The Flute Show - flute expert

What is Legato-Tonguing on the Flute?

Learn an important flute technique to improve your portato playing.

In this video, Florence and Robert Estrin approach the concept of "legato-tonguing" on the flute, which, in music, is known as "portato." They'll demonstrate this through an astonishing performance of the beginning of Faure's Fantaisie for flute and piano.

Released on September 3, 2014

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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

Robert Estrin: Hi! Welcome to! This is The Flute Show with Robert and Florence Estrin. Today's subject is legato tonguing.

What is legato tonguing? It sounds like an oxymoron. How could it be legato and be tongued at the same time?

We have Florence here to talk all about this. Welcome.

Florence Estrin: Thank you. Yeah, sometimes we don't just have a pure slur. We have what's called portato which has the dots above the notes and then the phrase mark above it. That is on the flute. I like to refer to it as legato tonguing, because you have the air which keeps steady, but you use your tongue to delineate the notes.

It's sometimes referred to as soft tonguing, pulsating. Lengthened and sustained is what one of the definitions of portato is. But, on the flute, basically keep that air moving and let the tongue do the work, but very gently. So, not a very harsh tongue, very light.

Robert Estrin: That's right. The tongue just kind of interrupts the flow of the air.

Florence Estrin: Exactly. But, I try to not use even interrupt. It's almost like little dots on the wind.

Robert Estrin: I see.

Florence Estrin: You know, just little tiny...

Robert Estrin: That's a great image.

Florence Estrin: ...pulses.

Robert Estrin: Maybe we could demonstrate this...

Florence Estrin: Yes.

Robert Estrin: ...with a piece.

Florence Estrin: Okay. How about the opening of Faure's 'Fantasy,' which is all filled with portato?

Robert Estrin: Perfect.

What would happen if you played it all slurred? How different would that sound?

Florence Estrin: Well, why don't we try it?

Robert Estrin: All right.

That's also quite beautiful, but there really is a difference there, isn't there?

Florence Estrin: There really is a difference. And, it's much more difficult to do it portato than just slurred. Slurred is pretty easy. You just start the note with the tongue and keep the air flowing, whereas portato it's tricky to get that delicate balance without interrupting the flow.

Robert Estrin: All right. I think it sounded beautiful both ways, but Faure has his idea...

Florence Estrin: That's right.

Robert Estrin: ...with respect.

Florence Estrin: I definitely believe that with the portato it gives...

Robert Estrin: I think it's nicer.

Florence Estrin: ...much more expressivity.

Robert Estrin: Yeah, yeah, there's a lot more to it.

Great! This is a beautiful subject. Thanks so much for sharing that with us, Florence.

And, we'll see you all again next time here on The Flute Show on and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ruth Pallek * VSM MEMBER * on June 7, 2017 @7:43 am PST
Oh I remember playing and learning this beauty...thanks for the reminiscing...maybe I might even get inspired to play it again. * VSM MEMBER * on June 7, 2017 @5:42 am PST
How about covering glissandos?
Lynn Jordan on August 19, 2016 @1:48 pm PST
I've seen "portato" noted as it was in your demonstration, with a slur, but I have also seen it noted as a staccato dot under a legato mark on non-slurred quarter notes in Louis Moyse's First Solos Haydn's Menuetto. Is that articulated the same as the slurred version?
Virginia Flatt * VSM MEMBER * on November 19, 2014 @9:00 am PST
Gorgeous!! Thank you
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