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, you can click the link here. You may distribute it, but please give credit where it is due.



6 responses to “Singing and playing”

  1. Jamey Avatar

    I love throat tuning. I haven't incorporated it into daily practice, but I'm sure I will someday. Thanks for reminding me of this beneficial technique.

    1. Flutin' High Avatar

      You're welcome, have fun!

  2. Tod Brody Avatar

    Helen, I wonder if you've encountered, in your playing or teaching, the problem I experience with singing/playing. I have a naturally low (baritone) singing voice, and when I sing in a comfortable range, it create significant vibration in the embouchure, which compromises normal tone production. I know singing more quietly helps, but do you have any suggestions/experience that may be relevant?

  3. Flutin' High Avatar

    Hi Tod, I'm not sure about this. Normally, I do experience quite a bit of distortion to the flute sound, but I think you mean something else. I just now tried singing really low, I realize that my lips do indeed vibrate more the lower I go, but never enough to interfere. Hmmmm.
    Maybe someone else with a low voice can chime in here? Off the cuff, what you could try is what I tell all my students when trying to blend the flute and voice sounds: sing like a child. Use a breathy, not focused voice. If you try to sing like a trained singer, I find it not as effective when trying to balance the dynamics and the timbres of the two sound sources.
    Curious if this helps…..

  4. Jeremy Avatar

    Hey Helen! I just stumbled upon your site while watching your video on Youtube about circular breathing. I will try it out tomorrow! Anyway, my teacher is very fond of singing and playing at the same time, so he taught me and I have been doing it nearly everyday for the past 2 years. In response to the comment prior to this, I am a bass, so in the beginning I also had some vibrating lips and chins and nostrils. But eventually the vibration disappeared and I think it is from short intervals of practice, and maybe after a week the vibrations will be gone!
    Anyway, today I was also watching the Czech flautist Zdenek Bruderhans’ videos on Youtube and he can circular breathe very well too! This year he would be I think 79 years old.
    Keep this site updated Helen! Cheers from Singapore!

    1. admin Avatar

      Thanks very much, Jeremy!

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