Canadian Flutist and Teacher
Technique with a Purpose
By Jen Cluff July 2004
Question: I'm an older flutist
(47) a former flute performance major <snip> For 24
years, I continued to play, but have not seriously
practiced as I did when I was younger. <snip> For
the past year, I have been practicing daily, with the
last three months practicing about 4 hours a day. My
practice focuses on 1 hour of tonal exercise (Wye
Practice Book 1), 2 hours Technique (different books,
Wye, Taffanel etc.), 1 hour Etudes and Orchestral
selections. I have Wye's Practice Books 1-6 and Complete
Daily Exercises, as well as many other books.
This is a simply gargantuan topic, so Ill do my best to cover the main features of such a noble quest. :>)
Firstly, the warnings we all learn from years of experience of practicing technique (take heed; these things were all learned the hard way! :>):
1. Before beginning any purely technical practice have your flute fully checked by an expert technician for pad leaks. This will help you avoid hand/arm strain from hours of practice on poorly sealing keys, as well as save much frustration.
2. Review your best posture, holding position, flute balance in the hands (re; headjoint assembly as well as thumb and hand placement) and tension-less breath intake, prior to starting any new technical practice.
A balanced and poised position will make technique more effortless.
3. Consider using a mirror and tape-recorder or other visual and aural listening devices. Careful self-observation can make technical progress exponential.
4. Have a musical goal for every technical exercise. The most common cause of postural strain is non-musical "drilling" of scales and arpeggios. A musical goal places the technical work in a context that better balances the body and develops embouchure and breath control simultaneously.
5. Take frequent breaks by switching between technique and long, slow, beautiful melodies.
I keep two music stands; one with technique, the other with tone development and pieces. As soon as there is any sense of strain I either switch to the other stand, or improvise to return to relaxed body use.
6. Listen carefully to intonation at all times and make corrections based on intervals and key centers.
Technique with a Purpose
There are several stages to becoming fluent in technique (scales and arpeggios):
1. Familiarity with all common scale and arpeggios.
a) Balance the hands by warming up with chromatic, two octave scales all slurred; add metronome. The advice given in Paula Robisons Warmup Book for this is helpful, as she calls it "Orange Juice Warmup" and advises one to use a ringing tone. (check your library for a copy.)
b) Become visually familiar with patterns by gradually memorizing Majors, Minors, Arpeggios, etc.
c) Assign yourself sections of daily exercises to develop fluency. Play exercises all-slurred. Examples: T&G E.J. 1, 2, 3, 4. Or Trevor Wye, "Complete Daily Exercises".
d) Experiment with tone, dynamics, large leaps [T&G arpeggios done in middle register first, expanding later to highest and lowest pitches ] at a free tempo, then add metronome later.
e) Improvise within a scale, arpeggio or key center to develop kinesthetic awareness.
2. Facility with fingerings.
a) Use scale patterns (Wye, T&G, Reichert) to teach the body effortless and evenness in all fingering patterns. Play exercises all-slurred and use tempi that are not beyond your ability to play perfectly.
b) When you discover a difficult finger change, visually analyze it to discover contrary finger motions, or fingers that must me mentally linked in order to move better together.
c) Use the mirror to insure that certain fingers do not rise too high above their keys and that posture remains balanced; muscles free from strain.
d) Use a scale pattern at free tempo, to discover which fingerings need the hands to relax more, which fingerings are more complex, and especially how the balance of the two hands holding the flute changes depending on pattern used. [Ex: Herbert Lindholm suggests a few in his free handout on technique at: [404 Not Found]
James Galway uses the scale steps: 123454321:|| 234543212 :|| 345432123 :|| etc. ]
e) Use trill practice to reduce the motion of each finger to its simplest and most efficient.
f) Remember that fingers move more easily when there is sufficient AIR SPEED and focus to the tone. If you have a fingering problem try adding more AIR to relax hands.
3. Facility with Articulations.
a) Always start clarity of articulation by tonguing on repeated notes. Example scale of C:
b) Gradually reduce the number of repeated notes until you are tonguing twice per note, and finally one per note. Remember that air-speed (abdominal involvement) and the focus of embouchure are the chief factors allowing clearest articulations.
c) When single tongued scales are refined and precise, add metronome, dynamics, style considerations (Mozartian scales vs. Debussys scales etc.) and musical direction and line.
d) Move on to double and triple tonguing working in short bursts at first as in Trevor Wyes articulation book. Example: ccc D----- ddd E-----eee F-----etc.
e) Be sure and cycle through all the most common articulation patterns (slurred in twos, two-tongued-two-slurred, one-tongued-three-slurred etc.). Each played with flair and musicality.
4. Facility with wide intervals.
a) Best wide-interval information for focusing the embouchure can be found in Werner Richters "Conditioning Training for Flutists" pub: Zimmerman. Second best is "The Physical Flute" by Fiona Wilkinson. Both books deal with not over-manipulating the embouchure. Both are available at www.fluteworld.com
b) If using T&G, beware of attempting the extremes of register in the arpeggio exercises unless tone is already secure and easily produced (B3, C4, low C etc.) Start exercises in the middle range (mark in pencil where you started and stopped) and expand to more extreme ranges.
c) Stabilizing fingerings can help as you develop speed in arpeggios. Best book for these fingerings is "The Flutists Vade Mecum" by Walfrid Kujala.
d) Remember that fingers move more easily when there is sufficient AIR SPEED and focus to the tone. If you have a fingering problem try adding more AIR to relax hands.
e) Play all-slurred until tone is secure. Add metronome, tonguings, contrasting dynamics (not always loud high, soft low, but the reverse) and always experiment with musical phrasing and line.
Questions to ask while practicing:
1. Is the tone fantastically beautiful? Is my embouchure without strain or fatigue?
2. Do I have the option of many tone colours and dynamics? Which ones are easy/hard?
3. Am I using musical ideas, line, phrasing and emotion?
4. While playing all-slurred, is the fingering absolutely neat and even?
5. Are my large intervals as effortless as possible? (may need to roll out 1 more millimeter)
6. Am I using a combination of free tempo (for relaxing hands) and strict tempo (for keeping fingers even.)? Do I want to keep a record of the metronome markings achieved?
7. Are articulations crisp and stylistically varied? (Mozart/Bach/Prokofiev etc.)
8. At speed, do I need stabilizing fingerings?
9. Is the intonation perfect? What is the key? Which notes should be higher or lower than in equal temperment?
10. Can I improvise based on this pattern? Do I relax more when I improvise?
11. Can I create an etude or mini-exercise to fix any fingering or lipping problems?
12. Can I sight-read material in this key or using these figures? Is there an etude that would amplify and develop what Ive just learned?
You already have:
Trevor Wye: Practice Books for the Flute Vol. 1-6: Pub: Novello or Omnibus
Trevor Wye: Complete Daily Exercises. Pub. Novello
Taffanel & Gaubert: 17 Daily Exercises. Pub: Leduc
May find useful:
Mary Byrne: 101 Uses for Scales : Paper given at past NFA convention. Very inventive list of scale experiments and drills from easy to advanced. Find online using google search.
Michel Debost: The Simple Flute [textbook]. Covers all topics from finger antagonisms, breathing, intonation, scale-games, and how to practice.
Jennifer Cluff: Articles on all flute topics including how to practice scales, tone, trills, arpeggios, how to memorize scales etc. See free articles for flute players by Jennifer Cluff.
Marcel Moyse: 480 Gammes et Arpeges: Pub: Leduc. A "dictionary" of all scale/arpeggio combinations in all octaves, divided up into daily exercises.
Fiona Wilkinson: The Physical Flute. Pub: Waterloo Press. Avail. Fluteworld.
Werner Richter: Conditioning Training for the Flutist. Pub: Zimmerman. Avail. Fluteworld.
Walfrid Kujala: The Flutists Vade Mecum. Avail: Fluteworld
by Jennifer Cluff. Vancouver Island Symphony.
© Jennifer Cluff