Skip to main content

Tabuteau Numbers

This month I'm giving you a special gift.  My tidbits of learning from conservatory and memories of some of my colleagues about their most influential teachers.  As an alum of The Curtis Institute, I would be remiss if I didn't share Tabuteau numbers.  This system of explaining intensity within phrasing is the reason why musicians trained at Curtis are known for being able to spin phrases beautifully and endlessly.  It's not difficult to explain or to implement, but for some strange reason, other music schools don't teach phrasing this way.  It's time to teach you the secret hand shake.  Tabuteau numbers!

A little history
1923 Philadelphia Orchestra Players
Marcel Tabuteau was one of the founding teachers at The Curtis Institute in the 1920s.  He along with the other men in this photograph went on to teach the most regarded wind players of the 20th century.  The most famous teacher among these men was the oboist, Marcel Tabuteau.  His teaching didn't just impact his students, it made its way into chamber music and orchestral rehearsals via his system of numbers.  Players used these numbers to agree on phrase pacing and to thwart a phrase's end to extend tension and increase impact.

The system

1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are the numbers.  1 is the least intense, most calm, tranquil, nearly dead intensity.  5 is so intense that it nearly explodes within itself.  As numbers increase, the intensity of the phrase increases.  As the numbers decrease, the tension decreases and the phrase winds to an end.  THESE NUMBERS ARE NOT DYNAMICS, TEMPOS, OR ARTICULATIONS!!!!!!!  The numbers represent the intent behind the note.

Example:  Try this.  Say one of the following phrases at a mezzo piano dynamic
  • I love you
  • I didn't mean that
  • Why are you following me?
  • Do you hear what I hear?
  • Brown bear, brown bear, what do you hear?
 Now say the phrase with as little intensity as possible.  Say it 4 more times, each time increase the intensity.  Remember not to change your dynamic, tempo, or articulation.   

Listen to this!

Well, you can't attend Curtis without having legends for classmates.  Joshua Smith was in Freshman Quintet with me, he now is Principal Flute for The Cleveland Orchestra.  Josh's playing is loaded with Tabuteau-rich phrases.  He'll hold a note that is a phrase all by itself.

  Listen to this example, he spins the opening notes into a shimmering gauze of color.  He's wavering his numbers between 2 and 4, weaving them in and out and making the music sound all dreamy and wavy.  The listener is transported into Starry Night and mesmerized by the story Josh tells with no words.  Can you tell where he flips between low numbers to higher ones?  When does he get dangerously close to ending the phrase, but he gets softer and increases his number?  It's amazing how much he noodles the numbers in this piece.  While he doesn't consciously think about numbers anymore, the concept of spinning the intensity of a phrase without change to dynamic, articulation, or speed has become part of him.

You might think that Tabuteau numbers are too advanced for your students, but I assure you, your students will love them.  It is a basic human need to make art.  Give students a tool to make better art and they will use it.  Try it out!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

D, Popsicle Stick and Paper Plate Kalimba!

Back to the Orffabet! Today's letter is D, the shape of the popsicle prongs on a homemade Kalimba!

Lisa Lehmberg of the University of Massachusetts, has agreed to share this portion of her book chapter. Hurray, Lisa! Let's make a Kalimba out of popsicle sticks, paper plates, and some scrap wood!
You'll need: two small, sturdy paper platesone wood block (3cm x 7cm* x 1cm) To convert to inches click here.  This block is inside the plates and keeps them from collapsing.7 cm* piece of thin plywood five flat popsicle sticks7 cm* strip of flimsy wood moldingbrads or small screws (optional)paper gluewood glue*the length is determined by the size of the paper plates. These measurements are for the structural stability of the instrument, NOT the intonation. Just eyeball or loosely measure the wood.
Glue a block of wood to a paper plate near its edge. Glue another paper plate (plates facing each other) to the original plate and the wood block. Spread glue on both the rims of the…

Liquid Ass

So we've had another school shooting. By the time I post this, we will have had a few more. The NRA and President Bone Spurs would like us to arm teachers. Shooting another human being is not natural. Killing is not natural. Self-defense only feels natural when hand to hand combat is involved. Guns, even in the heat of  battle, are abstract. Perhaps the primary reason the United States has a volunteer army instead of a drafted one is that drafted soldiers are far less likely to actually fire at the enemy when the time comes. The kill instinct has to be trained into a soldier. It isn't natural, and it takes its toll on the soul. Plus, you'll probably miss and shoot an innocent student and die anyway.

So I offer a humble alternative. Well, maybe two, but one of them is actually entertaining.

1. ALICE training. Click on this. It's helpful.
2. Liquid Ass


Developed as a joke product, Liquid Ass makes an excellent deterrent to the progress of a shooter. Shooters expect thei…

"P", The Bucket Routine for older students

Today's Orffabet letter is P, for the shape of buckets and sticks when they are in storage in our guest teacher's classroom.

The following post and series of videos is for Upper Elementary, Middle School, or High School Students.  This is a rare opportunity for you to learn a routine without having to go to a workshop or Orff level.  You will learn the routine as your students would.

John is a teacher in the Worcester Public Schools.  He has taught this routine to Upper Elementary students as an after school program.  John's students worked on the routine for an hour or so every day for 6 weeks.  To see John in an earlier post, click here.

The "students" in this video are Orff Level I students in the Worcester Public Schools class of 2010.  They learned the routine in a 90 minute session with Level III students who already knew it.  Here is the routine after those 90 minutes.

This routine, inspired by African dance and Orff body percussion, is well outside the …