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.


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



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!




Fourth Octave: How to not kill yourself and not be killed by your neighbors

Twentieth Century pioneers in the realms of composition and performance have set the standard for us in terms of how high we are expected to play. For better or worse, we need to have fluency at least up to high D. Hmm, gee, thanks guys, I guess…….

Just do it. Play your normal scale and arpeggio routine up to high D. And the younger you start the better. That means now. Tomorrow you will be older. (If you need an online guide to possible fingerings for the flute, try here.)

Before launching please consider these tips. They will save you time and prevent injury. If you have any more to share, I am all ears (while I can still hear!).

• Wear earplugs during practice sessions including 4th octave. Loud noises can tire you just like muscular activity. Protect yourself from them, you will have more energy and be able to practice longer. The ordinary wax kind will do the job and are better than the foam ones because they nestle in your ear more snugly.
• Robert Dick’s initial advice: get the angle of the air correct first by finding the whistle tone. Usually we need to be rolled out a bit more that we are used to. Then blow!
• Think of putting energy into your airstream, not your lips. The lips have to be firm to withstand the onslaught of air, but that’s all. Don’t try to create the sound with them, the source is down below. A quick focus on the muscles of your pelvic floor before you blow will help. They should move down a bit in contrary motion to the upward energy that comes with the air (as happens naturally when you cough).
At first practice the fourth octave in your own dynamic, don’t try to do extremes of loud or soft. What comes will come.
• Come down again! Don’t spend too many consecutive minutes in your practice in the fourth octave without playing some in the first octave, or even just resting and not playing at all.
• And while you are resting: if the fourth octave passage is technically difficult and requires a lot of technical repetition to learn, finger the passage silently with the flute comfortably in your lap. Watch your fingers, concentrate on relaxed breathing, inhaling as well as exhaling, without any unnecessary stress or tension in your shoulders or hands. Combine this practice with actual playing.
• Watch intonation. In a repertoire passage, if tempo allows, choose fingerings that are as in tune as possible. If the passage is microtonal, I often use standard fingerings for notes that should be up to a quarter tone sharper in this octave, then play the “normal” notes with flattened fingerings.
• With a difficult repertoire passage, make a short exercise based on the 4th octave notes and include it in your daily scale and arpeggio practice. Then while practicing the piece, you will have time to work on musical aspects.

Some general remarks about dynamics:
Sometimes composers are kind and allow for the natural dynamic of the fourth octave (fff). Sometimes not. This is where you can go “virtual”, that is, create the impression of a real piano even though the sound may be quite present. In some cases the struggle to play quietly is part of the composer’s esthetic, or sometimes the composer just wants a diminishing of energy and will allow for a “relative” piano. Always ask if possible, don’t knock yourself out trying to achieve perfection if the composer doesn’t want it in the first place. If the composer really wants a true piano at that octave, do your best to keep the air up and not pinch, let go and allow a little airiness in the sound, it may still sound loud up close but it will carry less.

Photo: EPA stock photo


Why Augmented Scales Kick Butt

Because of the seemingly innocuous combination of half-steps and minor thirds!
It’s one of those symmetrical scales that I just love, although I know nature abhors perfect symmetry, and true beauty (like those lovely Japanese gardens) operates on the principle of slight asymmetry. But for composers, symmetry in the context of tonality is very useful when you don’t want the pull of a tonal center. It frees you up to think of other ways to pull in the audience.

Most of us flutists know some symmetrical scales:
1) Chromatic = half steps repeated
2) Whole Tone = whole steps repeated

Then you may know, especially if you have studied Jazz:
3) Octatonic (a.k.a. Diminished) = either repeating half step/whole step or whole step/half step

And the subject of this blog entry:
4) Augmented scales = either repeating half step/minor third or minor third/half step

You find these scales in music by Dutilleux, Gaubert and if I’m not mistaken Jolivet. That minor third makes things sound sort of “harmonic minor-ey”, pentatonic or bluesy, depending on the context.

But my point is not that they just sound cool, they kick butt because they are seriously challenging to play smoothly! Why?
1) The half steps go naturally quicker than the minor thirds
2) The scales with A#/Bb also have F#/Gb, so you can’t use the Bb thumb with good conscience!

Just try them out!
(3 pages, pdf)