Articulation Practise


For the Hurel I’m playing for the first audition round of YPA I need to focus my energies on a few specifics of playing in order to pull it off – namely, breathing (quickly, getting lots in), fingers (just keeping up the advanced Wye tech exercises should suffice to keep them in good shape), and articulation (clarity, especially in low register, hard attacks, and speed). I’ll come back to breathing when I start working on it properly, but for now I’ve been spending a bit of time on articulation.

I’ve been experimenting a bit with French articulation (tonguing against the lip or between the teeth instead of against the hard palate). Having the tongue further forward in the mouth helps to tighten response time between attack and tone, and the pleasant ‘pop’ sound you get when tonguing against the lip (like spitting a watermelon seed) adds clarity to the beginning of the note. Some flautists, most notably Emily Beynon, principal of the Royal Concertgebouw, are able to get a wonderful clear attack on the lowest notes using this technique. I am yet to master this in the very low register, but I get very good results down to about a G, and varying results below that.

One of the biggest problems with it, however, at least at the moment, is that this kind of tongue activity results in rather a lot of excess saliva being produced. Which is not exactly conducive to clear tonguing (or flute playing in general). A real pain! But apparently this reduces over time, so just have to keep at it for a bit. And it is also still quite slow and laborious as I work at incorporating this new technique. That said, my articulation practise generally has seriously suffered over the past few months, and I’m slow even the usual way. So I’m trying to speed it all up (more on that in a bit). These two problems make it not exactly practical to work into the music I’m preparing at this stage, except for use on the occasional or accented tone for popping clarity.

As the tongue fatigues quite badly after not an especially large amount of work I’m trying to incorporate a 15min session at least once daily (on a good day, twice), followed by long tone, harmonic or multiphonic practise. Getting speed up while maintaining clarity (of attack and the resulting tone) is the major goal at this point, and I’ll move on to hard and explosive attacks, and really low reg stuff soon. My general method is to work through the Wye articulation book single tonguing exercises for up to 10mins, then work on double tonguing with a combination of exercises from this same book and then my own little exercise that works on any study with constant semiquavers: first double tongue 4 semiquavers each note (t k t k), then reverse (k t k t), then triple tongue 3 (t k t, t k t), then double tongue 2 (t k, t k), reverse (k t, k t), then double tongue the passage normally (one articulation per note – t, k, t, k). It’s more like a muscle exercise for the tongue than anything. The other exercise I frequent is the one in Peter Lukas Graf’s Check Up (I think it’s exercise 15).

And then, as those who spend any amount of time in my company know, I practise articulation regularly when out and about – minus the flute obviously. I’ll purr, flutter, pop and click away as I walk around – I taught myself to throat-flutter in this way, and greatly improved my tongue slaps! French articulation and double/triple tonguing are the next targets…


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