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Improve your notes attack – 4 ways to start playing a note

by | Oct 14, 2017 | Ory's Tips | 2 comments

Ory’s Flute Tips

Improve your notes attack – 4 ways to start playing a note


Each note we are playing has 3 parts to it:

  • The beginning of the note – also called the attack
  • The middle part
  • The ending of the note

In this post I would like to concentrate on the way you begin each note – the attack. Being able to play with various note attacks will allow you to have a wide range of options to choose from in order to serve better the music you are playing.

You must wonder, how come there are 4 possibilities to begin a note and what are they good for? Here are the 4 possibilites:

  • Only with air – no tonguing
  • Tongue between the lips
  • With the lips only – no tongue (saying ‘pa’)
  • Tongue behind the teeth (with many variations: ‘ta’, ‘da’, ‘la’, ‘tha’ etc.)

So when would it be better to use each of them?

💨 Attack only with air – no tonguing

This kind of attack can in fact be used in 2 oposite ways:
have a very clear and quick attack or no attack at all (sneaking in). By blowing your air very quickly you can achieve a very clear and sharp beginning of the note (very good for very loud notes and helps avoid cracking them). On the contrary, by increasing the speed of you air gradually and lowering the direction of the air downwards you can get an effect of sneaking in without a clear attack (or accent) for that note.

👅 Tongue between the lips

This attack allows you to start a note with a very clear beginning. Your tongue should block the air stream by touching both your lips. The moment you move your tongue backwards with a quick, sharp movement you should get immediately the note, as the air stream will immediately burst out of your lips. This attack is very useful for the following cases:

  • Clear attack of the low register (especially for the first note of the phrase)
  • Clear attack on repeated notes, in order to clearly hear the second note
  • Very clear for passages using single tonguing (and touching the lips with the tongue before each note)

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👄 With the lips only – no tongue (saying ‘pa’)

This articulation will allow you to avoid accents at the beginning of the notes. The attack is rather gentle and should allow a pure tone to sound immediately after the attack. It is very useful especially in the higher-middle range of the flute and for attacing notes marked with piano or pianissimo.

This is a very useful attack in many of Beethoven’s orchestral works (for example, the triplets in Leonore Overture), in general in classical and baroque period pieces and for soft entrances in French music (such as the first note of Sancan Sonatine or the Poulenc Sonata).

😁 Tongue behind the teeth (with many variations: ‘ta’, ‘da’, ‘la’, ‘tha’ etc.)

The ‘ta’ attack is probably the most common and known attack and was probably the first attack you’ve learned to play with. There are many variations on it: ‘ta’, ‘da’, ‘tha’, ‘la’ and probably many more possibilities. For all of the them, the technique is similar: Your tongue is somewhere behind the teeth, touching different places ranging from your palate to your teeth.

I have to admit that this kind of attack is probably the attack I use the least. It is normally not very clear and clean and therefore I try to avoid it. If I would use it, it would probably be more with ‘da’ or ‘la’ in cases I wish to have a bit slower attack and not as clear or quick attack, as I could get with the other options I mentioned earlier.

And what about practicing?

In order to gain control and master the different attacks – integrate them into your daily practice routine. Play any scale from the second octave, rather slowly (from G major/minor up), play each note twice and short. You should work on the attack you wish and make sure you have a good and full sound following the attack.

Try it out and let me know how it feels.

Enjoy experimenting,

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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