Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Summer Practice Schedule

Morgann Davis
By Morgann Davis

It’s almost summer, and we all know what that means - no homework, no assignments…freedom! But wait, did you practice for your flute lesson?

With a schedule that includes long vacations and the absence of a structured school day with carefully planned evenings, keeping students on task (and moving forward) over the summer months can prove challenging.

I’ve enjoyed finding creative ways to keep my students motivated during the summer, exploring each student’s interests to help provide a map for navigating our vacation season lessons. Logistics can be tough in the summer, so I begin by providing a calendar to each family so they can share the dates of their summer vacations and camps with me. This also helps them put our lessons on their family calendar in advance, leaving less chance for a lesson cancelled due to a last minute pool party or BBQ with friends. Having done this, I ask each student if there is a piece they would like to learn for fun over the summer while we have less “project” pieces to prepare for school, solo and ensemble or auditions. This has turned up all sorts of things from Harry Potter to Taylor Swift and Irish folk music to Chaminade. Allowing the students to choose something they have had their eye on keeps them involved in the learning process, and perhaps extra motivated to perform the piece they picked independently on an end of summer recital.

Having allowed each student to have some fun choosing a piece usually makes them more willing to take on some fundamental practice during the break. Previously, I have hosted “practice challenges” in my studio (usually to kick off the school year) where I encourage students to compete with themselves (more than with each other!) to see how efficient they can be when they practice, and how much time they can purposefully dedicated to their flute each week. Having done this activity earlier in the year means that during the summer I can remind each student of what they did that helped their practice previously, and that they may even be able to find more time for their flute during vacation! For some, this means setting a timer, for others it might mean keeping a practice journal. Whatever it was that motivated their practice during a busier time of year may just lead to even more success in the summer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention summer music camps as an excellent way to help young flutists stay motivated. There are many wonderful camps available to our students covering a variety of topics and interests from chamber music to large ensembles, jazz or folk music for all instruments, and camps that are focused specifically on the flute. No matter the ability or interests of the student, it's likely there is a camp that suits them. These experiences build social skills as well as musical skills, and my students almost always come home with many new friends and a fresh perspective on playing their instrument. As an added bonus, the process of preparing for camp placement auditions also helps to provide purpose in summer practicing!

Whether camps,“fun” pieces or other projects are the motivators for your students, I think the key to maintaining momentum over the summer months is creativity on the part of both the teacher and the student. Lessons during vacation should somehow feel a bit different from the school year, and often the personalities and suggestions of our students can help guide what activities we do to keep flute fun, even while the pool is calling our name!

* To read more about Morgann Davis, visit her website at

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Search of a Voice

By Jane Lenoir

My love of Latin flute music has been nurtured by the sense of possibility that came from my Powell wood flute. The feelings I have about this flute run pretty deep. I literally fell in love with this flute at the Columbus NFA Convention in 2000, and played it nonstop at all my gigs--orchestra, jazz, chamber music, concertos--everything, for several years. I really loved the way I felt like I was playing an oboe or clarinet sometimes, and the blend with the other woodwinds was different from the experience of a silver flute. The 3rd and 4th octave high notes were clear, focused and in tune, certainly much more so than some other wood flutes I tried out. Also, there was a mutuality that I felt while playing it, in that the warmth of the wood was constantly giving me something back.
Jane Lenoir
I have been playing the flute for over 45 years and for many years, improvising and playing in jazz groups. My latest CD, Tocando Juntos, was recorded by Primavera Latin Jazz band. This group formed 2 years ago at a time in my life when I was ready for a new musical direction. The band members met initially at Berkeley’s Jazz School, in an ensemble class on Afro Cuban Jazz. This was love at first beat—the sound of the wood flute with all its dark warmth and richness, coupled with those rhythmic percussive hits in the high range, floating over the sound of claves, congas, piano and bass was just so irresistibly hypnotic, not to mention appealing to the flute diva in me.  Unlike the jazz idiom, where sometimes as a flutist I felt like a visitor, in Latin jazz the flute is queen--every solo a mini concerto of coloratura rhythmic flair. In Cuba, there are still some charanga flutists are playing 5-key wooden transverse flutes (labeled in the 50’s and 60’s “charanga flutes”) effortlessly popping out 4th octave E’s and F’s.

Once I started digging seriously into Latin American music, it became clear to me that my feeling about the relevance of playing the wood flute is reflected in history—Cuba and Brazil were populated by Europeans from Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. The Europeans brought their instruments and music with them, including baroque and classical styles, later to be synthesized into a version of dance music created by the fusion with African percussion and rhythms. The barons of the sugar and coffee plantations in these countries educated their slaves in the traditional baroque and classical styles (Lully was a favorite in Cuba) to entertain at balls and social gatherings. Pixinguinha, one of Brazil’s greatest composers of choro music and grandson of slaves, was a virtuoso classical flutist, a child prodigy. The synthesis of these cultural styles created beautiful and sensual dance music, including charanga and choro, paving the way for the evolution of samba, bossa nova, mambo, cha cha, salsa, and other more modern styles.

My south of the border musical quest was also influenced by my sister Annie, a clarinetist, who became completely obsessed with Brazilian music after hearing Paulo Sergio Santos and his young son, Caio Marcio,clarinet and guitar, from Rio de Janeiro, perform at a clarinet convention. She called me from the floor of the convention, telling me she had just heard the most amazing music from Brazil--the standing ovation lasted for 10 minutes, while the piece for only 3 minutes long! When my sister gets excited about something, I pay attention. I went out immediately and bought recordings and music. My band, Berkeley Choro Ensemble, was formed from local musicians, some Brazilian. It consists of flute, clarinet, 7-string Brazilian guitar and percussion. I play the wood flute in this group also. In Brazil, most of the choro players are playing silver, but I personally feel that the wood flute sound creates a gorgeous quality with the clarinet. Here’s what one reviewer said about our last concert: “Yesterday I listened to Berkeley Choro ensemble at Avonova. Jane has this mellow and dark sound flowing from her wooden flute and it is amazing how Harvey and Jane weave their sounds together and match the colors so well that at times I was not certain where the clarinet finished and flute began.” (Alex Ran)

To read more about Jane, check out these websites:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Staccato Articulation: How To Practice It

By Dr. Naomi Seidman - Associate Professor of Flute, Penn State University

Naomi Seidman

The Difference between Staccato and Legato Articulation on the Flute

Before I delve into staccato articulation I would like to clarify its difference from legato articulation on the flute. The legato articulation, defined by its smooth and connected quality, is usually the first type of articulation taught to beginner flutists. It is the perfect type of articulation for students to begin with because the tongue is in a relaxed position and usually the articulation is not used in quick paced passages. When beginners are first taught legato articulation, teachers pay particular attention that the students are not stopping the air with their tongue and that their tongue is not controlling the release of the note. Listening to beginners practice legato tonguing also helps correct any issues with the tongue creating too hard of an attack, which can cause the note to crack. Refined practice also allows students to identify if the pitch of the note is changing when they articulate; if it does they have to adjust their air direction to control the pitch. Legato articulation is successfully achieved with the tongue hitting the alveolar ridge, where the gums meet the teeth, with the tip of the tongue. This placement of the tongue is safe for all beginner flutists because the tip of the tongue does not come close to the aperture to disturb the air.  All the knowledge gained from successful legato articulation can be directly applied to staccato tonguing, except for the placement of the tongue. Tongue placement and the duration of air are the fundamental differences between staccato and legato articulation.

Practice Staccato Articulation Without Your Tongue

In my years of teaching I often hear students struggle with staccato articulation. Their throats are tense and engaged and you can hear the throat make noise when they articulate. At times I have heard students cut their staccato notes off with their tongue, making it very difficult for them to tongue short notes quickly. I also have encountered students use too much force with their tongues which results in a muted hammer-like sound when they articulate.

I have found that when first teaching staccato articulation, it is best to approach it without the tongue.  I start out by asking my students the following question: what makes an articulated note short or long?  Sometimes students answer that the tongue controls the length of the note, but most often they answer correctly that it is the amount or duration of air that controls the length of the note.

As it is the duration of air that controls the length of a note and not your tongue, students need to master how to release short amounts of air without using the tongue. I use “Hah” attacks to practice this short burst of air attack. Ask your students to say “Hah”. Tell them to exaggerate the use of the abdominal muscles and to be sure not to tense the throat.  It is important to keep the release of air short. After mastering the attack without the flute, have the students attempt this attack on the flute. Ask them to start out with a middle register note, for example a middle D.  Have them play four “Hah” attacks on middle D. Did they crack? Did they come out at all? If not, be sure that the lips are still in a normal embouchure formation, as the lips still need to direct the air in the normal way.  Remember: they should NOT use the tongue!

Once a student has mastered the “Hah” attack in all three registers of the flute (don’t worry too much about anything below low E-flat) it is now time to use the tongue again. I find that I get the best response for staccato tonguing when the tip of my tongue actually touches the base of my top teeth. For my college students that are used to tonguing at the alveolar ridge this new location is quite a change. When I first introduce this concept, students are shocked that this placement will even work. First, we first practice the new placement of the tongue without the flute. I either bring in rice kernels or we ball up small pieces of paper. We practice the staccato attack by placing the kernel or ball of paper between our lips; with the new tongue placement I demonstrate how far the kernel can be tongued. Immediately students realize the fundamental concept: the power of a short burst of abdominal air, paired with the new tongue placement, to really carry a “note.”

Because the tongue is farther forward and closer to the aperture, the articulation response is far quicker than if you tongue at the alveolar ridge. If your students find this further forward tongue placement is too airy, be sure to correct it by telling them to bring down the top lip a little more. Also it is a good idea to have them practice this new placement in front of the mirror, so that they can make sure that the tongue is not coming out between the lips while tonguing.

A further forward tongue placement for staccato attacks results in a light and more responsive articulation. Once your students master the technique for staccato articulations, see if they can apply this more forward placement of the tongue to double and triple tonguing!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Taming the Beast—Revolutionize Your Piccolo Intonation! (Part II)

By Stephanie Mortimore
Stephanie Mortimore
Piccoloist, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

Part II

Make a Difference

While the properties of sound production can be traced back to pure physics, hearing is a more complicated matter—biology also enters into play. When sound waves enter the ear they are translated into neural impulses which can be perceived by the brain. When two notes of different frequencies are heard simultaneously, events inside the ear or brain—there is some debate on this matter—often cause the listener to perceive a third tone. This “ghost note” is known as a difference tone, so called because of the mathematical relationship it has to the two primary notes; its frequency is the difference between the frequencies of the other two notes -- the frequency of the higher note (f2) minus the frequency of the lower note (f1) is equal to the frequency of the difference tone (D):



When the two notes are close together (less than about 30Hz apart) they will produce beats as described above. When the two notes are further apart (more than about 30Hz), they will begin to produce a difference tone which is audible as not just a buzzing, but as a separate note. Difference tones then actually combine with the primary notes to form the illusion of three note chords. As a result, the difference tone becomes a powerful tool for improving your intonation. By paying close attention to and tuning difference tones instead of the primary notes you will develop the skills you need to play in tune with yourself and with your orchestral colleagues. To use the bike analogy again, difference tones are your training wheels.

This training will have two major positive effects. First, by sensitizing yourself to difference tones in your individual practice, you will develop muscle memory around how to adjust your piccolo so that you can play in tune with yourself (meaning you use just intonation to play arpeggiated intervals). Second, by using these skills when you play in the orchestra, you will hear the harmonic relationships which exist between your notes and your colleagues’ notes. When you hear difference tones which are not harmonically related and, therefore, not aesthetically pleasing to the ear, you will know how to adjust your instrument accordingly.

Practical Application

Let’s give it a try. For this part, you will need a tuner that plays a reference tone chromatically at least up to B6 (written as the B just above the staff for the piccolo), and that will play loud enough for you to hear well while playing but without causing pain. The louder your tuner is, the more audible and identifiable the difference tones will be.

First, let’s listen for beats. Put your tuner on A6 (this note is written as the A directly above the staff—A1760). Now, on your piccolo, play the same A. Try to move above and below the tuning note by allowing your hands to turn the piccolo, first in, then out. Listen for the beats. Notice how the buzzing speeds up as you get further away from the tuning note. Notice too how it slows down and eventually stops as you approach and arrive at a perfect unison.

Now let’s listen for difference tones. Put your tuner on A6 again. On your piccolo, play the C# which is a Major 3rd above the sounding A (C# 2200). Listen closely—in addition to the two primary notes you should hear a ghostly but very distinct third tone. If you carefully tune this note, you will find that it is, in fact, A440—the difference tone (2,200Hz ­— 1,760Hz = 440 Hz).

Useful Intervals

All of the twelve possible intervals within a chromatic scale produce difference tones, but six of them are particularly useful for tuning difference tones. This is because they are all members of the same harmonic series—that of the tonic. Each of these six intervals, when played in tune, will produce perfectly tuned difference tones which are also members of the same harmonic series.
The following chart lists the intervals which are particularly useful for tuning:

Click chart to enlarge

Now work your way through all of the intervals in the chart. Again play A6 on your tuner. As you play each of the intervals on your piccolo, listen for the corresponding difference tone.

The wonderful thing about just intonation is that is works in any key. If you do the same exercises with different tonic notes and play the same intervals on your piccolo, you will hear difference tones at the same scale degrees.

This exercise can also be applied while you are working on excerpts or solo works. Identify the tonic of the passage you are working on, set your tuner to that note, and play the passage over the top of the tuning note, all-the-while paying careful attention to the difference tones that are produced.

How Do I Remember All of This?

This may seem like a lot to absorb, but don’t be too concerned if you can’t remember which difference tone is produced by which interval. Just use your ears and try to tune the difference tone; use the chart as a reference when you need some help hearing where the third note should be.

That said, the generation of musical notes is, at its most basic, a combination of math and physics so it’s not surprising then that certain patterns emerge which will make memorization easier. These are some of the patterns I have discovered:
  • If you look at the six intervals which produce useful difference tones, you will notice that there are two minor intervals (m3, m6), two major intervals (M3, M6), and two perfect intervals (P4, P5).
  • Look first at Major 3rds and Perfect 5ths. These are the intervals which are probably most useful in tuning as they form the basis for the Major triad. Notice that both of these intervals will produce a difference tone of the Root.
  • The minor intervals are opposites of each other; if you play a minor 3rd above the root you get difference tone of a minor 6th. Conversely, if you play a minor 6th above the root you get difference tone of a minor 3rd.
  • All of the difference tones sound within the octave immediately below the root with the exception of those occurring with Major and minor 3rds. These sound within the octave which is two below the root.
In addition to the above patterns, if you memorize the order of the intervals from smallest to largest you can use the following mnemonic device to help aid your memory. 

Difference Tone
Mnemonic Device

These six rudiments really can reveal your tuning fortitude. Just a few minutes each day with these principals will change the way you think of tuning and make all the difference in your piccolo intonation and, hopefully, in your enjoyment of the instrument.