7. Articulation - playing the full note value

Note length - Slurred Quavers - Exercises 1 - 4 - Song : Its a Long Shot - Practice Material
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IF 7.1 - Note Length

A famous classical clarinet player once explained in an interview that he imagined each and every note he produces to be a permanent creation that travels infinitely and at the speed of sound through space to all Galaxies in the Universe.
He expressed in an imaginative way an essential aspect which all good musicians have in common : an acute awareness of each note played and an craftsman's approach to create, shape and time each note exactly as the performer wishes it to be.

Seen in this light written music fulfils an important secondary role. It provides a visual image of the music. This creates a mental awareness of each note played which extends to all aspect of performance, including improvisation. The lack of this is very obvious when you listen to any Jazz muso who can not read music.

Reading music and having a visual concept of it is one thing, actually playing correctly what is written down is quite another.
Many beginning students make a very common error regarding note length.

A minim in 4/4 time is 2 beats long.
It must therefore be sustained from the beginning of one beat until the end of the next beat, which is in fact the start of the third beat!
When tapping the beat with your foot : start the minim on the first tap and sustain it until the third tap.
Many players sustain the note only until the beginning of the second beat. This leaves a gap in the music.

Likewise a semibreve in 4/4 time is 4 beats long.
It must therefore be sustained from the beginning of the first beat until the end of the bar, which is the same as the start of the first beat in the following bar.
When tapping the beat with your foot : start the semibreve on the first tap and sustain it until the fifth tap (which is the first tap for the next bar).



A second common error is letting notes fade away.
For instruments such as pianos, vibraphones, guitars and various percussion instruments this fading away is part of the characteristic of the instrument. But this is not so for wind instruments, violins, mouth organs, accordions and singers.
Always play a full sound for the entire duration of each note, unless the dynamics on the score (crescendo, diminuendo) indicate otherwise.


Gaps and fading away 'carrots' are bad habits for a soloist.
It is even worse if you play in a band or orchestra. Any good conductor gets very upset when part of a harmony suddenly disappears or fades away.
Joining an orchestra or local community band (provided they have a good conductor) is therefore an excellent way of improving your musical skills.

Shown below are the only cases where unwritten gaps are required.

Audio IF 7.1

Most lead sheets (melody notation plus written chord symbols) for Jazz songs and in Fake books do not include slurs, articulation and dynamic notations. As performer you may therefore decide these aspects yourself. However make sure that whatever you play is consciously intended by you, and not just a bad habit.

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IF 7.2 - Slurred Quavers

Slurred quavers form another common trap for the unaware student.
The last note in a group of slurred quavers (shown in red below) must be played for as near to its full halfbeat length as possible. A tiny bit needs to be taken off its length in order to separate it from the next note, but that is all.
Many students however always play this note short (like a slurred on staccato).

Audio IF 7.2

There are only two situations when this note must be played short.

  1. When there is a staccato dot under or above the last quaver covered by the slur.

  2. In Jazz when the last quaver under the slur is on an offbeat and is followed by a rest.


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IF 7.3 - Exercises 1 - 4

Exercises 1 - 4 represent various typical patterns with slurred and staccato quavers.
Practise each pattern over the major (or any other) scale. Use initially a one octave range up to the 9th and back as shown below. Eventually you can extend the pattern over two octaves.

Practise slowly at first to ensure that the last quaver under each slur is played long, and the staccatos are crisp, clean and clear.
Do not increase the tempo until these fundamental objectives are achieved at the lower speed.

Audios : IF 7.2 = 1 + 2 --- IF 7.3 = 3a + 3b --- IF 7.4 = 4a + 4b

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IF 7.4 - Song : Its a Long Shot

I have included slurred quavers and staccatos in the lead sheet for Its a Long Shot to give you some additional practice on this aspect of articulation.
Focus on good articulation and playing full length of all long notes.
Play straight quavers (not swing style).


The articulation pattern in the bridge is quite tricky, so you probably need to practise this part first very slowly to get it right.

Audio IF 7.5

Do you recognise the chord progression in the bridge ? It is the famous Rhythm bridge from the song 'I got Rhythm' by George Gershwin : III7 - VI7 - II7 - V7

The long notes in the bridge also provide an opportunity to employ a very effective technique using dynamics over one or more long notes at the end of a phrase.
Start the first long note (the dotted crotchet A above) piano (softly), then gradually crescendo (increase the volume) over the two bars to a full forte (loud) for the high G.
The legendary Gerry Mulligan was a master of this technique, creating enormous drive, energy and excitement in all his wonderful solos.

(I could not get the right effect on the midi file, so I left it out.)

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IF 7.5 - Practice Material

General File Manuscript Paper
Exercises 1 - 4 page 1
Song : Its a Long Shot C score Bb score Eb score Demo PaL

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Copyright © 2000 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.