Thursday, April 21, 2016

18 steps: the "how to" video of classical music

How to be a Classical Musician (humour video)

Mildly funny, until you start sobbing without realizing it. :>)

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

What do articulation markings mean?

Amateur flutists coming for lessons for the first time often have questions such as these:

What do slurs plus staccatos mean over the notes?

What do the different accents mean?

How short are staccatos?

And if you go to the online music theory pages, you could end up reading all the historical arguments for all the symbols of music. (and there are lots of finer points to consider, as the articulation symbols changed over the centuries, borrowing from violin symbols etc.)

So for easy reading, I've created a one-page, printable pdf that gives the basic articulations for flute:

What do flute articulation markings mean? (pdf)

Amateur or band-only flutist who needs quick information might want these one-page explanations to put in their folder for quick and handy reference:

1. Articulations on the Flute - What is written and how to play it (pdf)
2. Trill chart for band flutists (pdf of Mark Thomas's trill chart)
3. Grace Notes page from Rubank (thank you Hymie Voxman!) (pdf)

And for a big read one rainy day:
4. Ornaments (trills, grupetto, grace notes etc.) at online theory pages. (webpage)

The above one-page wonders should help get a novice or intermediate band flutist started.

And for those who tend to play with a puff of air on every note, instead of continuous sound, here's a quick graphic showing that also. Unless it's staccato, you need continuous air to sound continuous sound.

click on graphic to enlarge

And here is a video of Paul Edmund- Davies teaching legato articulation on flute (excellent video).

And if you want to boggle your mind with research, here's the answer to the very first question of this blog post:

What do slurs plus staccatos mean over the notes?

 Louré and/or Portato; but the flute doesn't air-pulse or "lean in" as much as a string-player does.(see video of bowing technique)

 Feature that.

The "Dududu" of delicate tonguing separation has to be lighter on flute than Portato would be on violin, so that it does not sound too accented, too sea-sick, or too "pulse-ey" :>) That's why I prefer the term Louré, but there are many opinions.

One of the loveliest descriptions of the heavier Portato is given in vol. IV of Karen Smithson's method called:  Playing the Flute! Smithson says:
Portato (Bell Tones)
Notes written with both a staccato dot and a slur are to be played tongued and semi-detached, as though a tiny diminuendo were written on each note. This has an effect similar to a bell being rung several times in a row. The moment the bell is struck the sound begins to fade until the bell is struck again. This method of articulation allows us to make a sound midway between a legato (completely connected) and staccato (completely detached).

Here are some visual examples; play them and see what they sound like. You'll soon find the delicate balance. And Dududu to you too. Comments welcome. :>)

Opening of Faure's Fantaisie: just say DuuDuuDuu; if your tone is beautiful, then you will be bell-like:

click on image to enlarge
Drouet's 72 Etudes; too fast for anything but Dududu, me thinks:

click on image to enlarge

Bach's 24 Concert Etudes from the Violin/Cello works (heavily edited in 1800s):

click on images to enlarge each one

And here is the true Portato, as shown by Tchaikovsky's gorgeous violin concerto second movement.
This one you can Bell-tone (lean) yourself into gloriousness!

Hope this helps,
Best, Jen

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Masterclass on Piano Trio playing - Mendelssohn

In Search of the Miraculous....

Master Class with Menahem Pressler (video) - Mendelssohn/Mozart.

I spotted this on Norman Lebrecht's classical music page.
Totally brilliant and inspiring. Do watch.
When I played a few years ago in a good piano trio (flute, cello, piano, with flute often playing violin parts) this is exactly the kind of fine work we loved.
So beautiful was this Pressler masterclass playing, after the students were given advice, that I had to keep pausing the video, and walking away and then returning. I couldn't take it all in at once, it was so miraculous! So lovely! So tender, and yet so architecturally intricate.

Of course there are many typically 'human performance' features going on in these film clips.
Firstly, the opening performance of each trio group is full of adrenalin, normal nervousness, and unsureness of how much to project for that new audience in that new acoustic space. I found the playing forced and wooden, and often lept ahead to hear the improved versions instead.

When the Pressler coaches, you can see the players relax into listening very closely in new ways, more like a "coaching lesson", something they are more used to, that gives them time to make adjustments and experiment.
All at once they are being asked to make their dynamic levels more delicate; to draw the audience in to them. And any unconscious rhythmic problems are pointed out (Why are you speeding up here?), letting them settle into more professional transitions that make better dramatic and songful sense.

 As the students play the teacher's corrections, of course, the adrenalin begins to settle, as they are humourously chided and made to call and respond, they become less tense, less afraid.

 Most importantly, the emotive singing, playing and talking of Master gives them feedback that allows them to imagine their best audience. When Pressler speaks and corrects them he conveys directly what he is listening for; he becomes the very fine ears for which they are playing, so all of a sudden they KNOW who their audience is and what acoustic or colour to create.

When the great ears of a master performer sings for you, to show you what to do, then suddenly the miraculous begins to take place. This is learning that is immediate.

Amazing. Enjoy.

Best, Jen on a Sunday

Sunday, February 14, 2016

High B and how to get it to 'speak'

A novice flute student asks:
I can get high B-flat, but I can't seem to get high B yet, any suggestions?

Dear High-B Wisher,

This is a common problem with flute students who are just starting to explore the top register at its highest: the hardest notes to "get" are B natural, C and C#.

In flute lingo they are called B3, C4, and C#4. (the three and four mean third octave, fourth octave).
Yes, they require special care to get; they don't just pop out like high G (G3) does. But they do pop out eventually, with time and patience, and a little relaxing. :>)

But there are some tricks specifically for getting high B.

Firstly, the reason it's difficult is because it's slightly unstable, like high F#. It either underblows, or it squeaks to the other harmonics; can be frustrating at first.
The overtone series make notes like high F# and B difficult for similar reasons (physics, nodes and finger holes, if you ever look into it.) In general, you have to find a specific embouchure that's right in the "sweet spot" for those two notes.

So here's the easiest way to do it:

Firstly, if you are tightening your lips to make a spit-raspberry (pppppzzzppzz!!), that's the wrong technique; you need to use the soft centers of the lips to move forward somewhat like a half-kiss shape. You also need very fast air speed.

So go over that with our private teacher; simply tightening or scrunching the two lips will not allow you to proceed with any ease and without the splat of lip-caused trumpety splat noises. The lips need to be flexible, soft, and variable to use in these experiments.

Secondly, check the fingering chart; many first-timers mis-read or mis-remember the standard fingerings for the very high notes.

A good fingering chart is here:

Write the fingering down a few times.
High B is just like F#3, but it has second trill key instead of right hand ring finger:
High B: the real fingering
1 3| [tr2] opt.4 
High B - the real fingering (RH pinky optional for stability)
(Note: the original person who asked the question wrote back an hour after I posted this; it turns out that they could get B easily by using the above fingering, and taking their right pinky off. So there you go. The student also added that blowing downward more improved their tone, once on high B.)

Thirdly, the easiest way to get high B to speak is to use an alternate fingering that's exactly like F#3.
Use this not as a real fingering, but as an experiment-to-get-the-note fingering.
High F# and then add both trill keys to the above using RH 1 & 2, and a high B will magically pop out!
Right hand 1 on trill key 1. Right hand 2 on trill key 2.

Alternate fingering, High B (flatter in pitch) from high F# plus two trill keys.

Does your high B pop out using the above fingering, overblowing from F#3?
If not see more experiments below.
This alternate fingering also works great if you ever need a flatter-pitched high B on a long note. :>)

Fourthly, there's an experimental way to under-blow a high note fingering to get a "ghost undertone" that is secretly below the note you're looking for.
Play the real high B fingering.
Now blow softly, openly and hollowly, to make any lower "ghost" note come out with the high B fingering. Try all low notes; find out what sounds you can get without blowing hard.
You should hear an unstable, out-of-tune, ghostly note that's in a lower octave; like an out-of-tune F# in the middle octave.

Hold the ghost-undertone steady and find the center of the sound it makes.

Then, just as you would blow up an octave, take a breath, play the ghost tone, and then overblow the ghost-undertone up to the high octave with the exact same fingering and the high B will likely pop out perfectly.

Why does this work?

Because it gets rid of any tight-lipped scrunching you may have been doing before. (!)
Your lips are more open and more centered; you're not trying so hard; you're not shoving your jaw forward, etc. You're just playing low then high on the same fingering.

Try it; works like a dream for most students. :>)

If the above experiments don't work, it could be that you need to look in a mirror when you form your high embouchure. Maybe your flute is slanted and not parallel to your lips.....

And looking in the mirror, if you are doing anything tight or tense, like squeezing or pressing your lips together, pulling your lip corners back, rolling your flute inward, suddenly bobbling your flute when your fingers change, or blowing out of the side of your lips instead of out of the center, or mis-aiming at the center of the flute's splitting edge, all of these will alway prevent the highest notes from speaking easily.

This problem of finding the highest notes (B, C, C# and D4) challenging is very typical of students everywhere; it's just one of the challenges of learning the flute. You might want to take a look at the blog post just two before this one, where I talk about high D. There's something to learn there too.

But it really is smart to get your private teacher's help on this right at the start, rather than develop some weird way of getting high B to strain itself out, and then straining to get it as a permanent strain-thing.

Teachers help eliminate excess tension in their students by noticing what the student is doing to prevent themselves from getting a note, and then letting the student know where to relax, and where to focus.
It's much easier with a coach to help spot you.

General high note information is here:

Hope this helps.
Best, Jen

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Are You Twisting your Crown?

Dear Flute Lovers,
Are you twisting your crown?
Did you know that if you twist your flute's crown, as if you're tightening the little silver disc on the top end of the headjoint, that doing so actually pulls the cork farther and farther outward, and that your flute will get flatter and flatter in pitch?

Apparently lots of people don't know this. So I thought I'd put up some pictures.

Here is the crown and cork when it is out of the flute. (Only the repair-person ever sees the cork.)
From the flute player's perspective, they would only be able to see the metal discs at either end of the cork if they looked inside.

However what many student flutists don't know is about the mechanism of the crown assembly.
Get this:
When you turn the crown, the big screw that goes through the cork is built so that it pulls the cork farther and farther out the top end of the flute and makes the flute badly out of tune. 
Originally the secret 'twist-means-pull' action is for the repair person to make very fine adjustments when placing the cork permanently. Not for the flutist to twist!
Click on the pictures below to see the mechanism; if you twist, the cork moves outward and the flute becomes flat in pitch. So the best idea is to hang a "do not disturb" sign on the crown end of your flute, and leave it alone. As long as the tick-mark on your cleaning rod appears at the center of the blow hole, then there is no reason to ever touch the crown at all. (If the crown makes a ringing sound because it's dented, put a blob of clear nail-polish on the connection to keep it from making a noise, but this is rare.)
Click on picture above to enlarge.
More notes on the flute's cork
The cork should last ten years if you don't move it or touch it. It's safest to let only experts move the cork if necessary. Shifting the cork actually breaks the air-tight seal and allows condensation to wet the cork more quickly than if the cork was left where set at 17.3 millimeters.

If the air-tight seal of the cork is broken, the cork gets wet and then dry over and over again, from condensation, and it shrinks. (that's why some modern manufacturers now use O-rings made of man-made materials; they shrink less).
Once a natural cork has shrunken it will allow air leaks which affect the tone. The flute will gradually, over time become more and more fluffy sounding.

Eventually it will shrink so much it will slide in and out by itself. You'll see this "YIKES!" cork action in unrepaired band instruments that have been uncared for and in severe cases, when corks are shrunken or leaking like this, the student will be able to pull the cork back and forth without resistance and will sound fluffy and airy when they play. And yet a brand new cork costs only $10!
So actually, financially speaking, there's no reason for band-flute corks to be in such poor repair. After repair, they only need to be left alone to function well for a decade at a time.
The flute repair person, or the manufacturer sets the cork at approx. 17.3 mm from the center of the blow hole. This measurement is engraved on the far end of the cleaning rod. The tick-mark on the cleaning rod should appear in the middle of the blow hole when flush against the silver-coloured cork-plate inside the headjoint. If you're unsure ask your teacher to check.
If for some reason your cork is out of position, it is best to have the flute technician or flute teacher reposition it, and check to feel whether it moves too easily. It is a repair that only takes a few minutes at a proper flute repair shop. No one need do this work themselves, and in fact shouldn't bother trying to fix it themselves. Inexperienced students may try to force the cork back in again, and end up bending the more expensive screw inside the crown that is a cork adjustment screw. Have a look at the parts on this patent office drawing.

Click on picture to enlarge.
 Inexperienced students also may not know that the cork assembly is tapered and that you should never try and remove it through the crown end as it will become stuck (crown tapers inward and corks are removed and replaced through the tenon end only).
Some flute students also mistakenly believe that because the position of the cork affects tuning (but all kinds of (doh) internet articles say so ! (doh!), that therefore the player can USE the cork mechanism for tuning their entire instrument. I say:  Whoa, dude! Not a good idea at all. Don't do it.
Every single note will be even more uncontrollably out of tune than you thought possible. I say: eeek.

As you can see from the Miyazawa article below, even a half-turn of the crown is enough to change the tuning sufficiently for a dire situation, without making the whole scale go wonky.
And how many students know when to stop at a half-turn? How many students control their tuning so well that they can even hear the difference of a half-turn of the crown? I say again; don't do it.
(James Galway once stated in an email that he uses a quarter-turn of the crown when changing from European tuning (A-442-446) to North American/British Tuning (A-440), but that's difficult to comprehend if you don't also know how far out the headjoint must be drawn at the same time; playing along with A-440 recordings of his, as well as A-442-444 recordings, I find it a huge stretch and quite uncomfortable; so I don't actually know how he does it; hope he gets asked and tells us all.)
For most students playing a well-repaired flute, it's very likely that the cork is fine, and doesn't need to be moved EVER, but perhaps that student has discovered, as their ears improve, that the flute is sharp in the high register, and flat in the lowest register, and they wonder if moving the cork will fix this. Well it won't.

This tuning problem of loud and incredibly sharp high notes is as normal as can be. The solution comes in private lessons when studying how to bend the pitch  and will not be fixed by moving the cork!
Tuning a flute relies on the placement of the headjoint into the barrel at the same spot everyday, and then eventually learning to use the embouchure to bend the notes into tune.
A typical flute would normally have the headjoint pulled out 1/8th of an inch from the barrel or slightly more to play at A-440.
This line can be marked with a black felt permanent marker on the headjoint, after playing extensively with the Tuning CD over many months.
Then through working with a teacher, learning to jut out the upper lip to bend down sharp notes in the high register, and learning how to keep a larger mouth cavity and dropped jaw, over time the student learns to play less sharp in the high register.

Likewise, a flat low D, or low E or low C can be improved in pitch by keeping the headjoint rolled out (don't roll in for low notes), blowing with faster air, and aiming the angle of the air slightly upward in angle for soft dynamics.
See articles below and please always leave the cork's placement to the experts: (ie: corks hardly ever need to be moved unless the flute has been mishandled, or not-repaired regularly).
To read more see:
Beginner's guide to how to tune a flute:
More on flute corks:
Jen's Flute Tuning Articles:
Hope this helps those crown twisters. :>)
I used to do it as a child too; and boy howdy was my 1970s band-flute out of tune a week later!
Best, Jen

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Starting the piccolo

Dear Flute-lovers,

I have been thinking over "How to best start the piccolo" as I have a student who has just been given a school piccolo in order to play in a Broadway-type highschool show.

So here is a starter pack of ideas for the flutist who has to learn piccolo quickly and safely.

1. Have the piccolo repaired/oiled/cleaned by a good quality flute technician. If it's a school loaner-instrument it may have a shrunken or mis-positioned cork, and possibly one or two pads that need replacement or shimming.

Go ahead and invest in this important repair work, because unplayable piccolos are totally ridiculous in a performance situation. No pad leak or tuning-cork problem is so small that it won't show up in the performance at fortissimo-shmeerro....and you can quote me! ha.
So repair work first and think happy thoughts while you wait.
You can also devote yourself to getting a gorgeous tone on flute while you wait.

2. Buy protective earplugs. If you're a poor student, go for several pairs of the foam ($1 each pr. look like foam cylinders, wash with soap), or soft-plastic yellow cone-style used for construction ($15 see picture) which are good for wearing half-inserted as needed, or if you can afford it, two pairs of high quality musician's earplugs at $20 pair. The best earplugs for concerts and rehearsals are the ones that you can hear through when the music stops and you must hear talking, or that you can quickly pull out and hang around your neck on a string to quickly put back in again.

Professional orchestral flute/piccolo players use these $300 earplugs which are the current state of the art (they cancel out unexpected cymbal crashes; how cool!) and they allow you to hear talking as well as quiet sounds, all while filtering out the loudest sounds.

In general; use them often. You will need earplugs for any playing above high D (the third D, two ledger lines.) This is not a joke. Your ears will ring if you don't heed this advice, and then, as you age, sob, sob... you will be deaf, and you'll be unable to listen to any further advice. So take heed; be ready with earplugs.

To save your ears you can also move to a practice space with: a) high ceilings b) lots of space c) carpet and drapes, soft furnishings, and other sound mufflers.

3. Practice the flute always before practicing piccolo. If you have a gorgeous, effortless, ringing, pearly and divinely beautiful high G on the flute, then you can switch to piccolo almost immediately (same air speed, same embouchure for high G on flute makes piccolo playing very easy to figure out.)

4. When you first play piccolo, stay in the low register until you are able to play with a very resonant and gorgeous tone. Don't try to play super high in your first few weeks on the piccolo. Play low and beautifully.
ie: Low longtones, slow Irish Airs, folktunesslow melodies, preludes, and low, lovely, invented meanderings are all part of early piccolo mastery. So stay low and gorgeous. Think "an Alto with a warm, kind voice" not "shrieking twig that defies me while deafening all!". :>)

5. The piccolo is placed slightly higher on the lower lip than the flute (pictures of this in my previous articles on piccolo). It's easier to hold, and you can play much longer on a breath. However the biggest difference between the two instruments is that the high register of the flute is almost always sharp, whereas, because the piccolo ( imagine that it takes the same fast air as a high G on the flute) can be flat when you least expect it. Most beginners don't remember to blow fast enough not to play FLAT in the upper register of the piccolo, and it's so unexpected they shrink from the sound and it goes even flatter. So when first learning the middle register of the piccolo, use 'The Tuning CD*' (which I prefer to electronic tuners) in order to blend and develop the sound quality so that it has the right air speed and the right angle of air to make each note a gem.

6. Take frequent rests during practice, and remember to put in your earplugs (right ear only if desired) especially if you play above D3. If you are working extensively above high D (two ledger line D) on piccolo, put both earplugs in and take a rest every five minutes. You don't want ringing ears. Did I mention you don't want to be deef? :>)

7. Play beautifully from the very start.

 Low, slow warmups, longtones, slow chromatic and diatonic scales with Tuning CD* drones, overblowing harmonics are all good. For printable pages, see all my suggested Warmups  (and for more advanced flutists, see Magic Carpet by Buyse for high register air-speed awareness).

Gradually you can advance to low and easy playing legato thirds, slurred arpeggios using scales to connect distant intervals, and tiny little octave downward smears (Richter Basic Exercise done in miniature.). All of these will help develop a flexible and accurate embouchure.
The piccolo embouchure needs to be soft and the jaw and face relaxed. Embouchure motions are really tiny compared to flute; be loose and think micro-movements, then everything comes more easily.

 Spend many weeks of development in each of these areas. Try not to rush to the high octave. Slow practice and practicing tiny note-groupings are both superior to the "zippy playing through" type of practice.

If the music you're preparing requires you to change between flute and piccolo, practice exactly like that; play the flute, pick up the piccolo, and play the piccolo. Stay poised and relaxed for both.

Articulation can be worked on in single repeated notes for accuracy and clarity, away from the music.
Improvising to the metronome and Tuning CD* can be a fun way to clarify articulations without fatigue, before transferring the lightest motions to the piccolo passage that needs articulation work.

And as you will now have added both flute and piccolo hours to your day, be zen-like and avoid zooming through your work all reckless and hell-bent. Hearing a piccolo can make you war-like. It's biological! :>)

 So instead of falling for the whistles of war, ease into a very relaxed and observant mode of working with zen-like precision.

Stay loose; think more than you shriek, (haha!) and take many breaks where you relax down to one on a scale of 10 (tense) to 1 (jelly-fish looseness.).

See if you can just use the lower breathing muscles to support your sound in an open and free body.

Most of the support for a relaxed piccolo playing is all found in the abdominal region.
Above the solarplexis,  all open cavities should be open for resonance; Chest, throat, ribs, mouth...etc.

  Remember where our flute air-supporting power comes from: low in the abdomen.

8. For difficult passagework play the passage on flute successfully before transferring the passage back to the piccolo. You can also play the piccolo passages in the lower octaves to rest your ears and to get to know the phrasing and articulation before playing it as written. Good luck and don't go deef. Best,
Jen speedtyping piccolo doubler

More Piccolo articles:

Jen's piccolo overview article: Piccolo Questions (and Answers)

Alternative piccolo fingerings: chart in pdf.

Piccolo articles and resources:

Bandmaster's handout - A piccolo overview: Garrison pdf.

*The Tuning CD*

Once a CD, but now mp3s and iTunes: links

The Tuning CD A-440 (amazon) mp3s (iTunes)

The Tuning CD liner notes: the booklet for download: pdf

Why use the Tuning CD? Newish comprehensive article.

You only need the first twelve tracks (C, C#, D, Eb...etc.). Set the CD player on "repeat" to get an endless loop to practice in one key. (C on track one is for C major and C minor. D on track 3 is for D major or D minor etc.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Free Flute & Piccolo Dissertations

Dear Flute Lovers,

A very useful read for teachers: Two dissertations of recent and vivid vintage. :>)
One contains commentary on books for intermediates, and gives intermediate flute exercises.
The second is an investigation into piccolo excerpts from the orchestral repertoire, including fingerings for specific orchestral piccolo parts.
 Help yourself to the pdfs. Great to have those fingerings! Yay! Thanks to the authors. :>)

Flute Dissertation -  Celine Thackston
 A Method Book for Intermediate Flute Students: including tone exercises, technique & stretches:

Link: pdf

Piccolo Dissertation - Allison Marie Flores Fletcher
Ten Piccolo Orchestral Excerpts - Link to overview: listing.

Link: pdf

(This pdf is 13 mb because there are lots of sheetmusic references, so wait an extra minutes longer than usual for loading):
 Notes from Jen:

Very interesting that Thackston agrees on the best books of interest for intermediates. I totally agree! I've long listed them on my "must have" list of books:  Fiona Wilkinson's "Physical Flute", Angela Floyd's "The Gilbert Legacy" and (bowl me over, but wowza I'm so happy Ms. Thackson suggests it) Roger Mather's "Art of Playing the Flute". That's my fave book too, hence the reason the Mather's have me e-book it for them. :>)

Thackston writes in her Flute Dissertation:

The most important/valuable part of this book to me is Mather’s approach to tone color. He addresses it first in Part I of the book, where he focuses on how good breath support affects tone color, but discusses it most thoroughly in Part II of the book, which relates to embouchure.
Mather states that the Part I techniques are universal – breath control techniques work the same way for all in affecting tone color, while embouchure modifications are much more individual and each flutist will have to experiment to find what works best for them.
It is admirable that, instead of categorizing tone color potential into only two categories  (yellow/purple), he embraces the wide range of sounds that a flutist can achieve and then tries to  analyze the scientific aspects of various colors.
He suggests experimentation through different vowel sounds; lengthening/shortening the air reed; the placement of the lip opening as well as size and shape (there’s also lots of good basic information on playing with an offset embouchure here); positioning of the flute on your chin; alignment of  headjoint; function of the corners of the mouth; jaw placement; and air pressure.
He also describes several tone colors in depth: Round, Hollow, Brassy, Transparent, and Floating.
The third volume has two very interesting chapters that also relate to tone color, featuring topics on  resonance via lung strength and resonance via throat, the sinuses, and the mouth cavity. It is in these  chapters where he offers the most interesting experiments as a means of exploring the resonant  cavities in the body.
end quote (read more at the pdf of the Thackston dissertation).
Enjoy! I'm trying out the exercises as we speak.
Best, Jen