Category Archives: Teaching

“What Should I be Practising?”

Learning the flute (or any musical instrument) is not always a smooth process of steady improvement. We all learn in different ways with our own strengths and weaknesses, so there will be times when things can get frustrating if one feels they are not improving as much as they would like. Other factors also affect our practice, such as limited time due to busy schedules (school or work), or having a lot of repertoire to learn and juggle for competitions/auditions/exams etc.

Time

Setting aside time and having an effective and efficient practice plan is a great way to make sure that you can progress and stay on top of things.

How much time you set aside is really up to your schedule, but anything between 1-4 hours a day is good. However, quality of practice is far more important than quantity, so if you only practice for 30 minutes but in a detailed, mindful way you will get a lot of benefit from that. Consistent, daily practice is key to improvement since it is our “muscle memory” that we need to train, i.e. the coordination of our body and mind to successfully execute difficult passagework or big interval leaps etc.

Breaks

It is important to take regular breaks to make sure you are fully engaged and aware of what you are doing. I find 45-50 minutes of practice, followed by a 10-15 minutes break is good if I’m doing 2 or more hours. You could also do a bit in the morning and a bit in the evening if you have work during the day.

Schedule

What you include in your schedule can and should vary (“variety is the spice of life!”), but I would try to include the following to ensure you’re covering all bases:

Warm up

With the notion that your body is your instrument, warming up the body should be part of your practice. This might be simple stretches, some breathing exercises, or some basic flexibility exercises for the embouchure (pitch bending, crescendo/decrescendo, whistle tones, harmonics). Have fun by thinking of different exercises and also relating it to whatever piece you are learning, e.g. some pitch bending on C sharp for finding a good starting note for Debussy’s L’apres-midi, or harmonics on an E for Schubert’s Trockne Blumen.

Good books for warm ups:

Mastering the Flute with William Bennett

Melody

Play a simple melody such as Fauré’s Pavane in all registers and in different keys. Pick a melody from Moyse’s Tone Development Through Interpretation and be aware of what you are doing. Try some different dynamics and colours, listening closely to intonation, articulation and quality of sound.

Tone exercises

Developing our tone is one of the most important things we can do as flute players, like a singer develops their voice. Make sure to include some flexibility and evenness of tone exercises, such as those found in Moyse De La Sonorité. Long tones are often suggested by teachers, but it requires a great deal of imagination to make long tones interesting. Try varying them, e.g. start soft, crescendo and then get softer; add two or three notes and work on a really smooth legato between notes; add octaves or harmonics to match the sound in all registers; change the vowel shape in your mouth to work on playing with different colours (aah, ooh, eee etc). Clare Southworth’s The Expression of Colour is a great book for working on tone colours

Sequences and scales

Try not to switch to auto-pilot mode at this point! It can be very tempting to bash one’s way through all the keys, but this is not very efficient and not very rewarding. Instead, give yourself something to focus on each day in your sequences and scales (intonation, evenness of tone, fingers, dynamics etc). Slow, mindful practice of scales is very beneficial. String players often practice their scales incredibly slowly and I think this really helps build on solid foundations. Quick practice is also important, but make sure you are still listening carefully. Vary the articulation: work on getting a good sound in all variations. Remember that music is full of scales and sequences, so try to play them as musically as possible. Think of some different characters to play in (a warm sunny day, or a thunderstorm, or Mickey Mouse etc!)

Good books for sequences:

Scales:

Etude/Study

Take your technical practice a stage further. Before you start playing your study, take a look at it and find out what it is for. Articulation? Intervals? It could be more than one. You could then practice that technique first and then you’ll find you can make music more easily with the etude since technical difficulties won’t be such an obstacle. There are many etude books out there to keep you occupied!

Repertoire and orchestral excerpts

The last section of your practice could be repertoire. Having done a lot of technical work, your focus here can be on making beautiful music. Making the phrases come alive with shape and direction, telling a story and bringing out all the characters and colours with constant self-observation and feedback. Notice where you tend to tighten up and see if you can practice that particular area with more ease and freedom. Take note of the tricky areas and be sure to tackle those in your technical practice. Technique and music making are inextricably linked – a good technique will allow you to make music without restriction and imagination and playing musically will help you enjoy your technical practice.

Thanks for reading and Happy Fluting!

Tips on Andersen Etudes: Op15, No. 3

Andersen 3

This is probably everyone’s favourite étude – it is certainly the one that gets performed the most outside of the practice room. It’s a triplet tour de force without any breaks, but it also has a very beautiful melodic quality.

Find the Skeleton

If we take away all the decoration and leave the “skeleton” of the melody, this is what we get:

Andersen 3 skeleton

First work on making beautiful phrasing with the melody alone. This melody often reminds me of the 2nd subject in the first movement of Reinecke’s Undine Sonata:

Undine ex

Also, the piano’s melody after the first section and at the end of the Scherzo from Widor’s Suite Op34.

Widor ex

Phrasing

All these melodies share a common melodic shape – an upbeat followed by an appoggiatura. This is a perfect example of an “I love you” phrase. When you say “I love you”, “I” acts as preparation to “love” which is stressed and “you” which is released: I love you. Many people put an undue stress “you” when playing these kind of phrases, which doesn’t make any musical sense.  Would you say to your loved one: ” I love you!”?? This might cause them to doubt you! 😉

So when we come back to the Andersen étude, practise it with the following phrasing:

Phrasing no 3

Then apply the same phrasing when you add all the notes. You will also need to do the micro phrasing of the each triplet figure so that we don’t hear emphasis on the accompaniment (especially the low notes, which students often honk out).

micro phrasing

Notice how some micro-phrasing is over one quaver beat, and others are over two quaver beats. This tells you how to grade your diminuendo: you don’t want to come away too quickly when it is over two quaver beats, otherwise you will lose the line.

The idea is to show the melody line clearly without elongating each note. This can sound affected and can distort the rhythm. You could also help show the line by giving the melody notes more colour and play the accompaniment notes with a softer colour. If both parts have an equally strong colour and dynamic, the étude just becomes a study in playing a lot of notes, which is both boring and pointless!

If you have the chance, listen to Marcel Moyse practising this étude – he really knows how to make the flute sing. There is a box set released by the Muramatsu flute company of his recordings including his studies and various other pieces that he recorded over the years.

More blogs on the Andersen Etudes Op.15 can be found on Rod’s personal blog: rodfluteblog.wordpress.com

Order the Andersen Etudes, Op15 at Just Flutes.

How to Start a Beginner Flute Ensemble

Whether you are a novice in charge of your first flute choir, or you are a veteran and have run many ensembles, choosing music for that all-important first rehearsal is a daunting task at any level – but when planning for a beginner ensemble it is even more  important to hit the ground running.

Picking one or two pieces that will be sure to work will give the group the easiest route to success. Underestimating the standard isn’t usually a problem, depending on the dynamic of the group. Didn’t anyone tell you that you had to be a psychologist as well?! Often, the standard can vary substantially between those who are almost ready for the first exam and those who can just about produce a note, and fortunately there are books designed just for such a scenario.

Gems for Flute Ensembles by Helen Butterworth

This gem of a book is  invaluable in this situation as the eight original little pieces are just right for starting off an inexperienced group. The keys and rhythms are mostly eas,y and there are duets, trios and a larger group piece included. The most important element is the accompaniment, which will hold everyone together and allow those less able to feel that they have made a contribution. Don’t worry if you aren’t a pianist as the CD includes the piano part, as well as complete performances of each piece. Some of the pieces have a very easy or optional part, some can be played as a round  and some are more difficult. You can also photocopy the parts. Perfect! Buy Now!

Red Hot Flute Duets Book 1 by Sarah Watts

There may be an occasion when you feel that simply doubling up two  flute parts might just  be easier. These great little pieces are perfect for the inexperienced and the popular jazz style is sure to motivate! Sarah Watts is great at using the accompaniment to make the simple flute parts sound more interesting and, as with all her books, a CD is included to make this easier. There are two speeds for each track which is invaluable! The first three numbers are written with the flutes in unison rhythm before Head in the Clouds introduces a small amount of independence.  The highest note used is first octave D which results in the second part being quite low so often the first part is a little easier to manage in the initial stages. You could double up these parts indefinitely and the music would come to no harm at all! Buy Now!

Easy Flutes Together: Music from the Classics arranged by Terry Kenny and Terry Cathrine

If you would prefer something without accompaniment the Easy Flutes Together series of arrangements by Terry Kenny and Terry Cathrine is always worth looking at as it’s designed to give starter flutes the chance to play familiar tunes along with their friends. Music from the Classics includes Papageno’s Song and Ode to Joy which might be familiar. Pachelbel’s Canon would be a good place to start from in this collection, bearing in mind that the easiest part can often be the third.  The overall level is up to grade 3, all the pieces are well-known, and the arrangements have a great deal of rhythmic unity to hold everything together. Included are three copies of each part and extras are available for purchase. You can’t buy much better for beginners than this! Buy Now!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arranged for Four Flutes by Mel Orriss

Sometimes the best way to inspire a group is to use music that everyone will know, even if it is slightly too difficult for some. Starting with a popular tune that everyone will love gets everyone engaged immediately and they don’t come much more popular than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!  The arrangement has to be good though, and you wouldn’t expect to find anything less from Mel Orriss. The lowest part is cleverly pitched for a novice with a winning combination of easy rhythms, a small note range and an imaginative use of percussion instruments. I’m sure you could use anything that comes to hand here if you can’t find the right ones in the cupboard. There’s interest in the other parts too and you’ll probably find your grade eights wanting to join in!  A sure-fire crowd pleaser – parents will be overjoyed to hear this at a concert! Buy Now!

Dandelions by Adolf Terschak for Four Flutes arranged by Roz Trubcher

 

Another approach would be to chose a lovely but unfamiliar piece that is simple in both style and technical challenges,

Dandelinos by Adolf Terschak ticks both boxes. Using only crotchets and quavers and a note range of low octave E to middle register A, Roz Trubcher has ensured that this has a style that is easy to work with.  The most interesting aspect here is that the parts are all rhythmically independent, aside from the  six syncopated bars where they all meet. This allows players to develop their ensemble skills through counting and gives them the chance to catch up if they fall behind. There are some note challenges too with C, G and D sharps appearing in the middle section. This is clearly a long term investment in terms of skill sets but also introduces everyone to the tuneful music of Terschak! Buy Now

Unsettled Weather for Flute Choir by Sophie Dufeutrelle

Finally something completely different! This is not strictly for beginners but if  you are needing a new approach, or you have a very mixed group of players this might be just the thing. Each of the pieces  has only an illustration and  symbols of what to play,  so there is no conventional notation. This is very flexible as the group can be divided or used as a whole. Some of the effects are easier to assimilate than others, for example jet whistles are used in Gust of Wind. This will help younger ones to find their diaphragms and extend the range of the more advanced. There are instructions for the conductor too – Curtain of Rain should be directed with an umbrella. There is plenty of scope for improvisation here and this could easily be adapted to suit beginners only. Designed to fire the imagination it’s so useful on so many levels. Do give it try! Buy Now

Running a flute ensemble is a great way to make music so I hope that you and your students enjoy these pieces. Then your audiences will love them too!