Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I’m looking for advice here … I started out as a fiddler (of no great import), when living in Edinburgh in 1970, and quickly got used to the bright, springy rhythm, which requires a lot of colourful bowing, especially the gorgeous snap-bowing technique. Like many of us, in time I drifted over to the Irish way of playing (I can’t think why, except that it was so damned tasty, and went over better with the girls than Highland Flings). However, I confess I never really got my brain or my fingers around the Irish technique, with its long bowing and subtle swing. Anyway, 40 years passed, as they do. Now I’ve taken up the flute (I found an old wooden flute kicking around the house, got curious, then hooked…) What puzzles me - and I’ve looked through all the excellent posts on flute technique on this site - is how your modern, polished flute player manages to give the Scottish tune the essential Scottish character that you can hear quite plainly with fiddlers in the Skinner tradition. I am really asking about tonguing and phrasing and any tricks anyone might have up their sleeve.

As I said, I only want advice. I am a rank amateur

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

https://thesession.org/recordings/display/2900
I recommend Calum Stewart’s recording - see link above. It’s the only recording of solo flute playing of [ mainly ] Scottish traditional music by a Scottish-born musician. Chris Norman from Nova Scotia did beat him to it by a couple of years. His recording is also recommended - I think it was called "The Caledonian Flute". And that’s yer lot………….

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Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

PS - Welcome to the "session.org", "firefly" - maybe you’d like to tell us some more about yourself in your profile. If you’re based anywhere near Aberdeen, I can help.

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Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

This is not a scholarly reply, but I find the flute far less prominent in Scottish music, and I’m not sure there is any truly "traditional" way to approach Scottish music on it. I tend to use my tongue a lot more on Scottish tunes because they are often unplayable without using the tongue. My advice would be to aim for what your ears want to hear and don’t get too hung up on the technique you use to produce the sound.

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Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

Lots of useful info there. Thanks a lot everyone.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I think to give the "lift" that strathspeys require, the flutist would end up playing in a style very different from the usual Irish style. Just as a Scottish fiddler’s bow spends a lot of time in the air when playing strathspeys sometimes, a Scottish fluter would have many silences as part of his phrasing, not playing "on the stream" as when playing Irish reels.

I’ve spent many hours around Alistair Fraser out here in California: listening to him play, dancing to his playing, attending his workshops, etc, so my notions are based on his style. Maybe there are fiddlers in Scotland who keep the bow on the strings the whole time, I don’t know.

I did play flute in The Scottish Fiddlers Of Los Angeles many years ago and I can say that the way I played was very different from the way I normally play: more tonguing, more gaps, more dynamics.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I’m not a fluter but a whistler, so do take what I say with that in mind, but I’ve always felt the tunes lead the phrasing. If you’re playing something with the snap and bounce that you often find in Scottish dance music then you need to use more tonguing to get the required crispness and syncopation.

What’s interesting to listen to is a tune that is common in both Scottish and Irish idiom, like Rakes of Mallow or Killikrankie / Planxty Davis, and hear how people play them differently.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

On the uilleann pipes I play Scottish tunes with more closed fingering than I do Irish tunes to get the snappy bits. The equivalent on a whistle (which I also play) and presumably flute (which I don’t play) is more tonguing.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

In my far from expert opinion, I find I use the tongue, glottal stops and just plain stopping breathing much more on Scottish tunes too. Dynamics also seem to be much more important to the tune than with most of the Irish dance tunes that I hear.
I almost never use rolls in the Scottish stuff, but I use simple cuts and taps a lot - I also use a cran-like figure on left and right hands, e.g E gcut E fcut E or G ccut G bcut G either done in the rhythm of the tune or as a sort of birly bubble. I have Chris Norman to thank for this one. One classic sequence from his Duke of Atholl’s pibroch on the Caledonian flute CD was played: A ccut A bcut A low gtap slide up to high gcut f then land on high e…
I also followed someone’s advice (Iain MacDonald I think?) and decided to try and learn Socttish piping at least to a level where I understood how it was meant to work. This of course backfired and I now own and play Highland and smallpipes for their own sake too. I also find myself using the equivalent of the GDE cuts from piping on the flute too.
Also, having a better half who plays the fiddle has made me pay attention to the way the fiddle tunes use the bowing. If you are interpreting a fiddle tune on the flute then you need to understand what the fiddle would be doing. You cannot play Shetland tunes without understanding bowing.

What all of this adds up to is that the flute was lost to the Scottish tradition which then evolved its’ typical styles based on other instruments (fiddle and pipes). If you want to use the flute for this then you need to understand how these instruments work. Alternatively you can go back to the old manuscripts from when the flute was current in Scottish music (Dow Collection, Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket companion, etc.) and then try to produce an informed interpretaton from there.
Good luck.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

So, it seems to me that Scottish flute woud be closer to the fife playing I hear in New England? That has a lot more tonguing and ‘percussiveness’ (for lack of a better word) than the Irish flute playing.
I know a lot of people who play both styles, and the difference is a LOT more than just playing a D instead of a Bflat instrument.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

" You cannot play Shetland tunes without understanding bowing." - I’m sure you mean on fiddle, of course…?

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

…..because a decent player of another instrument, flute for example, doesn’t need to know anything at all about bowing to play shetland tunes, and to play them well.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I too am a recent convert to flute.

I was pursuing english concertina—but having grown up with instruments with logical fingerings(!), I finally gave up after a few years and went back to flute and woodwinds…which were my first instruments 40 years ago.

BTW, I also play strings, some DBA and anglo c., and a bit of hammered dulcimer

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Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I use the flute to play traditional Newfoundland (Eastern Canadian) tunes and I often find myself running to similar problems because of the lack of flute playing in the local tradition. And what I have really been trying to do is understand the way the music is played on the instruments it is typically played on (accordion and fiddle) and play in a way that fits in with that style. I always feel that, if I can sit down with traditional accordion and fiddle players and play along with them without changing the flow of the tune, then I’m doing alright.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

"I also followed someone’s advice (Iain MacDonald I think?) and decided to try and learn Socttish piping at least to a level where I understood how it was meant to work. This of course backfired and I now own and play Highland and smallpipes for their own sake too. I also find myself using the equivalent of the GDE cuts from piping on the flute too."

I’m not a flute player or whistler but it strikes me that advice from and listening to, Iain MacDonald (the whaler) would be fairly high on my agenda if I was interested in checking out "Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute". A great player.

Also, as the pipes are fairly important in scottish music, IMO, I think listening to the pipes versions of tunes I’m trying to learn or play is of huge value, even if it’s just to know where I differ. Don’t think you can go to far wrong with a bit of piping, wish I’d done a bit : (

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I am of course not a decent player of any instrument, so I found it very helpful to understand how Shetland tunes get bowed when trying to play them on the flute. Sitting next to a good Shetland fiddler while they play the tune would be enough. Listening to a sound only recording is not.

Probably now that I _do_ understand a fair bit about bowing, I no longer need to think about what I am hearing when I hear a new (to me) Shetland tune. But that is not how I got here.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I’m sure it’s bound to be helpful to understand bowing to play Shetland music, it’s just not essential.

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

When I posted this discussion, I never believed I would have such a lot of useful and sympathetic answers. Thanks to you all. I particularly liked Crackpot’s post, which I shall act on, and also ‘the burly bubble’, a term which someone should immortalize in a new tune.

The main drift seems to be that ‘Scottish Flute Style’ is a grey area. In my humble view, it needs a big weekend get-together to explore it. Anyone interested?

Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I can think of several people who might be interested in that. Where and when would you suggest ?
Incidentally, we had a wooden flute weekend in Aberdeen in 2001, which was attended by 45 flute players - maybe time we repeated that, but it does take a lot of organisation.

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Re: Phrasing and tonguing in Scottish tunes on the Flute

I would love a weekend get together - small kids would make the planning of it a bit tricky, but I would try very hard…
(I missed the 2001 by not yet being into the wooden flute.)
(I’m in Hamburg but would probably combine something like this with a visit home to the family in Edinburgh.)