What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Initially, starting out on the road to learning traditional flute, I wrote on this discussion board, probably looking for encouragement with my playing, or at least some sort of guideline. The answers were very encouraging , and so nearly 4 years later ,thankfully I’m still playing. My query is,? how advanced should one be after 4 years. Yes I’m playing tunes, but my breathing, is still a mountain, I’m finding hard to climb.
My practice is consistent ,I’m fairly motivated when it comes to music,but Im still not confident enough to face a live session
Regards Tommy

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

After four years, I would expect a fair degree of competence. Certainly, the fundamentals of playing the instrument should be in your grasp. This might not mean you have Irish trad style mastered; the time for that varies dependent on how musical your thinking is and how steeped you are in how the masters play.

Now, if breathing is your issue, you have more of a fundamental issue to conquer. A teacher could help. What I can tell you is that, just as no one needs to tell you how and when to breathe when you speak, the same is true when you play. If a listener can hear you take a breath, you haven’t learned the basics. A piece is broken down into manageable phrases. Over time, this should become second nature, as it does when you speak. I expect a teacher could observe the current obstacles and correct them. I suggest you look into that, specifically, asap.

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Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

With any luck this will be the weakest answer. I sat in sessions for 2 years as a (welcomed) listener mostly holding my flute and another two playing bits of tunes at best unless someone kindly encouraged me to play something and the group took my tenuous lead. Yeah, my ego took a beating. So yeah maybe 4 years is time to step at least into the shallow end of the pool. I would suggest a couple of markers/steps. First (I’ll defend this to my death) if you can’t play a tune to a metronome you either don’t know the tune or can’t play in time. Use one at least as much as you need to keep yourself honest. Then look to youtube videos of sessions and solo players. Pick out the good ones, you know the ones I mean, the players that you enjoyed listening to. Then play along with them. Note: you have some control over playback speeds. Recordings are useful as long as they’re not flashy show-band CD’s. Be brutally honest when you assess you ability to fit in. If you can play with the recording you know that you can “play well with others”. The real obstacles then, and they can be mountains, are the ones you carry with you. For me it helped to own the notion that I was gonna suck, and I mean OUT LOUD, the first few times. It should come as no surprise that I didn’t fill the room with my awe-inspiring renditions. And then I got better…a little, and a little more after that, then a little more. You see where this is going. The worst thing you can do is let yourself stand in your own way. The only way to get over anything is to get through it. It helps a lot to start by playing with one other person, preferably a different instrument. That helps develop an understanding of how to “fit in”. Now you know you’re as ready as you’re ever going to be. Take a breath and leap in. Don’t forget that every single person in the session you join went through, and is still going through, the same things you are. Good luck!

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Ailin’s comments are to be echoed. I’ll chip in a little, though.

The fact that you’re aware that your breathing is a factor needing considerable work means that you can isolate this part of your playing and bring it to a higher standard quite easily. You can do a variety of breathing exercises with the flute that will help you with this. Another great idea for working on breathing is to transcribe a few different players and copy their breathing places. It’s quite beneficial to do this with players who take quite frequent or long breaths but who are steeped in tradition e.g. Mike Rafferty or Micho Russell. In their cases, you will become aware that it is not necessary to have extremely long phrases without a breath (although this is obviously worth working towards regardless) but rather that the breaths are musical and work in tandem with playing in a tradition fashion. Of course, transcribing Matt Molloy and Harry Bradley will also give you another spin on it and all kinds of great players are worth studying.

Aside from that, I am assuming that you have a proper grasp of how to play Irish tunes in the correct manner rhythmically, phrasing-wise and a solid hold on the melody lines. If you have an understanding of how to variate a tune, even better, but this is less important for now. On the other hand, if any of the initial three aspects are lacking in your playing you MUST fix them before focusing on anything else. In fact, if you have these things conquered then I see no reason why you couldn’t dip your toe in your local session. Just make sure you can keep your flute more-or-less in tune 🙂

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

One thing I found very helpful was doing a few exercises (which I found on here), and repeating them daily.

The first one is playing a scale in harmonics: start on a middle D, then play a scale up as far as G. Now return to the middle D, with all fingers down, and blow a little further forwards and possibly harder, and you’ll get the second harmonic of D, which is A. Keep blowing and lift the bottom finger; you should get B. If you keep going you will get a whole octave scale up to D with three fingers off.

The second is simple: play the bottom D, then play as many harmonics of it as you can get. You’ll find you can get a middle D, A, probably F# quite easily. Further harmonics are increasingly tricky to find but come more easily with practice.

Lastly, try playing long - very long - notes against a D drone (I like dronetonetool.com) and focus on centring the tone and tuning of each note while playing for as long as you can without breathing. Work your way slowly up the scale, maybe adding a note or two each day.

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Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

I cant say for flute but for whistle, playing while walking is good training, on the flat is fairly easy to get going but once it starts going uphill 🙂

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Since the discussion has taken off on the topic of breathing I’ll add to. This is far from the first discussion about breathing on the Session. Breathing on the flute isto me, a skill that most defines a player. Breathing sets the lift, the phrasing, “the voice”, the structure, the expression (wait minute, I’ve seem to be overusing my thesaurus here) of the tune. When you want to approach a tune as more than a string of notes, well, it starts with breathing. The more you listen the more you hear the differences in the way good players use breathing and there is no consistency. Others have noted the various styles of great players. Contrast say Harry Bradley and Chris Norman. Just know there is no “one way”, no “best way”. Maybe that’s why all the great players ( of any instrument) and singers don’t all sound alike. I offer the Conal O’Grada tutorial as one of the best places to start thinking about breathing. If you need a teacher I’d look into Shannon Heaton or Sean Gavin as Skype resources. Almost everything I learned personally came from them. Anyway kudos to you for recognizing how important breathing is to the flute. Oh and remember it’s an evolution not a definitive goal.

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

I’m not a flute player, so I can’t help too much with the breathing aspects. But I will say a few things in general:

First, everybody progresses at their own rate with playing music. It’s OK to compare yourself to other people that have played the same amount of time, but don’t fixate on it, or get discouraged by it. It’s not a competition, it’s a life-long journey of enjoyment with no destination other than the journey.

And secondly, you will probably NEVER feel “ready” to play in a session without actually doing it. Your first sessions can be overwhelming, but everybody in the session can remember what it’s like to play in their first sessions, and in general they will be nothing but encouraging of you (assuming that you’re being socially aware of the situation… there are occasional horror stories of beginners who end up dominating a session because they want to get their tunes in, etc. But just be polite, courteous, and fun to hang out with, and you’ll be fine, even if you only play a couple of tunes, and end up listening the rest of the evening!) But the only way to get good at playing with other people is by playing with other people. Playing with recordings is a start, but it’s less than half of the equation, because the recording isn’t reacting to your playing at all, and live players will be more accommodating as you’re playing.

And finally, I will just encourage you to get out there and give it a shot (when the current world situation has gotten back toward normal, at least). I was lucky in the fact that when I was a beginner, I was surrounded by people that were better players than I was, but not so far ahead of me that there was no bridging the gap. So I was playing in sessions within my first year of playing, because I was surrounded by friends. However, it took me almost 5 years before I considered going to my first music camp. I had been invited to go to a camp with friends about 3 years in, and I was so self conscious about how bad I was that I declined to go, because I felt like I needed to be better. But then when I went to my first camp, I found myself wishing that I had done it years earlier, because there was so much to learn and I had so much fun! I think you might find the same kind of inspiration from getting yourself out into sessions!

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

May I add that our Reverend is now a cornerstone in the only camp I’d miss if I could never go to another! That’s what can happen when we push ourselves a bit to overcome our hesitations. Turns out our demons aren’t that formidable after all.

Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

If this can help, I find very usefull to record myself to point the weaknesses in my playing (its difficult to hear them while concentrate on playing)

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Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Breathing and flute playing - yeah. One thing that helped me a lot was recognising that a flute is not a fiddle: we HAVE to breathe, and we have to miss out some notes to do it. Take the bull by the horns - not endless “di di di, di di di, di di di” but sometimes “di di di, di - di, di di di”. Done well (and I’m talking about other people here) it can even add lift! You have to internalize these possible “hop” in jig and reel times at least.

Song airs and the like are a whole different kettle of fish - their roots lie in the human voice, and the ends of phrases/lines can be the obvious, easy and best place to breathe. But with dance tunes, we often need to be well topped up just before the end of, say, a set of 4 or 8 bars. That way we can hit the end note hard and immediately come out with the pick-up note (anacrusis) to get the next phrases off with a swing. And that means that somewhere a few notes before this point we have to miss out a note to breathe. If we try to squeeze our sips of air in between proper notes it will sound rushed and awkward.

My 2 cents, but from experience, and still working on it.

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Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Tommy, you write: ‘I’m playing tunes, but my breathing, is still a mountain, I’m finding hard to climb.’ It is not clear whether you mean that the mountain is when to take a breath or simply not having enough breath. If you play the clarinet and saxophone, you probably already have a fairly good idea of when to take a breath in a phrase (not usually after the end of a phrase, often just after the first beat of a phrase, before a pick-up note, etc.) and only need to add a few bits that are specific to the tradition: (1) instead of ‘stealing’ a breath, as is done in the classical flute-playing tradition, notes are left out and a breath taken where the note is left out (in jigs often the 2nd note of a group of 3; with reels often the second or fourth note of a group of four), (2) when repeating parts, often breaths are deliberately taken in different places on the repeats. If your problem is not enough breath, it may be age-related (old age plays havoc with one’s ‘wind’), a too-loose embouchure, not taking breaths often enough (Conal O’Grada’s tutor is good for this), and probably other factors that don’t occur to me at the moment. You may need a teacher is the problem is your embouchure (but check out Steph Geremia’s free lesson on embouchure on youtube), and play long notes and perhaps try deep breathing with yoga.

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Re: What’s a good marker, of advancement on the traditional flute?

Really, what can I say once again about the kind and welcoming comments of people on this site.Thank you so much for your time and advice, on my my quest to overcome my problem surrounding breathing problems on the traditional flute
Kindest Regards
Tommy