Flute Swabs

Are you swabbing out your flute before you put it away? Hopefully so, it is critical that you keep your flute clean inside and out. But what are you using to swab out your flute?

I advocate using a simple, 100% cotton handkerchief or bandanna. They are absorbant and nonabrasive, readily available and inexpensive. Cotton works great for wiping off the tenons so the joints go together smoothly, too. They are also washable so when they get grubby, just throw them in with the regular laundry (using fabric softeners may not be a great idea, though).
Very practical!

Silk is nice, but it can be fragile and tends to flatten out after a couple of uses. A 10″ or 12″ handkerchief will stay full enough to clean the whole tube for several uses. You could just use a strip of cotton or a square piece of cotton, but I think the edges should be finished so stray threads don’t get caught in the mechanism.

As for the fuzzy things that are so popular, I do not recommend them. They are supposed to “wick the moisture away from the pads”. Great! But what do you do after you have done that? You stick it right back into the flute! Where is the moisture supposed to go? I live in Florida and any moisture that is allowed to sit around leads to one thing, mildew. While I haven’t heard of too many cases of “flute mildew”, I do know that once you get the moisture off the pads, you should keep it away from them. If you feel you have to use the fuzzy things to swab out your instrument, fine, but do not store them in your flute or inside your case. Besides, you will still need a soft cloth to wipe off the joints and the fingerprints, so why not just get a cotton cloth or two and leave the fuzzy things alone. I also suggest that your flute cleaning cloth not be stored inside the case with your freshly swabbed out flute.

This is all part of good flute maintenance, which results in better flute performance. It’s easy, it’s practical and it’s cheap. Besides, you can create a collection of cool “flute” bandannas that will make you the most stylish and hip flutist around!

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It All Started With the Flute . . .

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

 

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Developing effective dynamics in the flute choir

This season the music my flute choir is working is filled with dynamic effects. Some are simple and straightforward, others include big, quick changes. All of them need to be done cleanly and provide big impact. Wishy washy dynamic changes will be worse than none at all.

I have made plans for developing these in every rehearsal. Here is my strategy so far:

1. Practice big effects in isolation. Practice the special effects first, then integrate them into the piece. This draws attention to them, reinforces their importance in the player’s minds, and helps the piece feel more exciting right from the beginning, leaving room to create even bigger effects as the piece comes together.

2. Encourage, nay, DEMAND that players make the biggest effects possible. I want them to really punch that sfz, turn the volume way down on the piano after a fp while keeping the intensity going, etc. It always amazes when I ask for MORE, BIGGER, and players draw back, and give less, play smaller. When I can get someone to really let loose, get into the characterization, it is such a thrill for me, and them. Really, the world will not end if you play something so big that the note cracks, or heaven forbid, you draw someone’s attention. That is what those effects are for, to get the listener’s attention!! Maybe I should get a mannekin to put in the back of the practice hall and encourage people to play to it, give them a target. Hmmmmmmm.

3. Dynamic levels are relative. The particular dynamic level of any one part at any one time, depends on the role that part has in the music. There are no concrete dynamic levels. Excellent ensemble playing requires sensitive, ACTIVE attention to individual dynamic levels every single second. If every part is marked at mezzo forte, and everyone dutifully plays their concept of mezzo forte, but the melody line is indistinguishable, that doesn’t work. It may be ‘proper’, but it is not good music. The melody line has to be louder than the supporting parts, so either that player has to play out or the others have to play quieter, or both. Then as soon as the melody line moves to another part, the players have to balance that out. This requires engagement on the part of every player and attention on the part of the ensemble conductor or coach if there is one. I feel an idea for an ensemble balancing exercise blossoming!

Really when you think about it, while dynamic levels can be quantified using a decibel meter, who does that? I have personally practiced an exercise that required the player to make distinctions between 8 dynamic levels, from ppp to fff. This is great for developing awareness and control, and is an area that I don’t pay enough attention to in my own practicing. However, the most musical concept of dynamics is not to try to play at numerically defined levels, but to make sure your dynamic levels are discernible to the listener, fit the context of the music, and have the desired impact.

That’s more than enough for now. Time to put this into practice!!

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Intonation Book Update, it’s on Amazon.com!

Just a quick update: my practice book is now formatted for eReaders and can be purchased through the Kindle store at Amazon.com. The content is the same as the PDF version I launched earlier, but formatted specifically for Kindle eReaders. Soon it will also be available through several other outlets such as the iBooks store, I’ll post that information as it happens. The book is still available in PDF form through this site, just go to the Buy the Book page for ordering instructions.

Happy Fluting!

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Preparing for Intonation Contingencies

At last week’s flute choir rehearsal, we were discussing how often we might have to tune during the concert because of people having to change to different instruments for different pieces. There were several suggestions made about how to peed the flutes warm so they wouldn’t be so flat when they are picked up for a new piece (maybe there’s a new product or gimmick to be developed here!)

One flutist described a really thoughtful, ambitious method she uses to deal with this situation. She practices the pieces as if in performance and checks the general pitch of each new instrument as she picks it up and has to play it cold. By doing this, she gets at least a general idea of how to adjust the pitch so she anticipate what she needs to do to play in tune when the flute is cold. Paying constant attention to pitch (which she should be doing anyway!) allows her to adjust as the flute warms up. Wow! This person is really thinking! Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone did this? Just one more thing to add to the list of things to do in order to be prepared for every contingency in performance. Thank you Judy for that wonderful, smart idea!

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