Ever been told to play more musically, with expression or with feeling? I’ve always found those types of comments frustrating. As a high school and college flutist I wanted to play expressively, but I often didn’t know how. More commonly, I thought I was playing musically and was surprised to find out that I wasn’t. I didn’t have the rudimentary skills of musicality, expressivity and interpretation, which need to be taught and understood, just like tone, technique and articulation. In this column this year I will attempt to distill musicality down to its fundamental components.
The following small gestures should be handled the same way, more or less, in every piece of music. These are each small, basic ideas that all flutists, even beginners, can execute.
Put Space Between Repeated Pitches. This makes the second note easier to hear and distinguishes it from the preceding note. Imagine the way a pianist would have to play two repeated pitches; their finger would have to come completely off the key before re-striking, a lift you can see and hear.
Emphasize First Note of Two Note Slurs. This emphasis is made by articulating the first note heavier than you would normally and tapering, or creating a decrescendo, through the slur. Avoid accenting the first note or playing the second note shorter than written.
Create Variety in Repetition. When notes, or groups of note repeat, play successive repetitions louder, softer, or with gentle changes in tempo. Different notes in each repetition can also be emphasized by playing them heavier, longer or with different kinds of articulations. Always play echoes softer.
Crescendo through Large Ascending Leaps. In addition to creating a dramatic shape the additional air will help keep the big interval in tune.
Eventually these all become automatic, leaving head space for bigger, more sophisticated shaping. Along with following these tips, and the advice of a good teacher, listen lots of recordings of fine performers.