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