Getting Back in the Saddle

I noticed a strange thing about getting back in shape after the last winter break. I was frustrated and, to be honest, a little frightened at how long it took to retrieve my “norm”, and wondered if it was a dire sign of things to come. I decided to blog about it, not only because most of us have a winter break before us, but to find out if I am the only person to have come up with the solution that I did.

My problem was sound, so I worked on all the “sound” things I was taught. Sonority, harmonics, melodies, whatever I could think of. Even articulation exercises, as sometimes if I to some forward tonguing, my lips are really encouraged to focus and relax. But that didn’t really help. Nothing seemed to really get the fuzz out. However, after a week or so (yes, it was that long!) I decided to ignore my sound and at least not let my fingers lose their condition as well. So I worked slowly on 2nd and 3rd octave chromatic exercises (from P. Edmund Davies’ book) and strangely enough, focusing on really coordinating my fingers somehow got my mouth to do what it had to do to get a good sound, and ping! I could play with my normal sound again.

Today*, due to delayed travels and chaos, I picked up the flute for the first time in a few days. Same yuckiness, but I remembered last year’s trick and it worked again. Was it my imagination, or could I actually feel the neural network involved in coordinating complex fingering activity actually communicating with and instructing my breathing apparatus and embouchure network on how to make an optimal sound. That is really what it felt like. Is there some neurological explanation for this, or is it psychological?

*Actually today is Christmas day for many, but here in Russia, it is just another Monday.


Harmonic Exercises, with Articulation too!

When playing through the harmonic series, the second overtone (a twelth above the fundamental) is a great check point. When students begin learning harmonics, this one often proves elusive because of the tendency to cover too much of the embouchure hole. By rolling out a bit and blowing down, it usually speaks. The following exercise I find useful because it begins by alternating between the normal fingerings and the harmonic fingerings. For those new to harmonic exercises, it provides a good anchor.


The next page gives a workout for the lips, and introduces articulation to harmonics, although it is also useful to practice legato in bars 13 to 38. I find articulation exercises with harmonics, such as those in Trevor Wye’s book, to be great stabilizers and strengtheners for the embouchure.



Continuing with articulation, I am further inspired by Paul Edmund-Davies’ “The 28 Day Warm Up Book”. His articulation exercises are a mainstay of my warm up, and I decided to go one further and translate some into harmonic exercises. (Read my review of this book here.) This first exercise strengthens the elusive second overtone:



This next one overblows the third overtone. It is for those already strong in this area; please don’t over do it, or any of these exercises. It is useful to combine these variations with Edmund-Davies’ original.




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