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basics practice technique

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)

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humor practice

Practice Motto: Amongst Our Weaponry Are….

Surprise, fear, ruthless efficiency and a fanatical devotion to the— wait a minute —– that’s not my practice motto, that’s The Spanish Inquisition skit from Monty Python!

Hmm, well, surprise and fear do come into play now and then. It’s the term ruthless efficiency that’s been running through my head recently. Ruthlessness seems to be the rule, given minimal practice time these days in which to prepare for May’s difficult ensemble concert and July’s solo concert. It’s a tough juggle, my husband is working almost round-the-clock to make a deadline, and my 7-month-old son could care less about my piddling artistic/flutey problems. So practice moments need to be cunningly snatched. Linked with my policy of brutal honesty, which involves keeping the tuner by my side, I seem to have a very pugnacious attitude in the practice room these days. It’s a place where “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” But guess what? It’s paying off!

I will share some of my weaponry that inflicts ruthless efficiency:

  • a daily task list and
  • a projected schedule of when I will practice each piece

Since it is impossible to practice every piece every day, I take what is difficult from each piece and work it into my daily practice. Some things on my list now are: the multiphonics found in Berio Sequenza and Takemitsu Voice, double tonguing as fast as possible….

The projected schedule is something I make when it seems there are too many pieces and too little time. I start from the first day and project up to the concert day(s). I figure out how much practice each piece will need, and assign one or more pieces to practice in detail each day. That way, I don’t have to worry about practicing each piece every day. It keeps me from panicking, and importantly, from procrastinating. If it’s my day to practice that difficult trio I was dreading, just do it. Put the other pieces aside – the items on the daily task list will keep me up-to-date, in shape and on top of them.

I do seem to be making headway, and watching Monty Python for a laugh now and then does help!

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practice

How To Get Pregnant – Even If….

Even if you are a man! There’s a man behind this idea – sax player Ned Rothenberg, to be exact. He described his practicing as “getting pregnant” creatively. Here is the article where he mentions it.

I really admire his improvisations. He must spend a lot of the time pregnant! His CD “Amulet” with Tuvan singer Sainkho Namchulak is something else.

I drew great inspiration from it when preparing for my trip to Tuva in 2004. It was my first solo appearance only improvising, and I was happy that it was in a far and distant land. Although I don’t think the concert went well, it was a very fruitful time for me – I really practiced a lot to prepare for it and took some practice notes which I use to this day. Someday I’ll post about my adventures in Tuva!

Although from time to time it is part of my job, I just hate being an assembly – line flutist. Piece gets on the stand, practiced, performed, basta. Next. And so on. Although I learn pieces fairly quickly, I really don’t like to. It’s one thing I really can’t stand about the contemporary music business. I’m also at a point in my life where I really enjoy contemplation, it would be great to spend time on my instrument pondering different interpretations of Bach, or any great composer for that matter. Or deepening my understanding of tone production and discovering new sounds. But often it’s monkey-work. By that, I mean spending time churning through pages littered with excessive black dots, my trusty metronome by my side, starting half-speed and inching ever upwards.

My ideal is that I have enough time to live with a piece of music, or for it to become a part of me. This is also why I like practicing. I remember my school days in Amsterdam, practicing in my then-boyfriend’s attic. He would tell me: why do you practice so much? you don’t really need to! Well, I was getting pregnant. I get full of the music and then and only then am I ready to fling it out.

Lucky for us (flutists)! We now have modern “classics”. I have lived with the Berio Sequenza ca. 15 years, Ferneyhough’s Carceri for 12 years, Varese Density 21.5 for 10 (learned that one late!). My next solo concert (5 July) I hope to make a mostly “classical” one, along with two new pieces by younger composers. What luxury! Now to juggle time for practice, rehearsals, teaching, cuddling (baby and husband), household stuff and blogging. Dang it, I wish I had a maid, now that would really be luxury….

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