Erin Spencer - flute expert

How to Play Staccato on the Flute

Useful tips to play staccato on the flute

In this video, Erin teaches you how to play staccato on the flute. You don't want to miss this useful lesson!

Released on June 3, 2020

DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi guys, this is Erin back for another video here on Virtual Sheet Music. I had a request on my personal YouTube channel to do a video on staccato. And so I thought I would go ahead and do that for you guys here.

90% of the time, if you're struggling with your staccato, the problem comes from your air. For some reason, when flutists play legato, we use lovely air support. It's great. Our tone is beautiful. And then we switched to staccato and all of a sudden we're focused on our tongue so much that our air just completely goes out the window. So, no matter what you're working on, if it's an excerpt, an etude, a solo piece, no matter what it is, the first thing you should do if you're struggling with a staccato section is play it legato.

As an example, today, I will be using the Dance of the Insects from the Ernesto Kohler 25 Romantic Etudes. This is number 19. There is not specific staccato markings over each note, but at the beginning of it, it says spiritoso e ben staccato. So, we're going to playing that staccato. There's a passage starting at measure 31 that I'm going to play staccato first. I'm not necessarily trying to do anything wrong, but I'm also not trying to do it great, as far as staccato goes.

So, there's my initial staccato. Now I'm going to play legato and I'm really going to notice what my ear feels like connecting between the notes. How fast is it going? How consistent is it? I'm really going to try to memorize the feeling of playing it legato and slurred.

So, definitely on those accented notes, my air is stronger because it should be for an accent. But just in general, I feel like my level of air support... And when I say support, I'm talking about coming from my abs really, coming from low in your body, pushing the air out with your belly. I feel like in general, the level of air support when I did it staccato, it was maybe like here and when I did it legato, it was up here. So, I'm going to play it legato one more time to remind myself what that felt like. And then I'm going to add my tongue back in, but try to keep the air support the same.

That felt much better to me. And it felt like I had more musical direction because my air support was better and the staccato felt much cleaner to me. So, that is my tip mostly for quicker staccato playing. Keep your air legato and your tongue staccato. But if you are doing slower staccato playing something like... That is completely different. Obviously, you can't use legato air with that, or it will be legato. So, how do you stop the note? Do you stop it with your tongue? Do you stop it with your air? You stop it with your air. If you stop it with your tongue...

Ooh. I hate that sound. Sometimes it's useful in Jazz or certain contexts, but not something we want to be doing most of the time. A lot of clarinet players who double on flute will do that because that's what you have to do on reed instruments, but we have to stop the sound with our air. So, we do that by saying ha, ha, ha, with our belly. Ha, ha, ha. See how my belly goes in. Ha, ha, ha. That's the action you want on the bouncy articulation.

So, I am in book three of the Trevor Wye Practice Book for the Flute. There's a new omnibus edition of this out, or you could just get the articulation book. Either way, it's very useful, all five books so, definitely recommend it. In the articulation single tiny section, he has a really great exercise for working on your ha, but you could just do it on a scale if you don't have this book. So, I will demonstrate the exercise now using a ha, that means I'm not using my tongue at all. I'm keeping my tongue nice and low in my mouth, out of the way of my air. Just starting each note with my air only.

That was always my air, no tongue. You will probably crack some notes. I cracked a couple. Maybe you'll crack a bunch of notes. This is a really good indicator of which way your air is aiming. If your air is aiming too far up and you do this, you will be cracking all over the place. So, aim your air further down. Once you feel really, really good about that, add your tongue back in, but keep bouncing your air.

This bouncy articulation comes up in all sorts of pieces for the flute and it's a really important technique to have. So, get really comfortable with using your air. I like to practice my scales this way, doing ha first, then a tuh articulation, then a cuh articulation. For example, on G major... Then tuh... Then cuh.

Another totally random tip that I picked up at a master class with Keith Underwood is to think pearly with your articulation. He doesn't really know why it works. I don't know why it works, but wow. Me and my students sound so much better when we think pearly. So, let's try that again on a tuh articulation thinking pearly.

I don't know if it has to do with how on the word pearl, your tongue is really low in the back of your mouth and maybe that helps, or if it has something to do with mental imagery. I don't know, but it works. Think pearly. Thanks Keith Underwood. My last tip is to check in again between legato and staccato, but this time make sure the shape of the inside of your mouth isn't changing and the shape of your aperture isn't changing. I'm going to go back to that example from the Dance of the Insects. Now, this is something I'm actually working on, on my own. So, I can be a good, bad example for you right now, but I'm going to play just a tiny section of the Dance of the Insects. I'm going to play it legato and then staccato. Watch the shape of my aperture. Now staccato.

On staccato, my aperture is way wider and that's a problem. And you can hear the sound spread in that range too. Articulation is something I'm really working on myself right now too. So, if I try to keep a more focused, smaller aperture as I go down, staccato...

The sound stays much more consistent. It doesn't get as spread and fluffy towards the end of that. So, check in with your aperture. Check in that even when you're staccato, the back of your mouth is nice and open and your staccato will improve so much. So, in conclusion, my three tips to work on your staccato: make sure your air support is strong between legato and staccato. Use bouncy articulation from your abs for slower staccato, and make sure nothing about your physical, internal, and external setup is changing when you go to staccato. If you work on those things, it will help a lot. And one last tiny tip, just make sure your tongue is not moving excessively and being too heavy. When we're playing staccato, sometimes we focus a lot on our tongue. That's not what you need to focus. Just let your tongue be as light and tiny movements as possible, and that will help a lot. Thank you guys so much for watching. I will see you next time here on Virtual Sheet Music. Bye.
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