Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tchaikovsky opus 45 fast fingerings

Talented composer who did not play high register flute fingerings himself.

Dear Jen,
Are you able to give me an idea for alternative fingering for this really fast section in Capriccio Italien, Flute 1, Opus 45 by Tchaikovsky?
I'm not going to be able to do it with normal fingering at the speed required...or should I persist practicing?

Answer: I would definitely try out these fingerings here before you give up practicing. You must keep your RH pinky on the Eb key to make the high A sound, so make sure you're doing that. And the fingering you'll want to perfect will be the real fingering from high A to high B. But most others can be overblown from the lower fingering as shown here:

click to enlarge jpg

I have a question. If you give up due to fast tempo, how many other flutists will be covering the part? It sounds pretty prominent in the video:

(this video is set to start at the fast fingering section at the end of opus 45.)

Let me know what you discover. You definitely want to keep fingers low, curved and close to the keys. There is no true substitute fingering for high A and B except those used in Prokofiev Classical (Baxtresser fingerings given here.)

Best, Jen

Monday, January 20, 2020

Jolene Harju Madewell's videos on practicing

Flutist Jolene Harju Madewell's Blog/Youtube Videos

This young teacher  Jolene Harju Madewell is very interesting. She's upbeat, positive, inspiring, insightful and organized, and she's provided a page full of practice videos for free.

Specifically, her videos on focused practicing (not spending ALL your time on tone, and sacrificing all other areas, ha ha; I've done that!), and practicing in 25 minute segments that have GOALS for each one, and then are followed by resting, were super interesting to me (and my adult students will love this I'm hoping too)!
And her explanation of keeping a practice journal that uses shorthand is great too.  All her ideas are "kitchen tested" and super cool.

I really thought it was amazingly perspicacious that Jolene filmed her own practice session(s), and then analysed what she'd done, and narrated a "director's cut" observing herself and sharing what she observed. (first video below). Genius.
Full Fundamentals Routine (video)


We should ALL record films of our practicing! Absolutely.

Imagine the HOURS we'd save if we stopped all our time-wastey,
 air-dreamy, gargoyle exhausty, leany-overy and useless noodley pound-headedness of our practice, (you know.... the way we practice now), and instead observe from a camera's distance just what it is we are really doing for ten-thousand-hours, and change it to make it work for us instead.
Wowza. Think posture-observation. Just that alone!

The mind startles at the perspiciousity-factor. :>)

Enjoy these videos. GREAT teaching.

Getting Back Into Shape (video)

Practice Journal & Perfectionism: (video)

Jolene mentions: Blackburn's whole Zen Yoga Warmup pages which I've mentioned before for the "Magic Carpet" overblowing harmonics exercise on one of the later pages.
And show notes such as this one for warmups, for each video, are at her blog

Comments welcome.

 There's a comment button below that is set for me to read it first before it appears here, so slight delay to see it. :>)

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!