Lesson Focus: Playing short with shape
Find the link to the music HERE.
Don’t be fooled! Upon first glance you might think this study looks too darn easy, close the book and plan to learn it all 5 minutes before you post it to YouTube or submit for evaluation. (If you are one of my undergrads.) I promise you, nothing is ever easy when on the road to excellence. You are looking to push yourself right? I promise, you need look no further than this little caprice. Truth be told I spent a surprising amount of time practicing this little ditty for the video I made below.
STEP 1: Evaluate your staccato technique
You already know how to play staccato! What sort of step is this? Honestly, as a professional player who has spent the better part of her youth in a practice room I can tell you that playing a decent staccato that is short, beautiful, musical and projects is about one of the toughest skills to master, at least it was for me!
- Are you articulating the front of the note only? Say “ta” and then “tat”. See how the tongue comes back to the front of the mouth to finish the word tat? Do you bring the tongue back to the front of the mouth when you play staccato? Is that how you are getting the note so short? If so then your staccato technique is incorrect. The tongue should not cut the note off. We don’t tongue the back of the note because this compromises the sound and projection.
- Are you using “short” air? If you played the study with no tongue at all is it still staccato? If not this means that you are not using the air to create short notes. Short notes created by something other than the air don’t have a good sound quality and don’t project well.
- Are you using support to create short air? The diaphragm should be doing something here…
- Where is your tongue in your mouth at the start of the staccato? The middle? Are you using it to create a quick burst of air instead of using the diaphragm? The tongue can start in many places but as a general starting point, aim to have it make as little contact with the front of the mouth as possible. The air needs to do the work here, not the tip of the tongue. Once the note has sounded you need to move the tongue down in the mouth so the sound has resonance. If it stays hanging around in the middle of the mouth your sound quality suffers.
- Does your throat remain open in a yawn shape during the study or does it open and close with each note?
Honestly this list could go on for miles but these are some of the most common issues I see in students. Watch the tips video for this study to hear some examples and understand the checklist more clearly. This will help you diagnose any issues with your staccato more quickly.
STEP 2: Become aware of the line
Once you have worked out the technical issues with your staccato it’s time to find the line. Play the study in connected quarter notes instead of eighth notes. Choose a shape for the phrase that will become apparent. Practice the study this way so you start to hear the shape of the line as if it was an operatic aria that is lyrical and expressive.
STEP 3: Put it all together
Now it’s time to put your staccato control to the test because you need to control the volume of it enough to create the phrase shape that you just practiced. This is the meat and potatoes people! This is what will set your study apart and make it sound like music and less like a bunch of short notes in a row. This is not an easy thing to do so as I always say, have patience and give yourself the time and space to get it right. Understanding it and executing it are two different things so manage your expectations accordingly and enjoy the process.
Of course I am happy to answer any questions or respond to comments in the comments section. Have fun with this one, at the end of the day it was a pleasure to work on because of its’ haunting melody and technical challenge. I hope you enjoy it too!