Developing Your Tone on the Flute
There are many exercises that can help develop your tone on the flute. One of the most famous is the simple but very effective one by the famous French flute pedagogue, Marcel Moyse. It comes from his famous book entitle “De La Sonorite”. Another tone exercise, slightly more difficult, is by the American flutists Julius Baker. Both have similar aims: tone development. But they differ in some important ways.
For one thing, Moyse’s exercise starts on a B3 above the staff whereas Baker’s starts on a high G3 above the staff. Furthermore, Moyse’s exercise was designed to develop what he called “homogeneity” or evenness of sound through the entire range of the flute whereas Baker’s study was designed to develop an even vibrato through the entire range of the flute. However, by practing BOTH of them a student can develop his/her tone to the fullest.
(BTW A version of the Moyse “De La Sonorite” exercise has been adapted, most famously, by Trevor Wye into his “Tone Practice Book I”. However, Trevor starts his study in the low register on a B2; which is much easier and perhaps may be even more logical especially for beginners)
I have discussed the original exercise below for those of you who are not familiar with it. It has been said that Moyse penned this most famous of all the tone exercises ever written for the flute because he needed some money to go on vacation. He sent it off to his editor at the publisher Alphonse Leduc and voila, vacation money came his way!
The Famous De La Sonorite Study / and how to practice it
Start on a quarter note B above the staff and slur it to a three beat B flat. Repeat the two notes again only if you are not happy with something about your execution such as a bad connection between the notes or perhaps you forgot to slur or the two notes were not equal in tone quality. If are happy with it…. Go on!!! It is not necessary to repeat the two note pattern unless it is not good.
This is an important point because many players and teachers do not realize that this is how Moyse wanted the exercise practiced and therefore many simply automatically repeat the two previous two notes no mater what. Don’t do that! But do listen to your tone and judge whether you should go on or repeat depending upon how it sounds. The whole point is to match the ending note of the first two note slur with the starting note of the next two note slur! (And to match them in every way!)
So… assuming it is good, and you are happy with it, you should then start the next note on a B flat above the staff and slur to an A above the staff (still a quarter note on the first note and a dotted half note on the second). Again… if you are sure that the two notes are the very best you can do that day…. Go on. If not, repeat the two notes again. Moyse says you can repeat the two notes for as many as three times. However after three times, he says it is best to then go on in any case and wait for another day for it to be better.
Continue with this pattern until you get to the lowest two notes on your instrument… a low “C” if you have a C foot joint or a low B if you have a B foot joint.
Moyse’s original exercise then moved to a three note pattern (i.e. B Bflat A in a slur with the first two notes being quarter notes and the second note being a dotted half note) but it is also possible to skip and then move on to going up the scale by starting in the two note pattern on the B above the staff and slurring to a C in the same rhythm that you did going down. Now you can slowly work your way up the flute until you get to a high B natural or the highest note that you can play at the moment (some students should do this exercise only up to high G3 in the beginning and then as they gain more control they can add notes one at a time above the high G 3).
The original exercise only went to a high B natural but because there are greater demands upon us flutists these days, it is a good idea to eventually extend this exercise up to at least a high C and perhaps beyond.
You can vary this exercise is many ways too. One of the most useful is to do the repeats but with a softer dynamic the second time; or you can play the first note loud and slur to a softer dynamic on the second note of each slur without any repeats. You can also try a soft first note and a louder second note. You can use vibrato on the second note and not on the first. Or you can not use vibrato etc. Be creative!!! That can help to make this exercise much more interesting and therefore it will be more useful…. which in turn will make you want to do it every day!
Starting your daily practice with this exercise is a good way to establish a tone practice segment for your daily practice routine and it is one which you can use for the rest of your flute playing life. In fact, The De La Sonorite exercise should be done daily if you want to get the best results from it. So make it your friend and visit it often.
The Baker Tone Study
Now for another exercise which can be used for tone development too, but which was taught by Julius Baker as a way to even your vibrato out not just your tone quality through the entire compass of the flute. This exercise however, is definitely a bit more challenging and should only be attempted after a student has mastered the De La Sonorite tone study both going down and going up.
The original way I was taught to do this exercise was to start a high G 3 and slur G, F#,F,E,G,F#,F,E with a hold (fermata) on the last note. It has to be played very slowly with at least four vibrato pulses on every note of the eight notes; in one breathe; and with your best and biggest possible tone. After you complete the eight notes, you start on the next note down and do the same pattern (that is High F#, F, E, E Flat, F#,F,E E flat hold). Continue working down the flute until you get to the lowest four notes you can play on your instrument.
I sometimes modify this exercise for less developed players by having them start on a C 3 above the staff instead of on the high G3 which can be too difficult in the beginning for many intermediate players. Making the eight notes in one breathe with a big sound and an even vibrato on every note takes allot of support and breath control; and many intermediate players may need to work on it a bit before they will be able to play it on the high G.Eventually this exercise should also be extended up by starting on a high C4! Now THAT takes allot of air!!! Trust me!! I know!
But doing this exercise every day will also makes your tone ring! It will also give the possibility of truly singing through your flute on every note thus enabling your playing to become much more expressive. In addition, your tone will get bigger and more open.
This was one of Julius Baker’s favorite exercises and he often started my lessons with him by asking me to play it for him or with him as a duet in thirds. I still do this with my students in my studio!
By “friending” these exercises for the rest of your flute playing life you will have the tools for your tone to become the best it can be. For the best results it works best to start every day with the De La Sonorite and then to do the Baker High Tone Study. Work both of them into your daily routine and practice them diligently, always right at the beginning of your practice sessions and before you do your scales or your pieces or your etudes. For us flute players should always remember what Theobald Boehm, the inventor of our modern flute, was known to have said, “The player who plays every note every day of his life will in the end become a good flute player”. Surely that is the goal for all of us and with these two studies we all have the means to do just that. So go for it; and enjoy the resulting improvement in your tone!