Dynamics— when do you teach it?
I recently was asked the question when to teach young flute students how to play with dynamics. I actually don’t work with my students on dynamics until they are quite advanced. And I thought it might be useful to explain why. So here it is is. Julius Baker who was one of my private flute teachers used to feel very strongly that the development of a good strong tone on every note was the most important aspect that students needed to develop. This takes time for young students to achieve. Practicing notes with equality of sound from each note to the next means that young students need to have developed their control of the entire range of the instrument. Even Suzuki Book 2 does not use the highest notes of the flute in any of the songs in that level and , although students do have to add notes in the third register to their fingering of songs in that book…. the highest notes are not introduced there at all. It takes at least several years for most students to be able to really control that third octave. Tthe development of vibrato should be also be included in the development of equality of tone on every note. And although many students do develop a natural vibrato without me having to teach it to them… they still have to learn to control it before I can say that they can play with equality of tone on every note throughout the entire range of the instrument. Most young flute students take quite a bit of time to conquer these aspects of flute playing. When students can play throughout the entire range of the flute with good control equality of tone and with a suitable vibrato on every note, I believe they are ready to add dynamic control into their lexicon of playing. By this point students will usually have developed the muscles of thier mouth enough so that they can control every note on the flute through out the range of the instrument. Muscles take time to grow strong. And Many beginning students need several years for all this to take place. If you try to add dynamics into their playing before they have mastered all of the above aspects of good flute playing many times if not all times the muscles and the control of the sound will not be suitably developed so that students can reliably play in tune with good tone and good intonation. In fact they will be able to play loud and soft… but most of the time it will be by blowing less or blowing more instead of using their facial muscles to perform the dynamical control. In my opinion, this is not a good thing because intonation most often will not be good without muscle control performing the dynamic changes. Blowing less or blowing more only will make a student sharp or flat…. which is not the outcome we want for our students. Of course we could have them roll in or out… lift their heads…. etc etc… to control the resulting pitch problems which will inevitable occur when they try to play loud by blowing harder or soft by blowing less…. but real control comes with using the muscles of the embouchure to do this. For all these reasons, I do not advocate teaching young students to play with dynamics at all. Instead I encourage the development of a good, large sound with vibrato through out the range of the flute before heading off into the dynamic territory. Of course there are also exceptionally talented students who can control their tone early… then I will teach them dynamics… but that situation in my experience is a rare commodity and I usually do not get into dynamics until most of my students are in Suzuki Book 3 where exercises to control dynamics are actually introduced. If anyone has any comments to the contrary….please don’t hesitate to add some comments to this discussion….. I look forward to some lively exchanges! Judy