Andersen Etudes op.15 – no. 1

This is one of the most important étude books for flute players.  I am going to write a series of blogs with practise tips for all of the études, which will enable the flute player to get the most out of each one.

No.1, op.15

  • 3/4 not 6/8

The most common mistake made in this étude is playing it in 6/8 instead of 3/4.  Because of how it is written with the highest note falling in the middle of each bar (measure), players often accent this note and we hear two dotted crotchet (dotted quarter note) beats instead of 3 crotchet beats.

Andersen 1

So, in order to make it sound in 3/4, we must play the high note softer and show 3 beats (give stress to the first beat, the low note).

Here is how I would practise it:

a)  Bell tones for the first beat of each bar

Andersen 1 a

Try to give each note a good initial attack and allow the sound to decay.  Lip movement for each note:  lower lip aim the airstream down and then lift gradually as you diminuendo.   Think of striking a bell  “Dummmmmmmm,  Dummmmmmm”.  Vibrate at the beginning of the note and less towards the end.

Next step:

b)  Add the 3rd note of the bar.

Andersen 1 b

Use the same lip movement so that the 3rd beat doesn’t pop out, but is simply part of the diminuendo.  The first beat should be louder than the 3rd.

c) 1st, 2nd and 3rd beats.    “Paradise” Andersen 1 c

Think of the word “Paradise”    Stress the first syllable and then release the 2nd and 3rd.  PA-ra-dise.      The same lip movement is required.   When you rearticulate the E and F, don’t let the 3rd beat sound stronger.

d)  Use the last four semiquavers to get back to the bass note

Andersen 1d

e) Practise lifting the high note so that it doesn’t sound louder

andersen 1e

The high note should be equally soft in every bar (i.e. don’t let the C or B be louder than the A)

f)  Put it all together, slowly!   Play in 3/4 (top)  not 6/8 (bottom)

Andersen 34

Once you have mastered the “micro” phrasing of each bar, work on the “macro” phrasing or longer phrase lines.  Follow the crescendo which leads to bar 9, so the musical tension is not lost.   Listen to the implied harmonies to give you an idea of colours and harmonic progressions.

Breathing is difficult in this étude.  I would aim for every 4 bars after the first note.   If you breathe after the first note, make sure you don’t start the 2nd note loudly or with an accent.  Try not using the tongue and using a soft attack.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Practising scales

For some people, the mere mention of “scales” leaves them feeling depressed, anxious or just confused.   But since music is made up of scales, we should feel comfortable with them.  Whenever I teach or play scales, I think it’s important to have a clear idea of why you are playing them.  So why practise scales (and arpeggios)?  Here are my tips for making the most of your scale routine:

Find a decent scale method or three!

  • Moyse extended scales (Exercices Journaliers)

Up to top B and down to low C. Normal scales and scales in 3rds-8ves.  I find playing scales in 7ths slowly is very expressive and great for singing through large intervals.  There are also arpeggio patterns (dominant and diminshed 7ths etc).

  • Moyse – Gammes et Arpeges – 480 exercices pour flute

This book supplements the one above.  It is written in a fragmented way which enables the student to practise chunks at a time.  Especially good for finger technique since you can work on a two -four note pattern in isolation.   Written in triplets, which gives an extra challenge (to show triplets not duplets using stress and release “elephant”), but it also gives a directional flow to enable better phrasing.

  • Taffanel & Gaubert – Grands Exercices Journaliers de Mecanisme  (Daily Exercises) 

I usually practise these scales slowly to work on legato, phrasing, tone and intonation. I’ll talk about that below.

Use scales for:

  • Quality and evenness  of sound

Practised slowly, you can listen carefully to the quality of each note.  If played too fast, you can hide a number of errors in a wash of sound and won’t know what to fix.

  • Legato

Sustain the core of your sound from the bottom to the top and back again.  You can practise flutter tongued to ensure your air is always supporting the sound.  Also practise singing and playing for resonating and throat tuning.

  • Articulation

As suggested in the books, use a variety of articulations to add another dimension. If practising slowly, keep the articulation light- don’t let the tongue become heavy. Also, detached doesn’t mean short and slur doesn’t mean clipping the last note.  Be articulate in your articulation, but also be musical.

  • Dynamics

Practise in every dynamic, ensuring your piano scale has the same quality of sound as your forte scale.  Make sure high notes are not ear-splittingly loud and low notes are not weak or colourless- aim for a balance.

  • Intonation

Taffanel & Gaubert EJ 1,2 and 4 are especially good for intonation.  Look at the example below from EJ 1.  We need to raise the perfect 5th, so follow the shape of the notes with your lips.  When it comes to the diminished 5th, we need to lower it.

scales

+^ = raise the pitch         V = lower the pitch

  • Understanding key relationships and the keyboard of the flute

Take your time on each key.  Don’t try to play all the keys in one week.  Try doing 3 keys in a week.   Or, if you are more advanced, do flat keys one week, sharp keys another.  I like Sir James Galway’s image of getting to know the flute like a stranger on the bus.  If you only say hello to him, you can’t say you know him.   Here’s a video of Sir James Galways playing scales rather superbly:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pob8OTZUcvk

  • Phrasing – “Take me to the top”

Wibb often talked about his lessons with Jean-Pierre Rampal on Taffanel & Gaubert scales.  Rampal always said to take the phrase “to the top”, even if it was made up of just 2 notes.   And apparently Moyse often likened the modulation in T&G scales to a nice glass of wine – our scales should give pleasure like a good glass of red wine trickling down one’s throat.   The words to EJ 1:  “Take me to the top and then back down”!  Here is a violinist who knows how to use scales to make beautiful music:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2S5Gk00gBsI

  • Finger technique and coordination 

Make sure fingers are coordinated with the tongue.  Often messy articulation is due to fingers pressing the key too late- think finger first.

  • Breathing

Playing a Moyse extended scale in one breath is not terribly difficult- playing it twice or three times? Bit harder! Don’t force your breathing, but just monitor how far you get everyday.

  • Tone colour and character

Every key has its own colour.  Experiment with different shades and then set a character to play in.  E.g G major- happy! Play detached mezzo forte with a bright colour. You can add different rhythms too (dotted, swung, syncopated etc).  I had a great experience learning scales in this way at Jonathan Snowden’s masterclass.

  • Style

I do this with the Moyse 480 book.  Play the triplet patterns in a romantic way- for example, a lush/rich colour with sustained sound and long phrases like Wagner!  Then contrast it by playing in a Mozartian way. Light, with freshness and energy and clear sense of metre and stress.  Great to do before approaching repertoire.

Be creative-  improvise

Add trills or other ornaments to scales. Use your imagination to make your scales more challenging and interesting.  In the Moyse 480 book, try alternating octaves to give yourself a challenge- remember to give the first note of each triplet stress- don’t bump out the high notes.

Moyse 480

Memorise and read

In exams we should play scales from memory- this is good because you familiarise yourself with your “keyboard” and keys.  It’s also good to read scales to practise reading at a fast pace, looking ahead.

Practise in chunks

If you find a particular pattern of notes difficult, for example C-D   or high register fingerings, don’t play the whole scale, but isolate the difficult part and practise in chunks.

I hope you found this useful.  Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

You Tube Flute Favourites #2

Here’s my second instalment of You Tube Flute Favourites!  This edition focuses on 2 teaching videos which give great advice on how to practise harmonics and pitch bending, something I do daily.

The two featured artists are: Emily Beynon, principal flute ofthe Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and Denis Bouriakov, newly appointed principal flute of the LA Phil.

1. Emily Beynon – Harmonics

 

In this video, Emily explains how to move between registers using changes in air speed. By isolating air speed from direction and amount, we can clearly understand the technique of achieving quiet high notes and moving easily over wide intervals.  She uses conventional harmonic exercises and reverse harmonics (fingering a high note and splitting it down). Emily has a very easy to follow teaching style and demonstrates the exercises with apparent ease.
2.  Denis Bouriakov – Note Bending 

This exercise comes from William Bennett, who can bend a note by a major 3rd!  It’s a great exercise for finding a sound with the harmonics in tune.  Those with a woolly or sharp C sharp should practise this.  Denis demonstrates clearly and takes you through the process at a good steady pace.  It’s also useful for flexibility of the embouchure and warming up.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

End-gaining on the flute

“The wild cat stalking its quarry inhibits the desire to spring prematurely, and controls to a deliberate end its eagerness for the instant gratification of a natural appetite”.  (F.M. Alexander,  Man’s Supreme Inheritance)

“It is essential, in the necessary re-education of the subject through conscious guidance and control, that in every case the “means whereby” rather than the end” should be held in mind. As long as the end is held in mind instead of the “means,” the muscular act, or series of acts, will always be performed in accordance with the mode established by old habits”    (F.M. Alexander,  Man’s Supreme Inheritance)

End-gaining is a problem for all of us.   We want to fix problems directly, but by doing so we set up bad habits in our playing, based on our old habits.   For example, our teacher says “your head isn’t straight” – so we quickly adjust our head position directly (in doing so contracting the neck into the spine and creating tension in the shoulders).  Or, “your right hand little finger is straight” – so we try to curve it, but simultaneously adding undue strain to our arm muscles.  Or somebody practises so hard because they want to win a competition, rather than practising good habits that will enable him to play better, which may or may not lead to him winning a competition.

Alexander Technique teaches us to inhibit end-gaining and rather work on the best means whereby to achieve any given end.  Meaning: making reasoned choices before acting, involving indirect procedures and always being constantly aware of your own use.

I am reading a wonderful book at the moment called Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara which explains this in great detail.  I recommend you read it too.

Here are some examples of common end-gaining on the flute and suggested indirect procedures:

  1.  Wanting to play l’apres midi in one breath (or wanting a larger capacity)

Good breathing is characteristic of good use.  However, many of us want the quickest solution to play that dreaded opening line in one breath.   With this thought, we often over breathe and try to take deeper breaths.  This sets up a series of bad habits:  misuse of shoulders to expand the chest, gasping for air, tensing the neck etc.

Indirect procedures:

“The lungs are not expanded because they fill with air; they fill with air because they are expanded” (F.M. Alexander).

This explains the automatic process of breathing.  It is unrealistic to “take a deep breath” since air moves into the lungs by a difference in pressure, not because you force it to.  Don’t let your body collapse or conversely be too rigid – allow the back to widen, lengthen and deepen so that the ribs can move, which will let the air come in and leave by itself.

So, instead of holding your breath or trying to take deeper breaths to solve the problem directly, work on your use, which will indirectly improve your breathing.

2. Trying to get a louder sound by blowing more

Mis-use:  over-blowing and forcing air out leads to the tightening of muscles, which dampens the resonance.

Indirect procedures:  allowing the sound to resonate by not contracting the head.  Resonating your sound in your head, chest, ribs, etc with the harmonics in tune  will give you a large, enveloping sound, rather than a forced, thin sound.  You can practise messa di voce exercises to practise fullness of tone.    Harmonics in tune tone and messa di voce exercises are in my book (to be released).

3.  Playing fast

Mis-use:  Gripping and tightening of fingers in the effort to move them faster.  Focusing on fingers and so neglecting the primary control (head, neck and spine).

Indirect procedures:   Practise small chunks slowly but with good use- inhibit the desire to play fast.  Instead focus on ease of movement and good use, which will allow the fingers to be free of unnecessary tension.

I am not an Alexander Technique expert, but these are points that we should consider.  I recommend going to an Alexander Technique teacher, who can help with all these problems, but in an indirect way.  I had a wonderful 2 years at RAM where I had lessons with an Alexander Technique teacher and continue to take lessons whenever possible, so find a teacher near you:  http://www.alexandertechnique.com/teacher/

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

How to get a good middle E on the flute

We all have bad dreams about ghosts/monsters etc at some point.  The same could be said for the note on the top space of the stave: middle E.  Indeed, somebody at RAM spent a whole lesson on middle E and came out crying “I can’t get a good middle E!”.

It pops up everywhere,  JS Bach E major and E minor sonatas,  Piazzolla Histoire du Tango, Griffes Poem etc.  Some of you may not have a problem at all with middle E – in which case, lucky you!    Actually, some flutes have better middle Es than others.  For those of you who share my plight, here are some tips to get a good middle E.

No vent fingering

Unlike middle E flat or D natural, middle E is fingered exactly the same as its lower octave relative.  E flat and D natural have the advantage of venting the first tone hole, which makes it easier for the second octave to speak cleanly.    We should therefore practise finding exactly where middle E is in comparison to the other harmonics.

Use harmonics to find middle E
Use harmonics to find middle E
Middle E lies between the fundamental low E and its 3rd harmonic – B natural.   Finger a low E and use your lips to change speed and direction of air to alternate between the low E and the harmonic as shown in the first bar.   Once you are comfortable doing that, move onto the second bar.  The middle E will need a slightly slower air speed than the B natural harmonic, but not as slow as the low E (the air speed of middle E is twice as fast as low E).  The direction of air will be slightly lower than the harmonic, but higher than the low E.   Once you have found it, hold it.  Then repeat the exercise.

Cheat fingering

You may be familiar with the fingering below:

Middle E fingering

Instead of using your right-hand little finger on just the E flat key, you press both the E flat key AND the C sharp key.   E and C sharp share a common harmonic:

Harmonics of E and C sharp
Harmonics of E and C sharp
As you can see, E and C sharp both have G sharp as a common harmonic.    I think this is why adding the C sharp key helps the clarity of middle E- it somehow enhances this upper harmonic.   This is particularly useful in passages with repeated Es (Piazzolla Night Club 1960 from Histoire du Tango).

You can practise playing these harmonics, finding a vibrant high G sharp harmonic on both fundamentals (E and C sharp).  Then try to bring out that harmonic when you play middle E.  It’s very difficult to isolate and bring out harmonics when playing just one note- but even the thought of that harmonic can help.

Also, singing a high G sharp (obviously not THAT high!) whilst playing a middle E can help.   Tune your throat to the G sharp and then play the E normally.

If all else fails, use the cheat fingering!  Some people use a trill key in addition to the normal E fingering- that is ok, but it can often have a strange colour and sound too bright – it depends on the position of the tone holes.

Taffanel & Gaubert 

Taffanel & Gaubert EJ 1
Taffanel & Gaubert EJ 1
You can use EJ 1, 2 or others.  In the example above from EJ 1, as Wibb would say, “follow the notes with your lips”, so that when you reach E, the air direction is higher.  Keep the embouchure round  as in the vowel shape “oo”.

Listen to Wibb’s middle Es in this recording of Piazzolla:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E644MDLYmwk

Hope you find this helpful.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

How to be a good (flute) student


I’ve talked about the role of parents in a previous blog, but how about the student?  Having been a student for most of my life (but still striving to learn new things), and a teacher for a while, I’ve reached some conclusions as to what makes a good student.   Not claiming that I was always the perfect student by any means, but I’ve noticed huge differences in how certain good students behave in lessons/ master classes  compared to others.  Being a good student will not only help you improve more quickly, it will stand you in good stead for your future career and life in general.  Here are my thoughts:

Be enthusiastic

As a teacher, I far prefer teaching somebody who is keen, tries their best and asks questions but their standard is not so high rather than somebody who plays quite well but shows little interest in what I have to say or in the music itself.  Go beyond what is expected of you and give it 100%.  Of course, there will be days when you’re tired and don’t have the energy, but remember your teacher has probably taught 5 students before you and still gives you their full commitment.  Which leads onto the next point:

Be respectful to your teacher

Your teacher has probably traveled quite far or has fit you in to their busy schedule.  So, it’s important to show up on time (not too early and definitely not late!) – 5 minutes early is good.   Further, if your teacher has a concert coming up, show your support and take an interest by listening.  This will give you inspiration and your teacher will feel touched that you made the effort. You might even get a complimentary ticket !

Listen and react

 

Listening is probably the greatest skill a musician can have.  This includes waiting for your teacher to finish what they are saying before you play.  So many students in classes interrupt a teacher’s thought process or instruction by playing over them.  This means (a) the student will continue to play with bad habits/same mistakes (b) the audience (in classes) cannot hear what the teacher is saying (c) the teacher will feel frustrated because they will have to say it all over again!  Listening also means listening to your sound and playing in great detail and reacting to what you hear.  This will make progress that much quicker.

PRACTISE!

Warm up, work on all your études etc and be prepared.  The lesson is not the place to practise.  If you find a particular passage difficult, by all means ask your teacher the best way to practise it- but don’t expect your teacher to wave a magic wand and fix mistakes if you don’t practise! Teachers have heard all the excuses under the sun, so don’t even bother making up reasons why you didn’t learn your Andersen étude!   If you don’t have much time, check my previous blog on practising without your flute.

Be prepared

 

Bring a note pad to take notes.  One of my teachers told me that (paraphrasing) ” if you don’t take notes, you will forget 90% of what I will tell you”.  These days, recording lessons using recording machines or even smart phones is popular- but always ask first if it’s okay.

Self-motivation

This speaks for itself- don’t always expect your teacher to set you homework.  Your progress is your responsibility.

Open-mindedness

 

Always give something a try, even if you initially feel shy or you disagree with an idea.  Your teacher knows what they are doing, so keep an open mind and see what happens.  You never know, you might sound better !

So, try to be a good student – not only will you improve, you will be fun to teach and a good reference will be waiting for you if you ever need one!

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Flute Associations and Festivals

Larry Krantz (with the help of Trevor Wye) has provided a comprehensive list of flute associations, which can be found here:  http://www.larrykrantz.com/fltassoc.htm

In addition to those, I would like to list a few more that are relatively new to the scene, but worth knowing about.

  1.  Canadian Flute Association

www.canadaflute.com

The Canadian Flute Association (CFA) recently presented their 2nd bi-annual flute convention, which was a huge success.  Everything was very well-organised, thanks to Samantha Chang and her team.  There was a good mix of classes, concerts and presentations.  I was lucky enough to attend and give a class and concert with my friends in the Moyse Ensemble – we felt very welcome and had time to enjoy the sights of Toronto.  The CFA convention is not as big as its American or British counterparts, but it has a very intimate and friendly atmosphere.   The CFA website lists teachers, accompanists and has some reviews of concerts.   If you can make it to Toronto next time, I recommend it.

2.  AFLAUP

www.facebook.com/AFLAUP

AFLAUP is a non-profit organization established in April 2015 of around 160 members.  The president is Luís Meireles and the flautists Gil Magalhães and Marco Pereira are also part of the Board of Direction.  I Encontro de Flauta do Porto was the first event organized by AFLAUP during the 10th, 11th and 12th of September, gathering flautists from all over the country with a total of 100 participants.  Here is their YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3XBWx33TZ2SxrcLXqikdZg

3.  Australian Flute Festival

http://www.australianflutefestival.com/

This festival looks like a great way to be introduced to the Australian flute playing community.  Their recent festival held at ANU School of Music featured Lorna McGhee, Sebastian Jacot  (my YouTube Flute Favourites!) Thies Roorda and Michel Bellavance among others.

4.  La Côte Flute Festival – Switzerland

Maxence Larrieu by Carla Rees

http://www.flutefestival.ch/

Like the first edition, the second edition of the Swiss flute festival will take place in the La Côte region, between Geneva and Lausanne.  There is an impressive list of invited artists.   The next festival will take place in October 2016.  Nice chocolate and fine flute playing – what more would you want?!

Flute festivals and associations are great ways to meet like-minded people and also explore a new part of the world.  Each flute association and festival has its own unique character and approach.  I look forward to going to more in the future.  Hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

New feature coming soon:  Flute Interviews