Irish flute excercies?

Irish flute excercies?

In the classical world of flute playing there are tons of studies and exercises available to improve tone, technique, dexterity etc etc.

But in the world of trad there doesn’t seem to be any available…. is there?
I think this would be really useful.

Cheers

K

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

For one thing, ‘legit’ musicians spend their practice time on exercises rather than tunes because they have to show up at a gig and play, at first sight, whatever sheet music is placed in front of them. The music could be anything, from any genre, and might be dead-easy or might test the very limits of their technique, with extremely high notes, or very complex rapid passages, or anything whatever. So their practice time is spent preparing themselves to be able to handle anything. They read though numerous exercises because this also keeps their sightreading skills up to snuff.

Irish fluteplaying is completely different, because you can choose to play whatever specific tunes you want, and have all the time you choose to work on the specific tunes at your leisure. The ‘legit’ fluteplayer might have one or two run-throughs before the gig starts to play the music at a high level, the Irish fluteplayer can spend a lifetime, tens of thousands of hours, practicing one specific tune if he chooses.

Not to say that exercises are useless for an Irish fluteplayer! But they’re not necessary, as they are for a ‘legit’ fluteplayer.

When I was learning (self-taught) Irish flute back in the 1970s I couldn’t help but notice that all the ‘legit’ fluteplayers around had a far better tone than I did. I talked to them and they said there were books of exercises specifically designed to build good tone. I went to an ordinary music shop and looked through one of the books they recommended. Basically, the entire book was nothing but one exercise! Pages and pages of the same exercise, just on different notes. I didn’t need to buy the book for that! But I did start doing that exercise regularly, and it’s very helpful and my tone got much better.

The exercise is this: start on any note (let’s use Bottom D) and, with a big lungful of air, start the note as softly as possible, whisper-soft. Then steadily and slowly increase the volume of the note until it’s as loud as you can possibly play it without the note breaking, then steadily and slowly decrease the volume until whisper-soft again. All on one unbroken breath or stream of air.

It is extremely important to KEEP THE PITCH OF THE NOTE EXACTLY THE SAME throughout the exercise. Look at the needle on an electronic tuner and keep the needle pointing straight up throughout the exercise. Obviously when playing D very softly you will have to compensate for its potential flatness by adjusting your embouchure, likewise when playing D at maximum volume you will have to compensate for its potential sharpness with your embouchure.

In my opinion doing this exercise on Bottom D is the single best tone-building thing I’ve ever done. If you have more time you can work your way up the scale and do the same exercise on every note, but even if you only do it on bottom D you’ll find that your tone gets better throughout the range, with more focus and a more powerful and liquid tone.

The other helpful tonebuilding exercise is to alternate bottom D with other notes, played rather slowly, with NO TONGUING (played legato, or slurred) like this

DE DF# DG DA DB DC Dd De Df# Dg Da Db

If you can slur between a powerful booming Bottom D and a sweet clear high B it shows that you have a flexible embouchure ready to handle anything Irish flute music hands your way.

Re: Irish flute excercies?

Cool, must give those a go!

It was a good ‘tone’ that I’m most interested in developing.
Cause not matter how fast or fancy you play if the tone isnt good … its not good.

Thanks

K

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

Word for word, I agree with Richard. Additionally, I recommend playing ballads. Play a tune like Danny Boy or Give Me Your Hand. Play as schmaltzy as you can and really listen to yourself. You should sound full and rich in the lower octave and very sweet up to the high B. Your attention to tone will improve along with your breath control and ability to play lyrically and smoothly. Besides, it’s fun!

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

All very good advice. I find it slightly ironic that the hardest tunes to play on either flute or fiddle are the slow ones. It’s like parading around in the altogether—no way to hide your flaws.

Someone also told me to warm up with arpeggios—and it really applies to flute. Your hands learn those patterns that go with certain key signatures so that you *know* where things are going, even on unfamiliar tunes. (If this ignites another "playing scales and arpeggios is cr*p" debate, I didn’t say this.)

Re: Irish flute excercies?

What’s this ‘legit’ business? Too much baggage in a word like that!

I find that if I have trouble doing a passage in one tune, I pull out all of the notes involved, and spend a minute or two running around just those notes, in any order, until some patterns form and just fly off the fingers. Then, when I return to the tune, the difficult bit is suddenly ok as my fingers just seem to know where to go. Most Irish tunes are in similar keys but there are a few unusual ones, or tunes with only 5 notes used, and I use this technique on them.

When learning classical flute I did do scales & arpeggios, and the various tone exercises mentioned above. They are helpful. Of course, I had to learn scales in all sorts of keys that I don’t need to use on ITM. I can still bash them out on the Boehm flute if I pick it up and play it.

Re: Irish flute excercies?

If you go to this page:http://www.berkenhage.be/ then take the ‘music’ tab you will find audio recordings from a workshop. There are several that include exercises, especially those from J-M Veillon. His file ‘Exercises’ includes one similar to the one at the end of Richard’s post above.

Helped me a lot.

Re: Irish flute excercies?

@Kess on the other hand, good tone does not substitute for
playing the tunes properly. People often buy and sell flutes
to get a better tone (I am one of those people 🙁 ), but that is
not the name of the game. You can play beautiful Trad music
with a crap tone —- it’s like in folk singing where you get somebody
like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. They’d never get onto American Idol
but what beautiful singing.

Re: Irish flute excercies?

"like in folk singing where you get somebody
like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. They’d never get onto American Idol
but what beautiful singing."

Or William Shatner singing "Rocket Man."

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

"Good" tone to me means being in control of the tone that you are producing. Not all music wants the same tone colour; e.g. the clear tone admired in many modern classical performances is not the same as the edgier tone admired by many in ITM. And I don’t think you can call Bob Dylan’s tone bad - it is perfect for what he does with it. But that is high art. And even in the "legit" world, there is quite a lot of value placed on some strange sounds nowadays: multiphonics, plosives, whistle tones, key slaps and, yes, glottal stops.

For most of us mortals having the ability to produce a good, steady, strong and in tune tone with a tone colour that we like makes it much easier to sound good on the whole musical package. Being able to do so while varying the volume is also pretty useful. And being able to hit a note without having to feel your way into it is good too.

Flutes vary, but the answer to all this lies almost totally in you, the player, not the flute. We have all had our phases of flute searching…

Re: Irish flute excercies?

‘Legit’ in the way used by jazz musicians, meaning somebody with formal musical training who can sightread.

"Hey I found a reed guy for that gig we’re doing Saturday."
"Is he legit?"
"Oh yeah."
"Well I’ll be sure to bring the charts."

It avoids the misuse of the term ‘classical’ for a formally trained musician (who may have a university degree in music, and can sightread anything, but plays only jazz).

Re: Irish flute excercies?

Here are more embouchure exercises. Some of it overlaps with what Richard has posted or is a variant.

Long tones—play your best middle D you can, then slur it to a C#, trying to make both notes the best you can. When you’re happy with the match, play the best C# you can. Then slur C# to C. Get a good C, slur to B, etc., on down to low D. You can also do this in the second octave, either progressing up from middle D, or down from the high B. (You can start this excercise on most any note.)

The next step is octave slurs. Play a good low G, the let a high G grow out of it (if you want, fall back to the low G then.). Play a good low A, let the high A form, then do the same on B. Go back to the G, and do the same thing, this time working down to the low D. (Remember—the middle range, from roughly low G to maybe high G is the easiest part of the flute. The high and low extremes are more difficult.) You can also combine the long tones and octave slurs into one excercise, if you like.

Then, to expand flexibility and range, play middle D, then C#, D then C natural, D then B, D then A, D then G, D then F#, D then E, D then low D. Then go up: middle D to E, D to F#, etc. The farther apart the notes are, the harder it is. You can start this excercise on any note and work up and down from that "home base" note. For instance, start on low G, work down to low D, then work up from the G (G to A, G to B, G to C natural, G to C#, etc.) Eventually, you want to be able to jump from high B down to low D, and vice versa. Over time, this excercise will give you the ability to jump cleanly between any two notes.

With all these excercises, take your time, play as much as sounds good (your range will expand over time), and make each note the best you can. Also, once you’re comfortable, try these excercises at different
dynamics: normal, soft, loud. I wouldn’t use an electronic tuner all the time, but it’s good check your intonation from time to time.

One of the best ways to strengthen your lips is by practicing harmonics. There are lots of ways to do this, but a good one is to play a scale based on harmonics. This is a little tricky at first, so don’t force it. If you can’t make it all the way to the top, don’t. Eventually you will be able to. Here’s the scale: D E F# G A B C# D, starting in the second octave (middle D) and playing up to the third octave D. Here’s how it’s fingered, low to high:

D xxxxxx
E xxxxxo
F# xxxxoo
G xxxooo
A xxxxxx
B xxxxxo
C# xxxxoo
D xxxooo

The only "real" fingerings you’re using are for the first four notes of the scale, then you start playing harmonics, instead of the actual note you’re fingering. Don’t blow harder for the high notes, just a bit faster (smaller lip opening) and aim the air a little bit higher (not as much into the flute). You may want to begin by using the normal fingering for the note and then switch to the harmonic fingering. For instance, finger the high A xxoooo, then xxxxxx. High C# fingered oooooo will be flat, so don’t sweat it (0xxx00 or a key will bring up the pitch). The standard fingering for the high D is oxxooo. The standard fingerings vent the notes better than the harmonic fingerings do, which is why the notes are easier to hit using normal fingerings. This is a pretty good lip work-out, so make sure you balance it out with lower exercises.

And here’s James Galway doing a good demonstration of the embouchure. (The other parts of the masterclass are interesting, too, but for this is the most wooden-flute appropriate part.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQg0vScnQ8E&mode=related&search=

(By the way, don’t feel bad if you can’t hit the second octave on the headjoint like he does—it’s easier on a silver headjoint because it has a taper, whereas our wooden headjoints are straight tubes.)

Re: Irish flute excercies?

Galway has a horrible tone.

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

Thanks for that insight, Bernie.

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Re: Irish flute excercies?

@crackpot - I agree with all that, coming from Planet Classical myself