Welcome to a new Flute Friday! Apologies for the past few post-free Fridays. I have been traveling, moving, teaching and performing and am happy to announce that I will be reopening my studio in Davis, California effective August 1, 2016! If you are in the Davis area and would like to sign up for flute lessons, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your availability. I would also like to give a shout out to the Sandpoint Flute Choir and all of the performers that participated in my flute masterclass last week. You rock! Keep up the good work and continue to shred on the flute.
Flute players face many of the same questions about the flute and flute playing throughout their careers. Some questions are asked the moment one mentions that they play the flute. Others are posed innocently by students eager to learn basic concepts such as articulation, sound and posture. Some are asked to clarify advice given by other flute players or band directors that, well, just doesn’t make sense. In today’s blog I will answer some of these frequently asked questions to help you begin developing your own script or simply understand the fundamentals of the flute a bit better. These are of course not dumb questions but ones that you will certainly be asked at one point or another. Get ready!
Is it “flutist” or “flautist”? If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this questions, I could retire in Hawaii. I used to answer this question by saying, “Whichever you prefer. I will still play the flute either way!” until I found the below video in which Jean Pierre Rampal explains that the correct term is flutist because we play the flute, not the flaut. I absolutely agree and often refer people to this video whenever the question arises. Leave it to the French to give us all a dose of brilliant honesty.
Why does it take so much air to play the flute? Younger students often struggle to sustain notes due to the amount of air that is required to play the flute. The reason for this is that only half of the air that passes across the tone hole goes into the instrument to produce sound. The remainder of the air is simply sent away from the instrument serving no other musical purpose. Flutists have perfected the art of breath management using devices such as the breathing bag, breath builder and techniques such as finger breaths and Alexander technique based methods. If you have a beginning student struggling with air support or if you are having trouble yourself, take heed. Find places to take sneak breaths and create a reliable breathing plan for your next performance.
Tu-Ku or Du-Gu? Different syllables can be used to produce different types of sounds on the flute. The traditional tu-ku (or too-coo) often produces a marcato style articulation however the sound quality is slightly pinched because the tongue is situated high in the mouth. Du-Gu is a nice alternative but will create a more legato, connected articulation. Instead, I am a big fan of Duk-ky, a genius combination of the two that produces a resonate, marcato articulation. This combination of syllables is lighter and significantly more flexible than both tu-ku and du-gu in terms of dynamics and tone color. Practice using the duck-ky articulation on Taffanel & Gaubert’s Exercise #4 to familiarize yourself with these syllables.
James Galway or Jean Pierre Rampal? Personally I am a Rampal disciple but every flutist has their favorite. I believe that both performers have very unique strengths that have stood the test of time. Rampal’s lighter-than-air articulation is a legendary signature of his romantic and neoclassical performances while James Galway’s powerful sound has been enchanting audiences (and movie goers) for decades. If we are to learn something from these icons it is that we must discover, develop and display elements of flute playing that make us stand out from the crowd. What makes your flute playing unique? What can you highlight for your audience at your next performance?
When should I introduce vibrato to beginning flute students? Students must have a good working knowledge of basic fingerings, theory and scales before they taught the little extras that make flute playing exciting. I require that my students learn to play all notes from the lowest c to the highest c, learn and master rhythms through 16th notes and can perform at least all major scales in the Circle of Fifths before I teach vibrato. Vibrato should also be saved until after any major lessons on posture and breathing techniques have been addressed.
How do I properly clean my flute? First things first – put the silver polish down and walk away slowly. The inside of the flute should be cleaned of spit and other condensation following any performance, lesson or practice session. Every 2-3 days or so, or prior to any performance, wipe down all fingerprints using a simple silver cleaning cloth (found at most instrument rental shops). Once a month or so you may add a bit of sparkle to the outside of your instrument by very carefully cleaning the metal with rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth (make sure to keep the solution away from the pads and cork). Avoid using water to clean the inside of the instrument as it will also damage the cork and pads. Clean pads using specially designed powder paper or cigarette paper, particularly after long practice sessions. Finally, make sure to take your flute in for a COA (clean, oil, adjust) once a year to avoid more significant and costly repairs down the road. Owing an instrument is an investment and proper care is a necessary responsibility.
Where can I purchase a new instrument? The easy answer to this question is to locate the nearest instrument rental shop and ask to see the instruments available in your price range. This of course requires you to first set a price range based on a bit of internet research prior to setting foot in the store. A better alternative is to purchase a new instrument online from a larger distributer. The beauty of this option is that you will have an opportunity to compare the features of numerous brands within your price range and request a trial on 3-4 instruments at a time. I purchased my Miyazawa flute and Manke headjoint this way from JL Smith www.jlsmith.com after comparing several instruments and headjoints within my price range on trial programs. The best option, however, is to attend a flute roadshow or the National Flute Association Convention where shiny new instruments from countless distributer often line the convention hall walkways waiting for potential new owners to try and buy. Finally, if you are not quite comfortable buying a brand new instrument, you will find used flutes on websites such as Craigslist and Ebay and through larger distributers such as JL Smith and Flute World www.fluteworld.com. Purchasing a new instrument is an investment. The best advice I can give is to take your time and try everything before you commit financially, mentally and musically.
Where can I find a flute teacher? Instrument rental shops will often have a list of local instructors or instructors that teach through their facilities. Google is also a very good resource. A simple search listing your hometown and “flute teacher” will collect websites from teachers in your area, helping you research teacher backgrounds, strengths, studio policies and lesson rates. You may also search for local music societies within surrounding communities. These groups often keep lists of area teachers on their websites and information for potential students. Finally, contact a band or orchestra director in your community who may have more advanced performers in their ensembles available to teach private lessons. There are thousands of teachers around the country searching for new additions to their studios and a wealth of information on the world wide web connecting students to gifted flute teachers.
There are numerous other questions that I have been asked over the years (so many that I may post a Flute FAQs II blog in the coming weeks to address those that I left out in this week’s post). Do you have a question about the flute that you are dying to ask a flute teacher? Have you been asked these questions in the past and how have your answers differed from the ones above? What other reoccurring questions about the flute do you find yourself answering over and over again? Please comment below!!!!!