Study No. 1, Allegro non tanto

11 STUDIES OF GREAT CHARACTER

by

BENOIT TRANQUILLE BERBIGUIER (1782 – 1838)

Study No. 1, Allegro non tanto

There are two clear areas of technique for us to focus on in this thoroughly engaging study.

Throughout, notes are slurred in groups of two. We will need to be careful as to how we articulate. If tonguing is too strong, every second note will be shortened, or clipped as the tongue returns to the palate to be ready for the next articulation (note that I didn’t use the word ‘attack’ which instantly implies an element of force or even aggression).

The way in which we tongue is crucial to the quality and character of the note that the action is attached to. Too often, using our spoken language as a reference point, an explosion occurs as when formulating a consonant, the tongue ricochets off the hard palate of the roof of the mouth. As you might gather, this process, in much of the music that we play, has the potential to produce unsatisfactory, angular and at times ugly results. Unnecessarily bringing the throat into the fray, this somewhat ‘negative’ action of forcefully bouncing the tongue off the roof of the mouth to create a consonant, is to be found in numerous languages. In terms of musical expression, a hard tongue and tight throat then becomes a double negative for flute players. 

Unfortunately, we learn from an early age that it is easier to ‘spit’ a note into the flute, rather than ‘present’ it in a sympathetic manner, to mirror and enhance the music we are playing. At this stage we are not interested in, or capable of truly appreciating the complications and then the benefits presented of using the tongue in a lighter and more economical way. This infinitely more refined process necessitates the correct amount of energy from the muscles that support our air and propel it from deep below, upwards to our lips, into the flute and on to those listening. This is in itself is simply too much for us to grapple with in the earlier stages of our relationship with the instrument, but eventually there should be a sympathetic and constantly fluctuating balance between tongue and support mechanism.

When slurring in groups of two, we need to learn how to gently ‘stroke’ the point of contact in the mouth, so that we are merely momentarily breaking the airstream, rather than stopping it. 

Both ‘T’ and ‘D’ encourage us to return the tongue to the hard palate too soon, thus shortening the second note. The ensuing explosion then pushes the tongue downwards and backwards, forcing it to travel quite a distance away from the point of contact. This is hardly ideal, for example when playing single tongued passages at speed (when feasible, a swift single tongue action will always be musically superior and more satisfying for all, than a slow double tongue one).

If we want the tongue to remain quite still and not move too far from the point of contact in the mouth and create a more gentle yet precise start to a note, it makes sense to consider the vowel sound that is attached to the consonant.

I have found a very soft ‘DAAAH’ to be highly effective. 

Without the flute, slowly and  repeatedly pronounce ‘DAAAH’, at all times keeping the tongue as close as possible to the point of contact on the hard palate of the mouth.

Then sing a note (an E works well for me) and slowly repeat ‘DAAAH’ four times, but making a crescendo throughout. Increase air pressure by contracting the support muscles. During this process, the tongue should remain light and completely undisturbed by the more dramatic activities taking place lower down in the body in and around the area of the lungs.

With the flute and now not singing, apply this process with the same principles to a single note (G2 would be a good place to start).

Before approaching the study, you might like to work on a simple yet highly effective exercise from the Simply Flute website, such as Articulation 1 from the Four Pillars Exercises section:

https://www.simplyflute.com/flute/four-pillars/articulation-exercise-1/

This articulation can then be incorporated into the study.

As a general observation, there should at all times be variety in our articulation, to suit the style and even tempo of the music that we are playing.

The other technical area that Berbiguier is concerned with (and this is equally apparent in his ‘18 Studies in all Tonalities’) is that of playing wide intervals and at speed. He was acutely aware of the physical skills required for success in this problematic area of our playing and used many of his studies to provide us with a platform to give us a greater understanding of any required physical adjustments.

If there are physical adjustments, there is an implicit suggestion of movement, in this case of our air support and embouchure.

As far as the embouchure is concerned, disturbances should be kept to a minimum. Muscles in and surrounding our lips need to be intensely focused at all times. Too much movement will cause negative disturbance.

Therefore, it is advisable to keep any adjustments in this area to being nothing more than a thought or suggestion.

That said, it is a commonly held belief that if we wish to create a centred/pure sound in the bottom octave, our airstream will need to be directed downwards (by fractionally bringing the top lip forward and even applying a gentle extra energy through our arms to press the lip plate more onto the lower lip). This will also go some way towards eliminating any whistle tones. As we then rise up through the flute, that airstream will need to gently rise, whilst any pressing of the flute towards us should also become more relaxed.

When we then start to play wide intervals at speed (such as in this study), it no longer becomes practical to have too much activity surrounding the mouth and lips. This is where the support mechanism comes into play. When rising up through the flute, support must occur fractionally before a note changes. In other words, the correct air pressure should be in place before the next note sounds. Likewise, on the way back down again, that extra energy has to be released to allow notes to drop without splitting. In this study, your airstream should literally be ‘yo-yoing’ around the instrument.

As an exercise to help you feel more comfortable with this physical engagement please work on Intervals 6, again from the Four Pillars Exercises section of Simply Flute:

https://www.simplyflute.com/flute/four-pillars/intervals-6/

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS:

You will notice that I have liberally used tenuto marks and constant small dynamic changes throughout this study.

I don’t like doing this, as it makes the page look over busy. However, over the years I have discovered that if nothing appears on the paper, students/players are inclined to do nothing! This of course is a major error, as every single note that is uttered is of great significance and importance. Music should be a constantly evolving and changing, organic substance. There can be no such thing as a dull or meaningless moment.

These instructions therefore are there more to encourage you to think about playing with direction and varying degrees of intensity, rather than making notes longer and becoming louder and then softer again. They are about shape and the hills and valleys of a phrase that we must create, in order to communicate and pass on emotional content at the highest levels possible.

This is all a drawback of musical notation as we currently know it. There are no markings or instructions available, beyond the tenuto marking and crescendo/diminuendo to indicate either the character of a note, or how to play with direction and emotion.

The tenuto notes should sigh and be more round than other notes. Crescendi should show increased excitement to the next dynamic marking, rather than just end up being an instruction to get louder.

In this example, it has been possible to transpose the study into two adjacent keys to the original of D major (E flat and D flat major). Once the study is well-known in the original key, immense benefit will be gained from playing it in these other keys. This then becomes an excellent exercise for both brain and fingers.

Breaths are marked almost every two bars. Once familiarity and a quicker tempo have been established, for greater fluidity, please consider trying to breathe only every four bars, or thereabouts.