We can’t always play our flutes when we want/need to- neighbours usually complain at 10pm, walking down the street practising scales is not everyone’s cup of tea, trains are no longer suitable (I know Wibb used to practise Taffanel fantasies on the train back in the day!) etc.
So, I’ve thought of 10 simple exercises one can do before lessons, concerts or just when you want to, that don’t require your instrument.
1. Whistling or blowing
Not everyone can whistle, but even if you just blow gently with your lips in the shape of a whistle, you can practise various things. For example, practise intervals using different speeds of air. Octave leaps need twice the air speed – so you can blow on your hand to feel the difference. Whistling (like whistle tones on the flute) can help warm up or engage the lip muscles without undue tension. I found this helped me out on my way to early morning lessons at the Academy when I hadn’t had a chance to warm up!
2. Singing or humming
Sing a simple vocalise or Taffanel & Gaubert’s EJ 1 (singers use something similar, which is often heard in corridors of music colleges!). You can do this quietly or even hum. Singing helps warm up your “resonators” (chest, back, vocal cords, head etc). It also helps train your ears for intonation and finding your natural resonance.
3. Abdominal exercises
Saying “ha-ha-ha” or “sh-sh-sh” will engage your abs and release tension of the rib cage that may dampen resonance.
Following on from 3. You can add a consonant to ha, e.g. “Da-da-da” or “ta-ta-ta” and do this in any location (quietly!). Also just practise light double tonguing and triple tonguing DG, GD & DGD, GDG. Do this in a coffee shop or walking to your lesson.
5. Breathing exercises
Try some simple breathing exercises, e.g.
- Breathe in over 4 beats, breathe out for 8, then repeat breathing out for 10, 12 etc).
- Breathe in then count out loud until you come to the end of your breath (without strain). Listen to the quality of your voice as a guide.
- Try blowing a square piece of paper against the wall for as long as you can- try not to let it drop (maintain air speed).
6. Fingering using a pencil
I learnt this from a friend at RAM. Practise some tricky fingerings away from the flute, so when you play the flute your lack of finger tension will help your sound be less tight when you get to those tricky sections!
Practise high register fingerings or tricky passages with only the left hand and then only right hand. This is good training for your brain!
7. Score study
Enjoy having time to study the score (piano part or orchestral score or your part)- look for all details such as tempo and dynamics. Look at how the music is constructed, how instruments interact, harmonies etc
Instead of Facebook, find out something interesting about the composer or piece you are playing and see how that might influence your interpretation.
Listen to CDs, concerts and classes to give you ideas. Try this CD for some inspiration:
Flute playing can be physically demanding- make sure you keep physically fit and active. You could try some of the above exercises during your exercise regime. Stretch in the morning and at night to avoid aches and pains. If you have a stretch pole/foam roller, try some stretches using that. I also like to lie down semi-supine and do some Alexander Technique exercises.
Thanks for reading and happy fluting!