Somewhere in the five years of practicing between completing my master’s degree and beginning my doctorate, it dawned on me that there are two basic kinds of blowing, legato and staccato. Each type of blowing has a distinct function and infinite variability. For intermediate to advanced players, each type of blowing really should be cultivated separately, with attention to detail to make both styles readily available in a player’s palette of expressive tools.
Legato blowing – Probably the most basic type of blowing for wind players, but also an exacting discipline to master at any level of playing. It is important to understand the necessity of learning to blow between the notes and not just on them. For beginner to intermediate flute players, there is no better tool for teaching legato than playing basic Octaves. Upper intermediate to advanced players should do Moyse Long tones and use short excerpts from lyrical melodies in multiple keys to further hone their ability to play through a line rather than just on the notes.
Staccato blowing – This type of blowing, while it usually involves tonguing, is air based rather than tongue based. Most intermediate players are ready to start studying this as a distinct playing skill. There are many existing exercises that can be adapted to practicing staccato blowing. I especially like the Reichert Daily Exercises #2 because it’s not long and you can rest and evaluate between takes and keys. Here are some useful variations for practicing this type of blowing/articulation:
- Breath articulation only – ha, ha, ha. Use abdominal kicks. Compels you to be really precise in shaping the aperture to maintain good tone. You absolutely must focus on the middle of your lips and how you are gripping the air stream, otherwise the tone will be fuzzy and/or crack
- Staccato tonguing – ta, ta, ta. This is still more breath based than tongue based as with the breath articulation. The tongue merely adds some extra clarity to the ictus
- Dotted rhythms, reverse dotted rhythms and double dotted, reverse double dotted rhythms. Really challenging to maintain the 3 to 1 or 7 to 8 ratio while maintaining a clear ictus for each note.
In the context of normal playing, it is often the case that one needs to switch instantaneously between legato and staccato blowing, depending on the context of the phrase, style of articulation and interpretation of piece. These exercises can help your students get off to a good start mastering these two distinct and complementary skills.
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