It's nearly time for a new school year to begin which means it's time for the inevitable placement auditions. Just a thought for students and teachers alike: 1. Success is a fraction of failure. Musicians tend to put a lot of pressure on single audition (which will almost invariably cause more stress)which can have a negative effect on the final outcome. If a baseball player has a 300 batting average, this means he is failing 7 out of 10 times...and a 300 average is GOOD in baseball...very good in fact. We need to remember that each "less than optimal" outcome is leading us thru the road to success. Nobody remembers all the auditions they took and lost...it only takes winning ONE great audition to secure the professional job (or goal of first chair, etc). Stay process oriented...(enjoy the journey) rather than becoming outcome oriented (a total fixation on the desired goal). If you enjoy the journey, you are sure to arrive at the destination in style.
Singing and playing at the same time is a contemporary effect that has become common in 20th and 21st century literature, but it can also be used as a very helpful exercise! Try singing a note, while playing the major chord from that bass note in an arpeggiated fashion. Notice that the larynx will remain still on this sustained note. This will help your playing by making you aware of movements of your larynx, (it will help you know what an open throat can feel like). You will also increase your support as you try this technique, and your focus should improve as well. Try this on BOTH flute and piccolo too...it will really help your tone!
When working on technical passages at extreme tempos, don't forget the added possibility of harmonic fingerings! For example, overblowing at the twelfth (fingering an A to Bb in the staff, but producing the sounding pitch of E3 and F3) can produce a sound that is more in tune (ie less sharp) and reduces lots of 'cross fingerings' between the right and left hands. Harmonics can be used on both flute and piccolo: just be sure to use firm support and a relaxed embouchure for the best results.
It goes without saying that rhythm is one of the few 'non-negotiable' concepts in music...(the other being the actual pitches themselves). The composer expects us to execute the patterns exactly as he indicated. Working with a metronome is an expected standard, but many students unwittingly ignore that pulse. It really helps to record yourself without a metronome and then listen back WITH a metronome to see if your 'internal metronome' is up to par. Subdivision is your best friend: feeling the middle of the beat is essential to exact placement of faster figures. Students frequently rush when they are nervous, which causes a whole cascade of technical issues. Subdivision can give added technical security which will curb the tendency to rush.
It is almost a given that artists will be asked to speak to the audience in today's more informal concert environment. Try and develop an authentic personal style: I envision speaking to just one person in order to keep a more conversational approach. Never read from a script: this is too formal and stiff. Go beyond mere facts of composer's birth dates: any audience member can look these things up from their smart phone right in the concert hall. I always speak about stylistic features of the work, creating a sonic map for the audience. If there are unusual effects, such as flutter tonguing, demonstrate and explain how that effect is produced ahead of time. This gives your audience a richer experience in the concert hall, as they can HEAR what you told them was about to happen, and their expectations are fulfilled. Many audience members lack experience with classical music, and de-mystifying the concert experience and creating an inclusive environment is important.
When I was a student, one of the most illuminating moments I experienced was while looking at photos of professional flutists embouchures in Roger Stevens book, Artistic Flute Technique and Study. I saw a photo of someone who had a 'tear drop' upper lip for the first time(which is where the top lip is shaped more like a rooftop with a bit more fullness in the middle of the top lip). None of my teachers had the same physical set up as me, so of course their embouchures looked different than mine. Understanding that the tear drop can be flattened out, that the aperture is fine located off to one side, and that ALL of that was Ok was a breakthrough for me. Understanding also that the bottom lip is slightly turned out (angling the air across the embouchure plate and that one plays across the moist inner surface) and that the top lip angles the air lower is also helpful. Every student has their unique physical structures (lip thickness and shape) and teachers must take these things into account when building an embouchure.
We all remember that basic fingering chart we saw in our first method book or band folder. Fingerings can move beyond those basic ideas at the advanced level. Try adjusting the pitch of third octave notes by using the C# paddle key on the foot joint...many times just sliding over to this key instead of the usual D# key on the foot will raise the pitch just slightly ...useful on notes sustained at the piano dynamic. Check pitch carefully on third octave Bb and B natural: sometimes lifting the D# pinky key will adjust the pitch in EITHER direction, depending on the specific flute you are playing. Try raising the pitch of any note fingered with the LEFT hand by opening the G# key. (any note except G natural however...otherwise you will get a g#). Keep your tuner handy as these are subtle adjustments.
How many times have you (or your students) played a passage perfectly at home, yet made errors during those times that matter...ie, in a lesson, performance or audition? It is human to err, of course, but secure tools to build consistent technique can lay the foundation for nearly flawless execution all of the time. To be confident about your technique, both accuracy and repetition are your best friends. It's important when you break a passage apart to GET IT RIGHT...this means articulation and dynamics have to follow the printed markings too...this is game changing for accuracy. As for repetition drills, there are many strategies: some of my favorites are to play a passage at a reasonable tempo, speeding up one mark on the metronome, then playing the same thing 2 notches slower on the metronome, then one mark faster, etc. alternating back and forth. I have great sucess by varying the rhythms, which changes the emphasis of finger combinations in a passage. Breaking the passage up into smaller pieces (ie, chunking) is also a terrific way to fix problems. Often it's only a two note finger combination that produces the stumble. Make every practice session a labratory for success, and try out these simple solutions for technical success.
Every phrase, indeed every note, has to have a beautiful and thoughtful ending that is appropriate for the musical demand at the moment. Too many students chop last notes of phrases, often to take a breath for what lies ahead. Although a good intention, it will yield a poor result. I like to envision the shape of the last notes of phrases: some are square or like an exclamation point (emphatic), others more demure with the shape of a true taper(like a very tiny dimuendo). Other notes should be phrased as periods in sentences, some act as commas. Figure out the musical demand, and the technical skill required to make it happen. But never leave those phrases ragged at the ends! Attention to detail is crucial. Practice tapers of various lengths and shapes on scales. Try out different ways to end notes in phrases, listening to the musical meanings. Finish with polish!
When students are asked to play forte or fortissimo on the piccolo in ensembles, tone often gets a bit raucous and raw. I think that forte should be replaced by the word FULL...play full and round, so that the tutti orchestral sound has a crown or shimmer added to it by the voice of the piccolo. Instead of driving the tone thru the texture, relax into it, setting the air around you into vibration, which aids projection and reduces the tension in the tone which can make the instrument sound harsh or shrill. Never drive the sound...allow it to live in the space of the hall.