Joined Up Thinking

Articulation ( leading on from Spot The Difference )

“Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.” Dan Quayle (b. 1947)

“For NASA, space is still a high priority.” Dan Quayle (b. 1947)

Articulation is?……..see when………it’s………if you have……..right……….it’s no…………I cannae………..eh?……..I dinnae……….aw man, the bells went!

It’s just one of those words which most pupils understand but few can articulate. Possibly the best we have come up with to date is that articulation is about how one note is joined to the next – if at all. Most pupils would agree that there are three main types of transition between two neighbouring notes:

  1. detached (in rhythmic, dance-like tunes)
  2. joined (in songs – spaces appearing only for breathing)
  3. overlapping – usually in accompaniments and only possible on instruments where several notes are possible simultaneously e.g. keyboard, guitar, harp……. tubular bells, mando lin (in the voice of Vivian Stanshall)…is this bringing back memories for anyone?

The word detached for most pupils is a housing term and, for the more visually inclined, these three types of articulation find their helpful equivalent in:

  1. detached house
  2. terraced house
  3. flat

The default setting for most tunes is joined or legato. Spaces between notes can tend to make an audience edgy – like somebody breathing between every word of a sentence – suggesting panic. In the first few lessons, pupils strive for this kind of sound.

No sooner have they learned this temporary truth than it becomes clear that more rhythmic pieces might benefit from some breathing space between notes. Various techniques have to be employed to insert spaces on instruments where this does not occur naturally. Interestingly, when playing Scottish tunes, pupils incorporate this kind of articulation as though it were inborn.

A Question of Attack

If every single note in a guitar tune is plucked, the result is similar to every syllable of a speech beginning with a hard consonant. Over the centuries, techniques have evolved to soften the transition between notes thereby allowing them to be grouped together, producing more flow. These include hammer-on, pull-off, slide, bend. These are all very natural techniques and, before long, young pupils can play with convincing expression in their second language.