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Baroque interpretation and articulation for the modern flutist – Part 2

by | Apr 26, 2017 | Ory's Tips | 2 comments

Ory’s Flute Tips

Baroque interpretation and articulation for the modern flutist – Part 2

 

If you haven’t read yet Part 1 (Click to read), I strongly recommend that you start reading it first, as this post is a continuation of it. You’ll find part 3 here.

So you have learned about the hierarchy of the bar, the concept of Micro-Dynamics and hopefully practiced them a bit in order to get a feeling about the difference between the ‘modern-romantic’ playing and the baroque way.

This post is going to be about another basic concept in baroque music – ‘Articulatory silences’ and about ‘Bell-Notes’ with some exercises and practical advice.

🔇 Articulatory silences – “Notes must not appear to be glued together” (J. Quantz)

In order to present a more authentic baroque performance we have to accept and understand that the length of the notated notes in our scores were not expected to be played at their full length. In fact, if “notes must not appear to be glued together” as Quantz tells us, then the notes are expected to be played shorter than they appear, and therefore have a little pause/gap in between them.

Take for example the beginning of the last movement from the sonata in B minor by J.S.Bach:

Bach B minor sonata Notated

Bach B minor sonata played

Note that every note is slightly separated from the next note by a short pause and if there is a legato sign, only the last note in the legato should be shortened – in order to create the silence before the next note.

Performance advice:

These silences might need to be shorter or longer according the the room/hall you are playing in and you should develop the flexibility to perform in different ways according to the hall you are performing at:
If the hall is very acoustic and your sound stays longer ‘in the air’ then you would need longer silences in between the notes (in other words, to play the notes shorter). If the hall is very dry, you would be required to play these silences a bit shorter (and in other words, to play the notes longer, but still to have the silences in between the notes).

 

Baroque interpretation can be easy!

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🔔 Bell notes (or how to play with articulatory silences elegantly?)

A major part of playing elegantly is determined by the way we start and finish each note:

A note should not start with unnecessary accent or an aggressive attack and should not end in a sharp manner, as if the note would have been ‘cut with scissors’.
Since we have to play with the articulatory silences practically almost the whole time, it would be very important to be able to play each note beautifully – and playing ‘Bell-Notes’ is a technique that would help us tremendously to achieve that.

Ever tried to hit a bell? For sure you have at least heard one before. What are then the characteristics of a bell sound? In order to play Bell-like notes it is important for us to be able to separate and understand the main stages:

  • A clear, precise attack
  • Full sound from the beginning of the note
  • Natural diminuendo till the sound disappears

 

How can we then achieve this effect?

🎯 Consider the type of attack (beginning of the note) you are using:

In order to get a clear, ‘crispy’ attack I would recommend to not use the traditional ‘ta’ kind of articulation (tongue behind the teeth, touching the upper palate) and rather to use a more forward articulation – where the tongue goes between the teeth and touches both the inner upper and lower lips (and create kind of a ‘pop’ sound).

Imagine that your tongue acts as a water dam. If the dam is open, the water (your air) can pass through without any problem. If the dam is closed (your tongue blocks the air from going out of your lips) then the water stay behind the dam, creating some pressure on the dam and just waiting for the first possibility to burst out (when you take the tongue back and allow the air to pass through).

Exercise 1 without flute:

  • Blow out air as you would blow with the flute
  • Simply bring quickly your tongue forward and seal your embouchure with the tongue, not allowing the air to pass through (don’t stop blowing). Remark: If you do that correctly, you should feel some pressure building inside your mouth.
  • Keep blowing (although the tongue blocks the air) and quickly take back your tongue. The air will immediately manage to pass through your lips.
  • Repeat this process few times in one breath and block the air with your tongue quicker every time.

Exercise 2 without flute:

This is the same exercise but this time we don’t have the ‘luxury’ to have the air already going at the beginning:

  • Start with your tongue touching the lips and blocking any possibility for the air to pass through and ‘blow’ (no air should come out) to increase the pressure in your mouth
  • Keep blowing (although the tongue blocks the air) and quickly take back your tongue. The air will immediately manage to pass through your lips.
  • Stop the air the repeat this process few times. Try to shorten the breaks you need in order to get back to the first step every time.

After that, take the flute and try ex.2 with the flute. You should have a clear and quick attack and nice a rich tone the moment you take your tongue backwards.

Using this kind of articulation for the beginning of the notes allows you to have a clear, quick beginning of the notes, followed immediately by a full, rich tone (as the air pressure is already there before you take your tongue back) and it allows you to have the ‘hitting the bell’ effect.

 

🏆 Become the master of quick diminuendos

You have learned and practiced how to ‘hit’/begin the Bell-notes. Now it’s time to bring to our attention the ending of the notes:

I assume many of you did/do practice your diminuendos with long notes. You play a note or two in forte and then play a long diminuendo. This exercise is great but in real life we don’t have so much time for the diminuendo and therefore we should practice as well quick diminuendos.

Play the next exercises. You can choose every note or scale you wish (or change every day/few days):

Quick diminuendo on a note

Quick diminuendo scale

Instructions:

  • The Legato sign is your air – Try not to stop the air in between each note.
  • The accents should be the use of the forward tonguing that you have learned earlier in this post. Try to integrate it into this exercise.
  • Start with a metronome speed of 72 a quarter and increase gradually till around 96.
  • Keep your lips flexible and not tight. They should be able to move forward with each diminuendo in order to keep the intonation right.

 

I’m looking forward to getting your comments and questions about everything that was discussed in this post. In the next post I will discuss further about the flexibility of the lips and how you could improve it.

Try it out and let me know how it feels.

Enjoy experimenting,
Ory

Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN

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