The Woodwind Section and Articulation

The Woodwind Section

Since Beethoven’s time, a typical orchestral woodwind section has consisted of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons in pairs. One of the players may be required to double on another instrument in the same family, such as the piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet, or contrabassoon. A larger woodwind section maintains the pairs, with auxiliary performers on the added instruments.

As a rule, each pair of instruments shares a staff in the score. If two notes sound simultaneously, the first player takes the upper note, and the second takes the lower. In the case of a single note line played by both instruments, the indication "a2" must be placed over the music, or stems must be placed in both directions from the notes. When a single note line is played by one instrument, the indication "1." or "2." must be placed over the music, or rests must be placed above or below the line. The indication "a2" is not needed in passages with two separate parts. Orchestral woodwinds do not use divisi or unisono, terms reserved for string and band players. If the part is a solo, it should be indicated as such and will usually be taken by the first chair. Label an entering voice with 1. or 2. and a dynamic marking if the other chair is already playing.

Two oboes play unison in (a) and the first measure of (b). In the second measure of (b) they split.

Only the first oboe plays in (c) and the first measure of (d). The second oboe enters in the second measure of (d).

FIGURE 3.1 Two parts sharing a staff

Woodwind Articulation

Each note will be tongued, or enunciated, separately if it is not slurred with another note. A staccato tongue resembles the syllable "tu"; a legato tongue resembles "du." A slur marking is not placed over repeated notes on the same pitch unless an articulation mark is placed over each note. The interpretation of articulation markings depends on style and context. In most modern usage the articulation on the left below requests more separation than the one on the right.

FIGURE 3.2 Articulations

It is generally best to indicate slurring rather than phrasing and to use breath marks where needed for the woodwinds. Double-tonguing, useful in passages too rapid to be single-tongued, is used primarily on the flute. Double-tonguing consists of alternating syllables: "tu-ku-tu-ku." Triple-tonguing is useful for fast triplet patterns; it sounds like the syllables "tu-ku-tu" or "tu-tu-ku." Flutter tonguing is a special effect produced by rolling an "r-r-r" in the throat while producing a tone. A sforzando attack (sfz) is possible within the context of any dynamic level.

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