It All Started With the Flute . . .

December 17, 2016 at 5:02 pmCategory:Uncategorized

Imagine if the invention of the flute was the first step to the invention of computers? Musicians already know that musical activities can inspire great ideas in other fields. Steven Johnson, writer and researcher on the history of innovation, presents an entertaining and informative video describing how the invention of the flute 40,000 years ago can be connected to the invention of computers. Another prime example of how important music is to the human race (and should be in homes and schools, hint, hint!)

Click on the link to see Johnson’s TedTalk video, it’s surprisingly fun as well as informative!

How Play Leads to Great Inventions

 

Share

Inspired by Pentatonix

December 9, 2016 at 9:08 amCategory:Uncategorized

I believe that much inspiration can be gained by listening to and watching the performances of excellent musicians, whether they perform Classical or pop, are instrumentalists or singers. One of my favorites to listen to and watch is the acapella group Pentatonix.

Especially at this time of year, I find listening to Pentatonix, and watching their videos to be very inspiring.  Their arrangements of Christmas classics combine the familiar beauty of old-fashioned carols with fresh, modern interpretations. Performance-wise they display such perfection of intonation and attention to detail that I think of them as excellent inspiration for what can be achieved by conscientious musicians playing in an ensemble.

From watching them in the videos it is evident that they  listen to each other closely, ALL THE TIME, EVERY SINGLE SECOND, so they can interact and adjust accordingly. I feel like I can almost see how intensely they are listening to each other, blending their individual voices into the overal sound and texture.

They also put the maximum amount of effort and attention into every syllable. It doesn’t matter whether they are singing lead or backup, each singer performs each and every note as if it were the most important note in the song. And their use of different syllables and mouth shapes to create specific sounds (also applicable to wind players, especially flutists!) demonstrates how much thought and pre-planning they put into making each piece of music special.  They are fully invested in making every moment great, because they know that every note counts.

For emphasis on intonation in a simple carol, check out Pentonix singing First Noel.

To hear how they approach tunes without lyrics, this link takes you to Pentatonix singing Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Suite, a fun listen and entertaining video!

And if you want just a little more, this arrangement of Carol of the Bells is fantastic! I hope that as you listen and you sill be inspired to continue developing your musical skills!

Share

More on Improving Intonation With Drone Practice

November 30, 2016 at 9:00 amCategory:Intonation Practice | Practicing the Flute

Image result for intonation

Believe it or not, I am not the only musician who believes that practicing with drone pitches is a great way to develop good intonation skills. Professional saxophonist and Alexander Technique teacher Bill Plake does, too.

If you’ve read more than a couple of posts on Practicing Flutist, my views on why you should practice intonation skills with a drone are pretty obvious. I love it when I find others doing the same things I am doing, but in a slightly different way or to develop different skills.

When I came across Bill Plake’s post about how he workes with a drone, I wanted to share them with you. He even uses drone practice as a way to encourage rhythmic variation in improvisation practice, more proof that the possibilities are endless! So check out this post from his blog on billplakemusic.org to get someone else’s viewpoint on drone practice.

http://billplakemusic.org/2015/08/30/a-highly-effective-and-really-fun-way-to-improve-your-ears/

Share

Intonation Practice Exercise with a Drone 1

November 29, 2016 at 9:50 amCategory:Intonation Practice | Practicing the Flute

Image result for pitch

If you’ve never done intonation exercises with a drone, here is a good way to get started.

First you need a drone generator. This is any device that will play and hold a steady pitch, the drone. Many tuners and tuner apps will sound pitches, electric pianos will sound a pitch as long as a key is depressed, or a cooperative musical friend can provide drone pitches (good practice for both of you!)

Now choose a scale that you are comfortable and confident playing. You want to be able to use your best sound throughout, so start with your best scale, if you have one.

Set the drone generator to the tonic or keynote of that scale, e.g. C for a C major scale, A for an a minor scale and start the drone playing.

Starting at the lowest tonic you can play for the scale, play it against the drone, listening to hear if you are playing above or below the drone pitch, with the aim of matching the pitch of the drone. When you can match the drone and hold that pitch, then play up the scale, slurring, to the next octave. When you arrive at the tonic pitch, check it against the drone as you did for the first note. Do this for all octaves you can play. When you get to the top, then work your way back down, checking and matching all the tonic pitches as you go.

Once you have completed working your way all the way up and all the way down, do it again and ask yourself these intonation questions as you go.

1. How much am I having to adjust as I arrive on each keynote? If I’m making big adjustments, how do I keep that from being necessary?

2. Are the adjustments different for ascending the scale and descending the scale? Why might this be the case? What can I do about this?

Try this for a week, on all the scales you regularly practice, and see what you notice about your intonation. Share your results in comments, Twitter @FlutistDeanna, Facebook etc. I’d love to hear how you do!

 

 

Share

Intonation Naivete; Be Kind to Your Listener’s Ears

November 28, 2016 at 3:15 pmCategory:Uncategorized

Image result for ear hearing music

 

When I was young and naïve, I liked to program unaccompanied pieces, because I thought that I didn’t have to pay as much attention to intonation. If there was no other instrument to compare my pitch to, nobody would notice if I was a little (or a lot!!) flat on the low notes or just a tad (or a mile) sharp on the high notes? After all, only those extremely rare people with perfect pitch could tell the difference and even that was about the notes, not the intonation, right? HA! I was so wrong, and if you think this way, too, so are you!

Learning to play in tune isn’t just about learning to play in tune with others, it also about learning to play in tune with yourself. If you are playing without accompaniment, the pitch of the first note you play determines the placement and intonation of every note that comes after. EVERY NOTE.

In the listener’s ear, the intonation is always relative to some reference point. As a piece progresses, the reference might shift a little, but the listener’s brain is constantly measuring and comparing each new pitch to pitches that came before. The proportions of the intervals are dictated by mathematical proportions that occur naturally. Your brain recognizes them, even if you don’t know specifically what they are. Even if no one in your audience has perfect pitch, there is something in each of their brains that says “Hm, the notes seem like they fit, but something is a little off.” If the intervals between the reference pitch and succeeding pitches are too big or too small, you run the risk of sounding ‘off-key’ if it’s really bad, or just not quite right if it is only a little. So, yes, your intonation matters even when you are playing unaccompanied pieces.

To address this, practice your unaccompanied pieces against a drone pitch,  usually the tonic pitch of the piece or section you are working on. I advise you to practice this way for two reasons. First, so you can work on keeping a consistent pitch center, not letting your overall pitch wander around. Second, so you can work on learning the sizes of the intervals between the tonic and the other notes in the piece. It’s not enough to know the notes and which keys to press and how to make each note sound pretty, you have to learn the actual sizes of the intervals.

Just like when you sing and you don’t have keys or finger positions to help you find the pitches, you have to learn the size of each interval from one note to the next and from the tonic to each note. (Knowing the pitch tendencies of your instrument and how you play it is very helpful in this endeavor, hint, hint) This is what ear training courses are supposed to teach you, though most forget to teach you why you might want to know how to do this.

I’m starting to ramble now, and maybe rant a little, so I’ll summarize by saying this. Yes, your intonation does matter when you play unaccompanied pieces, so you have to subject them to the same careful intonation practice that you would anything else. Your audiences will thank you for it!

Share