Robert Estrin - piano expert
Visit Robert's Website:

What is a slur?

Slurs give a performer one of the most powerful expression tools

Released on September 18, 2013

Share |
Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!

Video Transcription

Welcome, I'm Robert Estrin here at and Living I'd like to welcome our special guest artist, Florence Estrin, flutist. Yes, today's subject is, "What is a slur?" And on the piano what a slur is is very difficult to define, which is why I brought Florence in so you could hear it on a wind instrument. Now, slurs of course are the curved lines over notes and they indicate, to a wind player, when to use the tongue to delineate the beginning of notes and when to play on the breath. So Florence is going to first play the opening phrase from the Poulenc Sonata, "The Second Movement", and she's going to play it as it's written, slurred. So there will be the tonguing of the first slur and everything else will be on the breath, and this is the sound.

And that's just the way Francis Poulenc made the music. Now, I'm going to have her play it not the way it was written, playing it if it did not have that slur. So she's still going to play with very, very smooth but there will be the delineation of the tongue for each note, which is the proper way to play a wind instrument when there isn't a slur. And this is the sound.

You hear that difference, there's a subtle difference. Now, of course there are many different ways that you could play slurs or non-slurs depending on the musical context. So music you'll have more detached. In fact, I could have Florence play, yet again, now playing it a little bit more detached, in case the musical style called for this, still not slurred but different phrasing.

So there are many different ways you can phrase music depending upon the musical context. Now, on the piano it's a very nebulous area, the difference between slurred and notes that are not slurred. It all comes down to the human voice. In fact, with the human voice a slur actually contains all the notes between the slur. It is essentially a very, very quick glide between notes. It's inevitable when you sing, if you sing from one note to the next, and you will get all the notes between, very quickly. I also hear the French horn and the French horn has that same quality of getting all the notes between the slur. String instruments can do that also, sliding on the string, and the bowing techniques enable different types of phrasing as well.

Now, on the piano if I were to play those same series of notes and tried to get the sound of a slur what I would do is overlap the notes slightly, which technically is not what a slur is, but it's actually physically impossible to get a true slur out of the piano. So like many aspects of piano it's an illusion. So this is how I would play those notes if I was playing them slurred.

So it's a very smooth sound by slightly overlapping each note. And if it was not written slurred I'd put a slight bit of space between the notes so it doesn't sound slurred.

So these are subtle differences and there are many different shadings of phrasings within slurs and notes that are not slurred as well as the myriad other phrasing possibilities that composers write in the music. I wanna thank Florence so much for joining us today, and all of you for watching these videos. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at and Living
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login as a Member  or  

Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Brian M. on September 18, 2013 @4:35 pm PST
Thanks for this demo. I thought I knew what the intention of a slur was, but this makes it very clear, both what it should sound like and how to play it.
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.