in particular - watching the many varieties of string bowing can inspire sounds which we can helpfully see and, later, aim to recreate.

There are lots of places to read about crisp staccato-playing, so let's practice a more subtle stroke now; imagine the bassoon playing rounded, short notes - that's what we're going for. The tongue is needed, but if everything is left to the "tu" or "ti" the front of the note will be less than subtle, so we need to develop an approach which achieves the note reliably (and makes it short) without the tonguing - we can then add gentle tonguing as the final polish. For each of these exercises, practise the notes without tonguing (huffing) until you can achieve the notes cleanly and without accent. As the register and/or dynamic changes, more or less support will be needed - you ears will guide you. Once everything is clean, the tongue can be re-introduced, but the smallest of movement and most subtle "t" syllable only. Voila - subtle staccatos, perfect for Mozart!

Click here for this month's .pdf on Subtle Staccatos>>

The dynamics given are just suggestions; play around with those, and challenge yourself even more! Enjoy your November staccatos, in all their hues, and come back next month when I think we can justify getting Christmassy. Until then...

...happy flute-ing,


P.S. Please send your questions and comments to me at info@flutesatthebarns.com

Next Time, December 2018: Seasonal Cheer!

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