Sunday, January 05, 2020

Demarre McGill - The Energy!

Demarre McGill, Principal Flute, Seattle Symphony
Dear Flute Lovers,

I've just been listening to some great interviews, masterclass teaching and performances by Flutist Demarre McGill. What incredible energy! This wonderful musician teaches 21 students in two days after a red-eye flight and five full days at the Seattle Symphony in a week! What a dedicated musician! (I never could have done this even at 35!)  Enjoy these interviews and classes. Comments welcome.
Best, Jen

"Mind Over Finger" - an interview with Demarre McGill (audio podcast)
The second half of this podcast features Demarre's flute practicing advice. This is totally worth listening to!


Griffes Poem performed by McGill (video)

McGill teaching Brahms solo: (video)

Teaching Nielsen Concerto: (video)


 Flute Unscripted Audio Interview with McGill (video/sound only)


Monday, December 30, 2019

How to sound like_____ (famous composer)

Dear Flute-lovers,

For those who wished they could go back and get a Phd in classical music, but you just don't have the time, here's the best possible thing: the teaching videos of Nahre Sol  . This artist is a brilliant composer and pianist and has made a series of ongoing videos that explain everything she's learned from Bach to Flamenco. What a gifted teacher and wonderful communicator!
Love these films!
And they all are applicable to flute (even the arpeggio "how to practice" videos!)

Full playlist of classical composers (how to sound like....) by Nahre Sol.

Specific composer sampling: I enjoyed these ones:

Beethoven How to Sound Like (video)

Chopin  How to Sound Like (video)

Debussy  How to Sound Like (video)

Styles & Rhythms: 

Flamenco (video)

This is WAY more fun and goes into much more detail than any course I took at University!
How about you? Comments welcome.
Best, Jen

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Finger Height

Q: What is your recommendation for finger height during playing? 
I have searched your site but haven’t found the answer (it may be there and I missed it). 
I wasn’t sure if they should be ON the keys or just slightly above? 
Update Dec. 31st, 2019:
I found a masterclass video showing excessive height in RH fingers: (video)

=====end update=====================

Jen's original answer:

Good question.
There is some small controversy about finger height, and I should probably write an article about it.
In my experience I notice two realities:

1. During very fast playing, the fingers remain (almost) touching the key tops when the fingers are "up"
2. During all playing, your finger exchanges are much smoother (C to D; or G# to A) when all fingers are at the same distance from their keys, so they can all act in exacting unison.

Here are some of the problems that lead to misconceptions:

a - Clarinetists do not seem to have the same notion of finger height as flutists; they may be heard to say that if the finger hovers in the way of the hole letting the air escape, the tone quality is affected by the finger's height. This is not true on flute, since there are no holes that do not have keys already hovering equidistant above each chimney.

b - When flutists demonstrate flute fingerings, we necessarily lift all fingers that are "off" very high, away from the keys the flute, to show someone else which fingers remain "down". We do this from the very first moment of teaching the flute to a beginner, so beginners only see their hands with this image in mind, and then put their arms out of sight, and "imitate the fingering they just saw". This leads to the student having bizarre looking fingers held away from the instrument, because that is the last sight they saw. Think about this when you demonstrate fingerings: Show both ways: with fingers on keytops, and with fingers pulled away. Make sure the person learning understand the difference.

c - Flutists can only see their hands in two conditions: While holding their flute in front of them like a clarinet (not blowing it), and watching their fingers move and when playing IN THE MIRROR to watch what they are actually doing with their hands.

After weeks/months/years of avoiding the instruction "use a mirror when you play" or "video-record yourself and watch to see what you're doing", most students correct almost all their posture-hand-finger-arm-head problems when they actually do look in the mirror while practicing. The changes are instant because they have seen it with their own eyes.

d - Finger movement is affected by how the flute balances in the hands. If the flute bobbles when all fingers come off (D to C#) and actually rocks in space, the problem is NOT finger height. This is a multifaceted problem called "hand balance when holding the flute". It is corrected by starting with the chin-plate's coverage, the angle of the headjoint to the keys, the curve of the "hinge" of the left index finger knuckle under the flute on the left, and the use of pressure forward of the right thumb on the body of the flute.
Go to this article here, if  flute stability in the hands is your area of difficulty.

Fingers can become low and curved once balance of the whole instrument between the two hands is solved. (Debost writes on this too.)

e - Finger height is dependent on the speed of the note changes. In a slow pace of note changes, you may not hear any ill effects of different finger heights, and you may have loads of time to bring down a finger in preparation for a fingering (ie: Emmanuel Pahud uses very high finger heights for no particular reason I've every heard explained; I call it expressive!). If you watch a bunch of videos of professionals, gauge their finger height, shape and movement when they are playing super fast sixteenths and thirty-seconds. Slow down the film and look at the shape and movement of their hands. They are like curved paws that almost never leave their keys.
See photos at top taken from videos.

Hope this helps.
Comments welcome!

Best, Jen speedtypin' on first coffee

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Projecting your Flute Sound to Match the Space

Projecting your sound to match the space; listen to the space!
Dear Flute Lovers,

Here's a topic of interest to me as a teacher.
You know how when you practice at home you only project as far as the music stand?
That you only play for an audience of one?

Well, when you come for your flute lesson, often your teacher keeps upping your volume.
You are asked to "put more air through the flute" and to "project to make the room ring on your fortissimos!" and "don't play your pianissimos too quietly".

This is likely because you haven't considered the substantial increase of volume required to play in a large hall, compared to a small practice room.

The objective is to sound ringing and pure, with no excess breathiness or fuzz, with a centered tone that has the chosen timbre, and that PROJECTS into the space, according to how large the space is.

Here are some fun renderings showing the distance that most flute student's project:

Firstly, note the black music stand, center stage in the hypothetical concert hall, and note the yellow circle, showing just how far the player is projecting their flute sound when playing only "to the music stand". It's as though they are playing the flute supremely quietly for a single set of ears; their own ears only! Yes, the audience could hear something that sounds a bit flutey, but not clearly.

1. playing at home for yourself (too quietly)

When you play this small a field of sound, about a three foot circle, you are likely to have difficulty playing in tune (flat on low quiet notes; pinched and too slow an air speed for ringing high register quality.) That is why your teacher is likely constantly upping your volume and telling you to "play out!" and "play to the farthest corners of the room" and so forth.

This second depiction is how far most students project when playing duets with their teacher, or trios or quartets with a flute ensemble; about six feet in diameter; just far enough to reach their partner's ears! This is too small a sound to work for a concert hall, obviously. It sounds "peeny-weeny". :>)

2, playing duets or trios in your living room or at your lesson (not projecting enough to "ring")

Thirdly, here is a depiction of someone playing and projecting their sound as though sensing their audience well in a small setting. This would be the range of clear sound quality from the flute that would be suitable for a small chamber concert, where the audience is very close to the stage. You want to ring the hall, but with delicacy, never harshness or over-playing.

3. playing a small chamber concert with audience close to stage; ringing the hall with delicacy

Of course, therefore you need to practice this as your "normal" way of of playing. Then, when you visit the hall for a rehearsal, simply place your recording device in the 20th row and listen back to your rehearsal recordings to hear how well you can be heard and with what clarity. Then you merely have to relax into playing with that projection at home months in advance (ha ha.)
But you can see, this is what your teacher is talking about.

Lastly, if you play professionally, you'll need to adjust your projection from pianissimo to mezzo to fortissimo, to insure you sound lovely and effortless at THIS distance too: to the balconies!!! :>D

4. playing solo-istically to a large hall so that all dynamics and colours are audible and tasteful

You also have to learn to blend with the other orchestral instruments in this acoustic.
There's a great deal to get used to in any hall, with any group.

As a flute soloist and chamber/orchestral performer, you will find yourself in all sorts of acoustic situations, from small, carpeted, draped, DEAD rooms, where there is no good musical acoustic (no resonance, no echo), to churches, church halls, theatres, gymnasiums, atriums, concert halls, and every kind of acoustic space in between.

So you need to listen closely when you rehearse in the hall to gauge exactly how much volume and resonance you need to sound absolutely effortless, no matter how large or small the space.
You want to learn to match the sounds you are creating to the best possible acoustic in any given space.

A brilliant way to do it would be to place a microphone at the back of the hall, and listen to it through headphones as you play flute onstage. If you can set this up, it's a brilliant way to learn quickly.

And here's a perfect example of a professional suiting the size of his sound to a given hall size: (video)

Andersen Concert Piece, Op.3 played at a chamber recital:

This flutist Karl Heinz Shuetz, is playing in a grand home's dining hall, for a luncheon audience.

Although the microphone's sound likely has been boosted in post-production, this is a perfect example of a seasoned flute performer choosing the correct sound and resonance for the acoustic that he's performing in. This is only a normal high ceiling room, and you have to work with what you're given, when you get a gig, that's for sure.

(And if you're curious to see this flute solo piece of Andersen, it's free at imslp.)

In this teaching video below, you will also hear that the student needs to use more air flow and a more lyrical, flowing sound quality, instead of merely playing with a small sound, only as far as the music stand. In my opinion it is this small air flow that is causing the dropped note ending. It also sounds "timid", when the poor student was only trying to play what at home sounded like "my quietest possible piano". However that soft soft soft, under-supported sound quality just doesn't sound right, as you will hear when the teacher begins to play with a much bigger and more open and resonant sound, even though it's in a classroom.

J.S.Bach - Orch Ex: Aria - Aus Lieb

As you can clearly hear, in the above masterclass,  the flutist needs to NOT play 'just to the music stand' (or to their duet partner who's only three feet away!). Only when the air speed is fast enough does the soloist sound confident and the center of the tone ring in the space.

Part of this is awareness of how to project your sound, and then listening back to hear whether it's ringing the room space, or not,  is working with and also imagining the acoustic in halls of all different sizes.

In general, the airspeed is always 10% faster than you think. :>)

Experiment with playing sustainedly with a huge range of dynamics, all of which appear and sound effortless. Record yourself in your space. You will be using the ceiling and walls of the hall or room you play in to create a ringing sound, and you can sustain it with abdominal poise as you spin your air-stream.

Keep this in mind whenever you play anywhere, whether practicing, rehearsing, or actually testing a hall prior to a performance, and record yourself from various places in the room/hall. Listen back and hear what really happens in that space.
The audience's bodies will also change the sound again, when they actually arrive and fill the hall. So get to know how to project your sound to match whichever space you find yourself in, and never just 'play to the music stand' again!

Fill the hall or room with effortless music (ha ha, effortless sounding; it may take some effort from the bigger muscles in the core of the body) that always rings to match the acoustic best of the space you're in!

This player, Schuetz, does it exquisitely for the hall size he finds himself in. Neither too quiet, nor too loud for the distance to the audience, and for the ceiling height. Brilliant!  (and I don't even like Andersen!)

Best, Jen

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Those crazy virtuostic tempo markings

Dear Flutists,

Not everyone has yet come across the crazy, ridiculous tempo markings that sometimes appear randomly on pieces of music that come from very old printings (and now are sometimes found on free old editions on imslp), but every now and then you may find one.

(I have a copy of Pessard's Bolero in a standard flute solo collection that's marked impossibly fast for a sultry dance. It's more like a banshee-hysterical-dervish medley. See below.)

Well, thank heavens for organists/historical keyboard specialists!
Finally someone has taken the time to fix history. Good going Wim Winters!

Crazy virtuostic metronome marking? Well it may be halved quite safely, and ur, um,....ur....and then add 30% for the hectic, speeding up of all tempi after the industrial revolution. There you go!

Learn all about it in two short videos:

The historical musical pendulum vs. mechanical metronome (video)
How fast did Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin really play their own pieces?

Proof in print:
Piano Magazine Editions from 1870-1910 containing both double single mm markings:

Here's a 1990's reprint of an example of the completely wrong metronome marking making it through multiple re-sellings of the same sheetmusic by different printers: Bolero by Pessard.

Click to enlarge (and play it at 100!). Use back button to return here.

All you have to do is play it at quarter = 100 and you get, not a Bolero, but a Bolerrrrrrrrrrrrro!

I would love to hear of Andersen Etude editions that have the same pendulum markings fossilizing our sheetmusic! Or perhaps some of the tempo markings in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf might also come under discussion. (see below)*

Best, and enjoy your new "take it alot slower" freedoms!
Prokofiev Peter & the Wolf tempi of "The Bird":

Flute part marked quarter = 176
Note: Prokofiev was a pianist.
Piano versions of Peter and the Wolf playing as fast as the pianist can play:

Pianists play "the Bird"

1, pianist plays bird: mm 132

2, pianist plays bird: 144

3. pianist plays bird: 152

4. pianist plays bird: 152

Mind you, for me, it is not the Bird that is so problematic. In fact it is the SECOND excerpt, quarter = 92 that I simply cannot play fast enough, ever! See Andantino below.
I'll neeed to check all the standard orchestra tempi for this 2nd excerpt (rehearsal 8) I've even tried this all Eb3 arpeggiation with alternate fingerings, and it still doesn't "speak". Am I the only one who's noticed these non-happiness-causing tempi???

click on jpg to enlarge & back button to return here. :>)

Update Nov. 22nd 2019
Here are some of the tempi I found for Rehearsal 8 below. They are all set to play at the exactly right moment (sorry if you hit commercials; I hate 'em too.)

Vancouver SO mm = 72

As you can hear, the closest anyone gets is 88, and that sounds frantic by far!
And Bonus! Remember PDQ Bach and the play by play Beethoven's Fifth commentated like baseball? Well, just for fun, check out the newest orchestral podcast rating method from Stand Partners for Life. here

Comments welcome!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Presto Young Person's fingerings

Dear Jen,
In two weeks I have an audition, and I'm currently struggling with Britten's Young Person's Guide excerpt. Do you have any help with fingerings for these two passages, slurring down from high B through G#3, and then double-tongued in pattern up to high C? I just cannot get it clean enough. Thanks for any help.

Click jpgs to enlarge then use the Back button to return here.
Dear young person playing Young Person's Guide, (that makes me smile), by Britten;
Two weeks isn't usually enough time to learn new fingerings, but if your high register is clear and in tune, your double tonguing already fabulouso, and it's only speed and stability you need, here are some fingerings I worked out for you, from most useful immediately, to most useful in the future.

Firstly, and most importantly, there's  the high C fingering for the staccato scale passage (seen in the fourth system above in the pg. 2 Britten excerpt). Here is a fingering worth knowing! :>) This is the easiest possible high C4, when you're playing in a scale and arriving at high C from B-natural: Lift your left thumb:

If you play a full fortissimo, rich, well-centered high B3, and lift your left thumb, you can have all the glory of a free high C that is not sharp in pitch and does not split. But it only works in fortissimo, and you have to use full air speed!

Secondly, there is an "overblowing the harmonic" fingering trick you can use in the slurred arpeggio going down from high B to G#3 (third system of Britten excerpt). You overblow a harmonic based on fingering a C# with all fingers off to sound high G#. This works well at Fortissimo in fast arpeggios and is a common use of harmonics for fast fingerings in orchestral works for the future.

And if you were to have trouble nailing your opening B3, in the slurred downward arpeggio, you can also test out the use of the "F#3-with-two-trill-keys" high B natural, which is flat in pitch, and does not split when you accent it or play it loudly. Click on the jpg to enlarge these two fingerings:

Click jpgs to enlarge then use the Back button to return here.

Lastly, if you find, as I do, that the entire staccato scale passage (up to high C4 and down to the E to F# half-note trill) is easier with the use of middle-finger F# for the high F#3s, especially at this loud dynamic, and if you want to make the flute feel more stable, what about leaving low C down (Right Hand Pinky) for the entire staccato passage? 

I tried this this morning, and I wish I'd thought of it last time I played this orchestra piece! The flute is far more stable, and the F# RH2 is not so flat, when low C is held down. Have a look at the fingerings I recommend here below. I find this hand position keeps the flute entirely stable so I can concentrate on alternately slurring all, then double tonguing all, to keep clarity and ringing tone quality:

Click jpgs to enlarge then use the Back button to return here.

Solution: Every note fingered with RH pinky on low C for stability, using thumb-off for C4

You can begin the staccato passage with pinky on low C for all high octave notes, and just leave it on. Return the RH pinky to the D# key about four or five notes before the final half-note-tied-trill (cannot leave it on low C for E and F# in middle range .).
But this may take several week's practice, which you don't currently have....doh.

Naturally, I can't advise you truly, without hearing the high register tone quality and double-tonguing, and note-length and dynamic range that you're using at this stage. And again, sadly, two weeks is not enough time to entirely change your fingerings, (unless you're a super-whiz who's brain-body doesn't revert to old fingerings under pressure unlike most of us), but hopefully these ideas will help you at your next audition. Perhaps just having the high C thumb-lift is good enough for now!

If in doubt:
Practice playing high register on over-blown lower register fingerings as shown in this "Magic Carpet" warmup by Helen Bledsoe/Leone Buyse. This is alot easier preparation for the Britten passage than actually playing the passage, because you're playing against high resistance in the tube of the flute. When that resistance is removed, your airstream is steady and fast and direct:

See "The Magic Carpet" overblowing high notes on low fingerings exercise here:

Play all slurred everyday for five minutes or more as shown above. Then play the Britten all-slurred.
Notice how smooth your aim and air for high notes becomes in mere minutes.

The above exercise and others are found on this page of my blog under "magic carpet" as part of longtone warmups: here

Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes! :>)
Best, Jen

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Life as a Working Musician & Alternate Fingering Articles

Click on jpgs to enlarge & use back button to return.

Dear Flute-lovers,

I just love this podcast about what it's like to be a working orchestral player/soloist/teacher: Stand Partners for Life

The most recent episodes are fascinating!

1. Life as a professional cellist - Robert deMaine is interviewed by Nathan Cole and Akiko Tarumoto.

2. In the hot seat when you play concert master: Nathan Cole and Akiko Tarumoto.

I've mentioned the approachable teaching style of Nathan Cole before on this blog, and have updated my previous blogpost to include his excellent "how to practice" videos. The three practice philosophy videos you'll find at the link above are brilliant. Take some time to translate "violin" to "flute". It really is all massively applicable.

But getting back to Nathan Cole's vunnderbarr podcast;
No. 1 above is yesterday's podcast and is an interview with the brilliant cellist Robert deMaine, listen to them discuss the lives of working classical musicians:

Did you know that the LA Philharmonic members believe that 90% of them have perfect pitch?

Did you know that some absolutely brilliant soloists are last-minute-procrastinators and why they think that is?

Do you know that in order to have the panache to play a huge brilliant solo you may have to just think "fun" not "perfection"?

Can you hear, from the sequence of events in these three classical musician's lives, just how much of their lives have been saturated by classical music and how many brilliant musicians they moved among and learned from?

This is a real ear and eye opener for amateur musicians to listen to!
These are not your high school band stories! :>)

The Cellist being interviewed in the most recent episode, Robert deMaine (see his great masterclass teaching here; especially the JS Bach at the beginning of the video), is also being featured in this week's PBS series on Handel in Italy. The Scott Woo hosted PBS series on Vivaldi, Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel is intriguing and fresh. Have a look: Now Hear This.

Now Hear This on PBS

Click on jpgs to enlarge & use back button to return.

In Canada the series "Now Hear This" is playing through PBS on cable TV's "Great Performances" (we get PBS on our cable TV), but there's a possibility this same series is already on Netflix or other streaming services (let me know in the comments if you've found it there, and thought it was smart television programming! I did!).

US residents can watch the "Now Hear This" series online here on PBS: whole series. 

Hugely informative and all applicable to flute! Enjoy! Loved the Spanish/Moorish/Arab influences on Scarlatti; I KNEW it!

(sorry that Canadians cannot view the US PBS online, but we'll wait for a rebroadcast of "Great Performances on PBS" here in middle of the rainforest. :>)

The fourth (and final) episode on Handel features this same cellist who tells his life story to Nathan and Akiko, Robert deMaine. Entrancing playing.

Enjoy all these wonderful resources!
Comments welcome.

Alternative Fingerings for the Flute: 
Free pdfs with fingerings:

In other news, Nestor Herszbaum, author of the best alternate fingerings book for flute, has uploaded many free alternative flute fingering articles this week as a thankyou to the flute community; help yourselves at this link (and buy his book, which is GREAT!):

Special situation flute alternate fingering articles in pdf

I also recently purchased Ervin Monroe's new Alternative Orchestral Fingerings book, and hope to review it, at some point on this blog, so you'll all know it's worth owning. It truly is.

Best, Jen