Julie, I would never advise anyone to become a flute major if they believe this degree is leading them towards a career as a performer. Such a decision should be made despite all advice to the contrary only when you truly believe there is just nothing else you want to do with your life and you truly believe you have the ability to compete with your peers for the very limited number of jobs being offered. I don't mean by this that the time spent acquiring this degree is wasted - far from it. Most of my flute majors, however, have had productive lives earning their living in other fields, but continuing to enjoy playing. On the other hand, Janet Arms, who plays at the opera with me, went through Hartt as a Music Ed major, and then went on to Juilliard for graduate work as a performance major. A good thing about a school like Hartt, affiliated with a University, is that it does offer broad choices for double majors. I have had two bright Chemistry-Flute majors for example. Within Hartt I see, and encourage, double majors with Education (such as yourself) or Music Management or Accoustics. (These degrees do tend to lead to immediate employment!) At Hartt you can change majors at anytime as long as you are acceptable to the proposed department. One of my better students changed from flute major to Music Management in her junior year as she developed a better understanding of career options and personal interests. She will need an extra semester to finish up but does not regret the decision. Occasionally students who begin as non-flute majors go the other way, feeling that they have to focus their lives more on just performance.

You talk about your varied interests. Mostly I would suggest that you start in a program that includes courses that give you the most options for later revision. If you feel that your career might turn out to be in math or science, the double major you have selected might not be the best, but if you feel that some type of career in music is your goal, you have made a very good decision. Good luck!

John Wion


John Wion
on
Non-Performing Careers

To my comment that most of my flute majors have had productive lives earning their living in other fields, but continuing to enjoy playing MOMFLUTE asks:

Do you notice a stigma attached to this-- i.e., I am a band director because I'm not good enough to be a full time flute player?

I think there are some flutists who feel that they have failed by not having a performing career and some observers who regard such a flutist as a failure, but I don't think of these as normal attitudes, and certainly not as healthy ones.

More often than not my flute majors are people of considerable natural ability who have been the best flutist in their community but find on arriving at college that they are now at the bottom of a pile of excellent flutists. They soon learn that this is the time of their life when the talent part is not enough and they have to do some very serious hard work if they want to rise to the top of this (in itself rather small) pile. Some get this very quickly and often go on to have performing careers. Some get it over the course of the next couple of years and are able to use graduate school as an extension of the process. Occasionally one cant seem to find the time to practice and doesn't make great progress. I usually find that this student is not really motivated - is in the program because she didn't know quite what else she wanted to do and flute playing was easy, or her parents were the real motivators. I find that college, for such people, is coming to grips with this and discovering who they really are and what they want to do with their lives. When they tell me that they have decided to go into education or nursing or music therapy or whatever I am very happy for them.

Generally speaking my graduates who don't become professional performers do manage to keep music in their jobs - private flute studios, orchestra or school administration, music publishing, accoustics - but some have branched out into quite different fields. We keep in touch with an annual newsletter and they all seem to lead happy, varied, productive lives. Linda Wadsworth - what do *you* think?

John Wion


John Wion
on
Vibrato and Intonation

Apart from the *use* of vibrato there has been some discussion on this list of its effect on *intonation*. People whose ears I respect have different thoughts, which in turn raise questions for me.

It has been observed that many flutists play flatter when they don't vibrate. Then it would seem to make sense when using a tuning machine to produce tone with the kind of basic vibrato one would use in a piece. If the ear hears the top of the pitch as the true pitch as Judith Bentley states, does that mean that one should then have the top side of the indicator touching 440 (for A for example) rather than fluctuating around 440? In other words, Judy, if I tuned to a strobe with my A in the center of my vibratoed pitch and then played (in tune with myself) with a piano tuned to the same A would you hear me as playing sharp to that piano?

String players try to avoid open strings but they *do* have to use the lowest string open on occasion. Does that mean that low C (on Mr. Starker's cello) is always flat, or does he tune that string sharper in the first place? I'm not entirely sure how relevant any of this is. Obviously, any vibrato with pitch variation, by definition, means playing imperfect intonation with another instrument. The only way to play a chord truly in tune is to play each pitch without vibrato. There is a very good reason why violins in orchestras (and flutes in bands?) play with continuous vibrato - it hides a multitude of pitch variations and gives a general sense of the desired pitch. If I am playing with the violins I vibrate and try to keep somewhere in that band of pitch. If I am playing with a wind chord I try to play without vibrato (but, being on the top and blamed for all the problems, I often very quickly start vibrating like crazy!). The piano does not use vibrato, so again, by definition, if we vibrate we are actually out of tune with the piano. I don't think many flutists would offer this as an argument for not vibrating during the Prokofiev Sonata.

I personally wonder how many ears are that sensitive to the kinds of variations of pitch created by vibrato, unless it is really quite wide and slow.

John Wion: more comments on Vibrato

This whole question of vibrato is fascinating. I have kept the posts to the list and keep reading them, particularly Alexa Still's overview. When Robert Bigio talks about Gaubert's sound having life but not vibrato, it seems to me that he is only describing a different *sort* of vibrato. If you relate it to singing, it's the difference between a taught vibrato and the vibrato of an untrained singer. In an untrained adult singer the emotional content of the words or melody being sung produces a trembling in the voice. The same thing can be heard in someone speaking when they are emotionally upset. (Even though Pavarotti is a trained singer his vibrato is natural, whereas Sutherland's is manufactured - you are more likely to be aware of hers than his.) On flute this natural "warmth" comes out as a rather fast but very narrow pulse. I think of this in Gaubert's playing (but also in Moyse's Robert). I like the term "spinning the sound" for such production. It is quite different from "nanny goat" which implies a tightening of the throat muscles. John Wummer seemed to play this way a lot.

All in all, to sum up Alexa's post, the best advice for students (all of us I hope) is to keep listening to and imitating the finest artists on all instruments and particularly the voice, to develop the technical ability to vary the speed and the width of the vibrato and to modulate either imperceptibly. How difficult it is for many a flutist to start Afternoon of a Faun without vibrato and to imperceptibly warm that first C# - not just suddenly switch on the vibrato! And how difficult it can be to see that playing without vibrato does not have to mean playing without expression! To develop this control I would suggest observing what you do naturally and put a metronome speed to it. It might be very noticeable or not, very fast or not, very even or not. If it is uneven practice making it even - the sense is of letting it happen rather than trying to make it happen.

Once it is even practice it one notch faster and/or one notch slower, until you can pulse at any speed you would like. Then practice making it wider and narrower. When the vibrato is *very* wide it is like panting and there could actually be silence between the pulses. When it is *very* narrow the pulse is almost sensed rather than heard.

Finally practice variations of fast/narrow, fast/wide/, slow/narrow, slow/wide. You might then ascribe colors to those variations, or think of a color and pick a vibrato that you feel describes it.

Ultimately one would like to hope that having learned how to control it, you can use vibrato as just another tool like dynamics for expressing yourself.

John Wion


John Wion
on
Articulation

Reading a couple of queries about articulation prompts these thoughts, which I hope will be useful. Most French flutists use forward or lip articulation, whereas most Americans tongue behind the teeth, on the hard palate. As one cannot fault the articulation of either Mr. Rampal or Mr. Baker, it seems reasonable that both are worth investigating. Natural articulation comes from native language. The French language is spoken very forward for both lips and tongue, and the consonant t is well defined. Americans tend to speak further back and t can become d or even lack any definition in speech. So, an American wanting to articulate on the flute in the French manner needs to practice something that will not come naturally. There are other relevant matters, such as size of lips, teeth, and tongue, which affect the optimal placement for each player. For example, if you have a full upper lip and average teeth, you will see that when you are playing, if you run your tongue-tip down the back of your top teeth, you will feel your lip. Such a person can tongue on the lip and still be tonguing behind the teeth. If your upper lip is less full, or your teeth bigger, you will have to reach forward between your teeth to make contact with your lip - obviously a different proposition. If you factor in a tongue that is shorter, or less pointed, trying to tongue on the lip can be counter-productive. However, the concept of "forward" tonguing has universal value. The closer the act of articulation is to the flute (the shorter the time delay), the easier it is to co-ordinate with the breath impulse for a "pointed" start to a sound. With this in mind, investigate touching the smallest part of the tongue-tip, for the shortest possible time, against a part of the mouth (lip, teeth or palate) that is as far forward as practical. The concept of spitting a grain of rice, or speck of sand, from the tongue-tip is a useful one. So is the concept of a champaigne cork - imagine the air pressure built up behind a tongue that is sealing the embouchure - when the tongue is pulled sharply back, the air rushes out. If it is used at no other time, this is a wonderfully uninhibited and precise way to start a phrase. For repeated quick articulation, the thing to avoid is too much interruption of the tone flow. Avoid spitting saliva into the embouchure by moving the tongue-tip back a trifle. Keep remembering that the tone itself does not come from the tongue. Too often one hears a poorer quality of tone when a series of notes are articulated, compared to the same notes being slurred together. The tone production in both cases needs to be the same - the same impulse to the tone - the same embouchure. Articulation then is seen just as in language - defining the quality of the start of the sound, whether that sound is long or short. (Playing long and short, slurred and detached notes in front of a mirror is a good way to see that the embouchure remains the same.) Unless one is making a special effect, the normal goal of articulation is clarity. This involves precise co-ordination, not strength. If one is articulating a legato line, whether quick or slow notes, a continuous stream of air is divided by a precise movement of the tongue, just at the change of note. If the tongue is prepared by placing it against the lip or palate too soon, the legato and precision are lost.

Article on Articulation

Natural articulation on the flute comes from native language. The French language, for example, is spoken very forward for both lips and tongue, and the consonant t is well defined. Americans tend to speak further back and t can become d or even lack any definition in speech. For this reason French flutists generally use forward or lip articulation, whereas most Americans tongue behind the teeth, on the hard palate. As one cannot fault the articulation of either Mr. Rampal or Mr. Baker, it seems reasonable that both placements are worth investigating.

First it must be recognized that an American wanting to articulate on the flute in the French manner will need to practice something that does not come naturally. The concept of spitting a grain of rice, or speck of sand, from the tongue-tip is a useful one. So is the concept of a champagne cork. Imagine the air pressure built up behind a tongue that is sealing the embouchure - when the tongue is pulled sharply back, the air flows immediately. If it is used at no other time, this is a wonderfully uninhibited and precise way to start a phrase. (I often sense that a student's tongue is getting locked on the roof of the mouth before playing, somewhat like a person who stutters. The breath is held, and the spontaneity of the music making is inhibited.)

However there are other relevant matters, such as size of lips, teeth, and tongue, which affect the optimal placement of the tongue in repeated articulations. For example, if you have a full upper lip and average teeth, you will see that when you make a playing embouchure and run your tongue-tip down the back of your top teeth, you will feel your lip, which has curled around behind the teeth. You can then be tonguing on the lip and still be tonguing behind the teeth. If your upper lip is less full, or your teeth bigger, you will have to reach forward between your teeth to make contact with your lip - obviously a different proposition. If you factor in a tongue that is shorter, or less pointed, trying to tongue on the lip, particularly in faster repetitions, can be counter-productive.

Still the concept of forward tonguing has universal value. The closer the act of articulation is to the flute the shorter will be the time delay before a sound is produced, and the easier it will be to coordinate the articulation with the breath impulse for a "pointed" start to a sound. With this in mind, investigate touching the smallest part of the tongue-tip, for the shortest possible time, against the part of the mouth (lip, teeth or palate) that is as far forward as practical and pulling it quickly back.

Keep remembering that the tone itself does not come from the tongue. Too often one hears a poorer quality of tone when a series of notes is articulated, compared to the same notes being slurred together. The tone production in both cases needs to be the same - the same impulse to the tone - the same embouchure. Articulation then is seen just as in language - defining the quality of the start of the sound, whether that sound is long or short. Playing long and short, slurred and detached notes in front of a mirror is a good way to see that the embouchure remains the same. Playing long tones without the tongue and then with the tongue will make it obvious if the act of articulation is changing the quality of the tone.

The normal goal of articulation is clarity. This involves precise placement of the tongue, its precise rhythmic use, and its precise coordination with finger changes. The tongue movement is minimal - not strong or effortful. Strong movements relate to special situations where accented attacks are called for, although even then accents are often more a matter of increased breath impulse.

If one is articulating a legato line, whether quick or slow notes, a continuous stream of air is divided by a precise movement of the tongue, just at the change of note (or repetition of the same note). If the tongue is prepared by placing it against the lip or palate too soon, the legato is lost. In avoiding this in a slow passage it is common for a student to produce a muddy attack on the following note. However, if the tongue is not returned to the striking position until the exact moment of need, and then used in a pointed way, both legato and clarity are possible. In repeated quick articulation the tone flow is also interrupted by striking the tongue too soon - and too forcibly. Quicker movements of the tongue do not mean stronger movements, which will also tend to move saliva into the lip opening. (If you are still spitting saliva into the embouchure try moving the tongue-tip back a trifle.)

If one is articulating a series of single, separate notes, those notes are each produced with a "puff" of air coordinated with the pointed articulation. When the notes come too quickly for separate puffs, the air stream actually becomes continuous, just as in the above situation.

In general these observations also apply to double tonguing. Although there may be staccato marks, that effect is best obtained not by trying to separate the sounds but by clearly articulating a legato air stream as described above. It is quite often the case that students will confuse an unevenness of fingering for one of articulation, and start tonguing harder to try and bring things together. Attentive practice of such a passage slurred will clarify any rhythmic instability, and remove any perception that forceful articulation is needed.

As one focuses the use of the tongue on the very tip the result will be that the rest of the tongue remains relaxed and low in the mouth. This in turn keeps the throat more open and relaxed, leading to fuller tone with less obtrusive vibrato. When playing high notes there is a tendency to raise the tongue and use it more forcefully as a substitute for producing the appropriate air stream. Although both of those actions will speed up the air going into the flute, the result will be a thinner, sharper tone. One useful practicing device to check this is to first play the high passage slurred, then copy the quality and pitch with added articulation. Another is to play the passage an octave lower, carefully noting the placement of the tongue tip and the strength of its action, then copy up the octave again without any change of tongue.

Clean articulation is a skill to be mastered, but beyond that remember that the tongue is a part of the way you express yourself, and its use is limited only by your imagination. There are places in music where a beautiful effect might be created by starting a phrase without the tongue, as in the opening of Debussy's "Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un Faune", and places where legato notes might be better joined by softer, less precise articulations, or even breath impulses, as in the opening measures of Brahm's 4th Symphony where there are slurs over the rests, or the solo in the same movement (bar 95) where there are slurs and dots. And just as the tone you use in a French solo is inappropriate for a Bach sonata, do consider where and when a piece was written when you articulate it.

John Wion


John Wion
on the use of the word
Breath Support

In a recent article a colleague used the phrase "breath support" as a desirable thing to practice. I have heard this phrase so often from students and professionals alike, but am never convinced that everyone means the same thing by it. Is this a subject for discussion by this group (trying to change the subject from flute material?).

Support as a general word suggests to me holding up. How does this transfer to breathing? Do people mean pressure - as in abdominal? The act of blowing involves such pressure, so, if that is support, you can't play without it. When people say "more support" do they mean more pressure? A lot of this would seem to me to relate to the containment of the embouchure hole. If your lips create a small hole, x amount of pressure will create a certain speed of airstream. If the hole is a little larger the pressure needs to be more to maintain the same speed of air going into the flute. Of course there is only so much air that can go into the flute, and I sometimes wonder if over-"pushing" and over-"embouchuring" don't cancel each other out - somewhat like an isometric exercise. I tend to think that the pressure needed to play a flute is rather more like the act of fogging up a mirror. A beginner on the flute will use up a lungful of air in no time, so the skill we learn is how to *not* use air. Does this mean then that breath support is controlling the way the lungs contract so that the process is prolonged - using the rib and abdominal muscles to keep the lung area larger longer? Then does "more support" mean less pressure?


I'm sorry I used the phrase "breath support" as the subject of my comments, as it seems to be "supporting" its propagation. So here are some comments on "breath control" prompted by contributions to this list.

It seems that when some people talk about "bs" they end up talking about "bc". Is that correct? If you mean that, is "bc" not a better description? Some others of you seem to be saying that "bs" is somehow the *way* you control the breath, as in using a particular type or degree of pressure as a desirable. If this is true, does "more" or "better" support imply a change to more pressure or less pressure?

Alexa says that "students often go through patches of being "lazy" in the support department, and over "embouchuring" to compensate."

Does she just mean that they don't inhale very much air and are conserving it by using a small lip opening, or that they are using a lot of pressure on the lungs and holding the lips tight against that pressure - quite a different scenario? From her description of the sounds I think the latter, in which case is she saying that good "bs" relates to less pressure on the lungs? I think that with the difficulty of this subject clear definitions might help.

Larry talks of "keeping the rib cage up". I would say that the rib cage is expanded or contracted, and that the one happens when you inhale and the other when you exhale. When you expand your ribs, your lungs have to fill with air; as you exhale your ribs have to contract.You can use, and develop, muscles to increase your ability to expand the ribs, thereby being able to inhale more air (and more quickly). These same muscles can be used to keep the ribs from contracting so quickly, thereby slowing the rate of exhalation.

John Z quotes Sam Baron, "when you're about half full, the diaphragm is still extended and is easier to control. When you're nearly empty the diaphragm is much harder to control."

The diaphragm, as its name implies, is the seal between the lungs and the lower body cavity, attaching around the chest's perimeter at the bottom of the ribs. When the ribs are contracted it relaxes into a dome shape; when the ribs expand it flattens out to encompass the larger required area. Despite what so many of us were (are?) taught, I know of no evidence that this is a muscle that can be controlled.

(I don't mean by this to dispute Sam Baron's great skill as a teacher. I find that at both the lungs' fullest and emptiest the breath is harder to control and avoid both where possible.)

The abdominal muscles can be used to apply upward pressure on the lungs (against the diaphragm), either sustained (as in holding your lips closed and blowing your cheeks out) or pulsed (as in panting).

When a child is breathing while lying down the abdomen rises as the lungs fill. This would seem to be a normal sight to see in a flutist breathing in a relaxed manner. But I see so much movement of abdominal muscles amongst some flutists during the course of a phrase that I wonder how this activity relates to the gentle art of breathing into a flute.

Finally, Alexa says, "the sound difference is incredibly dramatic when comparing an "unsupported" sound to a "supported" one. Why is a very good question!"

Perhaps the answer still lies in defining what is *meant* by "bs". Larry has some wonderful images and descriptions to bring to the discussion of breathing but am I being difficult if I feel that he still hasn't defined it? Until there is a consensus on that my vote is for a ban on the phrase! Is there a second?

John Wion


John Wion
on
Open Hole Flutes

I would like to add a couple of things to this discussion, having changed to closed hole in 1980 after twenty years on an open hole - the best thing I ever did. No less an authority than Albert Cooper, the English flute maker who played such a big role in the improved intonation of flutes in the last twenty years, believes that closed holes are accoustically superior to open. My three Brannens have certainly been great sounding (including the top octave), and the intonation is sufficiently accurate that I do not miss the shading possibilities that are given as reasons for open holed flutes (and there *are* still alternative fingerings we can use). It is true that a very small percentage of the world's flutists need open holes to play certain pieces of twentieth century music, but that is no reason for many other flutists to fight an ongoing battle against low notes that don't speak at the most awkward moment (The slow movement of the Prokofiev Sonata became a joy instead of a trial for me!). I understand the argument that open holes force (young?) students to adopt *correct* positions, and am sure that this is true in many cases. But these correct positions put considerable strain on the hands of many others. I see such strains year after year turn to tendonitis in college students who are trying to force their techniques towards professional goals. There is a great temptation in our society to force conformity (speaking as a leftie who was forced to become a rightie). Just as there was a time when offset embouchures were a no-no, I believe the time will come when "If you want to be a serious flutist you must buy an openholed flute" will spring less automatically to the teacher's lips. And if I'm lucky it will happen by the time I want to retire and sell my flutes! Back to the pit.

The popularity of the French sytem in the US came with the French flutists who were brought to staff the great orchestras. People such as Laurent in Boston, Barrere in New York, and Macquarre in Philadelphia, allowed their Louis Lot flutes to be copied by Haynes and later Powell and encouraged their students to buy and play these flutes, replacing the German tradition of closed hole that had preceded it. (It is generally true that this became the change from wooden to metal flutes as well.) Kincaid, the most influential native US teacher was a student of Barrere, and was playing an open-holed flute quite possibly before Rampal was born!

I'm not sure if I posted all my thoughts to this list but two of your busy day's letters suggest not. The Brannen set of plugs pop into the holes and have varying amounts of offset for experimentation. For use on non-Brannen flutes it may be necessary to provide an exact dimension of your flutes holes so they can provide washers of the correct size. The G# extension, which also swivels once attached, is stuck on with crazy glue, but easily snaps off with a tap. However by far the most interesting attachment is the clip on cover for the first finger left hand which enables you to actually hold the left hand a little further down the body and avoid the stretch to the G key. You can see if this would be more comfortable by putting your first finger onto the key that sounds A# (which we activate w/the first finger RH). The extension lets you place your first finger LH above this key without interfering with its operation. I have just been reading about a left hand support designed by Dr Richard Norris and manufactured by Performance Ergonomics in Lakeridge, VA, which might be worth investigating. I had tried a number of things with no real success and finally built my own gismo that helps a lot. I have built onto my flute a "wart" such as is found on metal piccolos (against which one places the first finger LH). I made a little ring of velcro which I wear around the base of my first finger. Glued to the inside of this ring is a little ledge made out of a tiny wedge cut from a wine cork. The "wart" sits on this and takes the weight of the flute.

John Wion


John Wion
on
Holding Position and Tendonitis

I would like to add my two cents to this discussion. My first comment is that everyone's hands and relative finger lengths are different, and one has to be careful making definitive statements about "correct" positions. I think it is always better to try and focus attention on goals (efficient fingering) and offer possible approaches where there are difficulties. For example I have seen excellent left thumb techniques with both curved and straight joints. I have found students with tight joints (in either configuration) helped by the change to the other. I think the most relevant comment is that when playing near the tip of the thumb the least movement at the base of the thumb is necessary to operate the key. That might be achieved with a straight or curved digit.

There has been a lot of talk about cocking the left wrist but one of my favorite photos is of Taffanel with what appears to be a very straight wrist. I often think that people cock that wrist at least partly to reach an in-line open G key - perhaps an offset G would be a better option. My own solution, apart from offset G and covered holes, has been a little velcro ring that I wear at the base of my index finger. It has a small wedge of cork glued to it. On my flute I have what flutemakers call a "wart" - a projection that is soldered to all metal piccolos where the first finger makes contact. The "wart" sits on top of the wedge which then bears much of the weight of the flute. I have another "facilitator" - my "C# finger button" (what we put our first left finger on) is extended down the flute a bit so there is not the stretch between the first two fingers. I find this incredibly relaxing. Bick Brannen has now designed a little plastic clip that makes this option available to anyone to try. Incidentally he has also designed plugs that fit into open holes and have covers of three varying extensions. By plugging one of these into an open G key for example you can experiment to see whether extending the ring finger less relaxes the hand.

On the question of finger position the best advice I ever got was the observation that the finger is designed for gripping motions not backward lifting. If you think that the relaxed position of the finger is just above the key (or even touching the key) the only necessary movement is to depress the finger with enough strength to work against the spring and close the key. You don't even have to lift it off. If you stop pressing the spring will push your finger up!

Stephanie - I certainly did not mean to make you nervous. A great number of successful flutists play open holed flutes without any adverse effects.

Tendonitis is not something that is suddenly just there. There are many warning signals available to the person who is observant, though in my experience few of us heed them. It sounds to me like you have a caring teacher to guide you - just be sure to pay attention to any aches and pains and keep your teacher in the picture. The most likely problems in the left hand come from stretching to cover an in-line G key. If you feel this might be the case try plugging that key and play on the rim for a while. If it helps, perhaps your next flute could have an offset G. In the right hand the most likely problem comes from the stretch between the second and fourth fingers which often occurs when the third finger is somewhat longer. If you look at your hand with fingers spread you will see that as you close it to make a fist the finger tips come together. When some hands are curved enough to bring the middle finger tip to the key the other two fingers have to be stretched sideways too much to easily cover their holes. If that is a problem, at least see that your hand is as open as possible, and that you grip as little as possible. Gripping, like making a fist, brings those second and fourth fingers sideways off their holes. Just when you want that low C to sound it is the extra effort that actually is counter-productive. In making my comments to the list it was not to suggest that everyone switch to closed holes - just the hope that some people might be able to accept it as an option without losing face (or something like that) - good luck!

John Wion


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