Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Flute Practice Article

"So, you want to become a flute player?"

The Art & Technique of Practising

by Larry W. Krantz


Having decided to take on the task of becoming a player of the flute, you have taken the first two important steps; You have a shiny new instrument and you have engaged the services of a qualified teacher. You have heard some beautiful playing on recordings and that is the kind of noise that you would like to make yourself. Flying fingers creating millions of notes that flitter like bird song from the highest to the lowest notes and emulating the emotionally charged sound of a beautifully turned phrase are now on your list of things to do. The problem now is: How do you make it all happen? Like any other skill acquisition, it will take much practice. Knowing just how to go about that practice is quite possibly the most important aspect of getting off to a good start. The following suggestions are based primarily on the teaching methods of Geoffrey Gilbert.


The Practice Room

The practice room would seem to be a logical place to begin our investigation of the nature of good practising. As in any type of cognitive study it is most important to be in a place devoid of distractions. A closed room with good lighting and with sufficient area to stand freely is the only space requirement. Having a sturdy music stand and easy access to a mirror is a must. The music stand should be adjusted to performance height; about chest high is usually the most appropriate. A mirror should be located in such a position as to allow you to glance occasionally at your posture and embouchure while in the playing stance.Both the mirror and the music stand should be adjusted so that you don't have to collapse your chest or twist your body while taking a glance at yourself .

Since a good practice session requires complete concentration at all times, it is usually a good idea to announce your intent to practice and request solitude during the time you are working. Beginning with a pre-determined idea of how long you will practice is a good idea. As a rule of thumb, you should consider a minimum one hour per day of practice to develop your skills. Don't limit yourself to this arbitrary time frame. If you are having an extremely good session and time permits then continue your work. If, on the other hand, your concentration wanes then stop the session and try again later. Prolonged unfocused practice will only damage your progress.


Flute Practice - Stage One

Now that you have established an appropriate environment for practice, the first consideration must be the specific skills that you wish to develop. Creating one beautiful sound is worth much more than making millions of bad sounds, so attention to tone production should be the first consideration during each practice session. As with any athletic activity it is most important to take the time to warm up slowly and methodically. Begin by playing long notes starting from your best note. Slowly work your way first down and then up the flute register. At this point you must concentrate on relaxed lips, a steadily moving column of air, and the quality of each sound you make. This is also a good time to consider your posture and finger position. Since the notes are not changing rapidly it is reasonably easy to keep your fingers close to the keys and moveing in a quick and relaxed manner. Take the time to repeat bad notes as often as required in order to improve their tonal quality to your liking. If the tone becomes less than desirable on extreme low or high notes then stop your work before you begin to tighten and force a better sound. You will find that good tone production will gradually extend to the extreme registers. Don't force the issue. Your ability to play comfortably in the high and low registers must develop in a natural and relaxed way. Being in a hurry to make this happen can cause much damage to your sound. As your embouchure becomes more developed you can begin adding the techniques of dynamics, vibrato, and articulation to this portion of your practice. I would suggest that the first twenty minutes of a one hour practice session should be devoted to this most important aspect of your development.


Flute Practice - Stage Two

After attending to the most important basics it is now time to move on to the second stage of practice. Much of the flute repertoire presents wildly challenging technical demands. Addressing the development of finger technique should be second on your practice schedule. Geoffrey Gilbert explained his concept of technique in an article published by Flute Talk magazine:

"Almost every student aspires to be a virtuoso but they don't have virtuosic technique. Too often students try to learn the flute by just playing pieces. If they would spend more time acquiring technique by playing articulated scales in all possible forms and arpeggios before they come to a piece, it would save them hours of time." (The Gilbert Legacy, Angelita Floyd, pp123)

The task now is to begin work on speed and clarity of motion from note to note. At no time should you lose sight of the fact that the quality of each note must remain good. In this portion of your practice you will learn major and minor scales; major, minor, dominant, augmented, & diminished arpeggios; whole tone scales; chromatic scales; and various published technical patterns. All technique should be memorized as quickly as possible so that your attention can be devoted entirely to tone quality and evenness of finger motion. Various articulations and rhythmic groupings can be used to increase your flexibility in the technical arena. Use of a metronome can greatly help in the controlled development of rhythm and evenness in the fingers. Always begin at a tempo slow enough to be well within your current abilities and then gradually increase the speed demand. Once again, you must not be in a hurry to go too fast too soon. With each increased speed of your technique, try to replicate the same tone and ease of finger motion that you acomplished at the slower tempo. Be very patient. Thirty minutes of technique would be an acceptable portion of a one hour practice session.


Flute Practice - Stage Three

Step three in the practice room is to engage in the process of playing actual music. Etudes or Studies are written for this very purpose. A typical study is constructed to contain specific musical and technical demands. Progressive study books are created to present a constant flow of increasingly more difficult little pieces. All that you have accomplished in the first two portions of your practice session will be put to the test while working on the studies. Good tone, strong breath support, fluent technique, dynamic contrasts, rhythmic variety, and various articulations all combine to help you create expressive and rounded phrases. The remaining ten minutes of your one hour session can be devoted to making studies into beautiful musical moments.

Having devoted one hour each day to developing the important basic skills, you will now be ready and able to commence learning the flute solo repertoire and a wide range of chamber music and orchestral excerpts. Using repertoire suggestions as presented by various examination boards is a wise idea.The flute syllabus of either the Royal Conservatory of Music or the Western Board of Music will assist you in selecting pieces that are generally progressive in difficulty. These collections of works are drawn from a cross section of styles and represent the past three hundred years of musical composition for the flute. At no time should you allow the learning of new pieces to interfere with your daily attention to the continued development of the basic flute skills [tone, technique, & studies].

The following table can be used as a guideline in determining how to divide your practice time:

    Category Minutes/Day
    1. Tone Studies 45 30 20
    2. Technique(from memory): 20 20 20
    3. Technique(published): 25 25 10
    4. Etudes (Studies) 45 25 10
    5. Pieces 45 20 00
    Total Practice Time Per Day: 3hrs 2hrs 1hr

A Suggested Daily Scale Practice Routine

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

C Maj

C# (Db) Maj

D Maj

a min

bb (a#) min

b min

Eb Maj

E Maj

F Maj

c min

db (c#) min

d min

F# (Gb) Maj

G Maj

Ab Maj

d# (eb) min

e min

f min

A Maj

Bb Maj

B (Cb) Maj

f# min

g min

g# min


The Importance of Listening

Never forget that learning to play any instrument well is a long term project requiring a great deal of concentration and even more patience. Having a clear idea of just what your instrument is supposed to sound like will give you a big head start on making those sounds happen. Listening intently to the recordings of outstanding players will help you learn musical styles as well as improve your understanding of what your instrument is capable of sounding like. The following list of notable recording artists can be used as a launching pad to building a library of high quality flute recordings:

    Susan Milan (English) * Pierre Yves Artaud (French) * James Galway (Irish)
    Aurele Nicolet (French) * Bonita Boyd (American) * Per Oyen (Norwegian)
    Julius Baker (American) * Peter Lloyd (English) * Israel Borouchoff (American)
    Jean-Pierre Rampal (French) * Jonathan Smith (English) * Shaul Ben Mier (American)
    Ransom Wilson (American) * Robert Aitken (Canadian) * Jonathan Snowden (English)
    Hans Martin Linde (German/Swiss) * William Bennett (English) * Susan Hoeppner (Canadian)


In Conclusion

The following statements by Goeffrey Gilbert should be kept in mind during all of your practice sessions:

"When practising, try to do it right for just one bar - that's progress. Then the next time try to keep it right for two bars." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp 20)

"Remember, you're not practising for next week, you're practising for next year." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp 123)

Remember to place trust in your teacher and give each new idea a chance. It is rare that new skills happen instantly so patience and determination are a sure route to success. Try to maintain a positive attitude and focus often on those things that you already do well. Never stop listening intently to every sound that you are creating. Try to maintain a clear idea of the specific problem that you are about to work on during your practice sessions. If you can fix one little thing each day then you will establish a pattern of being a better player today than you were yesterday. Frustration and anger are not positive motivators so it might be a good idea to stop your pracitce when these feelings begin to emerge. Put the flute down and return later in the day when you can be more positive about your playing.

"A most important factor in playing the flute is one's attitude towards practising. One must take great pleasure in playing and enjoy it." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp20)

1995, Larry Krantz

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