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 even claims 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 uncorroborated. It's what he states about himself.)
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, folktunes, slow melodies,, 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

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 Thackson
 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 Thackson 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. :>)

Thackson 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 Thackson dissertation).
Enjoy! I'm trying out the exercises as we speak.
Best, Jen

Monday, January 18, 2016

Susan Hoeppner - how to prepare for a recital

Dear Flute-lovers,
I'm taking a break from my flute-work (practicing, book writing and trio writing) and looking up old flute-friends, and listening to some fave flute performers from the past.
So fun.

Here's a film and article with Canadian Flutist Susan Hoeppner, one of the most inspiring performers whom I always try and see live. She's one powerful and musical player. Such conviction.
And then she tells you how to do it yourself. :>)

The article is about preparing for performances.
Excellent and well worth a look.
Susan Hoppner "how to prepare for a recital" article: pdf

Live performance: Susan Hoppner Gala Concert in Japan (excerpts)

Sorry to be away for so long, but good work takes time.
Best, Jen

Friday, November 06, 2015

High D4 embouchure change

(click on illustration to enlarge)
Question: I have been preparing Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, 4th mvmt. (second flute) for auditions. I have been practicing the eighth note passages that lead up to the high D in different rhythms, articulations, tempos, etc. And I have used different fingerings for the high notes (such as using the alternate fingering for the high F# and regular fingerings for the high C# and the D in an attempt to lessen the motion in the right hand/not rely on the foot joint fingerings as much.) However, it is still difficult getting the higher notes to speak clearly (if at all at times) with any fingering I use. I have determined that the air needs to do most of the work here but I have trouble remaining relaxed in the embouchure as I go higher. Since it is our tendency to create a smaller embouchure as we go higher in range and that combined with the intense air speed can be a cause for disaster in this situation. Any tips?
Also, of course the eighth note passages with the cross fingerings that trade off between the first and second flutist are also tricky, however I have found this passage to be much easier than the other as I just need to keep a supple embouchure as I work my diaphragm through that section. But any tips on this are also welcome.
Thank you! A
Dear A,
The difference between third octave and fourth octave embouchure is shown with diagrams  in Volume Two of Roger Mather's book "The Art of Playing the Flute". See diagram at top of this post.

Notice that the lower lip is covering only 1/4 of the blow hole for high C#4, D4, which is the fourth octave. Notice the angle of air stream suggested in the above picture too. It works best if it is "almost horizontal".

In a dramatic comparison, the embouchure used for our regular third register (high G, A, B3 to high C4) the lower lip is covering more than 2/3rds of the blow hole and the upper lip is blowing downward at a 45 degree angle. This is to make the third octave mellow, and correct sharpness of pitch.

Knowing about this dramatic embouchure change will help you pop out high Ds with ease. :>)
It's just a question of knowing when to move the lips and then finding a happy medium of adjustment that is more subtle as you play up that high in your longtones everyday.
As for the Prokofiev fourth movement Classical Symphony fingerings, all the flute parts have been re-written for ease, and the info. is at a previous blog post: here. Naturally these re-written parts won't be appropriate for auditions, but they certainly help in real life performances (several orchestral flutists have emailed that they work really well with short preparation time, and that no one can hear the difference; the flutists just have more fun!).
 So here is the pdf of the rewritten Prokofiev Classical Symphony parts complete and ready to print; makes life much much easier:

(note: Errata correction Nov 8th 2015: Bar 34, F naturals  on beat 3 and 4 should be F#s in both parts on beats 3 & 4. The above is corrected now.)
My personal opinion is that when composers (who play piano) don't understand the difficulty of what they've written (for flutists), that it's perfectly fine to perform identical re-writes, in order to save practice time for making the truly musical parts a joy to play, while the impossible parts become easy to play well.
Best, Jen

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Recording Duets Easily on a Zoom H4n

Recording Duets on Zoom
I have several adult students who play at the grade 9+ level who are just about to start using a Zoom H4n recorder to play duets at home. It's a blast! It's the best! There are tons of free duets of high quality to play (scroll down to print them for free)! And even if you don't have a Zoom you can still do all this and more: see below for ZoomLess".

As a help to my students, I found all the links to a large number of high quality duets that are free at the imslp music library and I drew up the world's easiest instructions for recording just two tracks on the Zoom.

Here are the easiest possible duet recording instructions: (800kb pdf):

There are also basic instructions for multi-tracking on a Zoom H4n in an earlier blog post. The basic functions are all written out in plain language due to the Zoom booklet being so opaque to moi :>)
 The free printable pdf that I wrote in 2012 covers duets, trios and quartets plus saving the mp3s to your computer. If you own a Zoom, do print out this earlier  pdf : How to Record Multiple Tracks on H4n.

Why? When you go to record duets, you do need to set the Zoom to MTR which stands for Multi-Tracking. To set the Zoom to "MTR" you use the menu (press and hold the menu button) then use the scrolling jog-wheel to choose MODE, and then MTR.
Once you are set on MTR, you can leave it there and proceed with the Easy Recording of Duet instructions above.

Steps in recording a simple duet with only one flutist:

1. Choose a duet you can play easily and well. (there are easier grades linked below too.)

2. Practice the parts up, and choose a recording metronome speed that allows you to be relaxed.
Have a good look at the difficult parts, and use etudes and easy exercises to make the hard parts easy.

3. Turn the Recording machine on. Announce the name of the piece (pg. number etc.). Set the metronome going, warm up your flute,  and count yourself in.  (You can also play along with a CD playing the drone of the tonic note from the Tuning CD.  It's very satisfying to input the recording with good tuning from the start.)

4. Play Flute 1 and record it. If you stop, just count yourself back in again.

5. Play back Flute1, and play Flute 2 overtop of Flute 1. Ta-Da!

Note how fun this is; you're playing with good rhythm, good style and good tuning, and you're listening carefully. Again: Ta-Da! There is nothing more fun to do during practice time.

And you can re-record either part to improve it, if you like.

 It's super nice to re-record flute 1 without the metronome, but with the count-in re-announced when recording Flute 2. Extremely satisfying work.

You're simultaneously improving your rhythm, your sense of style and your intonation. Amazing and inspiring and will get you racing back to practice next time too. I'm not kidding. :>D Try it!
ZoomLess? No problemo!
You don't need a multi-tracking Zoom to play duets like this. You only need some type of recording machine: seriously. A tape recorder (!), mini-disc recorder, a good-ish microphone, one that plugs into in your computer, for example, and then add Audacity free software for editing the recordings if you're going to save them (and you don't have to save them).

 Just use any kind of recording machine that doesn't distort your flute sound quality when you hear it play back.

The actual key component is the metronome.
As it turns out, yes, it's almost completely and utterly (and I don't use those words lightly, ha ha.) impossible to play the second flute part over top of the first flute part if there is any unevenness to the rhythm or any wonkiness in the counting.

You choose the speed after learning the Flute 1 part. You set the metronome to be playable (not too fast) and you count yourself in and play and record it.

But wait, you say: What if I get lost? What if I make a mistake? What if I run out of breath? What if I play out of tune? Do I have to start all over again?!

Answer: No thank heaven. Not at all.
What you do is you just pretend you're at a rehearsal: you just talk to yourself.
You say aloud something like:
"Okay, that fell apart. I'm going to restart 68, which is five before, click, click (goes the metronome), two, three, four, one two three_________"

Then, it's so simple. You just finish recording Flute 1 with the metronome and with all the gaps you just created by talking to yourself (you'll have a nice resting spot when you go to play Flute 2 overtop too.)
Yes.... It's okay if you start and stop, and count yourself back in a dozen times, it's still totally fun.
It still sounds great.
When you rewind to the beginning again, you play back Flute 1 over the speakers, and play Flute 2 over top, live if you only have a simple recording machine. Either part can be recorded first.

You don't need to multi-track, you just play one part live. (!)

Fantastic Free Duets
And now to the fahhbulous flute duets that would suit Grade 8+ and up for gigs, for teaching, and for preparing at home with your recording machine. These are some of the best! And they are FREE!

Best flute duets for recording yourself on both parts - Advanced Intermediate
These are all printable and readable; I checked.

1. Blavet Sonatas 1-6 (I like no. 4-5 best myself.)
2. Telemann Opus 2 (flute urtext edition is the third one when you scroll down):
3. Mozart Duets K. 156 and K. 157
4. Kuhlau Op. 81
5. Kuhlau Op. 10
6. Kuhlau Op. 80
7. Kuhlau Op. 102
8. Galli Op. 68 Rigoletto Duo
9. Galli Op. 95 La Traviata Duo
10. Mozart K 279; 1st Piano Sonata in C Major (excellent scales and arpeggios)
1st mvmt: Fl1 - Fl2 - Score
2nd mvmt: Fl1 - Fl2 - Score
3rd mvmt: Fl1 - Fl2 - Score
The above duets are too difficult at first?

More free online flute duets for grade 2-6 students:

And grade 5-8 students:

Gariboldi Op. 145
Berbiguier Op. 59
Boismortier Op. 8
I haven't tried zooming those last three yet, but let me know if they are winners! They look good. :>)

For more ideas:
List of graded duets

Hope this helps everyone enjoy keeping their chops up through Zooming!

Best, Jen

Monday, October 05, 2015

Being James Galway (documentary)

Being James Galway - A 1 hr. documentary

Very interesting to watch; lots to think about. (video

Best, Jen