Accents and the tongue (or not)

As a follow-up to my previous post on the role of the tongue in articulation, I would like to address the problem of accents.

When I hear my students playing heavy, thumpy accents, I ask them how they are playing the accents. The answer is usually the same: “tongue harder?”

But when the tongue is properly understood to release the reed (or release the airstream on the flute), the idea of tonguing harder doesn’t make much sense. (How do you release harder?) Unfortunately, for many developing woodwind players, it translates to a larger area of contact between the tongue and the reed, causing unwanted percussive sounds.


Accents are better understood as what they appear to be on the page: small decrescendos. An accent is a note shape: louder at the beginning, softer at the end. It is produced by the mechanisms of volume/dynamics, not the tongue. Often, but not always, the note starts louder than the baseline dynamic level and decrescendos back to it.

As with most aspects of musical interpretation, this leaves a great deal of room for variation; accents can have many characters and shades. But none of those should include thuds or thumps (unless, I suppose, called for by the composer). Practice beautiful and stylish accents by slowing down the music enough to give each accented note a graceful decrescendo.


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