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

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Dystonia interview, Underwood, Davies Noodles

Dear Flute-Lovers,

There was a question on one of the flute groups about Focal Dystonia (musician's injury of the hands or embouchure caused by brain-mapping malfunction) and thankfully, someone recommended this great interview!

Have a listen: (video-audio)

There are wonderful interviews with all kinds of performing flutists in this series if you didn't know about them, they are called Flute Unscripted:
Flute Unscripted (see/hear all interviews with flutists), from New York.

This Mortimore/piccolo-at-the-Met interview also mentions the great flute teaching of Keith Underwood, which I also have recommended on this blog recently.
Excellent! In case you're wondering who Keith Underwood is, here are some links:

Jen's blog posts on Keith Underwood's teaching:

Underwood interview (video)

Spit-buzzing 101 by Underwood (teaching videos at Legrand's website from "Ghostwood" classes)

2017-19 Underwood masterclasses & lessons available via video: scroll down to see second story under Tchaik competiton.

Paul Edmund Davies free flute warmups

Another good flute resource appeared this week from Paul Edmund-Davies: New warmups!


Simply Flute's Coffee Noodle No. 1 (free)

Click here to see videos and download the noodle warmup.

Paul writes:
Simply Flute Coffee Noodles have been designed to give you something new to start your flute day with.

We all know that first off we should make sure that we are ‘toned up’ to meet the challenges and demands of the instrument and the session of practice ahead, but there is always the possibility that we end up playing the same material, day in day out, which in turn takes us closer to functioning on automatic pilot and with a total lack of engagement! When this happens, alarm bells should be ringing and very loudly!

So, the idea behind these exercises is to have something that will warm up those key areas (lips, breathing, tongue, fingers, stamina and brain) whilst at the same time being comparatively simple and hopefully enjoyable to play.

Then, to really get ourselves into peak condition, Simply Flute Coffee Noodles swing through all the major and minor keys, so that we can explore different sounds and play with a variety of expression too.

Each SFCN, being something between an exercise and a short study is on the long side (Coffee Noodle 1 is 27 pages long!). The full versions of all 7 of these Noodles, will only be available to our subscribers to download and print off.

We will be posting the music ‘teaser taster’ download of each Noodle in C major and A minor, for the general flute public, but as indicated, only subscribers will have access to the complete versions.

To access ‘Gentle Warm Ups to Start the Day, Coffee Noodle 1’ please go to

See all Paul's free flute stuff at:

Love these resources.

Questions & comments welcome (use the comment button below; they take a few minutes to appear as it is set to "approval". thanks. Happy Fall!)

Best, Jen

Friday, August 09, 2019


Speechless; and you'll soon see why. (video)

Twelve year old Julin Cheung from Seattle, plays Rodrigo,
by memory, for Sir James Galway this past week.
Another camera angle is on Galway's facebook (where you can
 see that the performer has no copy of the music in front of him.)

Jen not often this speechless

ps.   Don't quit. 

Even the tiniest village needs its flute players!

pps. :)

click on jpg to enlarge; back button to return here.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Comparing multiple thousand dollar flutes

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Dear Flute-lovers,

I've definitely been away from the internet for awhile, (working offline,, Brahms ha ha) and so I had missed a whole generation of online flute videos that expertly compare flutes that cost from $600 to $30,000 dollars.

Eureka. At last, and ta-da! :>D
They exist now!

When I first came on the internet in the '90s there was only anecdotal evidence for which flutes sounded well, and which sounded "thin" , which carried thoughout a hall, and which took a powerful amount of blowing etc. etc.....

And the only thing that we early-internet-using fluteplayers could do at the time, was type out emails, talking about our comparison experiences and mass-typing on email listservs. Some pretty  wild anecdotes were told; but it's massively subjective, afterall. :>)

But here we are in 2019 and there are church-recorded, honestly run videos of flute demonstration/comparison tests like this one: (video)

The sound is great, and the player is great.
 I like the subtle differences and the way the player has to adjust to each flute.
(and it's the way the player PLAYS that makes the flute!)

Fabulously interesting to hear. I hope I'm not the last one online to have found this film.

We've come a long way since anecdotal evidence for what a flute player is looking for in sound quality with each level of flute.

Enjoy. You can really hear the differences.

And hahahaha, and of course those Yamaha 200s really still pull off a whole lot of workload, eh?

Best, Jen

ps. Hilarious when done on Violin by TwoSet:

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Tchaikovsky competition & Underwood Classes

Dear Flutelovers,

The Tchaikovsky Competition just completed, with online broadcasts of all the woodwinds available in video replay.
I read on one of the flute groups:

"Of those who played yesterday, the Venezuelan Joidy Blanco, 27, was outstanding."

Hear Joidy's first round here: Joidy Blanco's First Round in Replay
Hear her semi-final round here: Joidy Blanco's Full Semi-Final Programme
Joidy's FINAL round here: Joidy Blanco's Final Programme

I listened to several first rounds, and in this player I hear PURE musicality and emotion which basically caused me to ignore the other competitors, and only listen to Blanco. Every phrase of the Bach unaccompanied Sonata in A minor is sung with sense of what it is saying and the joy and tumble of  the thoughts of the composer. The other competitors.....not so much. But hey, it's a huge stress being in such a competition. But what courage this Blanco has! Lovely! She goes from strength to strength. Check it out. This lovely player made it to second place overall, and the winner's Final round is here: Matvey Demin. And lastly, here is Matvey Demin's semi-finals, for comparison to Blanco's. Both are excellent in their own ways, of course!

See more flute video replays for this competition: all woodwind Replays

Other insanely EXCELLENT flute stuff:

 Keith Underwood's Flute Classes at Lesson Face are amazingly fantastico!

Have a look at the index of the classes given from the past three years.

I purchased a whole year's worth of Underwood classes and watched them all ( I chose: 2016-2017).

Keith's teaching is the most insightful ever in the history of the flute, and I'm not exaggerating.
Highly recommended. You won't believe just how fantastic until you see them for yourself.

(I'm not related to this business in any way, I'm just a huge fan.)

I've previously recommended his "spit buzzing 101" (see previous blog post.) and since the newer classes have no preview, and you just have to take it on flutey look at the blog links to spit buzzing at Ghost Valley Ranch, to get an idea at the neuro-flutistic/linguistic-mouthistic programming.
 Such a boon to know these quick fixes! ( Ex: Spit buzzing pulls your upper lip down so it hangs just a few millimeters below your front teeth. When you stop buzzing and play the flute, you suddenly have incredible control over pulling your upper lip down to form a better tone quality. Only takes a few minutes to learn, and brings your embouchure back after a gap in practicing.)

If you are an intermediate to very advanced flutist already, and want to improve quickly or revive your flute-playing, partake of these previously filmed classes, instead of travelling to a big flute convention or fair. It will cost the same (or far less!) than a flute-day, or say, 2-3 basic flute lessons, but you will stay home with your flute out and ready, the pause button at your fingertips, innumerable lifetime of replays of any of the videos,  and learn more quickly and be more inspired at your flutey progress than ever.
Totally worth it! An 11/10 rating from moi! :>)

 Keith Underwood's Flute Classes at Lesson Face  videos available in packages.

Only the best for my readers!

He also has individual lessons online for those who really need specific help:
Keith Underwood private lessons online.

Keith is very adept at teaching woodwind multi-instrumentalists/doublers too, for those who specialize in that.

Comment using the comment button if you have questions for me.
Summer is here!! Ask away. Your comment will appear after a short approval-delay.

Best, Jen