Tongue stroke (Coup de langue)


While it is clear that at the time Lefèvre wrote his Méthode de clarinette (1802), the clarinetist's means of articulation are varied1, he asserts a very clear preference for the use of the tongue and recommends avoiding the use of the chest or throat.2 This preference for articulation with the tongue is also observed in all the wind instrument methods studied for this research.


In the case of the clarinet, the performer can, by placing the tongue on the reed, stop the sound from being produced while he or she is blowing. The sound is produced when the tongue is removed. This technique is used to "attack" the sound cleanly and precisely. It is also used in a sequence of detached notes that is played with a single continuous exhalation, repeating this movement of the tongue on each note. The principle is the same for all wind instruments.

In all the methods studied, this action of the tongue is called the Tongue stroke, and is frequently compared to the articulation of a syllable. (TU being the most common)


Main articulations


Three main articulations are distinguished in the first corpus of wind methods of the conservatory, four in the later methods. They can be indicated by different signs.


The slur indicates that only the first of the slurred notes is articulated by the Tongue stroke.3(example 1)


Several ways to detach the notes are discussed. They are indicated by different signs and are commonly described through the characterization of the Tongue stroke. Walckiers, in his Méthode de Flûte (c.1829) summarizes its different nuances as follows:


"One modifies it by articulating it more or less dryly".4 


The elongated dot


This articulation, written with an elongated dot (example 2), is the driest Tongue stroke. This idea appears for example in the Méthode de Flûte by Hugot and Wünderlich (1804).5Lefèvre describes it as "strong and vigorous,"6while Ozi, in his Nouvelle Méthode de Basson (1803) uses the word "firm".7


This idea of dryness is also found in Dauprat's Méthode de cor-alto et cor- basse (1824) and in Berr's treatise. They specify that this articulation has the effect of shortening the notes. Consequently, the articulated notes are followed by a silence taken on their values.8 9(example 3)




According to Dauprat, if this articulation is indicated on a long note, the value is shortened by about half.10 (example 4)


Berr, while agreeing with this same principle, suggests that in practice it is more a matter of gradually diminishing the sound and introducing a brief silence before the next note.11Therefore, it seems that the elongated dot on a long note may also indicate a kind of accent.



This way of conceiving so explicitly the different ways of articulating notes according to their length may have been inspired by writings for other instruments. It appears for instance in Adam's Méthode de Piano du Conservatoire (1804).12


The dot

The idea of a Tongue stroke given less dryly for this articulation is common. It is found for example in the writings of Ozi.13Domnich, in the Méthode de premier et second cor (1807), adds that the separation of notes must be very subtle, less marked than in the case of the elongated dot.14 

According to Lefèvre, this articulation is done with "less force" with a "lighter" Tongue stroke.15For Berr, each note should have its full value.16 



Dauprat, as in the previous articulation, illustrates its effect on long notes. They are less shortened than with the elongated dot.17(example 6)


The dot under a slur.


At the beginning of the 19th century, in these methods for wind instruments, this notation already appears. However its execution is not explicitly differentiated from that of the dot.



On the other hand, an explicit distinction is common in later methods. Berr explains that the Tongue stroke is softer.18 


According to other authors, this articulation represents the least separated detached notes, that is to say, the longest possible. Walckiers explains that the Tongue strokes are so soft, that there is almost no separation between the different notes.19This explanation is also found in Dauprat's method20 or in Brod's Méthode pour le hautbois (c.1826).21 



It appears that the idea of Tongue strokes given more or less dryly, which is common to distinguish the different articulations, also implies more or less long detached notes. The alternation of slurred and detached notes, as well as the different ways of executing the detached notes constitute the basis of the articulation and its variety. Notation can be a source of inspiration in choosing what is appropriate, but it is clearly not sufficient. On the one hand, it is not always indicated with such precision, and on the other hand, the idea of more or less dry Tongue stroke remains rather vague, and suggests multiple degrees in the way notes are articulated.

Choice of articulation


General Principle


Clearly, the choice of articulation is related to the character of the music. Frédéric Berr, for instance, emphasizes the necessity, in order to play a phrase with expression, to have understood its character and to choose the type of articulation that best suits it.22 

A general principle can be observed. It is related to the Mouvement (Tempo) of the piece which, as explained in the first chapter, defines a large part of the character. Therefore, Hugot and Wünderlich write that, in general, the use of the slur is more appropriate in slow or graceful pieces, and that the detached notes should be preferred in lively pieces.23  Dauprat seems to suggest the same thing, although in a slightly more nuanced way:


"The slower the movement is, the more the sounds must be linked together; the more lively it is, the more one distances oneself from this obligation.”24 


The author specifies that in this statement, linked is not synonymous with slurred. Indeed, two notes articulated by a very soft Tongue stroke and not shortened may seem to be linked together. The general principle does not prevent alternating slurred notes and detached notes, especially in a quick passage. In this case, the last note of the slur and the detached notes are shortened, and the Tongue stroke is dry.25 


This is not limited to wind instruments. Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer in the Méthode de Violon (1803) explain that in the Adagio, the sounds should be as closely linked as possible. In a case where they should be detached, the notes should be given their full value.26 


It appears that this principle determines the nature of the Tongue stroke to be preferred in different characters. Hugot and Wünderlich explain that in the Adagio, it must be given without dryness27, which as seen previously also suggests longer detached notes. These two authors then quote Ozi who writes that a “firm” Tongue stroke is more suitable for the character of the Allegro,28 29 meaning also shorter detached notes. A similar principle also appears in Walckiers' writings. He writes that the more energy the phrase has, the drier the Tongue stroke. Conversely, the softer the phrase, the softer the Tongue stroke.30 

Variety of articulation in a Trait


In the methods, the term Trait refers mainly to passages made up of groups of notes of the same value, for example triplets or groups of four sixteenth notes. About this Lefèvre states:


"If the composer does not indicate the articulation of the Traits, the intelligence of the artist must make up for it."31



Therefore, how to articulate them is an important issue. The variety can be found in the alternation of slurred and detached notes, organized according to different patterns often repeated over several groups of notes. Lefèvre presents several possible articulations, for sixteenth notes (example 8) and for triplets (example 9).










Frédéric Berr integrates in his treatise a consequent number of exercises on different slurred/detached patterns. The different options are mainly the same as the one presented by Lefèvre. In example 10, he shows how articulation can allow to underline the most important notes which, in a way, form a melody.  


It is also interesting to notice that Berr emphasizes the importance of working assiduously on fast tempo passages where all notes have to be detached. He explains that such passages are often found in "modern" music, and shows in examples excerpts from Rossini's works.32 (example 11) 


Lefèvre's method does not show any articulation exercises on repeated notes played quickly. The fact that Berr emphasizes its importance might suggest an evolution of the clarinettist's technique needs, linked to the repertoire. More detailed research on the repertoire could give a more precise idea of this point.



Although the articulations 2 slurred / 2 detached for four notes, or 2 slurred / 1 detached for three notes appear to be the most frequent, the idea of not always using the same articulation to avoid monotony is fundamental in all methods.

Lefèvre explains that if the Trait is repeated several times, articulation can be a way to vary it. Berr suggests the same thing about a phrase being repeated.33 


In the example 12, Lefèvre shows several ways to articulate the same Trait.

Dauprat explains that:


"To have only one way to render his or her ideas or those of others is to want to bore his or her audience. Especially in music, where variety is the soul of the discourse, articulations and dynamics are two powerful means of being always new, even on frequently repeated traits, or whose style may have become old."34


Consequently, the numerous examples appear as a sort of reservoir of ideas for the performer, who will then choose what best suits the character and the structure of the Trait.


Accents Particuliers (Specific Accent)


As explained in the first chapter, articulation is one of the means of stressing the specific accents. The different examples in the "specific accents" section of chapter 6 will show that very often a tongue stroke on the accented note is indicated.


Example 11. Excerpt from Sémiramis by Rossini in Berr's Traité35

Example 12. Lefèvre.36

Example 6. Dauprat37

Example 7. Berr38

Example 10. Berr39

Example 1. Lefèvre40

Example 5. Lefèvre41

Example 3. Berr42

Example 4. Dauprat43

Example 8. Lefèvre44

Example 9. Lefèvre45.

Example 2. Lefèvre46

Next: 6-Dynamics