Jen Cluff ~ Teaching forte flute playing
Canadian Flutist and Teacher
How do I teach a student with a small sound to play forte?
The easiest way to get a student to spontaneously play with a full and rich tone is to play back and forth, matching tone quality with the teacher. Unconsciously or consciously a student will almost always begin to match the sound they hear, even without being told. :>)
Playing duets with the student often has the same effect.
Telling the student to play in a resonant space (bathroom, kitchen, stair-well; anywhere where there is increased echo) is also good.
practical advice, bloware some excerpts from my articles
on "Dynamics for Novices" which offer practical
suggestions. And since your student has natural ability
to play diminuendo and stay in tune, most of what you're
reading for below is about how to play powerful
crescendos without going sharp.
importantly,get help for your own teaching from a
pro-flute-teacher. Let them oversee your work with
youngsters and give you pointers.
The student plays a good solid note at MF, in order to get a nice full tone before beginning the experiments, and to place the pitch of a given note.
Next they play the same note at the softest possible volume of pp and crescendo evenly and without bumps, very slowly to p. When they reach what they consider to be 'p' they pause and finish the note. Then they restart the same note at p and continue to slowly and evenly crescendo to mp; upon reaching 'mp' they pause and finish. This continues from mp to mf, then mf to f, then f to ff.
By the time they have reached ff, the note should sound as loud and as full as possible. Much consideration can be given at that point for pitch and to deal with keeping the jaw well open, the mouth cavity and throat open, and adding to body resonance etc.
of the skills of forte playing by crescendo would be:
More on this below, as Vernon Hill covers it very well and very quickly in his "fullness of tone" extract below from his book:
steadily against imaginary resistance for full forte
your normal playing is a full-spectrum mezzo forte, and
playing forte is easy for you, then and only then do you
begin to develop the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum.
In other words:
practice in playing 'forte' strengthens all the flute
playing muscles (lips and abs) just enough that they're
in good form for when you need them to play soft and
sustained passages in the future (muscles will be more
"toned" and strong, therefore capable of more
subtle and controlled use in the future.)
are from "The Flute Player's Book" by Vernon
Hill [Former Principal, Melbourne Symph.]:
1) Blow a
G while holding your flute in the left hand only, and put
the first finger of your right hand under your nose
(parallel to the floor) exactly as if you were politely
trying to stop a sneeze. Very slowly lower this right
finger (while still blowing the G) until it gets in the
way of the air escaping from the other side of your
- The G will actually stop sounding, even though there's air going into the flute, there's not enough allowed to escape to keep the sound vibrating.
2) Blow a
G and repeat the above descending of the "sneeze
finger" but even more slowly. When you can still
hear the G, but the sound has been weakened and flattened
slightly by the finger blocking the escaping air, blow
harder, with the intention of playing louder and sharper.
you blow harder and stronger (with your finger still
under your nose, and lowering toward your flute's
escaped-air path) the quality of the sound will become
harder and stronger, until it starts to take on the basic
qualities of a much stronger, full-bodied flute sound.
developing this over several months should you begin work
on playing at quiet dynamics (in my opinion) as the
muscles will then be toned.
fashioned blowing methods featured instructions on which
muscles to use, and how to harden or stiffen them. All
this ab-work is wasted, and at times actually harmful in
that it creates isometric tension and a tight,
constricted (constipated :>) sound on the flute.
Indeed, if you start blowing very softly, as though playing a long, soft, pianissimo phrase on the flute, it will be as if you simply open a tiny hole in the lips and allow the air comes out by itself, seeking to equalize the pressure outside and inside the lungs.
It is only when the air pressures are equal, that the WILL power to keep the imaginary ball rolling away from you triggers your ab muscles to continue to actively blow.
Now, to consider blowing forte or with full sound and brilliance:
Once the student has understood how the will power to blow a ping-pong ball down a long table slowly,and thus keep a stable sound on the flute without any tension or muscle 'hardening' ask them to imagine a power-ping-pong ball competition, where the object is to make the ball powerhouse its way down the table, but perfectly controlled so that it doesn't fall off the sides.
You need a fast stream of actively blown air right down the middle of the table, enough to keep the ball SPINNING as it skitters down the table top. But you don't want to blow all the air out at once. Sometimes the image of "spinning" the air in a fast turbo is all that's required to make the flute sound like it's powered by a fast and brilliant airstream. Keep the image in mind now, even without a pingpong ball and table. Imagine just spinning a fast spinning thread of air that keeps its speed and pressure all the way to the end of the air in the lungs.
on the flute is actually called "a spinning
sound" by those who use this image.
The Belt Trick and other flute power ideas:
Here are a few ideas to incorperate into lessons with students who tend to play with a small sound. They are all of some importance when learning to play with a forte sound, as some of these ideas help control pitch, and others help to add resonance. The true strength of the flute, sd it is often said by great players, is not in playing LOUDLY, but in playing with a brilliant, resonant, spinning and colourful sound. Feel free to experiment with your student to discover the sound by frequent demonstrations and discoveries played back and forth during lessons.
True brilliance in the sound comes from finding the optimal angle and length of the 'air reed' from when it leaves the player's lips to when it splits on the far side of the flute's embouchure hole. For precise experiments on lowering the embouchure hole on the lip, see Roger Mather's three book series (available through interlibrary loan or from www.fluteworld.com ) entitled: "The Art of Playing the Flute".
Some of his
experiments are outlined in my Ensemble Tuning page, where I first used this list of
ideas. Click here to scan the tuning article for Mather's
b) Ask the
student to experiment with rolling the flute out 1 to 2
millimeters more than usual, increasing the amount that
the headjoint is pulled out. and then poking
their upper lip over in a "beak" shape to aim
the air downwards. It also helps to imagine there's an
airpocket between the teeth and the upper lip that aims
the air downward for high notes or triple forte notes.
When I went thru'
his book and gradually lowered the pressure point, I lost
my tendency to play sharply and shrilly in fortes.
5) From Wilkinson's "The Physical Flute": Picture the harmonic series of possible notes above and below the sounding pitch as a ladder. (for ex. on a low C, overblow as high as you can to recognize the ladder avail. with all fingers down.) Now visualize this ladder when you play any of the notes on it. If you're playing a high G, aim your air so that you can still get an aural inkling of that low C; if you're playing a low D, aim the air so that you still hear an inkling of a D3. This lets high notes sound less sharp, and lowest notes sound less flat, and also adds harmonic overtones and undertones to the flute's tone, so that it's rich and full.
For more articles on related topics see Tone, Tuning and Breathing at: intermed.htm
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© Jennifer Cluff