Articulation Inspiration

Every year at the Florida Flute Association Convention I see or hear something that inspires me, something that I try to integrate into my own playing or musical philosophy. This year I was so busy with presenting a teaching session, conducting a flute choir performance, and giving a performance presentation, that I feel like I didn’t see all that much. But, I still got my moment of inspiration!

This year’s featured performer was Aaron Goldman, principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC. After reading about him and his experience auditioning for the NSO, I looked forward to hearing him perform and learning about him. My events were all finished by Saturday evening’s gala performance, so I was free to attend and listen without the distractions of having my own things to worry about.


I will admit that I was not captivated by his performance in the gala concert. Yes, his technique was flawless and fluid, almost effortless, and his fast articulations miraculously clean, consistent, and consisting of more tone than tongue. However in my state of fatigue I was not moved and did not stay through the whole performance. Isn’t it odd that when a performance seems too effortless, it also feels as if the performer is not really engaged? I like a little of the performer’s personality to come through, a sense that he or she is excited by the music, and that was not coming through for me.

I was sufficiently impressed, though, so that I attended the next morning’s warmup session led by Mr. Goldman where he introduced people to exercises he uses to improve and maintain his sound production. The exercises were not new to me, ala Moyse, but I was impressed that Goldman actually explained why he used certain exercises, and how he used them to continually challenge himself to make better sounds and increase his skills. Teachers and presenters often don’t give you the why of a thing, resulting in students blindly trying to  recreate something that was never defined for them in the first place.

My revelation came in the masterclass Goldman taught. With one of the performers, he was given the opportunity to address articulation and how he approaches it. This was of particular interest to me, because my own double and triple tonguing are not what I would like them to be, so I was anxious to hear what he might suggest. Simply, he put the emphasis on the tone of the notes, rather than the tonguing.

This makes so much sense! Listeners don’t care so much about the mechanics of your articulation, they are interested in hearing the notes so they have something to follow. Think of the articulation like this: each articulation has a little t or k (or whatever syllable you are using) and uppercase AH:  tAH, kAH, dAH, gAH. This fits right in with the idea that the articulation only begins the note, and that once the articulation has been made, you have to get out of the way of the note.

Personally, I have been starting out OK on lengthy articulated passages, but after a few measures I start to really bear down on the articulation and the tone disappears. This is exactly what I needed to hear about right now. It is a reminder of what I already know to be true and at the same time, a new insight. I have new goals to work on now and a method of achieving them.

Mission accomplished, my yearly inspiration has been provided!

Try Gary Schocker’s trick of using a wine cork to improve flute tone

I’ve been concentrating on improving my tone lately, and came across these videos from Gary Schocker. He demonstrates how he used a wine cork to develop and improve his sound. It sounds totally off-the-wall, but it makes good sense! And since Schocker does have a glorious sound and amazing air management, this technique must be doing something good for him!

The basic idea is that positioning the cork helps you open inside your mouth and create a freer path for your air to move through. Take a look and give it a try!

Intrigued? Here is more!

Practice Diary 7/23

Neck was stiff this morning, enough to be bothersome but not enough to inhibit movement. After my stretches it was better, so we’ll see how today’s practice affects it. From reading this, you might think that I am in some sort of rehab for an injury. I have arthritis in my neck and sometimes I do things in my playing that aggravate it, like pushing my neck into weird and completely unnecessary configurations. I’m taking a cautious, mindful approach to getting back in performing shape because if I overdo it, I won’t be able to do anything for awhile, let alone play. No pity called for, it’s just another challenge on the journey. You’ll see a lot of comments about posture, alignment, and observations on how different parts of my body feel as I am playing. This is how I monitor and minimize unwarranted physical stresses in my practicing. If I don’t, I injure myself, it’s that simple. Maybe some of the things I try can be helpful to you in working on your own challenges.

– tone warmup from Trevor Wye’s tone book, page 11 or 14, I can’t remember which, I have it memorized. It’s about energizing the air to make smooth leaps
– sound is nicely smooth and steady
– I’m letting my head turn more to the left rather than looking so straight ahead, don’t push it, let it turn!

harmonic on C up to Bb3
– unusually good expansion of ribs, all the way down into pelvis, is this what it means to feel the support in the pelvic floor? hmmmmm….
– right arem is still feeling strained
– air is nicely full and direct

Paganini Caprice #11, the staccato section to end
– all breath attacks, combining exercise with sight reading
– not really separating the air sufficiently for crisp attacks, but have no problem navigating the leaps
– tone is pretty good, air is moving forward well

I seem to have found a really good set up from the floor up where the expansion is really good and free, and the music can really flow out (if I were playing any music!) My right hipbone feels a little out of place, but it seems to work; I can maintain a good alignment all the way up. Can I do this sitting? If I can remember how to do this consistently, will have to translate it to a sitting position, that is where my real posture problems lie.

Right arm and elbow want to fly away from my body (come back, elbow!), creating stress, but that can be worked on

– timer went off, but finished to dt on single pitches, G#m to CM
– have to keep air focused on single (good) spot on the strike wall, otherwise the tone goes splat all over the place
– double and triple tonguing are already better, less air disturbance on the articulations
– what is with the D#’s!!? better check for a leak

Don’t Practice Bad Tone, or Everything is a Tone Exercise

Everyone wants to play with a terrific tone, right? We spend hours on ‘tone exercises,’ contorting our embouchures, trying to wrap our heads around the concept of breath support and how to make it happen, and agonizing over whether what we are doing is having any effect. Then we finish the tone exercise portion of our practice routine and promptly go back to practicing everything else the same old way with the same old sound that we are so dissatisfied with.

Here’s a little secret that can help you make a lot of progress in a short period of time, ready? Everything is a tone exercise! If you practice with the goal of making every note you play equally great, your consistency overall will improve and you will sound much, much better. If you are playing a scale and one note doesn’t sound as wonderful as the others, stop and practice it. Figure out what is making it sound different. Is it the air speed, air direction, change in embouchure, change in support, fingering bobble, etc?

As an example, for me the D and Eb in the staff have been sounding extra airy lately, so they really stand out (to me, anyway) when playing a scale or notes adjacent to them. These notes do have a special consideration because the left hand first finger is up, creating a hole in the flute tube. To even out the sound, I needed to increase the air speed just a little, to keep the air moving past that open hole and keep the flute tube vibrating. Problem solved, scales returned to being lovely and smooth, with all the notes sounding like they were coming out of the same flute, rather than sounding like an alien had taken over for a couple of notes.

If you don’t address these inconsistencies, thinking that one or two notes aren’t going to make that much of a difference, you are essentially practicing bad tone. No one needs to do that, we already know how to do that! Practice something new, ironing out those little inconsistencies. You might be surprised how much of a difference it makes, not just in how you think you sound, but in how others think you sound. And that will be: BETTER!

Amazing Harmonic and Multiphonic Exercises

I’m doing it again, pointing you away from here to what someone else has done. Of course, when someone else has done something fantastic, there is no reason to keep it to yourself.
I’ve followed Helen Bledsoe’s comments on Flute List with interest, but I had no idea that she had put together such fantastic harmonic and multiphonic exercises. When she commented on this blog I had to check out what she was offering on hers. What I found was information on tone production that is very similar to what I use in my teaching and practicing, but more detailed and all spelled out for you to use in your own practice room. Of course, this means that there is no reason for me to do this in the future, I don’t believe in reinventing perfectly good wheels. So take a look at these exercises and try them out. They are a terrific way to start out the New Year’s practice routine!

Extended Techniques – a Do It Yourself Handout, at

Flute Practice and Technology

There has been a little controversy raging on Flute List lately regarding approaches to flute technique, specifically tone production and intonation. Some contributors are very scientific in their approach and others are not, and I think the science-oriented people got a little offended by some comments that may have made it sound like they were going about things the wrong way.

Personally, I think it’s great that some people can think about precisely aiming their air stream at very specific angles while blowing the air at a controlled and measured air velocity of x/per second, etc. That someone knows these angles and measurements impresses me to no end, but how do they know they are accomplishing this when they pick up a flute? If it were essentially that simple, then why can’t all flutist be taught to do this from the very beginning? And, when we can program a machine to do this, why do we find the results unsatisfying?

I agree that the air must be aimed at appropriate angles at sufficient velocities to produce good results. But, how each individual accomplishes that feat is less a matter of meeting specific criteria, than it is a constant exercise in trial error. Each person’s physiognomy is unique, the physical properties of flutes varies hugely, environmental conditions add to the list of variables, on and on and on. It’s a wonder that anyone learns to play well!!

But some do learn to play excellently, and many learn to play well, and I like to believe that most can achieve decent tone quality and better than passable intonation. Technology can be very useful; I use it in my practicing and I teach others how I think it should be used. But when we perform, or when we play with others, we have to be able to play without the benefit of meters measuring our pitch or our tempo or our air speed, etc. We have to learn how it feels to produce a good sound, how it sounds and feels to be in tune. Our bodies and our brains are what measure and evaluate what we are doing when we play, so we have to train them to be able to do that reliably and confidently, and then to make the necessary and constant adjustments that will get us the result we want. It’s not enough to say, “Blow at this angle and at this speed.” That is only the beginning!