Month: March 2022

Getting Experimental: Singing and Playing on the Flute

Photo by Charles Parker on

Hey there musicians! Spring has finally sprung! And I am so glad to be back for another guest post this Flute Friday. My name is Aleah, and I’m going to be talking about the benefits of singing and playing. 

I have been admittedly practicing more guitar and piano than I have been flute lately…And it’s been apparent in my tone. Uh oh. One way I like to get my embouchure and breath support back into shape is by playing overtones, and, from singing (humming) and playing. 

Singing and Playing: An Introduction 

Did you know that you can both sing and play the flute at the same time? When the concept was first introduced to me in undergrad, I nearly scoffed out loud during my lesson. My flute professor wanted me to do what?!

My prof was working on a solo piece by a modern Iranian composer, which involved singing different tones than what you were playing. I wish I could recall the name of the piece and or the composer, but alas, it escapes me. 

When I expressed interest in trying out the technique myself, all the etudes and bookwork I had been assigned went to the wayside, and we focused the entire lesson on singing and playing. While I didn’t succeed for the first week (and didn’t get much besides a spitting sound the first day…), this is now one of my favorite ways to warm up. 

Singing and playing is one of the three ways we can create multiphonics on the flute. This technique is easier to create on the flute than on other winds because the flute has such a low level of resistance (back pressure). 

Background: Singing and playing is a 21-st century extended technique. This technique can be found in genres from contemporary classical, and flute beatboxing, to modern jazz. 

And while it isn’t found in flute repertoire very often (There actually isn’t even a standardized way to notate it yet!), I find it to be one of the most helpful ways to practice. Here’s why: 

  • It improves your tone
  • It trains your ears
  • It helps you conserve your breath
  • It gets you multitasking

Before I dive too deeply into the benefits of this technique, here are a few tips for getting both your ‘hum’ and your flute tone to sound simultaneously:

  • Stop being such a ‘good flute player’
  • Start by singing the same note you are playing  
  • Try alternating between starting your hum first then adding the flute note in, and then vice versa 

When we try and keep our embouchure very focused and proper, oftentimes, extended techniques will not sound at all. Get experimental with your embouchure. Think about that feeling when you do percussive tonguing or other extended techniques you don’t typically see in Classical-Era classical music. Don’t be “A good flute player”. 

While you may be tempted to jump right into turning this new flute party trick into a multi-phonic, you may want to hold the phone for just a minute. I found the most success with starting out on the same note in both my voice and the flute. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same octave, though.

The last tip I have before I really get into the ‘pros’ of singing and playing is this: Don’t try and do both at once! This may sound counterintuitive, but adding in the voices one-at-a-time, so to speak, will help you have better control. 

The Benefits of Singing and Playing 

It Makes Your Tone More Resonant 

When you sing and play at the same time, it forces your throat to be open. Tight throats are an enemy of any flutist looking to have a soaring and brilliant high range. If your throat is too closed, the hum simply doesn’t come out or is very weak. Balancing the levels of the two voices is key. 

As I’ve been teaching a new adult student of mine these past few weeks, I’ve been talking more and more about the changes I’ve been noticing in my throat as I transition to different air directions or targets. 

It Trains Your Ears

Because the flute is so close to you, it is very difficult to sing a different note than what you are playing, even if it isn’t dissonant.  You know when you are having a great tone day, and you can feel every note you play reverberating in your fingers? Now, try going against the grain. 

Fight against that tonic, and hum something else over top of it. 

And octave? Pretty easy. 

A tritone? Not so much. But with practice, you can really improve your ear training and even sight-singing by doing this. 

It Forces You to Conserve Your Breath

Even if you decide to keep practicing humming/ singing the same note that you are playing, you still are focusing on an essential skill on the flute: conserving your breath. 

As an asthmatic and classical flutist, I should honestly incorporate this into my practice more often. 

When I am singing and playing, I imagine this small graphic in my mind- The air from my lungs coming up, and splitting into two equal parts: 50% for singing, and 50% for playing the flute. Now, I’m not exactly sure how scientifically accurate that description is, but nevertheless, when you sing and play, you will need to conserve your air for sake of expression. 


This extended technique almost feels like playing the piano, when it comes to the sheer brainpower it takes to make it happen. Who says flutes can’t play two notes at once?! 


Once you get your feet wet and are incorporating singing and playing into your daily practice, consider adding one the following pieces into your repertoire: 

-Lookout (Robert Dick) 

-The Great Train Race (Ian Clarke) 

Lookout is one of Robert Dick’s most famous pieces- and for good reason!  This piece for flute alone is both haunting and ethereal. The Great Train Race is probably the most daunting piece that I’ve heard with this type of multiphonic (But it has other extended techniques in it as well). If you’ve always been a train enthusiast, or just like a good challenge, this one’s for you! 


Diane Picchiottino

Whether you want to improve your singing and playing to have a new (and impressive) flute technique under your belt, or to improve your air conservation and tone, it’s worth taking the time to check out! 

Have you ever tried singing and playing? What tip helped you consistently get both tones to sound? Comment down below!

Oh- and happy (experimental) fluting! 

Aleah Fitzwater is a classical flutist and music educator with a passion for arranging pop-punk and alternative songs for flute choir. She also teaches people how to digitize sheet music with optical music recognition on the ScanScore blog: 

You can find more of her multi-genre fluting on Youtube, Instagram, and Spotify under Aleah Fitzwater, and AleahFlute. 


Playing from the Heart – Lessons from Irish Music

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day! Hope you all wore green, ate some wonderful Corned Beef and hash, and played a few tunes on your tin whistles. St. Patty’s Day always reminds me of an Ethnomusicology project I completed during my doctoral studies that took place at an Irish pub (a very fun place to learn about Irish folk music!). Not only was I surrounded by excellent food, overflowing pints of Guinness, and fun and laughter from all directions, but I was also immersed in music – Music that came directly from the heart. What struck me during these sessions was how differently music was used as a communication device between players and not just a performance for a hushed audience. It was refreshing to see performers free themselves from the crushing need to play the notes “correctly” and just, well, play! I walked away with many valuable lessons about Irish music and playing from the heart. In today’s blog, I will be sharing some of these lessons. Irish music isn’t just about playing fun jigs on tin whistles – It is also about connecting with others in new and meaningful ways.


1.   Perfectionism. Particularly in America, there is a certain and constant “need to get it right” when it comes to performing music. As Mirjana Lausevic explains in her book, Balkan Fascination, musics found outside of the Western classical music society, such as Balkan music, uncover these tendencies and offer alternative reactions to the music making process:

Unlike Western classical music, much music and dance in the Balkans is not reserved for the talented few.  People of various levels of skill and experience often sing and dance together.  This accessibility of music-making to all members of a community is very appealing to many Americans who do not want to be “perfect,” but to make music in a communal and friendly atmosphere.  Specialty scenes and contexts like the Balkan camps provide alternatives to the competitiveness and exclusivity of most classical music education. (Page 33)

Irish music also falls under this non-Western genre of music. Accessibility opens music up to more people seeking a musical community regardless of skill or experience. The beauty of creating Irish music in America is that musicians can confront their perfectionist tendencies head-on, using music instead as a vehicle of socialization rather than a tool for performance.

2.  From the Heart. The pub owner at the time told me that many musicians in Ireland do not read music because they learn it all “by heart.” Freedom from the score means they can better internalize the music they learn and carry it with them always.

3. No Seating Charts/Chair Designations. There was no formal seating chart for the Monday night Learner’s group – They all simply sat around small tables, sipping wine and pints of Guinness, waiting for the rest of the musicians to arrive. No fighting over principal parts.

4. No Formal Starts. Irish musicians play melodies that are organized into “sets,” which include three tunes that are played three times with no rests between pieces. The music contained no formal “start” as everybody joined in when they felt ready. Players began playing and stopped during a set whenever they felt appropriate.  This informality gave the group a more laid back, gig-style performance.

5. Community-Based Dynamics. During a set, performers varied their dynamics to let different instruments stand out of the texture.  Whether this was intentional or not was unknown at the time, but it would later be discovered as part of a “follow the leader” technique that was employed in virtually all of the pieces played in session music.

6. No Stops. As the group moved seamlessly from the first set to the next, the music remained steadfast regardless of who was “lost” and where others wanted to join in.  For example, when a fiddler left momentarily to pour a glass of water, the group played another tune in the same way with sporadic entrances from different instruments. 

7. Strong Sense of Beat. Despite the piece and/or duration, every session musician had an extremely strong sense of beat. Nobody ever “fell” off the big beat.

8. Everyone is a Leader. During an observation of the Advanced session, the musicians allowed the music to trail off until another instrument assumed a leadership role and initiated a new tune.  Uncomfortable breaks remained at a minimum.

9. Taking Breaks – Make New Friends! At the conclusion of a group of sets, when it was appropriate to take a break, there was a small moment of awkward silence before individuals began to indulge in conversations with the musicians in their periphery, typically related to non-musical subjects such as the events of the weekend and previous Facebook communications. 

10. Follow the Leader Style. When starting a new set, the group often waited for the leader to finish playing through the melody once, varying dynamics after joining the melody in order to allow that leader to play out from the group whenever necessary. The proceeding leaders followed suit and began a great guessing game – When will the melody change?  In Ireland, the tune will last as long as the leader wants it to.

11. Laughing at Mistakes. Irish musicians were less concerned with “getting it right,” and tended to laugh more with one another when making mistakes. When was the last time you laughed at a missed note??? Try it sometime!

12. Tunes as Tradition. Tunes are passed down through tradition but the translation of that tune (whether written or otherwise) is really just a record of how one person played a tune at a particular time. There may be hundreds of notated versions of the same tune, but the authenticity of one is never valued over another.

12. Teaching Irish Music. One of the musicians I met during this project told me that the objective in teaching Irish music is to “teach people how to teach themselves.” Teachers are urged to empower, not discourage students.

13. Ornamentation is Ornamental. The true melody of a tune is valued above any ornamentation. Used as a way to emphasize a beat, the two most common types of ornamentation in traditional Irish music are cuts and rolls.  Applying Western Classical musical terminology for a moment, a cut can be compared to a single, very quick grace note played on the beat of the ornamented note, often taken from the “diatonic” note above.  A roll is a fast turn surrounding the primary note and is again played on the downbeat. The leader typically plays the unornamented melody first before adding ornamentation. Players do not have to copy the leader’s ornamentation but are encouraged to devise their own – As long it is used to highlight the primary melody.

14. From “the Dots.” Using scores, although rare, is known as playing “from the dots.” If we think about manuscripts as just “the dots,” it is easy to separate the page from the performer. We are the ones that bring the dots to life, after all.

15. Localities. Traditional tunes are based on the locale they originate from – Like a musical museum. Many pieces are dance tunes taken from different traditions. Part of the challenge is finding the local inflections buried in the music and bringing these out.

16. Happiness is the Answer. The Irish musicians I observed during this project seemed to enliven the music as they danced along to melodies in their seats and tapped their feet along to the beat essentially with their entire bodies.  The strongest players laughed and treated the music with a type of happiness that is often missing from classical groups. Is happiness the key to Irish music? After all of my observations, I indeed believe that happiness is the greatest gift that Irish music offers to its performers.


Do you play Irish flute? What are some of the lessons you have learned shifting between the Irish music tradition and Western Classical music? What do you think we can learn by studying Irish music? How often do you “play from the heart” rather than “from the dots”? Please comment below!

Happy fluting!

A Sleight of Lung – Circular Breathing

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

I have been reminiscing a lot this week about past flute lessons and some of the obstacles I have faced in previous chapters in my flute playing life. A reoccurring theme back in my younger days was breathing. I often placed breathing at the bottom of my performance priority list to focus on technique and playing my high notes as loud as I feasibly could. This was often to the dismay of my flute teachers (sorry, y’all!). The good teachers helped me devise better breathing plans and the great teachers introduced me to tools designed to help me work with the air capacity I already had (breathing bags, breath builders, etc.). Even so, there was always one technique that seemed mysterious and unattainable yet way too far over my head. I knew it would help if I could master it, but I could not muster the courage to try. That technique was circular breathing. Some of the professional flutists I admired most wrote about this technique, practiced it religiously, and regularly performed incredible phrases on what seemed to be a single breath of air. Was it a magic trick? Was it a sleight of hand (or, I guess, in this case it would be a sleight of lung)? I wanted to know but was too shy to ask. As an adult regaining my flute mojo, I am ready to dive headfirst into learning more about this technique (however unsuccessful I end up being at actually executing it). In today’s blog, I will be looking at circular breathing – what it is, how to do it, what resources are available, and if it is worth learning. For all of you fellow shy or rebellious breathers, hopefully this post will inspire you to try something new!


What is it? Circular breathing, in a nutshell, allows a player to simultaneously inhale air to fill the lungs while exhaling air to seamlessly sustain a note or phrase. Learning how to do it takes a lot of patience and teaching it takes a lot of cheerleading. It often takes months to years to learn how to do it and it can be used on all types of flutes (including piccolo). Circular breathing on the flute is quite difficult because the flute does not have much natural resistance (instruments such as the oboe have a much easier time learning this technique because a reed or mouthpiece offers a larger degree of resistance). Instead, flutists must have great control over their embouchure to create enough resistance to keep the airflow moving. The sound produced from circular breathing is similar to that of a stringed instrument (such as the violin) when it sustains a note, changing bow directions without changing the sound.

Background. It is said that circular breathing originated with 13th century Mongolian metal workers who used the technique to continuously blow into tubes to melt gold and silver as they created ornaments and various other trinkets. It has since been used widely on various flutes from around the world including the Australian digeridoo (to sustain drones), the Klui (Thailand), the Suling (Bali, Indonesia), the Saluang (Sumatra, Indonesia), and the Di-Zi (China). Will Offerman has a wonderful page where you may hear audio samples from some of these very unique instruments: . Check it out! Circular breathing is quickly becoming more mainstream. Kenny G, for example, used circular breathing in 1997 to set the Guinness World Record for the longest-held note on a wind instrument at 45 minutes and 47 seconds, a record that has since been broken several times (For those way younger than me, Kenny G. is an American Smooth Jazz Saxophone player who was super popular in the early 90’s). Kenny G. even has his own tutorial on circular breathing:

How to Do It (The Simple Version):

1. While playing, store some air in your mouth by inflating the cheeks.

2. Expand the cheeks and allow the remaining air in your lungs to fill the newly created space in your mouth.

3. When the cheeks are inflated, move the back of the tongue upwards to touch the back of the hard palate, creating a separate reservoir of air in the mouth and an open pathway from the nostrils to the lungs.

4. Play a note until just before you are about to run out of air. Use the pressure and resistance from your cheeks against your embouchure to push the air out at the same speed as when you are playing normally.

5. SIMULTANEOUSLY (yeah, you read that right..), play for a short time by squeezing the air out of the mouth and cheek muscles while filling your lungs with air by inhaling through your nose.

6. Return the back of the tongue to the normal position, restoring the airflow from the lungs to the flute again and play normally.

7. Repeat (as many times as needed).

A great way to start practicing circular breathing is by using a straw and a glass of water. Blow bubbles into the water through the straw using the resistance of your cheeks to keep the bubbles going while inhaling simultaneously through your nose.

Resources. There are a handful of great resources to use while you are learning to circular breathe. I really like the following videos by Melissa Keeling (who recommends 5-10 minutes of practice per day) and the video series by Rogier de Pijper because they both break down the technique into smaller steps that you may practice gradually. I really like this approach and recommend starting here! Robert Dick’s book, Circular Breathing for the Flutist, is essentially the flute bible of circular breathing: Wil Offerman also has an etude devoted to circular breathing in his book, For the Contemporary Flutist (Etude #10): Finally, there are a handful of flute works that require the performer to know how to circular breathe including Gergely Ittzes’ Projections and Ian Clarke’s The Great Train Race.

If you are struggling and just want a pep talk (or a chuckle), check out Angus McPherson’s article, The Seven Worst Things about Circular Breathing. He touches on some of the downsides to circular breathing which include snorting and drooling (eww). The moral of the story, however, is to keep working on it even when it gets difficult. It is a skill that is well worth the effort to learn!

Potential Benefits. Learning to circular breathe makes playing transcriptions of string repertoire much more attainable. Is there a piece written for violin that you would LOVE to play on the flute? Learn to circular breathe to sustain those notes and unending phrases! It is also great to use in orchestral works (such as Mahler symphonies). Robert Dick, for example, used circular breathing as principal flutist of the Brooklyn Philharmonic in New York and has made it, “part and parcel of my compositional and improvisational approaches to the flute.” (from this awesome blog post on the NFA website:


Do you know how to circular breathe? How did you approach learning this technique? What resources do you recommend? Have any inspirational success stories about circular breathing experiences? Please comment below!

Happy fluting (and breathing)!

BOOK REVIEW: The Top Octave Book – Playing with Artistry by Patricia George

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

If you have been reading my blog lately, you will know that I am on a quest to get my playing chops back into shape after spending the past couple years writing a book. Part of this process involves facing the things that challenge me the most. My high register and I have had a complicated love/hate relationship from the very beginning. In my younger days, I was quite proud of my ability to belt out notes in the high register like an 80’s hair band guitarist (rock on!), however this was mostly to distract from the fact that playing softly in same range, with a decent center and focused sound, was definitely my Achilles heel. I relied on using more air to create more sound. Seemed like a simple principle at the time… As I morphed into a more advanced player, I realized that it doesn’t really work that way. Now as an experienced adult flute player getting her flute playing groove back, I am trying to redevelop the better habits I’ve picked up along the way and avoid the old standards that keep my high notes from singing as effortlessly as they should. I picked up a copy of Patricia George’s new etude book, The Top Octave Book, recently and found it to be a great resource to accomplish some of my nearest and dearest high register goals. In today’s blog, I will be reviewing this book, discussing, among other things, some of my favorite elements on the design of the studies, the creative warm-ups and exercises, and the flexible nature of the entire work (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Just supporting a book I am enjoying). Thank you, Patricia George, for creating such as wonderful way to work on my Achilles heel!

Before I begin, I also wanted to mention that Patricia George will be hosting a Teacher’s Exchange workshop with the Chicago Flute Club this weekend (Sunday, March 6, 2022, 2:00-3:30 pm CST) where she will be discussing topics such as stance, setup, harmonics, teaching scales with tetrachords, and note-groupings. This is a virtual workshop and the cost to join is only $5.00 for non-members or free to Chicago Flute Club Members (that’s less than a drink at Starbucks!). The deadline to register for this class is tomorrow at 10:00 pm CST! Please visit the following link to sign up: (Please note: This is also not sponsored. I just really love these virtual classes offered through the Chicago Flute Club. I am a big fan of their Fluting with Stars series and hope that it continues into the future). Check it out!


BOOK REVIEW: The Top Octave Book – Playing with Artistry

So, this is going to be less of a “review” and more of a list of things I love about this new book. As someone who has spent countless hours in the past drilling top octave patterns from Taffanel and Gaubert’s 17 Daily Exercises (particularly Exercise No. 1) and stress-practicing excerpts from works such as Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Peter and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, this book has been like a type of therapy for me. I’ve learned to deconstruct my high register gradually while thinking about melodies in new, creative ways. If you also struggle with your high register, this is totally the book for you!

1.         Structure. As an ISTJ Myer’s Briggs personality type, I am addicted to structure. The Top Octave is organized in an easy-to-follow format that varies different types of exercises in a progressively difficult structure, complete with a guide-map on page 5 (“Practice Plan”) that explains what each of the five parts of the book intends to accomplish and recommendations on how much time to spend on each exercise. This, of course, will vary depending on your skill level. This structure reminds me of Walfied Kujala’s Vade Mecum but in a far more accessible way that can be used in each practice session without having to constantly shift between short exercises.

2.         Warm-Ups. There is an excellent Warm-Up section on pages 6-7 that includes a handful of simple, yet very effective, warm-ups for your high register. What I like the most about these is that they are short and super easy to memorize (this reminds me of some of the Trevor Wye exercises that I love and have used for decades). Word of warning – Do not be fooled by appearances. These are harder than they look (particularly double tonguing at the top of the range).

3.         Interesting Stories in Descriptions. I also really like the gems that can be found in some of the descriptions in this book. One of my favorites is Joseph Mariano’s idea of octaves as slices of bread and sound as the ingredients between these slices. Brilliant!

4.         Short, Clear Exercise Descriptions. I’ve often come across technique books that do not really give us an idea of how to practice an exercise or what the overall objective is. On the flip side, some books include so much descriptive material that nothing is really left up to interpretation by the performer (my way or the highway-type editions). This book offers clear, concise descriptions that give us a basic idea of how to approach the material (for example, some of the exercises in Part 3 indicate to play 8 bars, slurred in one breath, making it clear that breath control is the name of the game) but also allow flexibility to change it up by using various articulations.

5.         Barret Progressive Melodies (Part 5). The last section of the book includes 40 Progressive Melodies by A.M.R. Barret. These are wonderful high-register melodies that are short enough to practice one each day for more advanced performers. These remind me a lot of the studies in Marcel Moyse’s Tone Development Through Interpretation book (which is also a great companion book to The Top Octave). Many of these studies challenge the player to successfully play piano (p) in the high register, often at the very beginning of the work. This puts my Achilles heel front and center (no hiding, this time)!

6.         Seamless Octaves Exercise. There is an exercise in the middle of the Barret Progressive Melodies entitled, “Seamless Octaves.” This exercise serves almost as a reminder of the important fundamental skills and finger dexterity needed to successfully complete the book on, pardon the pun, a high note.

7.         Part 3 – Pair with Articulation Exercises. Many of the studies in Part 3: Advanced Top Octave Preparation, can be practiced with the same type of articulation exercises (aka scale games) that we use for Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #4, particularly the Major Scales and Dominant 7ths. For ideas on scales games to use in conjunction with these exercises, please see my blog, Scale Games, Are they Really “Fun”?

8.         Chunking. This book presents the concept of “chunking” (or note-grouping) in a very clear, easy to follow way, first with a great concise description of the technique on page 5 (“Special Challenges”), followed by scale studies organized in clear chunks (“Part 2: Top Octave Preparation.”). This is a great place to start practicing chunking if you, or your students, are new to the technique.

9.         Remember the Cork! There is a really good description on the importance of aligning your cork on page 2. We often forget about the cork and its role in helping the high register to pop.

10.       Simple Embouchure Exercise. There is a very simple yet effective embouchure exercise using just the headjoint on page 4. Again, this is something that simplifies the process of working on embouchure flexibility that can easily be memorized and used on a daily basis.

11.       Part 3 – Advanced Top Octave Preparation. I think this is overall my favorite part of the book! These exercises are all about using your embouchure, air speed, and airstream to balance your sound throughout the range while successfully using less air at the very top of the register. How else are you to get all 8 measures of each technical study in one breath? Very clever! Word of warning – Don’t be fooled by the easier studies at the beginning. The ones at the very top of the top octave are not easy! This is a great challenge but an obtainable one with practice. Pro Tip: Try practicing “snappy fingers” between each note (moving fingers deliberately and quickly – I sometimes refer to this as “robot fingers” to my students). This will help keep your technique fluid yet controlled while you place your primary focus on your embouchure and air control.

12.       Part 4: Phrasing Tips for 40 Progressive Melodies by A.M.R. Barret. This is my other favorite part of the book! Part 4 includes some really great ideas on how to add color and contour to phrases in Part 5 (Barret’s 40 Progressive Studies). I especially appreciate the discussion on using dynamic variations as a phrasing technique (this is a great description for students). These ideas make players think a bit more critically and creatively about the subsequent musical material. There is, after all, more than one correct way to color a phrase.

Thank you to Patricia George for writing such a great exercise book for the top register!! You are helping repair my Achilles Heel one top-octave scale at a time.


Where can I purchase this book?


Do you own a copy of The Top Octave already? Enjoying it? Do you also have a love/hate relationship with your high register? What are your favorite exercises and/or etude books to work on notes at the extreme high end of the flute range? Please comment below!

Happy fluting!