Slur & Phrase
Slur & Phrase
In lesson 4, we discussed the way in which beats can vary in strength and how, through a suitable choice of time signature, the composer can make clear the rhythmic structure, formed by a particular pattern of strong, medium and weak beats. On many musical instruments there are limits to the strength of a beat, if all one can do is to blow, bang or scrape more or less enthusiastically. Wind-instruments blown hard play sharp and the tone is coarsened. The same instruments blown too gently will tend to play flat or not at all. However, a performance in which all the notes are equally loud or soft is immeasurably duller than one where there is dynamic variety.
The dynamic detail can be in the note's strength when it starts, whether or not it is preceded or followed by a silence, the note's length and the mean strength of the note while it sounds. All these can be determined with suitable notation and we will look at each of these in turn.
Music, like written prose, tends to be made up of short sequences we call phrases. Consider Swift's 'A satirical Elegy on the Death of a late Famous General' (1772) - actually, on the death of Marlborough, the victor at Blenheim - in which each line is a single phrase.
But what of what, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day,
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he dy'd.
Each line expresses a single idea which is the fundamental characteristic of a phrase. Of course, the choice of phrase length is not 'set in stone'. One might 'feel' that a more natural phrase length here is the pairing of lines (1 with 2, 3 with 4).
This freedom to feel poetry in various different ways occurs also in music and phrasing is a matter best left to the performer to communicate to the listener as he (or she) thinks best. We will return to this point when discussing the setting of words to music where the phrasing of the words tends to find its mirror in the shaping of the musical line.
The desire of editors and composers to make their intentions clear down to the very last detail includes the use of large sweeping 'slur-like' lines called 'phrase marks'. Slurs, which tend to embrace a smaller number of notes, help to shape the musical line even within broader phrasing marks and performers must be able to distinguish between them. On wind instruments, all the notes under the slur except for the first, are untongued, the breath flowing continuously while the fingers move. On stringed instruments, the equivalent effect is achieved by using a single sweep of the bow for each slur or phrase. On keyboard instruments the notes are played legato (smoothly) and with a light touch.
The slur removes the attack from the start of each note under it except for the first so providing a contrast in strength, a dynamic variety, between the first and the later notes. If slurring is to be effective, or indeed a distinction made between different phrases, the performer must avoid playing unslurred notes too smoothly. Evidence from the eighteenth century suggests that music then was played in a more detached manner than we associate, say, with the repertoire of the late-Romantic.
Daniel Gottlob Türk writing in his Clavierschule (1789) says that:
"...when notes are to be played in the usual manner, that is to say, neither staccato nor legato, the finger should be raised from the key a little earlier than the value of the note requires."
Clavierschule, Daniel Gottlob Türk (1789) - translation of extracts, from German to French, by Jean-Pierre Coulon
By the nineteenth century Muzio Clementi (1801) offers slightly different advice, recommending a legato style.
"The best general rule is to keep down the keys of the instrument, the full length of every note."
Clementi's advice echoes the earlier concerns of François Couperin and J. S. Bach, for as Skip Sempé writes:
"Couperin wrote the Préludes of L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin as pieces to form the hand into making a certain very special sound - a sound he considered important from the very first contact with a harpsichord. Bach made the same point in his Inventions, where he refers to the central idea of cantabile art, that very quality which makes keyboard instruments so illusionistic: the magic fusion of a lyrical effect and its accompaniment achieved by the diversity of sound created by the art of touch."|
François Couperin: L'Art de toucher le clavecin
The advantages of a detached manner when playing in a large acoustically resonant building become clear. When the notes 'ring on' around the room, the harmonies overlap instead of flowing neatly one into the other. Slurring, in such surroundings, would obsure the line, and so the performer has to be able to adjust the performance to the demands made by the surroundings by ignoring slur and phrase marks that may, in this situation, have become redundant.
Slurs are distinguishable from ties, which we met in lesson 2, because ties only link together notes of identical pitch (e.g. B to B) while slurs never link together notes of identical pitch.
Tenuto & Staccato
Tenuto & Staccato
In the same way that a musical line can be 'smoothed out' using slurs, so single notes, that when played normally would be detached slightly from the note immediately following, when marked appropriately would be allowed to sound for their full written value. That mark, a small horizontal line over or below the note head, is called a tenuto mark. If the use of the tenuto marking is extended over more than a few notes the composer may place the word tenuto in the score rather than pedantically marking every note.
Tenuto can mean either hold the note in question its full length (or longer, with slight rubato) or else play the note slightly louder. In other words, the tenuto mark is sometimes interpreted as an articulation mark and sometimes as a dynamic mark. When it appears in conjunction with an accent mark, it is of course taken to be an indication of articulation, and, conversely, when it appears in conjunction with a staccato mark, it is taken to be an indication of a slight dynamic accent. When it appears by itself, its meaning must be determined by its musical context.
The reverse, i.e. the shortening of a note by replacing part of its time value with a period of silence, is called staccato, a sign introduced into music in the late eighteenth century. This is marked with a small dot (for staccato) or a horizontal line and dot (for mezzo staccato), or a single 'quotation mark' or 'wedge' (for staccatissimo) placed above or below the note. Staccato means no more than sustaining the note, so marked, for only half its written length, replacing the other half with a period of silence.
Some players mistakenly strengthen the shorter note in the belief that staccato is used to make a note rhythmically 'stronger' when it is actually used to make it 'weaker'. Mezzo staccato means hold the note for three quarters of its time value were it unmarked, while staccatissimo means hold the note for one quarter of its time value.
We give a number of examples below.
Slurs & Staccato
Slurs & Staccato
Portato or articulated legato, notated as a slur over a series of notes each bearing a staccato mark, employs the staccato mark so that it will have a slightly modified effect depending on the 'weight' of the note within the slur were it to have no staccato mark. If a note is slurred in pairs, the effect is to sustain the first but slightly lift the second. The staccato mark, therefore, on either or both, must be seen to modify this relationship under the slur, so that if both carry staccato marks, the first note remains slightly longer than the second but the notes are now slightly detached from each other, the slur is therefore 'broken'.
The way a staccato mark under a slur is realised will also depend on the instrument for which the instruction refers. On a piano, the staccato under a slur is a portato where the individual notes sound for three-quarters of their written duration. On a string instrument, the staccato mark under a slur means detach the notes on a single stroke of the bow whether upstroke or downstroke. The bow does not change direction for the duration of the slur.
If the music is from the baroque period and the piece is slow and in a French style where you might expected to play the shortest notes, say the quavers (eighth notes), inégal then if some quavers (eighth notes) have staccato marks over them and a slur above the staccato marks then those quavers (eighth notes) are to be played evenly, i.e. égal. See lesson 20 for more information about égal and inégal.
Variety of Accents
Variety of Accents
An accent serves a variety of purposes:
- a stress or special emphasis on a beat to mark its position in the bar.
- a mark in the written music indicating an accent of which there are five basic types:
with several combinations possible.
- staccato accents,
- staccatissimo accents,
- normal accents,
- strong accents,
- legato accents
- the principle of regularly recurring stresses which serve to give rhythm to the music.
|percussive accents (1-4)||pressure accent (5) |
| || || || || |
|staccato accent||short and separated from the following note|
|staccatissimo accent||an exaggerated short duration of the note|
|strong accent||generally meant for attacks at loud dynamic levels of forte or louder|
|normal accent||moderately sharp attack that can be used at any dynamic level from pianissimo to fortissimo|
|legato accent||this can be used at any dynamic level and is a slight stress without a noticable attack and held to the full duration of the note|
|combined accents (1-8)|
| || || || || || || || |
strong & staccato
strong & legato
strong & staccatissimo
legato & staccato
portamento & staccato
legato & staccatissimo
marcato & staccato
marcato & legato
marcato & staccatissimo
|strong & staccato accents||very percussive and shorter duration than notated|
|strong & legato accents||very percussive while retaining full duration of notation|
|strong & staccatissimo accents||strongest percussive attack possible with an exaggerated short duration|
|legato & staccato accents||stressed and moderately short, separated from next note|
|legato and staccatissimo||stressed and quite short|
|normal & staccato accents||moderately percussive and short|
|normal & legato accents||moderately percussive with full note duration|
|normal & staccatissimo accents||moderately percussive with short note duration|
Articulation on Wind Instruments
Articulation on Wind Instruments
We summarise below information about articulation and accent as applied to wind instruments.
|legato||usually marked by a slur, the first note only will be tongued and the remainder of the phrase in play under a continuous stream of breath|
|soft or tongued legato||every note is lightly tongued, with a softer syllable (du instead of tu), or on brass instruments using lu|
|staccato||notes played half their written length, every note started and stopped by the tongue|
|slurred staccato||also portato or mezzo-staccato, marked with staccato dots on notes under a slur or as individual notes bearing both a tenuto mark and a staccato dot - the notes are generally sustained but with a gentle retonguing in order to mark each note as it begins|
|double tonguing||fast alternating syllables, usually tu - ku, ku - gu, or du - gu|
|triple tonguing||like double tonguing but alternating tu - ku - tu, or tu - tu - ku|
|flutter tongue||a vibration of the tongue, as if rolling the syllable rrrr|
|vocalization||on the didjeridu, the player can combine vocalization with normal lip-generated drone. If the player sings a note an interval above the drone then various sub-octave 'growls' can be generated. In addition, the player may insert many other transient sounds to mimic the cries of dingoes or birds, with marked dramatic effect. Techniques similar to these have been called upon by modern composers in works for other wind instruments|
Articulation on Stringed Instruments
Articulation on Stringed Instruments
We summarise below information about articulation and accent as applied to stringed instruments.
String players will apply bowing marks to indicate where the bow is to move up or down.
An "up-bow" is marked with a V , and the "down-bow" is marked with a .
The modern bow-hold has the bow held between the tips of the fingers and thumb with the palm of the hand facing down towards the floor. "Up" means start at the tip. "Down" means start at the frog which is where your right hand is. On most modern stringed instruments the "down-bow" is stronger than the "up-bow", this due mainly to the greater weight or downward force the player can apply with the bow to the string with the heel (near the frog) as opposed to the tip.
However, on the viol, where the bow is held differently, effectively lying in the palm of the hand with the palm facing upwards, the "up-bow" is stronger than the "down-bow" and the bow action will be reversed.
The freedom to bow without a change in direction, for example on long sustained notes, is more limited on the cello and double-bass than on the violin or viola because cello and double-bass bows are shorter. Where many notes are played under a single bow stroke, the player will mark the part with a slur. Because the "up" and "down" strokes have different strengths, it is natural to want to use the stronger stroke for strong beats and the weaker stroke for weaker beats. On modern stringed instruments, the performer naturally plays an upbeat with an "up-bow" unless indicated otherwise. On the viol, the same upbeat would be played with a "down-bow".
String players use a number of bowing terms which we list below:
|arco||bowing as opposed to pizzicato|
|down-bow||where the bow moves from the frog to the point|
|up-bow||where the bow moves from the point to the frog|
|middle-bow||where most of string instrument playing takes place|
|legato||a group of notes played smoothly in one bow|
|tenuto||alternate bows, full length - in some situations, the player might give a slight ‘push’ at the beginning of each note so marked to give it definition|
|played with a single bow but with a slight break between the notes - notated as a series of notes each bearing a staccato dot, placed under a slur|
|staccato||short up and down bows (notes are half length) - indicated by dots placed over/under the note|
|separate bow staccato||one type of staccato in which notes are played separated and with separate bows for each note|
|slurred staccato||one type of staccato in which consecutive notes are played separated, but with one bow direction
|spiccato, saltando||staccato with a bounced bow, that is usually used for faster passages|
|deliberate spiccato||a type of spiccato, usually used in slow passages, in which the player bounces the bow in a deliberate manner to give a special effect|
|a type of spiccato where the speed of the passage causes the player to instinctively create a bouncing motion with the bow. Sometimes described as “an uncontrolled spiccato”|
|similar to slurred staccato except that the bow bounces on the string to create the separation of the pitches. Instead of reversing direction for each note as in ordinary spiccato, the bow picks up a series of short notes, usually on an up-bow|
|détaché||a single bow stroke per note, with successive notes played as seamlessly as possible, more legato than staccato (although some writers do use the term, when refering to non-stringed instruments, to mean separated or detached)|
|au talon||bowing at the frog, for a loud effect|
|punta d'arco ||bowing at the point, for a delicate effect|
|louré, piqué||a succession of notes slightly separated played on the same bow, that is, it is performed with several notes in one bow direction, each note receiving a gentle “push” to separate it - indicated in the same way as détaché but with a slur|
|marcato||heavy, separate stroke with a pressed accent played near the heel|
|martelé or martellato||hammered notes, a strong staccato|
|jeté, ricochet||bouncing the top of the bow to create repeated notes in one bow - indicated by slurred staccato.|
The bouncing motion of the bow creates 2 to 6 or even more rapid notes. This is usually with a downward bow motion, but up-bows are occasionally used as well. The cello and double bass can only execute about 3 consecutive notes, maybe 4, because of the shorter bow that is used.
|volante||bouncing on the string, similar to ricochet|
|tremolo||small but very rapid up and down bows - can sound dramatic, ethereal, or clichéed if overdone - measured (e.g. semiquavers or sixteenth notes) written with two slashes, unmeasured with three.|
|fingered tremolo||similar to a trill but with an interval larger than a whole tone|
|col legno||using the bow upside down|
|ecrasé||scratchy noise achieved on bowed string instruments by the use of excess bow pressure (also called a 'scratch tone' or 'scratch note')|
|sul ponticello||bowing close to the bridge - a thin sound|
|sul tasto||bowing over the fingerboard - sounds hazy|
|flautando||bowing close to the fingerboard - sounds flutelike|
|glissando||or portamento, sliding from one note to another, indicated by a line between the notes|
|portamento||or glissando, sliding from one note to another, indicated by a line between the notes|
|sul G, etc.||this means all notes played on the G string, can apply to any other string as requested e.g. sul A|
In addition to the many different types of bowing, stringed instrument players may also use a variety of plucking actions when articulating notes on their instruments. We summarise some of these below:
|pizzicato||plucking the string with the tip of the finger or thumb. After a passage of pizzicato a composer should write arco beneath the music to tell the players to return to bowing|
|arraché, anreissen ||a particularly forceful pizzicato|
|pizzicato secco||a damped pizzicato, where immediately after plucking the note the finger returns to the string to damp the vibration|
|snap (or 'Bartok') pizzicato||pulling the string upwards and allowing it to 'snap' sharply against the fingerboard|
|slurred pizzicato||after a pizzicato note is plucked, and while the sound is still ringing, further notes can be played by adding or removing fingers of the left hand|
|plucking with the fingernail||this effect can be painful for the player especially with thicker strings on the cello and bass|
|pizzicato tremolo||rapid motion of the finger against the string after it has been plucked|
|'strumming' or 'chords'||when chords appear in a pizzicato passage they are usually strummed. Chords will be strummed from the lowest note upwards unless indicated otherwise (perhaps by a downward arrow beside the chord). Violin and viola players use the index finger, whereas cello and bass players will use the thumb. When cellos and basses strum downwards they will pull the index finger across the strings|
|pizzicato chords - not strummed||two or more notes plucked together. If the composer wishes the notes to be plucked simultaneously, a square bracket beside the chord and the words non arpegg. pizz. should be used|
|quasi guitar||(literally 'like a guitar') violins and violas can be held sideways against the body and strummed. To indicate the direction of strums, either arrows can be used or the symbols for up and down bows|
|left hand pizzicato||the strings are plucked with left rather than bowing (right) hand. This effect can be combined with arco so that players produce both plucked and bowed notes simultaneously|
|pizzicato glissando||after a note is plucked the left hand finger slides up or down the string. The destination note of the glissando can be left unspecified. The result is quiet when compared to the plucking sound at the start of the note|
Articulation & Phrasing on Percussion Instruments
Articulation & Phrasing on Percussion Instruments
Articulation and phrasing markings can be helpful even in a situation where a true legato or control over different articulations can seldom be achieved. Percussionists employ a range of dynamics, changes in where an instrument is struck (beating spot or playing area), and through his or her choice of mallet. The composer is encouraged to write slurs into a glockenspiel or even a snare drum part; the slur effect can still be achieved even though each note has to be articulated, and the effect will not be as clear as it would be on a wind or string instrument. Players of instruments that are both resonant and have pitch-bending capabilities (for example, timpani) can produce a true slur: this is executed by striking the instrument once and then varying the pitch (on timpani, using the pedal or the taps). Clearly, this effect depends on the strength and resonance of the struck note - the further the slurred note is from the original articulation (in time and in interval), the softer it will be. A slur alone will not indicate a glissando; glissandi must be notated separately. Rolls can connect notes and create a slur-like effect.
|bowing||percussion instruments do not speak nearly as well as the strings of traditionally bowed instruments so a gradual swelling dynamic is most easily executed. A sharp attack on the start of a bowed note is almost impossible (unless struck with a mallet). Sustaining a loud note for an extended period of time or managing two different dynamic shapes with two different bows is very difficult to execute|
|full-stroke||the full-stroke is the stroke which returns to the point of origin. A full-stroke can be played at any dynamic level on any instrument, and is often accompanies rebound, especially at louder dynamic levels and from a surface which will promote a rebound action, such as a snare drum|
|down-stroke||the down-stroke is the stroke which is restricted from rebound after striking the surface. Due to the nature of the stroke, the down-stroke will often produce a sharp attack. It is also utilized when moving quickly from loud (high) to soft (low) strokes|
|up-stroke||The up-stroke is a stroke which moves away from the surface quickly after striking it. Up-strokes are used for various articulations and to place an instrument into vibration quickly. It is also utilized when moving from soft to loud strokes|
|dead stroke||with drum sticks, wood mallets, plastic mallets, and hard rubber mallets, dead strokes will create a buzz sound as the beater bounces quickly on the instrument (like the bounce of a buzz roll). Mallets wrapped with yarn, cord, and felt have a soft layer of material to cushion the attack and eliminate the bounce. This buzz can be avoided by using wrapped mallets (e.g., instead of plastic mallets, very hard yarn or cord mallets could be used) or by wrapping a layer of masking tape around the mallet head. Dead strokes can be used as short notes on marimba or vibraphone to contrast with the resonating normal strokes. On drums they will sound harsher and will
raise the pitch slightly as the drum head is stretched by the pressure of the dead stroke|
|note length||exact note-length indications are not always necessary. Percussion parts will often have approximate note lengths since some instruments only ring for a short period of time. As a result, percussionists are accustomed to making decisions about when to stop an instrument from ringing. For the most control over note length, exact note lengths can be written (as one would for piano music) with an indication at the beginning of the part that note lengths should be accurately observed. For less specific notation, indications can be used only when necessary (for cymbals and other resonant instruments). An l.v. (laissez vibrer, let vibrate) or an open slur can indicate to let the instrument ring, and a coda symbol, two slashes, or the word 'cut', 'choke', 'damp' or secco can be used to indicate dampening|
|a note is implied in a musical phrase although either not played or otherwise played only faintly for effect
the term ghost note can have various meanings and the term 'anti-accent' is probably more specific. Moreover, there exists a set of anti-accent marks. Percussion music, in particular, makes use of anti-accent marks:
- slightly softer than surrounding notes: u (breve)
- significantly softer than surrounding notes ( ) (note head in parentheses)
- much softer than surrounding notes [ ] (note head in brackets)
|accented stroke||An accented stroke is most easily created by raising the height of stroke above those which are unaccented. An accent is a musical stress point, and the intensity of the accent should be relative to the dynamic level of the unaccented notes unless there is a dynamic marking which accompanies the accent (sfz, fp, etc.)|
|level system||as the drummer plays faster and/or more agile (syncopated, rhythmic) the sticks must be positioned closer to the head to allow for relaxed execution. For more volume, the stick is lifted further from the head, allowing for a fuller stroke and/or greater velocity. The following are guidelines to follow when presenting these concepts, often referred to as the 'level system'.
- increase stroke height as the volume increases
- decrease stroke height as the volume decreases
- decrease stroke height as the rate of the increase
- increase stroke height as the rate of the decrease
|bass drum pedal||the most natural pedal stroke is a heel-down technique, where the ankle produces the stroke and the beater rebounds from the bass drum head. The heel-up technique is often used for louder, more articulate strokes. The entire leg is involved in this technique as well as some movement from the toes. While both techniques are valuable, the heel-down technique is recommended for the beginning player|
|hi-hat pedal||the hi-hat cymbals remain apart on the stand until the pedal is depressed. The hi-hat is played with three techniques: the heel-down and heel-up techniques (similar to those employed on the bass drum pedal) and the rocking technique, where the heel rocks back and forth. Since the hi-hat is played with pressure from the foot, the heel-up technique applies the most pressure and produces the greatest intensity to the sound, while the heel-down technique produces the least intensity|
|rolls||rolls with hard mallets, like those used for xylophone, glockenspiel, and crotales or rolls in the upper register of marimba will always sound “beat-y”; that is, the individual strokes will be heard. Rolls can be seamless with softer mallets in the mid and lower register of the marimba, and under ideal conditions, rolled four-note chords can sound like an organ. With sustaining instruments such as vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales, and chimes, the use of rolls is more of an effect than a necessity|
|crash articulations||just as the length of the cymbal resonance can be controlled, so too can the length of the attack. By letting the cymbals sizzle against each other for a split second after the crash, one can elongate the attack. By pulling the cymbals apart immediately after the crash, one can make the attack more
articulate. These articulations are not usually notated. A scrape with the edge of one cymbal against the inside face of the other might be appropriate for soft long notes. This creates a long swish that is not very loud. A second or two is needed to get the cymbals in position for a crash cymbal scrape|
|crash cymbal rolls||crash cymbal rolls are rarely used. Where they are notated in pieces by Bartók, Mahler, Copland, and others, some percussionists argue that the composer was actually indicating a suspended cymbal roll. Regardless, this type of roll is now a part of percussion playing. A loud crash cymbal roll can be achieved by rapidly striking the cymbals together, but this is difficult to execute consistently and can tire the player quickly. For softer crash cymbal rolls, the cymbals
can be held together and moved against each other in a circular motion|
Dot & Wedge in Clavichord Music
Dot & Wedge in Clavichord Music
Paul Simmonds, the English clavichordist, wrote to the Clavichord Discussion List about the use of the 'dot' and the 'wedge' in clavichord playing:
"Türk's Clavierschule is a good source for clear explanations. He sometimes takes CPE (Bach) to task for being unclear. There is an English translation by Raymond Haggh, University of Nebraska Press, 1982, which I fear is out of print, but libraries should have it, or you may be able to get a second hand copy. A facsimile is available from Bärenreiter if your German is up to it. [see also Clavierschule, Daniel Gottlob Türk (1789) - translation of extracts, from German to French, by Jean-Pierre Coulon]
Briefly, Türk says that there is little difference between the dot and the wedge, except that 'some would like to indicate by the stroke that a shorter staccato be played than that indicated by the dot'. Türk says that an accent is not implied by this, but that one hears all detached notes played loudly by some players. I still wonder about Müthel's use of the wedge, as he often uses it on the first note of a slurred group (if anyone has any thoughts on this I would like to hear them - maybe Müthel did imply an accent with his use of the wedge).
E.W. Wolf (1785) is also a good source for information on détaché, agreeing by and large with Türk (English translation by Christopher Hogwood in CPE Bach Studies, ed. Stephen Clark, Clarenden Press 1988). Wolf also makes no distinction between the dot and the dash and describes in detail how and where the détaché should be performed. This source is in general an excellent short guide to eighteenth-century clavichord playing. American colleagues could take a look at the original in the Library of Congress. Marpurg also gives either the dot or wedge for staccato (Abstossen) making no apparent distinction between the two."
Pedalling on the Piano
Pedalling on the Piano
C.P.E. Bach commented that if his lessons published in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753) were to be played on a harpsichord with more than one keyboard:
"one keeps to one manual for such changes of forte and piano as occur on single notes; one changes manual only when entire passages are differentiated by forte and piano. The discomfort is not present at the clavichord; on that instrument one can express all sorts of forte and piano as clearly and purely as on just about any other instrument."
The problem of fixed dynamics on the harpsichord, the principal domestic keyboard instrument, became even greater as the idea of dynamic expression or Affekt in music became increasingly important in music of the late baroque. For some early keyboard makers, the solution lay in changing the material of the plectrum, that part of the harpsichord directly in contact with the string.
M. Trouflaut writing in 1773 describes Pascal Taskin's invention, the peau de buffle.
"A thousand means of enlarging, embellishing and improving harpsochords were thought up, but no one reached the goal towards which they could have striven, namely, to vary the tone as nature and taste suggest to those of a delicate ear and a sensitive hearing ... |
Through his insight, M. Paschal Taskin surmounted the difficulties which had stood in the way of his predecessors ...
Of the three rows of jacks in a harpsichord he chose one in which he used pieces of buffalo leather as plectra ...
The effect of the leather on the strings of the instrument was to create sensuous, velvety sounds. These one could vary at will by exerting more or less pressure at the keyboard, obtaining rich, full and soothing sounds ....
Does one require passionate, tender or dying sounds? The buffle obeys the pressure of the finger; it no longer plucks but caresses the string. The touch, just the touch of the clavecinist is enough to create these charming shadings without changing either keyboard or stop ...
I dare to add with confidence that the harpsichord with the peau de buffle is very much superior to the Piano-forte."
The Piano-forte moved on, picking up ideas from other instruments on the way. Two German makers, Franz Jakob Späth (died 1752) and his son-in-law Christoph Friedrich Schmahl (1739-1814), made an instrument called the Tangentenflügel in which small staves of wood, moving vertically like a harpsichord jack, struck rather than plucked the strings. By striking the keys more forcefully, the volume of sound produced could be increased so the instrument had some dynamic possibilities. Later pairs replaced individual strings and a pedal mechanism allowed the player to vary the volume by changing whether the staves struck one or both of the strings. Other pedals raised dampers, to let the sound ring on even after the key had been released by the player, or were used to reproduce the 'harp' effect found on harpsichords when extra damping is given to the strings to produce a pizzicato.
These then were the early uses to which keyboard makers put pedals in order to increase the dynamic and tonal capabilites of their instruments. We know that Mozart thought highly of Späth's Tangentenflügel before he became acquainted with the Piano forte of Johann Andreas Stein (1728-92), one of the finest maker of organs, harpsichords, clavichords and pianos of the eighteenth century. Stein's instruments incorporated levers operated by the player's knee rather than by the player's feet. Stein's daughter Nannete, and her husband Andreas Streicher, established one of the most important Viennese piano-making firms. It was the Streicher's personal friendship with Beethoven that encouraged Beethoven to use the Streicher instruments even after he came into contact with instruments made by Erard, one made for Haydn in 1801 and the second given to Beethoven himself in August 1803. By this time all pianos were fitted with foot operated pedals and the knee lever had passed into history.
Grand Piano (1796) | more information...
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Piano designed by John Broadwood and Son, English, active 1795-1808
Cameos and medallions designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)
Case decoration by Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806)
Veneered case of satinwood, tulipwood, and purpleheart with Wedgwood cameos and medallions
Piano: 97 7/8 x 43 7/8 x 35 7/8 in. (248.7 x 111.5 x 91.2 cm)
Detail of lilac Wedgwood medallion: c. 3 in. across (7.6 cm)
George Alfred Cluett Collection, given by Florence Cluett Chambers
Acquired in 1985
The Pedal and Pedalling on the Modern Piano
The article below is taken from The Pedal and Pedalling on the Modern Piano and from a number of other resources about pedalling on the piano.
Upon inspection, the modern concert grand piano will confront you with three piston-like contraptions that extend downwards from the main body of the instrument.
Contrary to the misguided belief of many a first-time observer, the correct operation of these ‘pedals’ does not involve the synchronized use of three limbs. The simultaneous operation of a clutch, brake, and accelerator would probably cause just as much damage.
So What Do They Do?
Quite simply, a piano pedal is a lever capable of a short ‘down-up’ movement and is operated by the foot.1 Each of the three pedals has a different function. The right-most, when depressed, moves a damping mechanism away from the strings inside the piano, thus allowing any notes played to have their full duration even though the finger(s) have been removed from the keys. For this reason it is known as the sustain pedal but, as the most important and frequently used of the three, is more simply referred to as....the pedal.
A (Thankfully) Brief History of the Pedal
It was introduced by the Englishman John Broadwood (of Broadwood Pianos fame) in 1784.
Before John came along however, the position of the damping mechanism was regulated by a device placed directly under the keyboard. Naturally, the use of this particular pedalling facility was somewhat restrictive, as it could only be operated by the player’s knee - altogether a marketing ploy aimed at either child prodigies such as Mozart, or midgets.
Once repositioned though, the pedal became all the rage. Mozart was the first composer to use the odd pedal marking here and there, but it was in fact Beethoven who, through meticulous indications in his piano works, considered the effect of the pedal to be an integral part of his sound world. The composers of the subsequent ‘Romantic’ era followed his train of thought, using the pedal imaginatively in order to expand the piano’s tonal palette. Some even paused to leave meaningful quotations for the sake of posterity, as did Anton Rubinstein when he romanticized about the pedal being ‘the soul of the piano’. Busoni waxed lyrical about ‘the moonlight streaming down a landscape’. The great Franz Liszt even said that, without the pedal, the piano would be some kind of hackbrett. (What?!) 2
The piano music of Debussy and Ravel would be unimaginable without the use of the pedal, as it allowed them to translate into musical terms the aesthetics of their painter-counterparts: the Impressionists. The importance of the sustain pedal to the exploration of the resonances and sonorities of the piano has remained so ever since.3
At about the same time as Debussy and Ravel’s creative use of the sustain pedal, Ragtime pianists in New Orleans were finding it handy for holding on to an ‘oom’ while they got to a ‘pah’.
OK, So How Does It Help?
The late Hungarian-born pianist Louis Kentner believed that proper use of the sustain pedal constitutes about half of what we call ‘good tone’ on the piano. A pianist with a ‘good tone’, in other words, is able to produce a pleasing sound with the instrument. What he/she does with their right foot is just as important as what they do with their hands the individual ways of using the sustain pedal differ so greatly from artist to artist even if they may share the same level of pianistic skill, or indeed even the same piano!
So Why Is This?
In a word: timing. One can employ the sustain pedal in three different ways in relation to how one produces a sound on the keyboard. The pedal may be used: Before the sound (known as anticipated pedalling)Simultaneously with the sound; orAfter the sound. (known as syncopated pedalling)
Timing plays an especially crucial role4 when this type of pedalling is to help produce piano-playing of good clarity, and it is the vital time-lapse between key-depression and pedal-depression throughout a simple sequence of chords which controls this clarity. Get it wrong, and the sounds of one chord will ooze inevitably into the next, creating the musical equivalent of a water-logged fruit trifle.
What About The Other Two?
A long time ago, certain over-zealous American piano makers appalled discerning music lovers by enriching their pianos with pedals that operated attached cymbals, drums and rude-sounding wind machines. Mercifully, history saw to it that these contraptions fell bumpily by the wayside. The only additional pedals that have remained until today are the una corda and sostenuto pedals.
The Una Corda Pedal
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that not all pianos have three pedals. The majority of grand pianos possess indeed all three, but others (including the small ‘upright’ pianos) offer two pedals which will be the sustain and una corda types. The latter, and left-most, controls a mechanism which works in two different ways depending on the type of piano. In grand pianos, the depression of this pedal will move the whole set of ‘hammers’ (the small mallet-like things wrapped up in felt) very slightly sideways so as to leave unstruck one out of every three strings for each note, hence the name una corda, Italian for ‘one string’.5
On upright pianos, the whole set of hammers is moved closer to the strings so that the force of their blow is diminished. The resulting sound in both cases, upon depression of a key, is a somewhat muted sound and consequently this pedal also bears the name: the soft pedal.
And Finally the Doohickey in the Middle
Back to grand pianos. Located in between the soft and sustain pedals is a handy little gadget that can offer hours of amusement (well, alright, maybe only a few minutes until you figure out what it does.). Introduced by Steinway and perfected in 1874, it is known as the sostenuto pedal and enables the pianist to make (within limits) a selection as to the notes he/she wishes to sustain. In order to ensure success, it can only be depressed after the keys themselves have been depressed. The process is as follows: Choose a note or chord that you want to sustainPlay itWhile the key(s) is/are depressed, press down on the sostenuto pedal with your left footLet go of the note(s)See how they still sound! but....that’s not all.While these notes still sound you can play any other notes on the piano, and they WILL NOT sustain.
OK Then, Does It Have A Useful Purpose?
Well, I’m told that the sostenuto pedal is absolutely vital for accompanying vocalists in the Flenderyap Songs of the Brumtypipe People by the late Grong composer Hulkan M.Ruden Voos III. Apart from that, certain solo piano compositions by contemporary earth composers require the occasional dab of third pedal....
What’s With These Confusing Names?
Misnomers abound when discussing the piano and its pedals. For starters, the sustain pedal also bears the confusing name of loud pedal, even though it is also used for soft passages.
If we’re going to be really pedantic, the use of the term ‘sustain’ is also dubious the undamped vibration of a string is, in reality, it’s natural state, and since the sustain pedal curtails the length of this natural state (i.e. shortening the tone instead of lengthening it), it’s actually doing the absolute opposite of sustaining anything. (I sense I may have just lost you?) Perhaps it should simply and more universally be known as the damper pedal?
The una corda or 'one string' pedal doesn’t, in actual fact, make each hammer strike only one string out of three more precisely, it makes every hammer AVOID a string, each one striking the remaining two strings out of three.?
And finally, regarding the middle pedal (just to make you wish you’d never visited this entry):
sostenuto is Italian for ‘sustain’.
The Right Way To Do It
Just so that your pedal technique is au fait: Keep your heel on the ground when using the pedal, and move it with the tip of you toe so that your whole foot acts as a pivot, so to speak. This is essential for good control, and to being able to vary the depth to which the pedal is depressed, an aspect that also has influence upon the clarity of sound produced.
The Wrong Way To Do It
Don’t kick it.
Don’t use it to beat time.
Don’t use it for ragtime foot-stomping (get a fiddle-player to stomp for you).
The Squeaky Pedal
There is nothing quite as infuriating as a noisy pedal, or worse: one that, just like a lonely mouse, squeaks whenever depressed (pardon the pun). Usual form is to administer a little lubricant directly, or call a piano technician. All the mouse will need is a little love and attention.
- foot-operated levers also exist on kettledrums, pipe organs, harpsichords, harps, and sewing machines of the prehistoric era.
- German for ‘chopping board’ - [comment by Dr. Blood: actually Hackbrett is the German name for the hammered dulcimer]
- A bit of acoustics jargon here: The harmonics of the strings sounded are enriched by the sympathetic resonance of those derived from other freely vibrating strings, resulting in a fuller sound, or what most simply describe as a ‘glow’ to the tone of the instrument. This is of course an exclusively acoustical phenomenon - if you’ve ever wondered why the ‘piano’ sound on a synthesizer doesn’t sound like the real McCoy, this is the reason.
- specially especially crucial in concert halls when there is a high ‘reverberation component’ (a little more technical fodder for you ‘acoustics aficionados’ out there)
- the modern piano has one string for a few of the lowest notes, two for the middle register notes, and three strings for the highest notes, on account of the decrease in resonance of the shorter strings.
The Pedal in Practice
Although it was Beethoven who first made significant use of the pedal in performance and in his piano compositions, it was pieces like the piano nocturne or "night piece", a form inherited from the Irish composer John Field (1782-1837) and to which Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) brought the melodic inspiration he drew from Italian opera (particularly Bellini) and his own unique harmonic idiom, where the possibilities provided by the pedal were to be fully explored. The graceful melody of the D-flat major Nocturne Op. 27, no. 2, 1835, stated three times enhanced by thirds, sixths, fioriaturas (written embellishments) and intense chromaticism, uses surprising harmonic changes to add to the passionate climax; the subtle pedalling effects of the coda point towards the pianistic colours of Debussy.
The art of pedalling was something Debussy felt strongly about as Eberhardt Klemm mentions in Claude Debussy - Piano Works, Vol. 5: Études : Concluding Remarks
Debussy's piano style of composition demands a cessation of damping spreading over bars, i.e. a depressing of the right pedal (sometimes indicated by several suspended short ties.) This does not mean that the sounds should be blurred. Thus Debussy warns against misuse of the pedal "which is mostly a means of covering up a technical deficiency." He does of course demand a finely differentiated pedal technique of the greatest virtuosity. Many a skilful pianist, who finds a hand free, will in some places silently depress keys and change pedals briefly in order thereby to exclude the continued vibration of disturbing tones. "The art of pedalling is a kind of breathing", wrote Debussy to Jacques Durand (1st September 1915). "This is what I observed in the case of Liszt when he permitted me to listen to him during his stay in Rome."
In exceptional cases Debussy prescribes the use of the left pedal (Fr. pédale douce, pédale sourde or sourdine) or even of both pedals (les 2 Ped., les deux pédales). The fascination of the shift of keyboard and mechanics, which occurs in all degrees of volume (thus also in forte) in Debussy and still more in Ravel, consists in the alteration of the tonal colour. We do not, however, need to follow these instructions, if the shift occasions a too meagre and dull-sounding effect, as is the case with some older pianos.
John Tilbury discussing the piano music of Cornelius Cardew remarks that the pedal is being used to modulate piano tone. The precise aspects of sonority and resonance are sometimes indicated - in February Pieces, for example, where subtle modifications in the timbral quality of sustained sounds are introduced as they decay, the harmonics being altered after the initial attack through use of pedalling and of silently depressed keys. This goes straight to the heart of the characteristic resonance of the piano and the way it is actually heard and the role the pedal plays in the instrument's tonal and timbral response.
The Digital Piano and Pedalling
Dr. Virginia Houser, Kansas State University, in her article entitled Do you want an elementary student to have a digital keyboard for home practice? admits that digital keyboards have come a long, long way in recent years. Their sounds are amazingly close to that of a piano; after all, many use actual sound samples from acoustic grand pianos. They stay in tune. They are portable. They generally cost less than a piano. The most expensive ones offer touch-sensitive (also called velocity-sensitive) and weighted wooden keys quite similar to an acoustic piano. Digital pianos have one to three pedals which simulate those on an acoustic. They can also be equipped with headphones which allow private practice. Most even offer instrumental sounds and percussion effects which titillate many students. Even with all the digital pluses, however, she prefer a student's primary practice instrument be a piano. Because of all those marvelous inner mechanical workings, the performer must engage with the instrument to create sound and effects in a way not possible on a digital instrument. There is also an unreproducible, resonant amplification resulting from vibrating strings and wood. Last but not least, subtleties in pedalling are all but impossible with an electronic instrument.
Table of Dynamic Markings
Table of Dynamic Markings
We set out below signs and marks that set or change the dynamic level during a piece of music. In some case, the dynamic level is related to the mood; in other cases the mark is much more direct.
|Table of More Common Dynamic Markings|
please refer to our music dictionary for other markings
|ff.||fortissimo : very loud|
|f.||forte : loud|
|mf.||mezzo forte : moderately loud|
|mp.||mezzo piano : moderately soft|
|p.||piano : soft|
|pp.||pianissimo : very soft|
|also ffff., fff., ppp., pppp.||for greater dynamic range|
|fp.||forte immediately dropping to piano|
|crescendo, cresc.||increasingly powerful|
|decrescendo, decresc.||decreasingly powerful|
|diminuendo. dim.||decreasingly powerful|
|narrow to wide: crescendo|
|wide to narrow: diminuendo or decrescendo|
|marcato, marc.||marked or emphasised|
|sf., sfz.||sforzato, sforzando : forced|
|sfp.||sforzato or sforzando immediately dropping to piano|
|fz.||forza, forzando : forced, sudden accent|
|rfz.||rinforzando : reinforcing|
|calando||decreasing tone and speed|
|incalzando||increasing speed and tone|
|con sordino (sordini)||with the mute(s)|
|dolcissimo, dolciss.||very gently, very sweetly|
|mancando, morendo, perdendosi, smorzando||waning, dying away|
|mezza voce, sotto voce||in an undertone|
|risvegliato||with increased animation|
|senza sordini||without mutes|
|tacet||it is silent|
|tutta forza||as loud as possible|
|una corda||use the soft pedal on the piano|
Table of General Musical Markings
Table of General Musical Markings
We set out below a list of general musical markings that are commonly found in published music.
|Table of General Musical Markings|
some may be included in tables elsewhere in the Online music theory or in our music dictionary
|a||(Italian) for, at, in, etc.|
|a cappella||(Italian) for choral music without accompaniment|
|a capriccio||(Italian) in a humorous manner|
|accelerando (accel.)||(Italian) gradually getting faster|
|ad libitum||(Italian) as the performer wishes|
|affettuoso||(Italian) affectionate, with tender warmth|
|agitato||(Italian) agitated, excited|
|alla||(Italian) in the style of|
|alla breve||(Italian) the half note (minim) rather than the quarter note (crotchet) takes the beat|
|allargando||(Italian) growing broader|
|amabile||(Italian) sweet, amiable, lovable|
|animato||(Italian) with spirit|
|a piacere||(Italian) at the performer's discretion|
|arioso||(Italian) a short solo in the style of an air|
|arpeggio||(Italian) the notes of a chord are played in succession rather than simultaneously|
|ben, bene||(Italian) well|
|brillante||(Italian) with brilliance or vivacity|
|cadenza||(Italian) a passage for solo instrument in free, improvisatory style|
|calando||(Italian) diminishing in dynamic and speed|
|cambiare||(Italian) to change|
|cantabile||(Italian) in a singing style|
|chiuso||(Italian) stopped, in horn playing|
|col, colla||(Italian) with the|
|come||(Italian) like, as|
|comodo||(Italian) comfortable, easy|
|con brio||(Italian) with brilliance or vivacity|
|con dolore||(Italian) with sorrow|
|con forza||(Italian) with force or strength|
|con fuoco||(Italian) with fire|
|con giusto||(Italian) with taste, fitting mood and tempo|
|con passione||(Italian) with passion|
|con spirito||(Italian) with spirit|
|crescendo||(Italian) gradually get louder|
|dal||(Italian) from the|
|decrescendo||(Italian) gradually get softer|
|decisivo||(Italian) with decision|
|diminuendo||(Italian) gradually get softer|
|dolente||(Italian) doleful, sorrowful|
|doppio movimento||(Italian) double the preceeding speed|
|e, ed||(Italian) and|
|e poi||(Italian) and then|
|facilmente||(Italian) easily, without strain|
|fine||(Italian) end, close|
|giocoso||(Italian) gay, playful|
|il, la||(Italian) the|
|impetuoso||(Italian) in an energetic manner|
|lamentoso||(Italian) in a mournful style|
|largamente||(Italian) in a dignified manner|
|leggiero||(Italian) light and graceful|
|lusingando||(Italian) alluring, flattering|
|mancando||(Italian) dying away|
|martellato||(Italian) hammered stroke played with very short bows at the point|
|meno mosso||(Italian) less movement, slower|
|mesto||(Italian) mournful, sad|
|molto||(Italian) much, very|
|morendo||(Italian) dying away and becoming slower|
|parlando||(Italian) singing in speaking style|
|parlante||(Italian) singing in speaking style|
|perdendosi||(Italian) dying away and becoming slower|
|pesante||(Italian) heavy, weighting|
|pizzicato||(Italian) pluck the string with the finger|
|pochetto||(Italian) very little|
|poco||(Italian) little, a little|
|poco a poco||(Italian) little by little|
|rallentando (rall.)||(Italian) gradually getting slower|
|religioso||(Italian) with devotion|
|ritardando (rit.)||(Italian) gradually getting slower|
|ritenuto (riten.)||(Italian) suddenly slower, held back|
|rubato||(Italian) robbed time, speeding up and slowing down|
|secco||(Italian) dry, short|
|simili||(Italian) the same|
|sino al||(Italian) up to the..|
|slentando||(Italian) getting slower|
|smorzando||(Italian) smother dynamic to nothing|
|soave||(Italian) suave, gentle|
|sonore||(Italian) sound with full tone|
|sotto voce||(Italian) with a barely audible sound|
|spiccato||(Italian) with a light bouncing motion of the bow|
|spiritoso||(Italian) lively, with spirit|
|staccato||(Italian) detached, short|
|stentando||(Italian) delaying, retarding|
|sul||(Italian) on the..|
|suono||(Italian) sound, tone|
|tanto||(Italian) so much|
|tempo primo||(Italian) return to original time|
|tempo rubato||(Italian) robbed time|
|tenuto||(Italian) held, sustained|
|tessitura||(Italian) average range of a vocal part|
|tranquillo||(Italian) tranquil, quiet, calm|
|tremolo||(Italian) a quick reiteration of the same tone on a string instrument|
|troppo||(Italian) too much|
|un poco||(Italian) a little|
|vibrato||(Italian) slight change of pitch on same note|
|vigoroso||(Italian) vigorous, strong|
|ausdrucksvoll||(German) with expression|
|beruhigen||(German) to calm, to quiet|
|bewegter||(German) more agitated|
|daher||(German) from there|
|drängend||(German) pressing on|
|einleiten||(German) to lead into|
|erschütterung||(German) a violent shaking, deep emotion|
|etwas||(German) somewhat, rather|
|flüchtig||(German) fleeting, transient|
|ganz||(German) entirely, altogether|
|gedehnt||(German) held back|
|gestopft||(German) stopped note by placing the hand in the bell of the horn|
|gewöhnlich||(German) usual, customary|
|gleichmässig||(German) equal, symmetrical|
|halt||(German) stop, hold|
|hauptstimme||(German) most important voice in the phrase|
|hauptzeitmass||(German) original tempo|
|heftiger||(German) more passionate, violent|
|klangvoll||(German) sonorous, full-sounding|
|klingen lassen||(German) allow to sound|
|kräftig||(German) strong, forceful|
|nebenstimme||(German) the second most important voice in the phrase|
|nehmen||(German) to take|
|noch||(German) still, yet|
|schwerer||(German) heavier, more difficult|
|schwermütig||(German) dejected, sad|
|sprechstimme||(German) speaking voice|
|übertönend||(German) drowning out|
|unterbrechung||(German) interruption, suspension|
|verhalten||(German) restrained, held back|
|verklingen lassen||(German) let die away|
|verzweiflungsvoll||(German) full of despair|
|vorwärts||(German) forward, onward|
|weg||(German) away, beyond|
|wie oben||(German) as above, as before|
|zart||(German) tenderly, delicately|
|ziemlich||(German) suitable, fitting|
|zurückhaltend||(German) slowing in speed|
|zurückkehrend zum||(German) return to..|
|bien||(French) very, well|
|doux||(French) soft, light|
|echoton||(French) with an echo|
|éclatant||(French) sparkling, brilliant|
|en dehors||(French) outside, emphasized|
|en fusée||(French) dissolving in|
|fois||(French) times, as in number of|
|laissez vibrer||(French) let vibrate|
|main||(French) hand (droite right; gauche left)|
|marqué||(French) marked, with emphasis|
|pause||(French) pause, rest|
|sombre||(French) somber, dark|
|soutenu||(French) held, sustained|
|sur||(French) over, on|
|unison (unis.)||(French) same pitches played by several instruments|
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