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Hints on Articulation from Adam Frey Master Class

In late July 2003, the Singapore chapter of the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) organised a brass master class in which euphonium virtuoso Adam Frey gave his audience a wide variety of helpful hints about brass playing. Since most of these hints have already been covered in various places on this website, I do not intend to repeat them here.

However, Adam Frey did provide a very interesting classification of articulation markings that should be of use to all wind band players. Although not without its problems, it has the great advantage of being simple and easy to understand.

Frey's classification system, which distinguishes between accents in terms of the length of the note and strength of the attack,  is outlined below:

Classification of Articulation Marks

 
Symbol Unmarked note

Strength of attack normal medium
hard
normal normal
Length of note medium medium
medium
short long

 

Unfortunately, the classification system is not perfect. For example, most musicians would probably agree that a marcato accent implies that there should also be a space between the note before it and the note after it, particularly in marches. In other words, a marcato accent should be a little shorter than an unmarked note (though not nearly as short as staccato). However, this more subtle difference is not captured on the above table, where both are given as being of medium length. There is a similar problem with the tenuto mark. This symbol is generally taken as a warning to give the note its full value or lengthen it slightly (as the table suggests). But also implies some degree of stress, a point not reflected in the table.

Critics could probably go further, arguing that the classification system was not comprehensive either. For example, there are at least three types of staccato. These are given below:

  •  

Simple staccato. This is the one given in the table. It is indicated by dots over or under the notes. Most textbooks say that  it shortens the notes by about half their written value. The actual interpretation, however, is dependent upon the style and the period of the piece concerned.

  •  

Staccatissimo. This means very short. It is indicated by vertical dashes over or under the notes. Generally, it shortens the note by approximately three quarters of its written value.

  •  

Mezzo staccato. This means half short. It is indicated by dots combined with slurs. It shortens the note by about a quarter of its written value.

 Then there are the inevitable controversies about of how to interpret compound symbols such as the following:

Even so, Adam Frey's classification system is a very good one and is well worth presenting to your band. If you are a just a band member, let your band director worry about the other matters raised here. He is, after all, primarily responsible for musical interpretation. As Adam Frey himself pointed out, most school bands really have only two articulations: an ordinary one and a heavy one. Make sure your band has at least five!

The next step is to get band members to practice the different articulations. The following exercise is suggested for trumpets and clarinets. Transpose it to a comfortable register for all the instruments in your band.

For further information, see my discussion on articulation.

 

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