The way certain phrases are set with joined or separated notes is just one way to start an expression. Articulation for flutists is a set of rules that include tongue placement and knowing where to join or separate a set of notes.
It’s important to understand that a flutist separates their notes with the tongue. How hard or soft the tongue touches is just one part of setting the style of the piece.
There are description words in music such as ‘staccato’, and ‘legato’ which can create a feeling of excitement, anticipation, or even a smooth flow depending.
When a flutist uses the tongue to start a particular note and then switches the fingers to another note without using the tongue, this has a new name called ‘slur’. The notes are joined together with one longer breath which can create a whole new surge of emotion depending on the direction of the notes (up or down) and if any dynamics (loud or soft) are used simultaneously.
How hard or soft the tongue touches is just one part of setting the style of the piece.
The word ‘articulation’ is sometimes used in a speech setting, which is very similar to what we are doing as flutists. Imagine a child (or an adult) who tends to speak with their mouth not open wide enough, or not emphasizing the different parts to a word well enough to be understood easily. These pose problems for the listener usually, and the fix is to teach the person to listen more carefully to the different parts of the words and how they flow in the sentence. Once they understand that we like to be able to ‘hear’ each part, then they usually slow a little and fix the articulation issue.
You’ve possibly heard the saying that a drunk person will ‘slur’ their words as they speak. The words in this case would be all smeared together without any clear ‘articulation’.
These images hopefully help you understand what and why articulation for flutists is so important. We want to be able to communicate through music so that our listeners can interpret and really feel the emotion coming through. One of the first skills for a flutist (apart from learning the notes and the counting) is to fully grasp the concepts of articulation and use them wisely and exactly.
A piece that is supposed to resemble a brisk jaunt through a prickly thorn bush will sound completely different than a tune that is depicting the slow movement of a slug- and it can all be attributed to articulation.
Keep learning, my friends. Let’s see what else will open our ‘musical eyes’ this week.