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Articulation    Basic

How a note is begun and how we separate two notes has a huge impact on the feel of the music. The general area of how notes are begun is part of what is called “articulation”. It is also referred to as how we play the “attack” on the notes.

The Attack

When coming from silence at the beginning of a song or a musical phrase, there is the basic a choice in how sharply we want to attack the note.

Taaa

Place the back of your hand (or the back of your forearm) an inch or two in front of your mouth. Say “Taaa” (or “Tuhhh”). Feel the sharp air pressure created by the “Taaa” … the attack comes from the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

Now try it in a flute. Here's a short example:

Taaa Attack

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

Chirp

Do you hear the small chirp in the sound sample above? When you use a Taaa attack, some flutes will chirp at the start of the note. This effect varies dramatically from flute to flute, but once you know a flute well, you can get this chirp effect whenever you want with just the right amount of breath pressure.

Kaaa

Repeat the Taaa exercise on the back of your hand, but use “Kaaa” (or “Kuhhh”). This should feel slightly softer … the attack is created from the back of your throat, and your entire mouth creates a somewhat softer attack.

Now try the Kaaa attack on a flute. Here's a short example:

Kaaa Attack

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

Haaa

Repeat the exercise using “Haaa”. This should feel much softer … the airstream is begun from the bottom of your lungs and includes the entire volume of your respiratory system.

Try it on your flute. It should produce a dramatically different attack. Here's a short example:

Haaa Attack

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

Connecting Notes

The attack on a note says little about how long to hold a note or how notes are connected to one another. Here are some of the basic ways that notes are connected:

Legato

An Italian word meaning literally “tied together” in English. You play one note into the other, with no separation or tonguing.

Legato on a single note is shown in classical music and Nakai Tablature with a bar above the note head: Legato for a single note

Legato for a group of notes is shown with a tie or slur across the notes to be played legato:

Sheet Music example of Legato

… and this might sound like:

Legato

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

Staccato

The opposite of legato is staccato, an Italian word meaning literally “detached” in English. Staccato notes still hold their musical length (quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, etcetera), but are played briefly and with tonguing articulation between each staccato note.

Staccato notes are shown in classical music and Nakai Tablature with a dot over the note head: Staccato for a single note

Here is a scale in Nakai tablature that has some legato half notes and stacatto eight notes:

Sheet Music example of Staccato and Legato Notes

Playing staccato notes can be done my saying the phrase “Tut”. For a slightly less sharp and short note, you can try the phrase “Tak” instead. Here's an example of the above legato-staccato scale:

Staccato

Clint Goss. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen. F# minor flute of Alaskan Yellow Cedar by Colyn Petersen

There is also a term in modern music notation, staccatissimo, for an ultra-short note, but I've not seen that used in connection with Native American flute music. It is written like this: Staccatissimo for a single note

 

From Legend

The approach to articulation above is very much along the lines of how it might be taught in classical music training. For a different approach (and especially if you're demonstrating articulation for young people or leading a flute circle activity), you might try calling on some traditional songs or poems.

Here's a Modoc Cradle Song from [Judson 1910], page 66:

Early in the morning robin will eat ants,
Early, early will it pick at the cedar tree,
Early in the morning it chatters,
   “Tchiwip, tchiwip,
     Tchitch, tsits, techitch.”

The “Tchiwip, tchiwip, Tchitch, tsits, techitch” makes a great introduction to cool articulations when breathed into the flute!

 
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