I have been thinking for a while about how we learn the flute and how we teach it nowadays.
It seems to me that when I was taught I was pretty much never told “how to do anything” but rather what the result should be. Yet, nowadays it seems to me that “Flute Pedagogy” is very different. It seems to be all about the “how todo it”….. and sometimes I really wonder because of that, if the desired result…i.e the music has been lost….. or at least diluted.
This also relates to my previous post and the discussion which followed about individual differences in anatomy affecting the results of how we hold and line up our instruments.
Specifically …..as a kid I was pretty much handed a flute headjoint and told to get a sound. No one really told me how nor did they show me how. I remember spending several weeks before I managed to figure it out….Nowadays.. I prepare all my students for weeks with spitting rice, practicing our horsey faces, and lip “trills” etc many times before I then show them how to get a sound. (It is much more efficient and also much more effective for sure… BUT and there is a big BUT here…… read on…..)
Added to this…..When I got to College my teachers never told me how to tongue or what articulation syllables to use…. it was instead all about the desired result…. i.e. the music. In fact, I was encouraged to be a musician first and a flutist second… When I was finished with my Masters Degree in flute I studied for many years with Julius Baker…. and he never once told me how to do anything on the flute. I used to quipe that I learned from him by “osmosis”…… as I think all of his students did. With “Julie” as with all of my other teachers…..it was all about the music…i.e the desired result …. and not about the mechanics of how to play the flute.They simply expected that I was talented and musical and that playing the flute was secondary to making music….. and more to the point , that I should be able to figure out the mechanics on my own.
Next point…..My first professional job was a union gig that I held for years as the second flute and piccolo player in the New Jersey State Opera Company Orchestra. We played all over the state of NJ… in the Graden State Arts Center, at the Trenton War Memorial, and at Symphony Hall in Newark. I even performed on national TV ( NBC) with them. Yet I never had had a piccolo lesson before I got that gig at all. I was simply handed a piccolo in eighth grade and told to learn how to play it.In fact, the first formal piccolo lesson I ever had was two summers ago at the Wildacres Flute Retreat when I scheduled a piccolo lesson with Brad Garner! Yet I have been a professional piccolo player for decades!
Moreover, I took piano lessons as a child but only had a few months of formal flute lessons from a flute teacher until I was accepted at the Ithaca College School of Music as flute major ( I was instead taught by my Middle School Band teacher … who happened to be a sax player.)….. and only took flute lessons form a real flutist as a Senior in High School to prepare for my college auditions! If you think this was unheard of 50 years agao… think again.. None other than Wally Kujala was in the same boat. We simply taught ourselves!
But .. and it is a BIG but…. I did study MUSIC as a piano major all those years before College and Wally Kujala had his father who was a professional musician to teach him music … even if it was not to teach him specifially to play the flute.I think there is some merit in considering this for a moment. Especially if…. as it seems to me ….. that there are so many flute pedagogy”truths” which are so different … and they seem to depend so much upon the particular teacher with whom you study ….for example ….as to whether you forward tongue or not etc. ( BTW…..Julius Baker NEVER forward tongued… at least as far as I could tell he didn’t… and yet his articulation was simply amazing) or whether you hold your left hand in a “cocked” position or not etc. etc.
Yet nowadays we spend endless amounts of time on how to not just hold our flutes ….but even how to hold our bodies!
Don’t get me wrong here. I do believe that flute playing and teaching has made huge strides for the better…. and that so called “body mapping” etc and specific pedagogical techniques such as I learned in my Suzuki flute training have not only made me (and many of my other contemporary flute teachers ) better flute teachers than many of my/our own teachers were…. but has it made todays’ students more musical? And isn’t THAT the point?So—here is where I begin to really wonder and really question what it is that we are trying to do.
In the final analysis for sure… our instrument is only a means to an end which surely is the prduction of music… and more to the point… the expression of the wordless emotion which is in the sound. It really is NOT about how we hold it nor how we blow it etc etc…. but it really is about the desired result….i.e. the music.
I don’t for a moment believe that teaching what we think is the best way to hold our flutes or teaching how what we believe is the best way to articulate is not important to that end result at all… and I am not suggesting here that we should go back to the way I and perhaps many of my generation were taught….. BUT I do think that something valuable may have been been lost along the way and that perhaps a re-ordering of our pirorities may be in order.
For in the end… if there is no consensus on how to do all these flute things (and there really isn’t as far as I can tell!) … and if that is at least partially true because of individual differences etc , then why is the emphasis in flute teaching today so focused on the “how” instead of the end result… which is the music and how to play it?
Well…. this is probably more controversial than it should be for a public Blog Post …. but honestly it does trouble me allot.And I have been thinking about posting a Blog Entry on this subject for quite a while… so here it is.
Any thoughts/comments out there?
Proably the most important book in your/our arsenal for developing your /our finger technique on the flute is the absolutely essential “Taffanel-Gaubert 17 Big Daily Exercises” book . Every flutist should own this book…….And in this classic flute book…. out of all of the 17 exercises which you will find there … the very first excercise is the most important one of all.
I frankly find it quite amazing that even though about 100 years have past since this Book was first published , that this very simple but effective scale excercise number 0ne is still the most important and essential scale excercise we should do on a daily basis to develop our finger technique!
so……although there are countless ways to practice this excercise. Here is the first and most basic way that I recommend ……
1. First of all….Memorize this study! It is essential to memorize this study so that you do not have to look at the notes and can listen to yourself as you practice. ( and be able to watch your fingers in a mirror while you practice it). The pattern is really quite easy to discover: it is a five note pattern starting on low D in D Major repeated four times and then it progresses to a five note pattern in Eb Major but still starting on low D…. but on the fourth repeat the pattern changes and resolves to Eb Major. This pattern continues up the entire compass of the flute into the third octave all the way to high B natural (we can extend it of course even higher).
2. Julius Baker used to make me (and all of his students )play the entire first two lines in one breath and hold the resolution note of the third line for at least four beats. Then he made us start again on the resolution note ( in this case that aforementioned Eb) and repeat this process throught out the entire study.
3. It is important to play this excercise with as big a tone as you can on all the notes and with with a healthy virbrato on each note.. In addition, it is also important to make every note clear and your fingers very even. You may find intially that this is quite a challenge but in time you will see results!
4.Once you can play this excercise slurred try it in the same manner but double tongued.( no virbrato in this case of course except on the very last held note.)
Now on to the second way…….
5.While slurring as you did initially try repeating the first two notes as if you are trilling them….. that makes the pattern into D,E,D,E,… D,E,D,E, ….D,E,F#,G,….. A,G,F#,E……. and on the next line it would be D,Eb,D,Eb… D,Eb,D,Eb,….D,Eb,F,G….Ab,G,F,Eb etc. Now you are specifically practicing the finger combinations of the third finger of your right hand and your pinkie etc…. make sure your finger every note absolutely correctly so that you are working your fingers as much as possible while at the same time keeping your hand as relaxed as possible.
6. Next vary the top note…. in this case the A and the note which is not indicated in the music above the A (which is a B) …. that is play D,E,F#,G,….A,B,A,B,…..A,G,F#,E……..Now you are working a completely different set of fingering combinations!
7. Pracice these two variations as you did the intial two ways… that is first slurred as indicated in step number one and then double tongued as indicated in step number four.
8. Start at whatever metronome indication you can in which you are playing with an even finger control…. no fast fingers in places which are easy for you and slow fingers in places that are not. And all the way through the entire excercise all the way up throughout the entire compass of the instrument up to at least the high B which is indicated in the printed edition( it is claimed that Taffanel hated the high C so he left it out…. but that doesn’t mean we should!!) at the same metronome mark! The slowly increase your tempo to at least a quarter note to 120. Later when you can do this excercise well you can increase it up to perhaps even 160 ( or at least 140-152).
This is best way I know to get your technique up to snuff and onto a virtuosity level. In fact…. believe it or not there is an added benefit to this…..because when you practice this study you are actually also developing your tone…. because in the slurred variaitions you are also practicing virbrato …. and you are also listening….. assuming if it is memorized…. to every note for pitch, tone color matching between notes , even virbrato on each note and dynamics to be the absolute same on every note on the flute!! And of course you are at the same time developing finger eveness througout the entire range of the instrument.
There are many excercises we can practice and many books of scales which have been published since this little 17 excercise study excerpt of the complete Taffanel-Gaubert Method for Flute was published about 100 years ago …. but this book and this particular study still remains the very most important one….. in my humble opinion …..for us to do on a daily basis in order to develop your/our finger technique.
Doing it daily with all the variations …. should rapidily help you improve ……. So………Have fun fluting and enjoy getting better at the same time while also doing your daily excercises!
So I thought some of you migth be interested in more news about the picc part to Daphnis in case any of you ever have to confront it. And I mean confront it!
Progress had been really slow for me despite many many hours of practice… so I finally realized that maybe it wasn’t actually me who was at fault. I think most of us musicians always assume that if we don’t make progress on a passage in an orchestra ….or any other part/piece for that matter….. that it must be US who is at fault. And surely, in fact, most of the time it really is our fault and NOT the instrument. However……. just as I often ask my students in a lesson where they are stuggling with something week after week … “when have you last had your flute looked at by a repairman”?….. sometimes it really helps to have your instrument looked at if you simply cannot make progress after significant practice on something. For…..In some cases… it may not really be you afterall….
In fact… in one of my orchestral excerpt books…. (in regard to piccoli….as opposed to “piccolos” ….often players have not just more than one piccolo head joint… they also often have more than one piccolo……) it really states that if none of these fingerings works on your instrument…. TRY A DIFFERENT PICCOLO!
So…. dear readers…. that is precisely what I just did. I tried a new headjoint.
And happily I can now announce… as Robert Frost so elegantly says in his famous Poem” Stopping in the Woods”… etc…. “it has made all the difference!”
My piccolo original headjoint.. though it is lovely and very good and I still like it… just doesn’t respond quickly to fast high register articulation… and consequently the famous piccolo passage which ….btw is always on orchestral auditions for piccolo at m. 183 in the Daphnis picc part …..simply was not getting any better….. to my frustration and the conductors’…..so off I went to the piccolo factory ( which I am fortunate to live near ….as one of my former teachers once famously told me….. that living in the Boston area was like living in the center of the flute universe!) and much to my husband’s frustration…. “Oh no!!! Not yet another piece of flute equipment”!!!!! Have procured myself a second piccolo headjoint…. which DOES allow me to play that passage much ,much better.
It is of course not just the piccolo… but of course also me… but to be fair… the former picc headjoint simply was not helping me achiveve my goal. Perhaps another better player might have been able to work with it and make it play … but the key point here is that FOR ME… it just wasn’t right …. and I finally realized that it was just not working.
I think the moral of this sotry is that as we get better, our equipment needs often change… and sometimes we literally outgrow our flutes/piccolos etc. And what worked before simply doesn’t work any more.( or we are confronted with a more difficult piece?)
Tranlated to students and student flutes….I think this means that if you can’t make any progress on a difficult passage after a reasonable amount of time and serious hard work… it may be time to take your instrument to the repairman and have it checked out for leaks or any other malfunction. Sometimes it really is NOT you( or us) but it is the instrument.
And tranlated to us professionals…. the moral for me is that this is the first time I have been confronted with a piccolo part as hard as Daphnis since I first entered the profession many years ago and had to learn the famous opera piccolo part to Verdi’s “Othello” in two weeks for a performance with the NJ State Opera Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Newark NJ …and thus now it seems that my current piccolo headjoint…. which worked fine for Mahler’s “Das Lied” two years ago simply was…. and is not up to playing Daphnis.
So….Sometimes it is us….. and sometimes it actually is not! At least… that is my conculsion at this point…. so stay tuned…. we shall see if in fact I can play it better at my next rehearsal and/or the actual concert……..I will let you all know soon enough.
There are different schools of thought on how to align your flute….. Especially about how to line up your headjoint with the body of the instrument. Specifically…. somewhat like my last post on articulation ….there seems to be an “American” and a “French” way to do this. And again there seems to be no consensus on how to do this and perhaps BOTH ways are right….maybe for different players?… and I think that it is interesting to describe them both so that you can decide which i works best for you.
Also….. I think that to some degree these diferences have to do with the diferrent ways that every flute maker makes their lip plate shapes and embouchure cuts. Bodies also differ in the best and easiest way for players to hold them….. so these elements can also affect the optimum way to align your instrument up…… (just a cautionary word to begin with!)
1. So what I perceive is the “American” way…. is to line the center of your headjoint embouchure hole with the center of the first key on the body of the flute. The footjoint should also be put together with the rods on the footjoint dissecting the middle of the D key on the body of the flute. This is the classic way I was taught many years ago.
2. The other way is what I call the “French” way. The Suzuki Method has an illustration in the beginning of the Flute Book 1 of this method. Essentially it aligns the middle of the embouchure hole on the headjoint with the far edge of the first key on the body of the flute. This effectively turns the headjoint in more than the “American” manner of aligning the body and the headjoint does.
Interesting,I think that these two different methods actually end up producing different kinds of sounds.
The American way ends up with a more “open” sound, usually with less harmonic overtones….. think …if any of you out there remember William Kincaid’s or Julius Baker’s sound and you will have the classic American tone color from this alignment. On the other hand, think Moyse and (WIBB) Bennett and you will get the basic sound of the French School of playing….. more overtones and a “sweeter” tone quality rather than what I describe as the more “masculine” American school of sound.
Amother difference which helps produce these two different tone quality results (I believe )from a difference in the location of the headjoint on your lip/chin: i.e. where you place the flute on your face. The French tend to put the lip plate up rather high on the lower lip while the Americans tend to advocate placing the lip plate in the indentation below the bottom lip….i.e. quite a bit lower.
Now…. how to hold the flute also affects the resulting sound. The French School emphasizes “balance”. That is the flute is supported in three place: the right hand thunb, the left hand pointer finger knuckle and the little pinkie of the right hand. This balance is practiced so that when the flute is held up on your face, the lips are free to vibrate even if the placement is rather high on the lips/chin compared to the ideal American placement ….for as Moyse states the lips should be like an oboe reed…. and according to him, they need to be free to vibrate in the same manner as this double reed does on an oboe.
Amercians on the other hand tend to talk about “balance” in another way…. they speak of using the left hand to push in on the chin and the right hand to push out so that there is a sort of leveraging between the hands which in turn creates a stable position. However, this can cause the player to actually “press” the flute rather hard against the chin…. sometimes unfortunately resulting in too much tension, especially if the player is not careful to remember not to allow themselves to get tense.
This issue also can affect the resulting tone the player gets from his/her instrument. Again the American manner of holding the flute usually results in an open type of sound and the French manner a much more … perhaps almost “reedy” quality of sound.
Now there are caveats for these two methods of positioning the flute. Flutes made by different makers not only sound different, (duh!) , but they also play differently, and most importantly for this discussion, seem to have to be held differently in order to get the most optimal results from them.
Having grown up on an old scale American Haynes flute( which were copies of the Louis Lots by the way) I personally have had to radically change the way I align my newer flutes and hold them. Nowadays if I align either of my two new instruments the way I did when I played my old Haynes they simply do not sound good. So I have found that I now have to use the “French” Method of alignment or otherwise risk not being able to play with a very desirable tone. Yet when I get a chance to play some of my students’ old Hayneses(sp?) I can immediately revert to my old American style of alignment.
This makes an interesting stew of thought…. so to speak…… have I changed so much…. or have flutes changed so much …that this is the case?
No matter what the answer is….. I urge all of you to experiement with these two different alignment methods…. to see which works best for your flute, your headjoint, and your body( i.e. mouth, teeth ,lips etc) Truly…. in the end whichever produces not only the best sound but the sounds that you WANT …..is the way to decide the issue….not withstanding not the two methods/styles which I have described here.
And btw…. to quote my favorite musician again…. Quantz…. he advocates what I have descibed as the “French” way!(But then again….. Traversi have to be played this way!!!!)
Many years ago when I was an undergraduate flute student at Ithaca College, I was asked by my teacher to purchase a copy of Marcel Moyse’s “De La Sonorite.” When I had worked through the first section my teacher then assigned the third section of the book to me. There Moyse had asked his readers to work on articulation studies specifically to be practiced “with the tongue out”. My teacher where upon proceeded to adamently corss out those very words. Interestingly, I had initially as a total beginner first gotten a sound “with my tongue out”, which my band director also proceeded to tell me “not to do!” Now for a second time I was being told not to do that yet again.
Well….. I was a good little flute student and listened to both my band director and my flute teacher and learned to play my single tongue with my tongue inside my mouth— not even behind my upper teeth but intead on upper pallette.
Fast forward to 1994 when I went to a Trevor Wye Masterclass at Connecticut College and was just as adamently told by Trevor that my tonguing was all wrong! Voila… the two schools of thought on articulation! American and French.
So…. at a rather ripe old age I proceeded to re-learn what I had initially found by myself as a beginner flute student…. and subsequently have spent almost twenty years perfecting my “forward tongue technique”.
Now as a teacher I have had quite a bit of Suzuki flute training. The Suzuki people start all their students with spitting rice which gets the beginner student to tongue with the tip of the tongue outside of the lips. ! What to do???
American flute students of my generation who wre spefically taught to tongue with the syllable “too” behind our teeth or the syllable “doo” on our upper pallette were not tonguing this way at all!
To be up front about all this…. I now do not tongue ( at least unless I want to because of the music) with my tongue inside my mouth any more. And furthermore I do not teach any of my students to do it any more either.
This is most likely still heresy to many American flute teachers even today…. but after having re-learned what I intially found on my own to work for me…. and had to un-learn because my teachers told me it was wrong…..really DOES work!!!
Time after time I see and hear my students’ tone imporve instantly when they forward tongue. Time after time when I try to play softly and lightly both on my flute and on my piccolo with a forward (ok…. let’s call the animal what it really also gets called in America….i.e. French tonguing) or French tongue stroke my own sound also improves. So… what’s the deal?
It seems to me that flute pedagogy just isn’t the same everywhere nor is there any consensus on what is the right way or the wrong way to do many things when playing the flute. Time after time I have read so-called experts discuss something such as artuclation like this and read one expert say the total opposite of the other! So—How do we non-experts make any sense of all this?It really seems confusing, doesn’t it, to read one famous teacher say one thing and another famous teacher to say something quite the opposite.
Well, sorry to say… I don’t actually have an answer . Unfortunately. But regarding articulation I do have anecdotal evidence to say that for me and my students that the French or forward tongue stroke usually sounds much better and that I now definitely advocate that way of articulation.(Clearly there is nothing new in the flute world afterall Because…. this tonguing argument apparently goes way back….. even to Quantz… who states somewhere in his “Versuch” that advocates for the forward tongue stroke are wrong!)
SO if you would like to experiment with French tonguing and see if it works for you and/or your students….. I will outline some ways below to practice it.
1. Start with a “ha” sound on every note in the Reichert Daily Excercise #2. Go all the way through the complete 24 keys this way. You will find that some keys are easier than others. No matter… just do it and do it every single day so that your abdominal muscles get used to supporting the sound….. without your tongue.
2. After a while when you have gotten the hang of this, try single tonguing triplets on each note. This will take a good 15-20 minutes of your time every day. But it is the best way I know to make your tongue get independent enough to produce an absolutely clear tone at the very initial beginning of the sound.
3. Then work on the Moyse 24 Little Studies. He has several short etudes in that classic book where you can try to forward tongue clearly. The Boehm Exercises also have several wonderful excercises where you can practice this new technique as does the famous single and double tonguing excercise from the Andersen Etudes opus 15.
4. Don’t assume that learning this forward tongue technique will be easy or quick. Initially your mouth will produce prodigious amounts of saliva…. your salvatory glands just don’t realize that you are not eating. But after a while, this will cease( and you will most likely actually be hungry anyway) and your tongue eventually will get strong and your tone will amazingly improve in addtion to your tonguing because articulation studies are really a version of tone studies.
5. Aha!!! You didn’t know that did you? But as your tonguing gets clearer so will your tone.
6. Don’t give up on your old way of “too” and “doo”! Just intergrate this new French tongue into yout arsenal of tricks.!
Hope this all is helpful! Perhaps more on this in a future Blog entry……..