As many of my readers, students and colleagues know, I am a huge proponent of understanding the mind-body connection as it relates to music. I am always searching for new ways to use movement to better express elements such as rhythm, tone production and tempo. I was hit with a moment of inspiration recently while teaching a lesson on flexibility where I fused traditional imagery and body movement to create a fun and informative way to balance tonal quality throughout the range of the flute. The result – something I would like to call the Jack in the Box exercise.
Many studies have been published on the subject of tonal flexibility. Tonal Flexibility refers to the balance of tone quality, both in volume and timbre, across all registers. A good way to achieve such consistency is by practicing etudes that oscillate frequently between the extremes of the range therefore requiring a player to modify their embouchure, air and dynamics quickly to conform to the direction of the musical line. A good example of such an exercise is Trevor Wye’s Flexibility Exercise in Eb from the Practice Book for the Flute, Volume I. Tone.
How can we use bodily movements in conjunction with the above exercise to achieve tonal flexibility and balance between the registers? By allowing our body stature to follow the line of the music by simply bending and straightening our knees, we find that lower notes will illicit a darker, richer vibrancy and notes in the higher register will be lighter, devoid of the clichéd brightness typical of this range. This is a direct result of internalizing sound direction to produce a stronger, more consistent sound from the lowest C to the highest E. This exercise, however, will make the performer look a bit like a jack in the box, springing up and down in accordance to the direction of the musical line.
Start by bending your knees at the beginning of the excerpt. As the music ascends in the first two 16th notes, quickly, yet gracefully, let your knees straighten and your head reach toward the ceiling. As the line descends in the next two 16th notes, slowly bend your knees back to the original starting position, letting your stature sink lower. Repeat following the direction of the musical line, bending your knees and lowering as the music descends, straightening and lifting as the music ascends.
You may feel a little self conscious and look a bit silly, but the tonal quality and balance achieved using this exercise is quite remarkable. We have already seen professional flute performers employ such a technique in solo performance (see Performer Spotlight Series blog on Emmanuel Pahud) but this jack in the box exercise can also be incorporated into daily practice to work on tonal flexibility in a new, yet highly effective way that emphasizes a body-mind philosophy.
How did this exercise work for you? Do you use a similar exercise in your daily practice or teaching? Please comment below!!!