Peter-Lukas Graf on Articulation

A few days ago I received my quarterly publication from the German Flute Society that featured a tribute to Peter-Lukas Graf, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

I thought I would use this occasion as well. Last May I attended his masterclass at the Conservatory in Amsterdam. What he had to say, especially about articulation, bears repeating. I find myself using these ideas with my students all the time.

Here goes:
Articulation is a matter of embouchure and air = quality of sound. During articulated passages, keep the tongue as if saying the “y” in “year”. The tongue is always piano.

There are 4 kinds of articulation:

  1. Portato. Sustained articulation, using only enough of the tongue in order to repeat the note. There is a tiny little diminuendo at the end of each note.
  2. Detache. Here there is also a little diminuendo at the end of each note, and a little interruption between each note.
  3. Staccato. A short note with a big interruption. Personally, I like to keep the idea of the diminuendo – even if it is a nano second. That way, it gives each note a kind of “lift”.
  4. Marcato/Martellato. Strong accent. The accent can’t be done with the tongue (tongue must always be piano!), it must come from the air. You can practice it without the tongue by saying “ha-ha-ha-”, moving the abdominal muscles. This articulation can’t be done very fast.

I love the idea of staccato as something that you can practice in slow motion (i.e. detache and portato are slowed down staccati!)

There is also the Langue Sorte as Moyse describes in de la Sonorite – this is used for special notes and is also not a quick-type of articulation.

In Graf’s Check-Up; 20 Basic Studies for Flutists you can find articulation exercises in ex. no. 15.