Andersen Etudes op.15 – no.6



So, back to the Andersen after an overwhelming response to my previous blog on the perfect flute player.  Thank you for reading, liking and commenting.

With the acquisition of my new Windows Surface 3, I can now annotate PDFs, so here are some scribbles that might benefit your practice of this etude:

Andersen etude no.6 scribblings

Notes from PDF document:

  • Baroque section (mm.1-40). 

Character is strong and bold, with an element of dance (3/4).  Make sure the 1st beat is stronger than 2 and 3.   Follow the phrase structure of short-short-long (1 + 1 + 2)

Ornaments should be quick and neat so as to fit in with the character of the section.

Use colour and dynamic to highlight the differences in mood where the harmony suggests uncertainty and playfulness.

Don’t let the tempo drag – this section should feel somewhat brisker than the next section.

  • Romantic section

The triplet section starting in bar 41 is reminiscent of the 3rd etude.  This is more romantic than the first section and should be played with a gentle colour and very legato.  Don’t allow the melody to be distorted by playing loud in the low register.  Enjoy the harmonies and how they change from major to minor.

The last section combines both elements of baroque and romantic-  make sure to show the contrasts so that a conversation (or battle!) is heard between the two characters.  Eventually, the baroque character wins and ends the etude.

Apart from executing ornaments and embouchure flexibility, this etude is not technically demanding, but musically it can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!



The perfect flute player??

Is there such a thing as having the perfect embouchure?  Are flute players with thin lips more likely to play better than those with thicker lips?  In other words, are some people built to play flute?

My answer would be no, but this is after I and others being told various myths like, “your jaw is not good for flute playing”. “Your lips are not flute player’s lips” etc.

If anyone else has been told something similar, you should ignore it.  Everyone is different and even the perfect flute body might struggle to play well.

I have an underbite, meaning my lower teeth rest slightly in front of my upper set of teeth.  I had dental work done when I was young (including head gear at night time and upper palette expansion),  but it didn’t really get “fixed”.   It’s not that noticeable now and both rows of my teeth almost meet, but it nevertheless bothered me when I was young.

So, if I were to play in the same way as my teachers or most other flute players I  would be very sharp since the airstream would be much higher.  So I worked out that I needed to either angle the head joint towards me more and pull the headjoint out a lot, or drop my jaw back a bit so that the teeth are meeting.  This lowers the pitch to an extent where I don’t need to pull the headjoint out as much as others to be in tune.   I learnt from Jacques Zoon in a masterclass that when we blow the teeth should be slightly apart and the front teeth should be directly above the bottom to allow for a smooth uninterrupted flow of air.

For me to achieve this I need to drop my jaw more than most.    This is where I get my best tone and from years of tone exercises with Wibb and my other teachers, I have found how to play with my best tone.  I found that the most useful exercises were pitch bending and fullness of tone exercises (cresc., decresc.) – they helped a lot to find where my sound rings and where all the harmonics are in tune.

When some teachers have seen my approach, they have tried to suggest going back to a “normal” position or one teacher even suggested surgery.  To what end?

The very thing that gave me this struggle actually made me work extra hard and intelligently to overcome it and has made my playing better.  And now I see it as an advantage since I can get a full sound due to creating space in my mouth and releasing tension in the jaw which is difficult to do if you have a “normal” bite.

If you don’t look like Pahud, Galway or Wibb when you play, you have to find your own approach.  Look at the embouchures of Marcel Moyse or Denis Bouriakov- they play completely differently to the “norm”, but listen to their tone!  So embrace your differences and don’t try to copy those you admire – it might work for them but not necessarily for you.

If you have any similar stories or would like some advice on your own situation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments section.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Andersen Etudes op.15 – no. 5

Andersen 5

After the first 4 études, I think Andersen is giving us a bit of a break with no. 5!   The main features of this étude are:

  • Legato playing in various groupings
  • forte  dynamic throughout (except for a brief moment of  piano)
  • Scale and arpeggio figures

Being in D major and with the direction con alterezza (with pride), we should aim to find a happy and bright tone.  High D and middle D are both quite easy to get bright sounds on, so try to keep that colour on all the notes.      C sharp will want to sound out of tune and too open – don’t let it.  Practise the C sharp to D pattern in reverse so you start with D and then find an equally good C sharp.

Andersen’s slur groupings help show the harmonic rhythm, so give each slur a slight stress at the beginning.

Be careful with the groups of 4 semiquavers (16th notes) that the last semiquaver isn’t louder – you will need to do a small diminuendo for each group.  By doing so, we will hear the progression more clearly.    This is easier when the group is going down.  Make sure the ones going up are treated with equal care.

Andersen 5b

andersen 5 up

In terms of intonation, make sure the semitones (minor 2nds) are close together and the tones (major 2nds) are wide enough.

Use the scales and arpeggios to take the phrase onwards.  Don’t ever play them without energy or direction.

But the main thing is get that brilliant sound and use it from the beginning to the end, maintaining pride in your tone.    Your legato should be like a string player or singer- don’t lose the contact or colour.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Andersen Etudes op.15 – no.4 (a) and (b)

Andersen 4ab

The 4th étude is a wonderful exercise in flexibility and finding life in the sound in a very short time.   Again, Andersen gives the flute two voices – a melodic line with accompaniment.  In 4 (a), he uses staccato triplets throughout and in 4 (b), the rhythm is changed to demi-semiquavers (32nds) with two different articulation patterns.    The challenge, much like the 3rd etude, is to bring out the melody without stressing the accompaniment.

The melody for both 4 (a) and (b) starts like this:

Andersen 4 melody

  1.  Practise legato with a broad singing tone.  Follow the phrase marks to the second bar of each phrase.  Try to make a contrast between the bass melody (mm. 1-4) and the soprano melody (mm. 5-8) – this gives the study more variety-  it’s two pages long!  Always think of this étude as a piece that you would perform- if you play everything the same only working on technique, you will bore yourself and your audience.
  2. Next, play the melody as long, but detached notes.  Connect as much as possible to keep a long line.
  3. Detach the notes a little more – play bell tones (like in Etude no.1)
  4. Now make the bell tones shorter, but still with the same life and reaction as the longer bell tones.

Now you are ready to start 4 (a) as written.andersen 4a

Remember that in the melody, the first E is a crotchet (1/4 note), so the G starting the second triplet of bar 1 should not be stressed.  Use the last two notes of the second triplet to help phrase towards the D sharp as if they were an upbeat (pick-up).  Follow this shape for the remainder of the etude.

Try to bounce the accompaniment notes like a violin spiccato, keeping them light yet precise.   So, melody notes on the string (although briefly), then accompaniment off the string.  In flute terms, this means give a bit more weight and stress to the melody (not in an aggressive way).

The same idea applies to the variation 4 (b).

Try not to cut the second note of the slur.  For this practise 3 notes slurred with one tongued:

andersen 4 articulation

Then try as written.

If you are having trouble getting up to the top notes quietly, practise it in stages, Moyse style!  Lift the airstream as you go to the high note.  Try to float out the top note without pushing.

andersen 4 prac

Remember when the melody line goes up to the soprano line and the accompaniment falls to low notes, do not push those out and distort the melody- they must be within context of the melody.

Over the page when the articulation reverses, try not to stress the slurs.  This time, the first articulated note needs stress.

I hope you found this useful.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Andersen Etudes op.15 – no.3

Andersen 3

This is probably everyone’s favourite étude- it is certainly the one that gets performed the most outside of the practice room.   It’s a triplet tour de force without any breaks, but it also has a very beautiful melodic quality.

If we take away all the decoration and leave the “skeleton” of the melody, this is what we get:

Andersen 3 skeleton

First work on making beautiful phrasing with the melody alone.  This melody often reminds me of the 2nd subject in the first movement of Reinecke’s Undine Sonata :

Undine ex

Also, the piano’s melody after the first section and at the end of the Scherzo from Widor’s Suite op.34.

Widor ex

All these melodies share a common melodic shape – an upbeat followed by an appogiatura.  This is a perfect example of an “I love you” phrase.  When you say “I love you”, “I” acts as preparation to “love” which is stressed and “you” which is released:   I love you.    Many people put an undue stress “you” when playing these kind of phrases, which doesn’t make any musical sense.  Would you say to your loved one: ” I love you!”??    This might cause them to doubt you! 😉

So when we come back to the Andersen etude, practise it with the following phrasing:

Phrasing no 3

Then apply the same phrasing when you add all the notes.    You will also need to do the micro phrasing of the each triplet figure so that we don’t hear emphasis on the accompaniment (especially the low notes, which students often honk out).

micro phrasing

Notice how some micro-phrasing is over 1 quaver beat and others are over 2 quaver beats.  This tells you how to grade your diminuendo:  you don’t want to come away too quickly when it is over 2 quaver beats, otherwise you will lose the line.

The idea is to show the melody line clearly without elongating each note.  This can sound affected and can distort the rhythm.      You could also help show the line by giving the melody notes more colour and play the accompaniment notes with a softer colour.    If both parts have an equally strong colour and dynamic, the étude just becomes a study in playing a lot of notes, which is both boring and pointless.

If you have the chance, listen to  Marcel Moyse practising this étude – he really knows how to make the flute sing.  There is a box set released by the Muramatsu flute company of his recordings including his studies and various other pieces that he recorded over the years.

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!

Andersen Etudes op.15 – no. 2

andersen 2

The 2nd étude from Andersen’s op.15 contrasts the 1st in key, character and articulation.   I try to copy how a violinist or pianist would play this.    The compound melody found in bar 1 and other similar bars are easily played on the piano (Bach’s keyboard works spring to mind), where repeated notes and two parts can be clearly heard and voiced.  In bars 5-7, I think of a  violin where the melody jumps from high strings to low strings with bouncy articulation in a spiccato or sautille  fashion (off the string bowing).    The sustained legato sections (e.g. bar 2) are like one long bow stroke on the string with a rich and resonant sound.

The notes of the melodic line (or “the skeleton” ) need some resonance and bounce so that they can be clearly heard with suitable weight.    So, first practise the outline:

Andersen 2 skeleton

Try to get a good attack and reaction on the notes in bar 1.  In bar 2, sustain through the A to reach B in bar 3.    In bar 5, use the markings to help make a nice phrase shape.  Use the quavers (1/8 notes) to take the phrase to the next bar.

Next comes the tricky middle Es!  Check my blog on getting a good middle E.   And then try this exercise, based on Moyse’s Sonority exercise:

Andersen 2 practise

Practise slowly and make sure the A is louder than the notes that follow it.    Practising it slurred first will help to place the semiquavers (1/16 notes), so that when it comes to tonguing both semiquavers, muscle memory will help your lips to be in the right place.

For the big jumps, practise it like above, chromatically down (or up) by step, so that the large interval has the same ease as the semitone.  For leaps down, release the tension in the jaw rather than forcing out the low notes.

This method of practise can be applied to the whole étude.  Make sure you show the changes in harmonic rhythm –  you can write out the skeleton for the whole étude on your music.   In the last 8 bars, play the bass line by itself and enjoy where the harmony takes you.  This section often reminds me of works for violin by composers such as Mendelssohn or Bruch.    Think about how long it takes a violin to jump from its lowest string to its highest string – this should give you an idea of the tempo.  In other words, don’t rush –  you won’t get as much benefit from it.  Like eating something delicious, savour every mouthful- don’t just scoff it down!

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!