basics contemporary music exercise books & teaching materials exercises extended techniques harmonics or harmonic multiphonics multiphonics practice teaching

Multiphonics: Tips for Study

Actually, this is a “notes-to-self” entry disguised as “Tips”. There are good sources for learning and practicing multiphonics such as Robert Dick’s “Tone Development through Extended Techniques” (although I know the term “extended techniques” has gone out of fashion, but the practice in the book is solid). I also have a detailed presentation where I approach learning multiphonics through the study of flute harmonics and spectral hearing. If you know of any other learning materials, please share them in the comments.

Now to the notes-to-self. It well and good enough just to learn and practice multiphonics, but time has shown that one is often asked to perform multiphonics under less-than-ideal conditions. This goes especially for ensemble pieces when there are others playing, and it is difficult to get aural feedback from your own playing in order to make the minute adjustments necessary to play a multiphonic. However, in solo works there are also challenges, where a multiphonic might be difficult to approach in context (in a series of them, or after a particularly tiring passage, for example). So how do I prepare for that? Part of the answer is simply training in-context, as well as the reassurance that experience will bring. At times it is helpful to ask yourself, or the composer, conductor, or chamber-music colleagues which note in the multiphonic is of most importance? What voice should I bring out? Perhaps most important of all: can I find a better fingering?

And sometimes the composer thinks that he/she is helping by saying “oh that’s ok, I want an unstable sound, you can vacillate between the notes”. OK. That is something that has to be practiced too, because often a vacillation comes with a sudden jump in dynamic. In most cases, this is not the effect the composer is going for. This led me to a practice that I think is very helpful for close multiphonics such as this one (taken here in context from Joseph Lake’s Concerto for Prepared Piano):

I should emphasize that the basic way to approach a multiphonic is to take it apart, get to know the dynamic range of all the notes, do the throat tuning to the weakest, etc. etc. These steps have been covered in tutorials by myself and others. But once this has been done, we often get caught up in trying to get both notes equally, and then still failing. In past tutorials, I talk about using fluttertongue to help find the position of the tongue that will work, and listening and aiming for the difference tone or beatings of the notes rather than the two notes themselves (logically, aiming for one thing is easier than aiming for two, right?). Another trick to throw out is to practice this vacillation that composers are so fond of – slowly. If you can control going between the notes slowly, and minimize the jump in dynamics that sometimes accompany the movement, I find that the actual multiphonic sounds more than you expect.

So those are my thoughts from today’s practice, if you have anything to add I would be curious to know.

basics contemporary music exercise books & teaching materials extended techniques harmonics or harmonic multiphonics multiphonics practice technique

Getting Started with Multiphonics

I would like to share the following presentation: Getting Started with Harmonics and Multiphonics – with a deep dive into the harmonic structure of the flute sound.

Why do I start this presentation with a discussion on harmonics? Because if you learn how to take out, put in, and isolate harmonics in your sound, harmonics and multiphonics will come more easily.

Since this is a work in progress, I will share a link to Google Slides instead of putting the content here. That way you can always view the latest version. Share your feedback, ideas, and corrections in the comment section here on this blog.

Big thanks to Julianna Nickel and her flute studio at George Mason University for inviting me to share these ideas. It was great to bounce around these thoughts, hear questions and receive feedback. Thanks to Studio Musikfabrik for initiating and funding this pedagogical initiative, which will result in a tutorial video scheduled to come out sometime in the Spring of 2021.

articulation basics exercise books & teaching materials

Robert Winn: Musical Exercises to Develop the Technique of the Tongue

In many ways this is a book after my own heart. My years as an undergraduate with Bernard Goldberg were fraught with the re-working of my articulation. It would have been very useful to have such a book as this, with its written explanations (provided in English and German), numerous excerpts (some not found in other compilations), and standard as well as original studies.

When one takes on the task of trying to describe the mechanics of articulation and relating it to one’s native language, there is a risk of getting bogged down in linguistic terminology. For the general flute-playing public I think this book walks the line very well between Too Much Information and the vague “finger-pointing-at-the -moon” sort of stuff you find elsewhere.

Once you do mention linguistics though, pedants like me crawl out of the woodwork with fingers and tongues wagging. There are several things I would like to wag on. Mind you, I am a pedant, not an expert, so my comments are below in the “Pedant’s Corner”.

It was very enlightening to read about some of Winn’s key concepts. He points out that some articulation difficulties are linked to the fingers in a way I hadn’t thought about, and going through some of the studies helped me sort that out. The position of the teeth, in front and in back, was something I had also not considered before.

All in all I enjoyed reading this book as well as playing the studies, although the text could have used a good editor for English punctuation and clarity. (I can’t comment on the German). I do hope that future editions will see to this.

Pedants Corner:

1. One basic aspect is ignored, that of aspiration in English and German consonants. If you are an English speaker, you will say the “T” in the name “Todd” differently from the “T” in “stick”. Todd’s “T” is aspirated. The tendency to puff air rather than release it from the mouth can pose a problem for beginning flute students of languages that do this.

2. In mentioning the tendencies for Russian and Bulgarian, Winn is correct that there is a large build-up of physical tension for the consonant “T”. One reason for that is it is produced with the tongue much further back than in English, touching the alveolar ridge. And it is never aspirated. However, that is only half of the picture. I don’t know about Bulgarian, but each Russian consonant is paired with its palatalized twin, a much softer version. A crude way of explaining this is to imagine the consonant followed by a “Y” (as in “you”) “TY” is very soft, produced very forward in the mouth and is more of a release than an attack. I spoke to someone who believes this linguistic ability is responsible for Denis Bouriakov’s amazing articulation.