Earlier this week, I was perusing new flute music collections at my local instrument shop while my husband, an avid drum enthusiast who often likes to “shred” in our garage, shopped for a new kit. We, of course, were located on opposite sides of the store – Me in Orchestra Snob Land surrounded by walls of beautiful violins while he jammed in Cool Kid Land, adorned with walls of electric guitars in all shapes, sizes, and colors and walkways lined with various other intense-looking rock band equipment. It made me pause for a moment – Why are the classical and rock genres so often separated from each other (both physically and psychologically)? Are there ways that we can bridge the gap between the two worlds? Luckily for flutists, a way has been chartered via beatboxing. “What the heck is beatboxing? Is this some weird new fad the kids made up?” you may ask. Yes and no, but one thing is clear – It is definitely here to stay. In today’s blog, I will take you on a deep dive into flute beatboxing: The background, the key performers, and the videos that make it a famous new-ish flute genre.
What is it? – According to Wikipedia, flute beatboxing is the “production of stereoscopic flute tones (producing two separate sounds by humming while blowing into the flute) combined with vocal percussion and aural prestidigitation (slight-of-ear).” Uhm, okay… Sounds like a science experiment or a magic trick, right? To put it more simply, flute beatboxing is really an integration of flute playing and percussive techniques. Needless to say, it requires the utmost coordination.
The Basic History – The group RadioActive has been credited as hosting the first ever beatboxer on the pan flute (see video below), but others suggest that Tim Barsky was the first beatboxing flutist as evident by a 2001 recording (below) that resurfaced in 2006 (thanks YouTube!). Shortly thereafter, flute beatboxing went viral when performer Greg Pattillo released two very important, well-known flute beatboxing videos: Inspector Gadget and the Super Mario Brothers Theme. These two videos still hold the most views of any flute beatboxing videos on YouTube, Inspector Gadget at 31 million views and Super Mario at 26 million views. According to NoteStem, the “combination of a culturally popular melody, hip-hop style rhythms, and the apparent virtuosity of the technique led [Inspector Gadget] to be a popular video among many..” https://www.notestem.com/blog/flute-beatboxing/ Check these videos out below! I must admit that I posted both of these to my MySpace page back in the day. He is still considered by many as the best flute beatboxer in the industry today. I am definitely a Greg Pattillo fan for life!
The Key Performers –
Tim Barsky – Barsky is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and is now based in the Bay Area. A graduate of Brown University with a degree in Islamic and Judaic Religious Studies, he also studied at the Berklee School of Music with Chasidic folklorist and archivist, Fishel Resler. Barsky was trained as a Jewish storyteller and his theatrical works have put him front and center in the Bay Area theater scene. His theatrical piece, The Bright River, achieved cult status in the Bay Area and he was awarded the Gerbode Playwright’s Grant in 2007 for his work, Track in a Box, a hip hop and circus-based play. A former line-producer for the Burning Man Arts Festival, Barsky is a member of the Hybrid Project at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts and has taught beatboxing in San Francisco juvenile facilities. Serving as both the Artistic Director of City Circus (2007-2010) and Co-Founder of Vowel Movement Beatboxers, he has been featured as guest lecturer at The Royal College of Art in London, Stanford University, Oberlin College, and appeared as featured speaker at the American Press Institute.
Greg Pattillo – Greg Pattillo was originally from Seattle, Washington and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Times has described him as “the best person in the world at what he does.” Holding Bachelors and Masters degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Pattillo studied with Joshua Smith, principal flute of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Pattillo was the founding member of the Collaborative Arts Insurgency and the 16th and Mission Thursday Night series for performers in San Francisco. In June 2007, Pattillo was named one of 21 winners of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s “Music Under New York” Program, giving him an official permit to play music in the New York City Subway. In May 2010 he premiered a Concerto for Beatbox Flute by Randall Woolf with the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra (video below). He currently performs with Project Trio, a flute/cello/bass chamber group featuring Eric Stephenson on cello and Peter Seymore on double base (check out their videos here: https://www.youtube.com/c/freedomworksfilms).
Other Key Performers include Nathen “Flutebox” Lee who performs with groups such as The Prodigy, Asian Dub Found, and his band The Clinic. Check out his video below (so cool!):
Pattillo’s Beatboxing Notation – Greg Pattillo has created a notion system for flute beatboxing that adds a staff-less percussion line below the flute line using letters to indicate basic beatboxing sounds. For example, the bass drum sound is indicated by a letter “B” and back beat kicks by the letter “P.” This system is based on notation used for drum kits, specifically those relating to the hi-hat, snare rimshot, and bass drum. His method book, Beatbox Flute Method Book, can be purchased from the Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company here: https://www.flute4u.com/Pattillo-G-Beatbox-Flute-Method-Book.html. If you are looking to expand your beatbox study even further, Tilmann Dehnhard has also published a beatboxing etude book, available for purchase here: https://www.musiciansupply.com/shop/c/p/Flute-Beat-Boxing-Tilmann-Dehnhard-x17245091.htm
Do you beatbox on the flute? Interested in learning more about this style and its origins? Want to join the Greg Pattillo fan club (obviously yes!)? What are your favorite beatboxing videos? Any good tips on getting started with beatboxing? Please comment below!
Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! Since this is a holiday weekend here in the States, I thought we might do something fun today. I have compiled a number of flute polls on various questions we flutists receive from time to time. You may notice that some of the options include an “other” response. Please feel free to expound on any of these “other” responses in the comments section of this post. I am fascinated to see how we all answer! This may become a recurring type of post if it gains enough popularity. Please let me know if you enjoy it (either by commenting below or sending me a direct message: email@example.com).
Please Note: All polls close on Thursday, February 24, 2022 at 11:59pm. I will discuss some of the results in next week’s post.
I have been working on a book for well over three years now. A majority of this time was also devoted to a full-time day job, which made finding time to practice in between these, and all of my other life responsibilities, quite difficult. As I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a rough draft of my book, I can begin to find my way back to regular flute practice. Optimistic? Yes. Intimidated? Also, yes. I am like an athlete that has traded in burpees for burgers – Completely out of shape and in need of some newfound practice motivation. My story is not unique. Many of us, for one reason or another, fall off of our flute practice routines and struggle to get back on the horse. We need a plan to get back to our full flute playing awesomeness (or at least a few tips to help us get back on track). In today’s blog, I will discuss some of my best advice on how to get back into flute playing shape. The road ahead may be long and filled with lions and tigers and bears (oh my), but with a bit of optimism and a plan, we can all find our way back to the Emerald City of our flute playing.
GETTING BACK INTO FLUTE PLAYING SHAPE
First things first – Schedule a clean, oil, and adjust (COA) for your instrument. Fighting an uphill battle with an instrument that has fallen into a state of disrepair is like strapping 10-pound weights to your ankles before climbing 20 flights of stairs. Totally avoidable. Fix those leaky pads and troublesome keys. Make your flute play perfectly before you dive into regular practice routines again.
Block out specific practice times in your weekly schedule and commit fully to those practice times. That means no phones, no TV, no internet, no distractions of any kind (unless emergencies, of course). Find a place where you will not be interrupted and bring only the exercises and repertoire that you intend to practice for that session. It is very easy (and tempting) to pull up an old, easy favorite that you love but that does not necessarily challenge you. Getting back into shape also means getting out of your comfort zone.
Build up practice durations slowly. You don’t need to begin with a grad school 4 hours per day. In fact, that is the best way to burn out and burnout will likely lead you to abandon ship for Netflix and wine. Start with 10 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes is comfortable, practice 30 minutes every day for a week before upping your routine to 45 minutes. This makes practicing seem totally doable and not a huge commitment when you are starting back up after a break.
Keep a practice journal. No, I don’t mean just a list of how much you practice each day (like we all did in middle school for our band directors). Keep an actual notebook on your music stand with your goal(s) for the day, things to work on, ideas that spring up while you are practicing, what you are struggling with, what you enjoy, and any wins you have during your session.
Set a single challenging, yet achievable, goal for each practice session. Note that I said a single goal – not 40 different goals. This will help keep you focused during your session and help build back your skills gradually. More than one goal may be overwhelming and, if you are a perfectionist (like myself), not achieving every goal on your list may be discouraging during an already discouraging time. Start small yet realistic.
Meditate before each practice session. I know what you are thinking: Why be a buzzkill with a meditation before jumping into some Taffanel and Gaubert? Remember that embarking on a new daily routine will activate your inner critic who will no doubt tell you lies like, “you are too out of shape,” or “how did you let this happen??” or “you will not get back to your former glory.” Uhm, SHUT IT, inner critic! A simple guided meditation for 5-10 minutes will help clear your mind and give your inner critic a time out. Perfect way to start your session with a positive growth mindset. Remember, you are building your skills back (better than before!), not simply hopping into a musical time machine.
Start with technique. I know – It sounds crazy. What about long tones??? What about scales?? Don’t worry – they’re next! This is a bit of a mind trick and some clever musical motivation. Find your etude books and play through various exercises from a couple of mid-range difficulty collections. The Karg Elert 30 studies, Op. 107 or the Furstenau Grouping of Keys are good options, but you may select others that better fit your ability and skill level. Technical exercises will work out your fingers muscles and help your brain remember standard melodic patterns such as scales and arpeggios. This is your starting point. You will be able to identify exactly what your limitations are now and energized by the new challenges that technical studies provide. If an exercise is too difficult, find an easier one and work up to the more challenging etudes. Be patient with yourself and use this time to identify clear future goals.
Next, move on to harmonics. Harmonics are great for reconstructing your low register from scratch. There are a number of great etude books on the market that dive deep into harmonic exercises (future blog topic FYI) but as you are just starting back up the best ones to practice are those on page 6 of the Trevor Wye Practice Book on Tone. Simple, straightforward, easy to memorize. Make these a part of your daily warm-up routine and your low register will be in great shape in no time!
Long tones – Start with the middle register. Playing in the middle register requires less work from your embouchure, which you will be strengthening back up gradually. Again, Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone is a great resource because it contains separate sections for the low, middle, and high registers. Once you’ve spent some time refining your middle register, move on to the low register exercises (if you’ve been practicing your harmonics on the daily, this register should be sounding good and ready to work more closely on). Save your high notes for later – these require more gymnastics from your embouchure.
Octaves. Once your long tones are in good shape and your harmonics are kickin’, add a few octaves to your daily routine. Start on a low G and make your way to a middle G, high G, and higher G, and back down before moving chromatically up the chain to a G#. Remember to let your embouchure do the hard work and avoid relying on your air to play in higher registers.
Redefine your vibrato. After taking time away, your vibrato may be all over the place. Add some simple vibrato exercises to your daily routine. My favorite exercise was taken from a Keith Underwood masterclass in my youth and is as simple and as useful as they come. Begin with a middle/high range B natural and descend chromatically for four notes (B natural, Bb, A, Ab), placing 8 beats of wide vibrato on each note. Then begin again on a Bb and follow the same patten descending chromatically four notes, but this time with 7 beats of vibrato on each note. Repeat starting on an A with 6 beats of vibrato, Ab with 5 beats of vibrato, G with 4 beats of vibrato, and Gb with 3 beats of vibrato each. Start again with 8 beats of vibrato on F and continue the same pattern into the low register. Really listen to your vibrato and work to create a vibrato that is integrated into your sound rather than one that sits on top of the sound.
Become better friends with Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Daily Exercises (especially Exercise #4). This is the best exercise to play to redevelop your articulation chops again. Start with slurs only so your fingers know where they are going. Then practice your “too”s (single tonguing), both tenuto (connected) and staccato (short). Next, move on to your “coo”s to strengthen the back of the tongue. Finally, practice your “too-coo”s (double tonguing) on all of the scale patterns. Make this a daily habit (they are called “daily” exercises, after all).
Schedule days to focus only on intonation. Why? Because working on intonation is frustrating (let’s be honest). Schedule periodic days where you patiently work with your tuner on intonation. What are your natural tendencies for each note? How can you counteract these tendencies (ex. aiming your air differently, using more/less air, etc.)? Be patient with this process. Mastering intonation is tricky but an essential part of flute playing.
Add improvisations to the end of each practice routine. As you are packing your music up at the end of your routine, spend a couple of minutes improvising. Play from your heart. This is what music is all about anyways! Walter White has created some very fun tracks to improvise along with if you need a little improv inspiration: https://walterwhite.com/product-category/wwshop/walterwhitelongtoneaccompaniment/. I highly recommend these if you are new to improvising or just want to make it a bit more fun.
Record yourself. I know it is intimating. Recordings are mirrors for your ears that you may not want to look into. But listening to yourself on play back is the best way to identify things you can work on (and even things you don’t even know you are doing). If it is scary, keep it short in the beginning – a couple minutes here and there. Once you are comfortable analyzing your sound on an audio recording, move onto video recordings using your smart phone’s camera. This will give you even more information about how your posture changes when you play and if you are holding yourself in ways that may be detrimental to your flute playing.
Dig out those old lesson notebooks and look for great gems of advice from your past teachers. You saved these, right? There may be a few very helpful tips buried in there that you completely forgot about. Or reoccurring tendencies in your playing that you can work on now before you fall back into bad habits. Learn from the past!
Set some performing goals. Okay – don’t freak yourself out at the beginning. The beginning is for restructuring your fundamentals and technique. But as you become more comfortable with the practicing process, add a couple of short term and longer-term performance goals to your radar. Perhaps you’d like to perform a recital in 6-8 months or audition for a local orchestra in the Fall and a not-so local orchestra come Spring. Write down your goals and anticipated deadlines. What are the action steps needed to make these into reality? Take the first step!
Watch and and listen to the pros. Spend some time on YouTube watching performances from your favorite professional performers. What can you learn from them? How do they make seamless tone color changes? What does their articulation sound like? Can you emulate it? What are they playing? Is there a great new piece that you could add to your repertoire? Take notes.
Attend free (or nearly-free) online masterclasses. These are great for gathering new ideas from the pros, often for a very nominal fee! These also provide good opportunities to ask questions from the experts and connect with other flutists in the chat box. The Chicago Flute Club features many of these types of masterclasses in the Fluting with the Stars Series: https://www.chicagofluteclub.org/page-18172
Take a couple of lessons from professional flutists. These can be formal lessons or not-so formal get-togethers (for example, if you are already at a professional level, you may ask another professional flutist to listen to you perform an etude or piece of repertoire and request some honest yet constructive feedback). Private teachers can help give you some great advice and help you with any specific challenges you may face. They are also great at suggesting ways to structure your practice routine to best work for your individual needs.
Look for new fundamental exercise books. There are new etude books published every day! Once you are comfortable with your good, old standards, look into newly published books to freshen up your routine. Check out Flute World for some great new options or simply spend some quality time on Google. Or, you know, email me for suggestions (of course)!
Speaking of adding something new to your routine, find a new interesting piece to work on. Working on a new piece is a great challenge and adds a bit of newness to your routine. Flute boredom is cancelled! Listen to a few recitals on YouTube or out in the world for some great new ideas or hit up your local flute community for some recommendations.
Always celebrate your wins! As you make progress, reward yourself for any wins. This could be mastering a new piece, performing an audition, or recording a video of your playing from start to finish. Rewards could be new flute accessories or concert tickets to a local orchestra. Whatever motivates you to achieve your goals!
Have you fallen off your flute practice routine? What techniques help you get back to your best flute playing life? Are there any tips listed above that work well for you? Are there any missing from this list? Please comment below!
Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! This week’s blog will be similar to last week’s discussion on recommended etudes that isolate certain flute playing challenges. One of the items on my own list of New Year’s flute resolutions is to tighten and improve my trill game. Although they seem so basic, it is super easy to fall into the trap of playing lethargic or uneven trills. Why? Because they are often ignored. How many times have you simply wrote “faster” above a trill in your music to fix a faulty trill? Did it work? Or were you simply putting a band-aid on a larger problem? (*I am definitely guilty as charged!) In today’s blog, I will highlight my top five favorite etudes to work on trills. Remember that one of the best ways to improve trills is by taking the pressure off of the trilling key. To do this, use a slightly firmer grip on the depressed key adjacent to the trilled key (for example, put slightly more pressure on the 2nd finger of your left hand while trilling a middle register G). Like everything, practice makes perfect (even when it comes to trills!).
Dr. G’s. Top Five Trill Etude Recommendations
Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Big Daily Finger Exercises for the Flute, Exercise #17. If there was ever a Gold Standard trill exercise, this would be it! This exercise takes you through all trills from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high (or at least a top octave C – trills beyond this are rare). Make sure you have a great resource handy to look up trill fingering for some of the third octave ones that receive less air time (like high A’s and B’s). There are several fingering charts available online but I always like to have James Pellerite’s A Modern Guide to Fingerings for the Flute within arm’s reach. Taffanel and Gaubert remove all other technical obstacles in this exercise so you many focus solely on the evenness of the trills themselves. Take notes as you practice these. Which ones are easier than others? Which tend to be naturally slower and/or uneven? Slow them down and speed up gradually.
Koehler’s Eight Studies, Opus 33, Exercise #8. Word of warning – this one is a doozy! Koehler’s exercise takes us through a variety of different durations of trills, some with grace notes, some without, some with accidentals and some with virtuosic runs extending into upper registers. This etude requires you to figure out how best to place your trill into the context of larger and (much) smaller beats. Take it slowly at first to work out all of the ever-changing accidentals. Make sure not to linger too much on your trills that there is no space for the grace notes that follow. Strive to keep your trills virtuosic but still controlled and even.
Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies, Page 52-53, Andante “Exercise on Trills.” The name says it all – this is a trill exercise! This is a much more melodic, toned down version of the Koehler exercise. Featuring dotted rhythms, the trills in this etude are primarily quarter notes (with a few eighth notes thrown in for variety) and feature very few grace notes. This is a good one to practice in preparation for the Koehler. What I love about this etude is that it is short and can be practiced on a regular basis (dare say, even from memory for an extra challenge). I also like that it features trills in the middle and lower registers, which often naturally sound a bit more lethargic than high register trills. This is a great exercise for working on these “tubby” registers.
Theobald Boehm’s 24 Melodious Studies, Exercise #15.Now that you have mastered some of the more technical examples of trill playing, Boehm will ask you to play your trills with grace and beauty. This exercise features trills of a variety of durations, including dotted eighth trills at the beginning and toward the end of the page. Like the Koehler, it is important not to linger too long on the shorter trills that you take rhythmic space away from the notes that follow. Above all, keep your trills even yet lyrical. Sing these trills! Dolce after all means to play “sweetly.” How sweet can you make your trills?
Furstenau’s Groupings of Keys (Ed. Marcel Moyse), Exercise #21. This exercise is essentially a cadenza. Your trills, therefore, typically lead into a virtuosic line for you to perform your best technical gymnastics. What your trills need here is energy. Of course keep them even. Of course keep them spinning. But now also add a bit of flavor! I like to think of these trills as the fuse that is ignited on a firework. Quiet, sustained anticipation leading to an impressive light show! The quality of your trill will heighten this anticipation but also help show your audience where the line is leading. Experiment with tone colors here. It may be marked “pp” but ask yourself how you can add a bit of sparkle to your trill using your sound. Be creative and think outside of the trill box!
What is your favorite trill exercise? Do you have a favorite exercise that is missing from this list? Do you have any great tips to work on trills? Do you struggle making your trills even? Please comment below!