Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.
Today’s blog is about short cuts. Some may refer to these as trick fingering suggestions, but I have never really liked the term “trick fingerings.” We aren’t pulling rabbits out of a hat or searching for quarters behind ears. We are simply devising alternatives for physically difficult fingering patterns. Why make things more difficult than they need to be, amiright? Short cuts in orchestral excerpts are literally lifesavers at auditions when your physical and mental facilities are being put through the spin cycle. They are also great for performance time when the spotlight may hinder your ability to BRING IT! the same way you do in rehearsals. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am grateful that these short cuts have been available to me during my early career years and hope they can help you as they have helped me.
SHORT CUTS – ORCHESTRAL EXCERPT EDITION
Beethoven – Leonore Overture No. 3, mm. 328-360. Although the key to playing this excerpt is rhythm, rhythm, and rhythm, that final high D is a very sneaky test in endurance, sound, and intonation. Flutists have struggled with this note for decades, with good reason. The natural fingering for the high D is flat-city and as we run out of air (which is inevitable given that the note is sustained for 9 measures), it is likely that the pitch will fall off the face of the planet. A clever trick I learned by studying trick fingerings for the piccolo (where the high D is even more problematic than on the flute), is to add the G# pinky (left hand) and 1st finger right hand keys to bring the pitch up. This fingering is great because it takes less air to sustain than the standard high D fingering, helping you to keep the pitch up even when you are running low in air. Be careful though – the sound quality is a bit different. Make sure to play softly and support the pitch as much as possible.
Debussy – Prélude à l‘après-midi d’un faune, opening 4 measures (and beyond). There is really only one important short cut in this excerpt and only applies if you have a C# key on your flute. The reason for this is because much of the work is written in suspended tones that create very specific tone colors when combined with other instruments in the orchestra (very similar to a Monet painting). That is the Debussy way – don’t mess with his compositional mojo! Playing the opening C# with the C# key (fingering a B, adding the C# key), rather than using the standard C# fingering helps to create more of an ethereal sound than the open, and uneasy, sound of the standard C#. Pitch is also a bit easier to control with this key and moving to the B natural is much more fluid than plunking down the left hand thumb and first finger at the same time.
Mendelssohn – Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pick up to 1 measure before Rehearsal P to 23 measures after Rehearsal Q. So many notes that never stop spinning. Why move your fingers any more than necessary? Keep the 3 fingers on your right hand down for the C naturals that fall in the following measures: 2 measures after P, 5 measures after P, 10 measures after P, 13 measures after P, 1 measure before Q, 2 measures after Q, and 4 measures after Q. This will help make the transition from C to D more fluid and keep the pitch down on each of the C’s.
Prokofiev – Classical Symphony, Movement IV, 8 measures before Rehearsal C to Rehearsal D. This excerpt is maddening. A few little short cuts, however, will help keep your sanity throughout these short, but quick, decorations. For the first 4 measures of this excerpt, overblow the high G using a middle G fingering and the following high E using a middle A natural fingering (C, middle G, middle A, middle G, C, E). Just be careful not to overblow the A to a high A rather than the E natural. This will take some practice but it is a much easier alternative to how the passage is written. The next 4 measures, beginning 4 measures before Rehearsal C, can also be simplified by overblowing a middle G fingering for all of the high D naturals (which can be a bit tough on your 1st finger, left hand). You may also overblow a middle Bb for the final high Fs in each figure, but I recommend the standard F fingering on the first F in each group to keep the sound grounded. Finally, make use of the middle G fingering beginning at Letter C for those high Gs to save your thumb from unnecessary gymnastics. These short cuts may take a bit of practice to get used to, but they are well worth the effort. Your fingers will thank you!
Prokofiev – Classical Symphony, Movement IV, Rehearsal K through L. If I had a decent short cut for the final run after letter L, I would list it here, but, alas, blood, sweat, and tears (and slow practice with a metronome) is the only advice I have for this run. However, I do want to recommend an alternative fingering for 2 measures before K that I find very useful. Instead of using all of the standard fingerings in these measures, overblow a middle B and a middle G for the high F#s and Ds (respectively) to make the passage a bit easier on the fingers. Works like a charm!
Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf, Rehearsal 2-4. Prokofiev, why do you have so many finger-splitting runs? You will no doubt play this excerpt for many occasions throughout your flute playing career. Everybody knows it. Everybody loves it. Yet not everybody knows just how difficult it is to execute smoothly. The grace notes in the opening of this excerpt really need to flip and fingering a high A to a high G really impedes a decent flip. Instead, use your 1st trill key. Simply finger the high G and quickly hit the 1st trill key to give the note a momentary hit of a high A for the grace note. This fingering sounds far more bird-like than the clunky standard fingering. There is also a rumored shortcut for the often-muddled passage beginning 5 measures after Rehearsal 2, but I find that trick fingerings here tend to muddle the passage even more. Snappy fingers and slow practice is what I recommend for this passage. Finally, and probably my favorite short cut, regards the arpeggios 2 measures before Rehearsal 3 and 2 measures before Rehearsal 4. The top of this passage is a bit tricky due to the high F#s and high D naturals. Instead, overblow a middle B and C for the high F# and G at the top of the passage to help your fingers out a bit. This passage moves fairly quickly making the difference in tone quality practically unnoticeable.
Saint-Saens – Carnival of the Animals, 10. Voliere. 3 words to keep in mind for the excerpt: Use Trill Fingerings. I know this advice is a bit controversial. Some flute players like it and some say that it ruins the integrity of the sound. Again, I must reiterate that the notes are moving so fast that it is difficult to tell the difference in sound quality, especially if the notes are supported by a sufficient amount of air. I say go for it. Use trill fingerings especially on the high D-Es in measures 3 and 5 and the high E-Fs at rehearsal 1 and two measures later, on the repeat. Avoid, however, trill fingerings on the C-Ds 2 measures before Rehearsal 2. This trill is a bit complicated and the sound quality is a bit more perceivable on these notes than the other trill fingerings.
Stravinsky – Firebird Suite (1919), Variation de L’oiseau de feu. This piece gives me nightmares. I still remember my conductor shouting, “Dance! Dance!” in my direction as we played this movement, as if we were in an Old West gunfight. I can’t dance. I am paralyzed by fear. #feardance (is that a thing?) There are one or two little short cuts in this movement that are, well, the difference between performance life and death. That nasty run in the 3rd measure sounds a bit better if you use a forked F and overblow a middle G for the high D. You could also experiment by overblowing an A, middle Bb and G for the entire passage, but be weary of sound quality, especially on the high A. Make sure to support this fragment with a lot of air and control any wild fingers (fingers should remain close to the keys). Another great place to use some fancy fingerings is on the rather difficult run up to the high Bb in 2 measures after Rehearsal 13. Here we have the 3 nastiest notes in the high register, D, F#, and G#, one right after the other, resolving on a high Bb. Overblow a middle B natural to achieve the high F#, and a high C# to achieve the G#. You may also overblow a middle G to achieve the high D natural, but I don’t think this is quite necessary with the addition of the overblown B natural and C#. Along these same lines, the measure before Rehearsal 14 also features the same clunky notes. In this passage, again overblow a middle B natural to achieve the high F#, a middle G# to achieve the D#, and a middle A to achieve the high E, making this explosive passage much easier to execute than as written. Finally, one of my favorite short cuts to use whenever I am faced with a quick figure utilizing a high E to high A jump (which never seems to speak properly) is to add the 2nd trill key on the high E thus opening up the sound to the high A more fluidly. This can be used on the figure on the measure before Rehearsal 17.
Do you have any other clever short cuts that you like to use with orchestral excerpts? Have you used any of the tips listed above? Please comment below!