Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Key Saturation – Familiarity Through Study

By Patricia George

Recently I attended a New Sousa Band Concert directed by flutist Keith Brion portraying the legendary conductor/composer John Philip Sousa. One of the hallmarks of these re-enactment concerts is the practice of playing a Sousa march in between each composition listed on the program. Hearing some of these marches brought back memories of my high school band days in Amarillo, Texas.

Patricia George
My next thought was “Students today rarely play Sousa marches in concert as they are too difficult for the average band. They are difficult because they are written in keys that most students have little experience playing in and they are written in compound meter (6/8). Most bands play in two or three flats and call it a day. And, there is hardly a student in the United States that truly understands compound meter (beat divisible by 3).”

Part of this problem begins with the band method books that public school students use as part of the beginning curriculum. The books are written so the teacher may instruct a mixed consort of instruments at one time in one class. However, most good teachers know what may be good for one instrument family, may not be of prime importance for another. The key choices are kept to a minimum at just two, three, or four flats. If the flutist is fortunate enough to study privately, most early tutors breeze through the keys, one page after another. There is not enough drill in one key before a student turns the page to attempt a new key. 

For students at the high school level who study privately, I offer a solution to this problem.  Rather than playing one page after another in an etude book, what about playing one exercise in the same key out of several books to achieve saturation in a key before moving on? For example, study the C major etudes in the 18 Exercises by Berbiguier and 24 Exercises, Op. 33 by Andersen, and then work only in the key of C major in scale books such as the 17 Big Daily Exercises by Taffanel & Gaubert or The Flute Scale Book by George & Louke. The object is saturation in a key before moving on to a new key.

I enjoy the books written primarily by flutists which have an exercise for each day of the week. Each of these exercises progresses through all 24 keys (12 major/12 minor). One exercise may be based on a scale, the next in intervallic skips, the next on arpeggios, etc. These books include the Daily Exercises by Maquarre, Daily Exercises by Barrere, Daily Exercises by Wummer, Daily Exercises by Reichert and Studies for Facilitating the Execution of the Upper Notes by Wood. I suggest rather than playing/teaching one exercise in all 24 keys per day, play all the C major keys in all the exercises in the book and then tomorrow or in a week/month play the ones in A minor. Drill until there is saturation in a key before moving on. 

Perhaps if our students achieved true understanding of playing in all the keys, we would hear more marches of Sousa and Fillmore on band concerts today.
Compound meter? That is for next time.

Patricia George (
To learn more about Patricia George, click here to visit her artist profile on the Powell website.

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