Flute superstitions 

“I can only play well if…”

I think we all have our own pre-performance rituals, but sometimes it can get a little out of hand (myself included!).  Here are some common ones that I relate to. Your comments are appreciated!

Food/drink

“I must eat [pasta] before I play”


Often people have a particular food that they must eat, such as rice, sushi, bananas, chocolate etc.  For me, it’s always been a mocha or hot chocolate.  Ever since I did a successful audition at Royal Academy of Music after a hot chocolate, I’ve found the need to drink it before every important concert.  Somehow the hot milk calms my nerves and the chocolate makes me sound better.  I wish I had a less calorific ritual!  Conversely, if I drink tea (especially green or mint) or red wine, it makes me sound worse.   How about you?  What’s your go-to or must-have food/drink before you play? 

Lip balm


I’ve seen players apply this like crazy, whereas some say it makes their lips even dryer.  I find I need to do a sugar & olive oil scrub once a week to make my lips smoother, especially in winter, when they tend to get chapped.  Every night, I apply lip balm to protect my lips from the dry air.  But then there are so many choices!  These days I find Aloe Vera Vaseline works well (sadly not sponsored!) 

How do you protect your lips? 

Warm up

 I always do a solid warm up before I play, but try not to do too much, just little and often, mostly to check my sound is alright.  I do singing and playing, whistle tones, harmonics and pitch bends to help find my sound.  When that doesn’t work, I’ll do some lying down semi-supine (Alexander Technique).  It helps get my body aligned and, in turn, makes my sound better.  

What about your warm up routine?  I’d be interested to hear what people do!

Exercise

Doing stretches and going for a walk/swim/run are common things to do before playing.  It gets the endorphins flowing and distracts one from concert jitters.  I often do some stretches and breathing exercises, just working on keeping the air steady and expanding the areas of the body responsible for breathing.  Tension goes straight to the breath and airstream.  

Quiet vs chit chat

I’m a big fan of silence or having a moment of calm before a concert, but have often played with people that let out all their stress right before the concert, which is frankly a nightmare.  Of course, I listen and nod but I’m secretly thinking “It would be nice to hear about this person’s problems after the concert over a drink!”

Let me know your thoughts and findings! This is a topic which fascinates me! 

Advertisements

More flute imagery

Following on from the tennis shot analogy, here are some more examples of imagery I use in teaching flute:

Scales

When I want a student to play scales with a really good even tone from top to bottom and with a great legato, I use two images.

1.  Walking through water (or honey) instead of normal walking.  The effort it takes to take each step is like the effort required to blow from one note to the next- no giving up on the airstream, but a good healthy supply of air through the whole scale

2. Passing a carefully wrapped present upstairs


Since scales are literally stairs or ladders (from the Latin scala, like escalator), one can think of taking a beautifully wrapped present up stairs, passing it to another person a step higher (or lower).  So, take a beautiful sound from the first note and pass it to the next one.  As you go higher, more effort is required (air speed and angles).  As you come down, the present should look the same (the sound should be the same) as it did when it was first passed.

Air speed and vitality

Imagine your body, more specifically your breathing apparatus, is full of water instead of air. Visualise how your air leaves your body.  You can even fill your mouth with water and notice what happens as you let it out.  If the air comes out too slow, the water will just droop like a water fountain that isn’t working very well.  The air speed needs to be fast enough for a good vital sound.  

 Similarly, you could think of your sound as a plant- without enough water, it wilts and dies.  So, don’t let your sound die- give it the air speed it requires (at all times) to keep it alive!   But not too fast – that also kills it (“squeak!!”)

Imagery in flute teaching

Lately, I’ve found I’ve needed to be more creative to explain concepts of tone production and note endings to students.  Here is something I used that I’d like to share:

Playing tennis

I used to play a lot of tennis when I was young and was constantly inspired by the superstars that played at Wimbledon- Sampras, Agassi, Graf, Williams, Federer etc.  When you watch the top professionals play tennis, it’s as if time stands still.  You see a beautiful form and approach to each shot.  “Keep your eye on the ball” is commonly taught as a metaphor for staying focused.  But my concern is the actual shot process:

Backswing – touch – follow through


Without backswing, we get an unreliable and often wayward resulting shot.  On the flute, this relates to preparing the airstream before playing a note.  When we sing, air moves over the vocal folds before a sound is heard.  Before we play a note, the air speed and direction need to be in mind and the air moving before a sound is heard.  Blow with the jaw forward and gradually aim the air down to find the speaking point.  


The point where the racket touches the ball is our speaking point, where we hear sound.  In tennis there is something referred to as the “sweet spot”, the point where the ball hits the middle of the racket, producing a satisfying ‘ping’! On flute, this is where your sound is focussed with the harmonics in tune, where the air speed and angle is just right.


Finally, we have the follow through, the stroke that follows the trajectory of the ball, so the result is one smooth action from start to finish.  On the flute, this means finishing the note beautifully, not abruptly by closing the throat or mouth, but by lifting the airstream with the jaw, ensuring the note decays without going flat.  By practising this movement with the jaw, we can get a natural, fluid “stroke”. 

My book goes into more detail on this technique, known as messa di voce (placing of voice).  

Then, of course, we have different ways to attack the note or colour it, like a tennis player has a whole repertoire of shots to play, with different shades and intensities.  The imagery works for almost all aspects of flute playing!

More imagery in the next blog post!

Mastering the Flute with William Bennett (IUP) – available to pre-order

Front cover

 

My new book if officially available to pre-order!  It should be released by Christmas 2017.

Here’s the link:

http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=808963

I look forward to sharing with you some useful exercises and advice passed to me from the master himself, William Bennett.

Here’s some reviews from the people who have read my book

“Bennett’s principles of musical expression are rooted in the physics of sound as well as an awareness of compositional construction…. The principles of phrasing assembled here are applicable to all musicians, whatever their instrument or voice.” —Kathryn Lukas, Professor of Music (Flute) at Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music

“Now in his eightieth year, [William Bennett] is still in high demand as a teacher at the Royal Academy in London and in masterclasses worldwide. However, finding any of his methods and exercises in writing proves to be difficult, as he hasn’t written them down himself… Seed has studied extensively with… Bennett and his students, and has also assisted at his masterclasses, so his knowledge of the material is impressively thorough. Mastering the Flute with William Bennett is an invaluable resource for flute players.” —Karen Evans Moratz, author of Flute for Dummies and Principal Flute in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

“Roderick [Seed] has collected a wide range of exercises covering many topics that give the flute player the tools to play with different dynamics and a range of expression, and simultaneously helping them with associated technical difficulties such as pitch control. [He] has introduced my approach to the flute in a clear and logical way with his own insights and experiences.” —William Bennett, Foreword,Mastering the Flute with William Bennett

 

Here’s a table to contents to give you an idea of what topics the book covers:

Foreword / William Bennett
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Finding a Sound
2. “Harmonics in Tune” Tone
3. Reaction in the Sound
4. Attacks, Articulation and Repeated Notes
5. Prosody: “Elephants And Taxis”
6. Harmonics Exercises
7. Shakuhachi Exercise for Embouchure Control
8. Intonation Exercises
9. Flexibility Exercises
10. Other Exercises: Whistle Tones and Vocalises
11. Approaching Melodies
Bibliography
Index

If you have any questions about how to order the book, please let me know.  If you are a music shop interested in selling it, please contact me to discuss.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

 

 

 

Transcriptions of works by Mendelssohn and Brahms


In readiness for my recital in Tokyo, I have put into Sibelius my transcriptions of the Mendelssohn Song Without Words op.109 and the Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor op.120 no.1.

These are great pieces of music and work very well on the flute.

You can download them here at Sheet Music Plus for a small price:

Mendelssohn Song Without Words op.109

Brahms Sonata in F minor op.120 no.1

 Here are some inspiring recordings of the above pieces:

Jacqueline du Pre – cello and Gerald Moore – piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtNSU9pgxjY

William Primrose – viola and  Rudolf Firkusny – piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGri_UHfLpw

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

PIFR Blog: Day 7 – Concert day

2nd July 2016

#pifr2016 Day 7

Faculty concert


We heard simply beautiful performances of pieces by Dvorak, Handel, Clara Schumann, Benson, Sarasate (with a surprise piccolo part played by Wibb), Kuhlau (Wibb and Gwen embodied the ballet class in their performance!),  Gaubert, Lachner and Poulenc.   Each of the faculty members had their own unique musical personalities, but they combined perfectly. Having done the work on empathy and compassion throughout the week, I could see this clearly in their performances with Roger Admiral on piano.   They all brought out  different qualities in each others playing.  For  example, Lorna’s commitment to delivering phrases with such beauty and care was evident in the Gaubert duet- both Lorna  and Gwen  matched each other’s contouring and dynamics. Wibb’s  energy (still at the age of 80!), huge colourful sound and mischievousness were also well matched by Lorna and Gwen.  

Skit night

After dinner it was the turn of the students to perform in the form of skits.  After some wine, we were ready to poke fun at our esteemed faculty members.  I was involved in a skit entitled “Mindless Musician”- a parody of the retreat, where we basically portrayed the opposite of the faculty’s teaching and/or behaviour.  Characters included Valley Girl Gwen, Heather, easily satisfied Wibb, tight and restricted Lorna, “Graby”, and victims.  I played the part of Wibb and was happy to see him laughing at my impression of him, making short notes, drunk repeated notes, stressing in the wrong place (“elePHANT”) etc.  

The evening ended up at Mark House, where we enjoyed each other’s company and admired the beautiful sunset one last time.

It really was a most fantastic retreat.  I set out to be more open in my expression and find my confidence, and I believe I found that with inspiration to take away with me for a year of practice and self-exploration.

On the ferry home Chris noticed the fog horn or ship’s whistle sounded a bit forced- we presumed there was some tightening which restricted the flow of air and resonance.  😉

It’s been a “WONderful” week – I’m exhausted but also refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to prepare for my recital in Tokyo this August.

Hope to see everybody back next year! Make sure to check out www.fluteretreat.com and the Facebook page for interviews, recordings and more.

PIFR Blog: Day 6 – the last day of classes

1 July 2016

#pifr2016 Day 6

Heather’s workshop- the tunnel of love

It was the last day of classes today and the day started with a very emotional workshop with Heather.  We participated in an exercise that involved giving and receiving compliments.  Many tears were shed, but I think this helped the group become closer and let go of insecurities and any uncomfortableness.  

Wibb’s class on Moyse 24 Studies


Another great class by Wibb.  By the end of this retreat we got to number 10.  Not bad, considering Wibb’s huge attention to detail and excellence.  It really raised everyone’s level to a new height.  Articulation, stress, colour, atmosphere, length of notes, type of attack – the list goes on.  So many qualities that contribute to vivid music making, Wibb scrutinised every aspect.   

Wibb’s repertoire class 

We heard Widor’s 4th movement and learnt about taking the phrase to the top (“Do a Rampal- take me to the top”), good accents and matching lengths of notes to suitable words: “I hate your guts!”

Next was Schumann’s Romance no.1 where we learnt the importance of tuning up with the sound we want to play the piece with.  Then came the challenge of making music without distorting the stress or rhythm.  Wibb used the 24 studies for this.

In the Bach E minor, Wibb’s incredible knowledge of harmony and phrasing was fascinating to observe.  Everything made sense and brought cohesion to the whole movement.

Wibb told a great story about Martinu in relation to his sonata.  We heard about bell chimes, Martinu as a sick, young boy stuck in a bell tower tending to a sick bird.  Wibb’s story telling invoked a great change in Marie’s playing.  I also wrote down some more exercises for the book! 

Mindful Musician
This workshop spoke of the rituals we can use to either elevate our energy levels or lower them, depending on the situation.  This related strongly to preparing for concerts or auditions where centering the breath and energy can help when we get anxious or need more “sparkle”.

Lorna and Gaby’s class (Solo flute repertoire)


We heard Syrinx and Bozza.  Lorna gave so many great pieces of advice but also demonstrated with such ease and integrity.  Her sound is beyond compare and every note has a strong musical intention.  When asked a question about finding inspiration, she said that the best thing we can do is listen.  Then she played an excerpt from Mahler which moved people to tears- such wonderful artistry that encapsulated the character of the music.  She gave another beautiful quote, which I think makes a great ending to the day: 

Allow the stillness to be there for the inner song to be heard