Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.
I have not posted a new blog in my Practice Blueprints series in quite a while and thought today would be a good day to add a new sub-category covering some of the fundamental pieces that are often assigned to beginners. If you are relatively new to the flute and motivated to start learning repertoire or if you are a teacher searching for creative ways to introduce repertoire to your beginners, today’s blog will help point you in the right direction. We all need a good place to start and can accomplish amazing things with a well-outlined plan.
The Repertoire 101 series begins with the very first piece I ever learned to play and often the first piece that I assign to beginning flute students. Gavotte by François-Joseph Gossec is a wonderfully elegant dance in a standard ABA ternary form. The possibilities to address basic concepts such as articulation, ornamentation, fast finger technique, embouchure flexibility, and dynamics are quite prevalent in this short, one-page work. This is also an easy piece to memorize once the fundamentals are in place and a perfect starting point to test budding memorization skills. Finally, the balanced phrasing and period structure creates a natural practice progression, urging students to master one section before moving on to the next. Start by learning this piece in moderate 4/4 tempo and slowly increase speed until you are comfortable with a smooth allegretto tempo in cut time.
Articulation – The entire “A” section of this piece (measures 1-18) is ripe for working on different articulations. This is particularly useful if you are just learning about double tonguing and looking for a good exercise to practice your new “coo” syllables. Use these measures in your daily articulation warm ups on standard single tonguing syllables such as “too,” “tut,” “ta,” “toe,” “pu,” and my personal favorite, syllable-less chirps. Next, practice using a few back of the tongue syllables such as “coo,” “gu,” “key,” and “ka.” Finally, use this section to practice crazy new articulations that you may run across (my personal favorite is “duck-key.”) In performance, a crisp “tut” articulation will help keep your staccatos super short while the ending “t” syllable prepares your tongue properly for the next note.
Ornamentation – This is a great piece to learn about grace notes. For many beginners, grace notes are often introduced gradually in new repertoire and may be a bit intimidating at first (you want me to play that note HOW fast???). In this work, the grace notes are only on the pitches C# and G# and fit nicely at the endings of phrases on longer notes. Remember that grace notes are considered ornaments so think of them like beautiful pieces of jewelry on top of foundational notes. Play them as fast as your fingers will allow but make sure that they sound as light as air. I like to think of grace notes as glitter that falls gently and gracefully onto the paper below.
Fast Finger Technique – Hold the phone! There are 16th notes? Don’t panic. By this point you have learned how to play 16th notes, understood how they fit into the beat, and have worked very hard on your basic D-Major scale. Now it’s time to put what you have learned to the test. The best way to accomplish this is to play with what some flutists call “snappy fingers.” Slow down the passages located particularly at measure 20 and beyond and move your fingers very quickly and deliberately between pitches. I often refer to this as “robot” fingers (but try not to play the flute like a robot – continue to use beautiful expression, creatively placed vibrato, and clear, boisterous tone). This technique helps train your fingers to move quickly and efficiently between fast moving notes.
Embouchure Flexibility – At this point in your flute playing development, you may not yet have been exposed to Trevor Wye-style flexibility studies but have probably learned to play octaves. The section from measure 21 to the D.C. al Fine is a good test in embouchure flexibility that makes use of great octave displacements. Remember to practice this section by letting your embouchure do the heavy lifting. Lips forward for higher pitches, back for lower tones. Try not to squeeze the lower pitches out using only your air as this will likely make the note crack. If necessary, a light tap with your left-hand ring finger on the G key at the same time you finger the low D will help make the note speak in the final measure before the D.C. al Fine.
Accents – Measures 17 and 19 include a series of accents that are not found anywhere else in the piece. Use these measures to practice making effective accents that really project above harmonic texture of the piece. Use a strong “t” syllable on the front of each pitch to really attack the note with a sharp articulation.
Dynamics – This is a wonderful piece to practice dynamics. The opening remains in a piano dynamic but you will still need to project the melody. Beginning in measure 12, the volume increases, building gradually to the forte in measure 17. Practice this section with a tuner. It is very easy to veer sharp when the dynamic increases, so make sure to avoid any unnecessary use of air that adversely effects your pitch. Practice keeping air in your cheek as you ascend into the higher registers to properly regulate air pressure. Use less air in louder dynamics than you think you need. Finally, when the dynamic returns to piano in the repeat of the A section, remember not to conversely go flat. Support your sound and do not try too hard to play softly. You are still the soloist.
Memorize – The final step to mastering this piece is to memorize it. Gavotte is arranged in an ABA form meaning you really only need to memorize the A and B sections of the work as the A section repeats. The A section is broken into 2 sections, divided by a repeat sign at the end of measure 8. Begin by memorizing only the first 8 measures. Once you have this under your belt, memorize measures 9 through 13. Continue on to section B, which is also broken into 2 sections marked by a repeat sign at the end of measure 24, memorizing measures 17 through 14 first, followed by measures 25-32. Pacing yourself is the key to memorizing this work. Sometimes it helps to play along to a recording (many of which can be found on YouTube). Accompaniment for Gavotte is also available on SmartMusic. This is a great way to practice at home by helping you fit your solo part correctly into the piano accompaniment.
Have you played this piece? What do you think are the most important elements required to master Gavotte? Do you assign this piece to your students? What types of exercises do you use to address these and other fundamental elements in the music? Please comment below!