Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fumbling Fingers?

I've been a member of Flutenet since 2001 but rarely post.
I've also had this question for just about as long.
I am 51 years old, and have been self taught. I started the flute when I was 26.
My biggest bugaboo is my finger technique. This goes for every piece of music I play.
Why is it that sometimes I can play a piece with just one or two fingering mistakes then shortly thereafter screw it up royally?
It happens even on the easiest of pieces. I have tried playing pieces at half speed with a metronome, and increasing it a couple of beats each time, but I still end up not being able to play it as I approach the normal speed. I even mess up at slower speeds. I have tried scales but I mess those up too.
Words of Wisdom Welcome.

Dear 51 yr. old,

I'm trying to imagine what you're describing. It's tricky to know
what's happening to you exactly. A video would help immeasurably.
When this happens with flute students in the lesson, there are some
frequent causes.

See if any of these apply:

Problem: The fingers flop and fly, but don't follow the brain's perception of the written music.
Possibly causes:

1. Your eyesight has changed, and you can't see the music well. This is the number one cause of muddled notes. Have your eyes tested for new glasses to rule this out.

Other possible causes:

2. There is a slow connection between the written symbols for music,
and an automatic fingering on the flute
. It seems as if the processing
of notation is garbled. Often this is due to trying to play music that
is too challenging too soon, playing at too high a level without prepatory exercises and scales, or trying to play hard music once a week, and not practicing on the other days.

Remedies: the student can:

a) practice short sessions throughout the day, concentrating on the
easiest exercises.
ie: go back to only one note and steady both hands, concentrating on
tone only. (3-5 minutes min.) Longtones read from the page re-connect
fingerings to symbols on page.

b) or...go back to simple finger patterns to retrain the brain. For
example: Play only two notes, played very slowly as a super-slow
trill. ie: F-G-F-G...etc. Note that this is only ONE FINGER MOVING at
a time.
For interest's sake concentrate on tone and evenness of one-finger-moves-only measured trills. There are good exercises for this in "Vade Mecum" by Walfrid Kujala, but any book of finger exercises will have two note slow trills.

c) or, take yourself back to the easiest flute books you can find and play only simplified pieces and exercises. For example, relearn those easy preparatory studies that are all in half-notes and whole notes. Play easily and simply.
Make music out of two or three notes, reversing their order and creating new fragments from note groupings. Memorize simple short note combinations away from the page. Work on tone and breathing and keep the music simple until you are more relaxed and co-ordinated.
Concentrate on line, breath, tone and simple fingerings that move
only one finger at a time.

3. Physical non-balanced stance and flute holding:

Video tape yourself, or go to a flute lesson and ask the teacher to "spot" you to see what you're doing that is excessive or causes finger-fumbling.
You could be doing something really idiosyncratic, like misaligning
the flute's headjoint, body and footjoint, raising the elbows or
shoulders very high, straining the wrists and forearms by twisting,
tightening your face and neck and/or contorting the hands and fingers
onto the flute.
See: http://www.jennifercluff.com/lineup.htm and check the posture and basic flute hold. Also see: http://www.jennifercluff.com/lineup.htm


You could inadvertently opening the thumb key or be lifting a left
hand finger ( For example: the A key opens in the left hand when
changing from D to E in the right hand when it doesn't actually need
to be lifted.)

This can be also can be caused by a non-balanced hand position where
the fingers are so uncomfortable they reposition themselves to stop
the weight of the rods from rolling the flute inward etc.
During this roll-and-grab, keyes can be opened unconsciously during
the "grab" phase.
Review 1 to 3 above and video tape yourself.

5. Strange mis-playing of notes can also be caused by pad leaks, where you have to really press down hard on, for example, the A key, in
order to make right hand notes like D and E speak clearly on your
flute. This excessive finger pressure has arisen so slowly it has gone
unnoticed, and now causes excessive tension in the hands while
playing, which causes fumbling.
Additionally the leaking pad can gap open unexpectedly during
non-related finger changes and cause you to re-grip the flute.

Have someone who plays flute well play-test your flute for leaks or
take it to repair.

6. Finally:
>>Why is it that sometimes I can play a piece with just one or two
>>fingering mistakes then shortly there after screw it up royally?<<

Are you trying to go too far, too fast?
Every day you'll want to start fresh. Start with simple one and two note warmups.
Don't rush the process.
Proceed to learning one scale a week, one or two notes at a time.
My favourite scale method is to add a note, and then return to the first note like this:
FGF------- (hold)

In general, if you can't yet play a short phrase of music three times correctly in a
row, and up to ten times correctly, you're not ready to play the music with dynamics, articulation and tempo increases. Take your time, slow down, and really become comfortable with fragments first, before adding any more skill sets.

A lot of flute students bash out a row of notes and then turn on the
metronome and start trying to force themselves to play it faster,
instead of making the notes beautiful in small groups of 2 to five
clusters of notes.

This is not like gym class where you force yourself to do 100 pushups by
sheer will power. Perhaps it's like trying to teach yourself to ski in your backyard, and then wondering why you're not able to tackle the professional ski hills with all the twists and turns.
With music it's a common misconception that speed is the goal, but really it is tone
and clarity that are the goals.

If this sounds likely, that you're overtaxing yourself before you're ready to layer up all the skills, then you'll want to slow your learning down until
every single note is perfect in tone, rhythm and direction before
adding another note to it. That's how the mind learns to listen on
many levels and correct mistakes before the "bashed out" version of
the piece becomes ingrained.

See my best advice on how to practice effectively.
Hope this helps and let us know what it turned out to be.

I'm betting that you need new glasses just now, and you used to be less
musically discerning when you first started playing, now are listening better, and have perhaps an overly-tense approach. :>)

A flute teacher will really help focus you on what to work on and how to do it in a balanced way to build skills more gradually.

Comments (2)
Blogger Geneviève Savoie said...

Hello Jennifer, I just want to congratulate and thank you for this beautifull blog you're having! I am new here and I think that you are sharing good informations and hints for all kinds of fluteplayers. As a flute teacher and player myself I truly appreciate your advices and suggestions! For sure I will follow your updates. Geneviève Savoie http://genevievesavoieflutiste.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 03, 2010 5:10:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Wow, thanks Genevieve!
Wonderful news. I'm really happy when other flute teachers think the website and blog have good quality information.

I would love to discuss topics of interest with other flute teachers!
If you have any questions, topics, ideas or stories of flute teaching, I'd love to discuss.

Jen :>)

Saturday, July 03, 2010 6:17:00 PM


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