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.
Breathing...the most natural thing in the world...until students have a flute in their hands! I love Michel Debost's concept of breathing (the inhalation) and blowing (the exhalation). Once students understand the correct way to inhale (using the whole body: rib cage expanding in all directions, shoulders stay low and a relaxed abdominal area) we are halfway there. This post is really about what happens on the exhalation! I love having students take a breath and exhale with a sigh to demonstrate an unsupported exhalation: the air is rapidly expelled, and has a natural diminuendo as well: the opposite of what our breath for flute playing should be doing. Next, take a breath and exhale making a strong 'hissing' sound: students will automatically engage the muscles in the abdominal area. (the same engagement happens when we cough or sneeze: the body knows what to do, we just need to make sure it happens at the correct times).
Support is that feeling of a slight pushing out/down in the abdominal area as well as the intercostal muscles in between the ribs. We need to keep the pressure as stable as possible when we are blowing out: we want our phrases to be long and flowing! Support of the air column is the way to achieve this.
Long tones should be a part of daily practice for all flutists, and piccolo players too. However, it is common for students to 'go thru the motions' and play them robotically with very little true attention to the process. I am such a fan of the simple 1/2 step routines in the Moyse classic De La Sonorite book. And, setting up students for success requires that simple half step studies be mastered, making sure both notes are pure and even in sound. With more advanced students, it is more challenging to have them play 'dynamic' long tones, requiring crescendo/diminuendo, color change, perhaps also including wider range requirements across the registers. To me, Static long tones are all about getting the basics of sound (purity, clarity, color evenness across the registers). Dynamic long tones have all of this PLUS shape (in color and dynamics). This is the key to advanced tonal practice, because this is the way we play phrases in music. I've heard too many lessons where the repertory sounds awesome and tone studies rather dead. Too many students just put in the time doing long tones...without the artistry of tone. Keep the creativity alive in all areas of your practice....
Trill fingerings ...so many choices! There are two trills that are notoriously difficult on piccolo: Third octave E-F#, and third octave F-G. The most common flute fingerings really don't work well on the piccolo, so give these a try. For the E-F#: Try 1 thumb 3/1234, moving RH 1 and 2. The F# is nice and clear. For F-G, try fingering High F# but add the RH 1st finger, which is the finger you trill. Both of these fingerings work well for long sustained trills. Happy Trilling!
Breathing is one of the most natural activities we do, all day every day. However, put a flute or piccolo in front of us and that activity seems to become much more difficult! Consider the ease of your first breath in any piece of music: it is relaxed, natural, unhurried and plentiful. Try and make sure to maintain this same sense of ease and poise mid phrase. Now, you may need to breathe FASTER mid phrase, but the process is the same.. think meal vs. snack. Snacks are never meant to fill you up like a meal, but smaller relaxed breaths should be effective. Make sure the throat is not tight (otherwise you might hear a very noisy breath indeed). For piccolo, we need to make sure to remember that the air pressure must be greater than that used on the flute, and be careful not to overpower the piccolo with the same volume, or amount of air, as used on the flute.