Focus on Phrasing

Phrasing begins with the basic building blocks of music, scales and arpeggios, and musical expression adds content to basic notes and rhythms. As a woodwind family member, the flute requires specific skills that are different from clarinet or saxophone, so it’s important for flutists to practice fundamentals of embouchure, breath control and technique discussed in previous columns.

Musical Content. Remember that printed notes represent sounds, so practice singing or whistling first to develop a sense of musical phrasing. Hear the starting pitch with the internal ear, then add inflection to music through the natural rise and fall of the line.

Focus on phrasing and technical practice simultaneously, adding direction and flow to basic notes and rhythms. Think of spinning the air column throughout the phrase to project and sustain the direction of the line.

Bare Bones. Practice scale and arpeggio exercises slurred in ascending and descending patterns to develop a sense of phrasing.

Scales and arpeggios outline the bone structure of a key, so practice both with a clear sense of phrasing.

Think forward to points of arrival at the top and bottom, and move eyes ahead to prepare for smooth connections.

Tight fingers, hands and arms create vertical phrasing, so avoid mechanical finger actions in smooth phrases.

Attention to phrasing adds maturity and artistry for flutists, improving confidence in performance at every stage of development.

Note From the Editor: For more tips as well as exercises and orchestral excerpts to help with your phrasing, check out Mary Karen Clardy’s newest book, “Flute Fundamentals II: The Art of the Phrase” (Schott ED 30019).

About the Author

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at the University of North Texas in Denton, appears as a soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America.

A renowned author, Mary has published more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. Visit