If you asked me if I call myself a flutist or a flautist, I think the best answer I could give is that it doesn’t really matter because I consider myself a musician first, who just happens to play the flute. If you had asked Marcel Moyse the same question, I’m sure he would have said something to the same effect. He spent his career playing in the pit of the Opera Comique in Paris and performing with some of the top musicians, both instrumentalists and singers, of his day. He was so inspired by the example of musicianship and phrasing modeled out by these great artists, he compiled his famous Tone Development Through Interpretation, along with the 24 Little Melodic Studies and 25 Little Melodic Studies. These three books are essentially training manuals of phrasing, inflection, style and interpretation.
You might say to me that this material is only for advanced players at the conservatory level and professionals. And my response is the principles demonstrated in these three books are universal to music making at any level, from the youngest beginner to world famous concert artists. We need to live and breathe these principles into every note, every phrase that we play and teach. What are they?
- Teaching the hierarchy of beats in every time signature. In 4/4 beats 1 and 3 are strong, 2 and 4 are weak. In 3/4 beat 1 is strong, 2 is weak and 3 is weaker and so forth. And weak goes to strong. In other words, 4 leads to 1 and 2 leads to 3.
- Teach phrases or parts of phrases rather than measure to measure. Many phrases start with some sort of anacrusis. It can be as short as a 16th note or as long as half a measure. The anacrusis always leads to the down beat. Always make your rehearsal technique or practicing musical rather than just about mastering the technical skills.
- Teach correct breathing habits by how you rehearse your ensembles. In other words, breathe with the phrases or parts of phrases. Phrases are like musical sentences. Breathe at the ends of phrases or in the natural pause in a phrase. The biggest phrasing crime I see kids commit is breathing before the very last note of a phrase that ends after the bar line in the next measure.
- Teach your students the difference between a strong ending and a weak ending to a phrase. Have you ever noticed that strong dissonances often fall on strong beats in order to resolve into a consonance on the next weak beat? It is correct to lean into the dissonance to make the resolution sweeter.
It is easier than you might think to teach these principles right from the very beginning. If you teach them inflection and phrasing from the start, the kids learn to phrase naturally, musically and intuitively almost without knowing they are doing it. If you wait several years into their instrumental training, it is much more difficult to help them to phrase. The kids get locked into thinking it’s all about technique rather than using technique, tone, articulation and inflection to make music.
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