Are intervals born of air or lips? Let the leopard decide.


On forums and in masterclasses there has been a lot of discussion about which element plays a more important role in producing intervals on the flute. Aside from the change of fingering, do we change more with the lips, with the air speed, or with air volume?

Take the fingering element out of the equation and try playing through the harmonic series on low C or D. How do you produce the upper partials?

The trend these days is to say the air makes the changes. Emily Beynon makes a good example and case for air speed:

In this (long) masterclass series, Phillipe Bernold has a student start the day on a rising dominant 7 chord. Here he suggests the most important thing to start the day is to wake up the air column. There should be a natural increase of both volume and speed of air as you ascend. The lips stay neutral. This is very important for legato.

Here is why I agree that the air, either volume or speed, rather than the lips should play the major role in interval moving. Please note I do not deny that the lips must remain flexible, and that exercises for suppleness also include playing intervals and harmonics (at least some of mine do).

As humans, which is more necessary for survival, fast reflexes of our breathing apparatus, or of our facial muscles? Imagine a pre-historic flutist out strolling, searching for good material to build the perfect bone or wood flute. She is set upon by a leopard. She screams and runs. The lightning-quick reflexes of that sharp intake of breath to make sound and to get enough oxygen for the muscles to run is what saves her life. Fast-talking a leopard has been a known fail.

A Cro Magnon Bone Kingma-System, gimme gimme!!

“A Cro Magnon Bone Kingma-System, gimme gimme!!”

So it is my unscientific opinion that the muscles controlling the breathing apparatus, including the diaphragm, have much quicker reflexes, thus can make quicker adjustments than the facial muscles used in the embouchure. Of course, we all know some fast talkers, but they are a scientific law unto themselves!

Wildlife disclaimer: when stalked by a predator in real life, do not act like a prey animal and run. You will be chased. And caught. Unless they are bees.

Photo: bigkitten.com

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Scale Practice – Superlocrian!


If you are a diligent scale and arpeggio practicer, you might get tired of the major-minor-chromatic (and seconds, thirds, fourths, etc) routine. I want to share my enthusiasm for my scale of choice this week: the Superlocrian. If you have studied jazz, it won’t be new to you. This scale goes my many names. I actually prefer the term Diminished-Whole Tone, because that is what it is (see below). According to the Wikipedia entry, other names for it are Altered, Dominant Whole-Tone and Locrian flat four.

First you take the melodic minor scale but don’t alter it coming down. (Yes, you are allowed to do that in jazz!) The modes of this scale are a gold mine for other jazz scales, but that will be another post.

DWT1a

Now, start on the 7th degree of the scale, and presto:DWTb

The first 4 notes are a diminished scale (alternating half and whole steps), the remaining notes form a whole tone scale. How cool is that? Plug this in to Taffanel-Gaubert no. 4 and you have a new flavor for your routine and scale games. There are a number of books for jazz flutists that may have other exercises, but I have not surveyed this literature yet. Any suggestions?

For more information on the web, especially about the chords that this scale generates, here are some links.

How to use the diminished whole tone scale by Pete Swiderski

Reverse engineering our dominant scales by Anton Schwartz (great graphics)

A diminished whole tone lick by Bob Hartig

 

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Paul Edmund-Davies: 28 Day Warm Up Book


Recently I have enjoyed working from Paul Edmund-Davies “The 28 Day Warm Up Book, for all flutists…..eventually!”. Its (English-only) text is extremely clear, with touches of humor that engage the reader from the start. His approach is extremely practical and humane. There is advice on how to approach your practice, how to structure it, and the empty staff paper at the end of each section encourages further thought and creativity for your own exercises.

The daily exercises cover four areas: sonority, fingers, articulation and intervals. I felt compelled to write about my experience with these exercises because it is a lesson in humility. With several decades of professional playing under my belt, I took a look at some of the pages and thought “how simplistic, I don’t need that stuff”. But playing them, I realized that they were quite challenging. So I got to work. And they sound nice! My family particularly likes to hear me practice Articulaton no. 7.

A number of exercises I find useful for piccolo practice. Intervals no. 2 is not only good for intervals, but makes a great intonation study if played with a drone from a tuner or computer. (How I wish I had a live tambura player to assist me :-) ). Articulation no 6, with its combination of repeated and moving notes, is especially good for controlling the sometimes tricky middle register of the piccolo.

The section on fingers I find very practical. He points out that scales are all well and good, but they don’t really train the fingers to lift and close with swift independence. The exercises, some of which are based on Taffanel & Gaubert, reinforce this idea. Because its familiarity makes for easy memorization, I am a great adapter of T&G myself, and am always happy to learn other approaches.

Here on YouTube, you can watch Paul Edmund-Davies demonstrate some of his exercises in the context of learning Anderson’s Op. 15.

For those who are interested, my complete warm-up these days goes as follows:

  • harmonic studies, with and without articulation, add trills
  • finger and articulation exercises, including scales and written exercises from this book. As I have written elsewhere, I find Peter Lloyd’s approach works well with me: Get really warmed up first, and then do sonority work.
  • combined melodic sonority/intonation/interval exercises from this book and others

You see, I have gotten away a bit from long tones. They can be useful, and I may come back to them at another point. But for now, I find melodic studies and other exercises from “de la Sonorite” more useful. Gotta do what works!

 

 

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Singing and playing


Some time ago I decided to devote at least a few minutes of my flute practice time to singing. Long story as to why, I won’t go in to that here. But the decision to sing, and the upcoming workshop I am giving at the Adams Flute Festival on Sunday April 15, 2012 inspired me to put together these ideas.

Throat tuning is the best basic application of singing and playing. Tuning your throat to a pitch you want to play will help you to achieve maximum resonance. You can find a more detailed explanation in Robert Dick’s you tube videos and his exercises from Tone Development Through Extended Techniques. Here one of the exercises he demonstrates. This exercise is also much loved by Peter Lloyd:


You can start with Taffanel & Gaubert’s first daily exercise in any key. I have chosen B-flat because it falls easily in my range. You can also choose any octave you wish. In case the musical example is not clear, here is what you do: 1. play the first 5-note pattern, 2. sing the 5-note pattern while silently fingering the notes on the flute, 3. sing and play together, 4. play only, but keep the feeling and resonance as if you were singing and playing. You may notice a big change in your resonance.

Another application of singing and playing that I like to utilize is to use singing as a check-point for keeping a relaxed throat while playing high notes. If you can sing a low note while playing a high one, then likely you are using your embouchure and support correctly. If you can’t produce a low note while playing high, you are likely squeezing your throat in order to “help” the high notes out. That’s the easy way out! A good high register, though, has its support down below, and the lips do the work of narrowing the passage of air, not the throat.

To experiment, play a high note (any will do, I have G here, but you can go higher or lower) and see how high and especially how low you can sing while holding that note.

 You will hear many strange difference tones while doing this; as your voice goes up, you may hear a “ghost” glissando going down, and vise versa. Being able to create this effect is application I love about singing and playing. Some composers use it effectively, and it also comes in handy when improvising.

Now, back to the point about keeping the voice low: try playing octaves and keeping the voice in the lower octave. Keep the voice steady on pitch. Again, you can choose any key and any octave:


 A bit trickier is to keep the voice on a single low pitch while blowing through the harmonic series. If you aren’t familiar with the harmonic series, better to begin without singing. Don’t worry about getting the highest notes at first. Work your way slowly up.

C is a good note to start on, but you can choose another. Also, don’t be discouraged if you can’t produce the highest harmonics while singing at first, just work on getting them one at a time, no vocal glissandi allowed here!


And just because I am a bit fanatical, I wrote a vocalise to one of Reichart’s daily exercises. The voice sings the top line:

If anyone wants the whole exercise, I can send it as a Finale or pdf file (thank you Cutepdf!). Just send me an email at hbledsoe at helenbledsoe dot com.


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Finger Exercises Based on Tai Chi


 This entry is cross posted on the musikFabrik blog
 

Anyone who works with their hands can benefit from the energy flow these exercises provide. I am no expert or student of Tai Chi, but I have had to work a lot at injury prevention. You can do them at the beginning of your warm up, then as necessary during the breaks. Breaks are very important in injury prevention. Any exercise that stretches or gets the energy flowing during your break will allow you to practice more in the long run, and keep your money in your own pocket and not the doctor’s.

I don’t mention the pacing of the exercises in the video. For me, they take four to five minutes to complete. This is a good investment of time when I have a long practice session, especially if there’s much to be done on alto or bass flute. Enjoy!

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The Value of Time II



Here’s a run-down of what I’m up to practice-wise. Not interesting reading for sensation seekers. Sorry. But now and then I need to keep tabs on the household stuff.
Yes, having a 6-month-old bundle of joy does compromise one’s practice time, especially if one is also working. So I’ve been very vigilant about keeping time and here’s what it comes out to:

  • 4 min. Tai Chi hand exercises
  • 8 min. Harmonic and Trill warm up
  • 8 min. Scales/ Taffanel Gaubert
  • 10 min. Scales with articulation and excerpts with articulation*
  • 8 min. Tone, dynamic and vibrato exercises from PL Graf’s Check Up
  • 4 min. movement of Bach Sonata

That’s a total of 42 min. just basic maintenance! Plus goofing around, sipping tea, messing with the tuner/metronome, stretching, looking for pencil = 8 min. So the whole ” maintenance and warm up” lasts 50 min.! Hmmm. Well, I think I’ll stick with this for now, plus I plan on adding 15 min. of Moyse next week when I have fewer rehearsals. To explain: I am having to build up after a hiatus since September. I have been playing regularly since October; however, need to be in Solo Recital Form within a couple of months, and the above regime with added Moyse is what it will take. Then there are the pieces to practice…..

* I include some repertoire in my warm up – esp. with articulation. There was a time (1996, to be exact) that I warmed up on Berio’s Sequenza. Yes, I was that fit (and nuts!). Otherwise, it could be Mendelssohn’s Scherzo or Carnival of the Animals. Today it was Zappa’s Echidna’s Arf (for the 5-tuplets) and Black Page no. 1 (for the 11-tuplets)!

It seems I can’t leave the house until I’m sure my tongue is in working order, and that my articulation is clean. Sort of like having clean socks and underwear, you should always be prepared! There are people who won’t leave the house unless their shirt is ironed, or their shoes are spiffy, I’m not that picky…..

Some of you may also wonder why I do scales before tone studies. That was Peter Lloyd’s idea and I find it really works for me. Get playing first, get things working first, then to concentrated exercise on tone.

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