Friday, April 24, 2015

"Warming Up" with Paul Edmund-Davies

Photo of Paul Edmund-Davies courtesy of Simply Flute.

Powell artist Paul Edmund-Davies has a terrific new website ( with many instructional videos and exercises.  In his latest video, "Sonority 2," Paul presents a warm-up exercise and expands on the topic of warming up in general.  Why do we warm up?  How do we warm up?  What are we trying to achieve?  All of these questions are answered with a terrifically lighthearted, laughter-inducing style.  In fact, Paul explains that when we play the flute, we are using our bodies in a "fairly unusual way...."  He gives an example of playing long phrases in comparison with the way we breathe when we are not playing,  He asked, "When in our everyday lives would we go around blowing air out for 15 seconds?"  His humor certainly puts an enjoyable spin on the concept of warming up.  Follow this link to the full video, and you'll see!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Expression Project

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis (7th from left) and her studio 

Recently I shared some thoughts on what guides the projects I prepare for my private students, and specifically on the Extended Technique Ladder they completed early this winter. Initially, my intent was to do just one project for the remainder of the school year.  However, as we prepared for the spring studio recital (and through my own recent practice process), I realized that there never feels like there is enough time to discuss musicianship with my students. We spend so much time on fundamental development, which is absolutely necessary, that we frequently neglect to find the time to discuss phrasing and musicality on a regular basis. I decided to challenge myself to make it fit into our preparation for the next recital.

This is an expansive topic, and I knew if I wanted to introduce it succinctly and clearly that I would need to break it down and begin with the facts. We spent two weeks using worksheets to learn the “basics.” First, what a phrase is and how to find it, and second, what clues composers write that show us what to bring out in a phrase. The possibilities for covering this are almost endless, and I was very careful to cover the same base of information with each student before branching off into their pieces or topics that were brought up by questions the students had.

After introducing the more factual side of the process, we started to have some fun with the idea of musicality. Now that the students understood what they were looking for from the music and composer, we were able to discuss and add in what they personally felt about their pieces. Starting by exploring the way we assign emotions to music even if it doesn’t have words, we explored practical ways to share our feelings through the music we prepare and perform. Did the piece the student was preparing sound happy, sad, mysterious, or maybe a mixture of emotions? How did they think their flute should sound to display those emotions?

Once the conversation was started, I used two of my favorite techniques that I've learned from my teachers and colleagues and adapted for my own teaching. First, we used a technique that is loved by my teacher Katherine Borst Jones and considered what their piece would be about if it were a story. What kind of character would it be about? Is it set in a particular place or time? How does the plot develop as the piece goes on, and how does our flute playing need to change to make sure we hear that?

The second technique we employed has developed as something I do with my students from a project that was introduced to me by Nicole Molumby, who now teaches at Boise State, while she was completing her doctorate at Ohio State during my undergraduate studies. For this part of the exercise, we combine the technique of assigning a color to our sound (something that is familiar to many flutists) with assigning color to the piece we are preparing. My students imagined their piece if it were a piece of art. What color would it be? Would it be opaque or transparent? Would there be shapes or shading?  How would you make your flute sound match those colors?

I wanted to be sure to share all this work with my students’ parents, so we took the final portion of our expression project and displayed it at the spring studio recital. Each student “colored” the piece they were performing using all the information they had gathered and collected over the course of the project. I hung the colored version of the pieces outside the recital space so that parents could see them before and after the recital, allowing them to gather some insight into the performances they heard that day.

For fun, I also provided a very simple piece that even my newest students could play.  Everyone interpreted these through color as well, and I displayed them together showing how differently everyone hears the same music.

As with any project I do with my students, the work is never conclusive. This part of my teaching is meant to provide resources and information, and to start an ongoing discussion of the topic at hand. Making a special focus of the topic engages my students and gets them excited to learn something that is new, and sometimes very unusual!

*Follow Morgann Davis online on her website 
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Extended Techniques Ladder

By Morgann Davis

One of the best parts of operating a private studio is the opportunity to develop a unique curriculum for your students. Sometimes you are able to pinpoint a project that works great when repeated each year, like a scale challenge or music theory project that reviews important basics. Other times it is best to develop a project based on what the current needs of your students are, or what you feel is lacking from the scope of their regular musical experience. Regardless of the reason behind developing a challenge, as a teacher, it is an excellent creative exercise in developing something your students enjoy, and a fantastic instructional exercise in evaluating the needs of your students.

I’ve noticed that my studio settles into a rhythm of production. Depending on the time of year, school activities, auditions that are available, holidays, etc., I can predict how much extra time my students have and when they have a little extra energy for their flute practice. This “rhythm” is also how I decide when to schedule my studio recitals. It will be different for each teacher, and depends heavily on your location, local school districts, state music programs and outside offerings like youth orchestras. We have three recitals per year, and generally I try to do a special project leading up to the two that occur during the school year. It helps the students to maintain focus on an important element of their playing, and also plays off the extra attention they have to their practice when a recital is on the horizon.

Over the winter months this year (which, admittedly, I thought would never end!), I felt extra motivated to provide something other than the “regular” lesson structure. We started the winter with an Extended Techniques Goal Ladder. The simple clip art I enlarged and provided to each student had a ladder with five rungs that we could fill in at a rate of one per week, or even per two weeks, depending on the student. By not indicating the specific extended technique they would learn at each rung, I could tailor the worksheet for each students’ age and ability level. Each student in my studio was able to participate, from recent beginners who learned things like key clicks to advanced high school students who refined their multiphonic production and techniques like whistle tones.

Keeping an overall goal in mind with each project helps me to direct my instruction and not get sidetracked in too many different directions. For this project, I had two overall goals in mind. First, was to introduce each student to the versatility of the flute. Understanding the capabilities of the instrument opens their ears when hearing new music. It can help them to be more excited to perform new music, knowing that extended techniques are within reach of their abilities. The second goal was to open up a new wealth of possibilities for the development of fundamentals. Seasoned flutists know how beneficial it is for our tone and technique when we learn and regularly practice things like singing and playing or harmonics. Getting my students started on these skills at an early stage of development provides many avenues for practice and discussion that will help them to be as adept as possible as their abilities develop.

*Follow Morgann Davis online on her website 
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Friday, April 3, 2015

"Silver and Gold" with Paul Edmund-Davies

There is a rather large selection of materials when it comes to flutes – and headjoints.  The multitude of choices between silver and gold (along with the different karats and types such as rose or yellow gold) can make choosing your flute and headjoint a daunting task.  Some flutists then wonder if one type of material is better than another.  Luckily, we had the chance to speak with Powell artist Paul Edmund-Davies about this topic during his recent visit to Powell…

Paul has two Powell flutes – one silver Custom and one 19.5k Custom with a 14k mechanism.  Just like tone holes or any other option on a flute, one type of material is not better than another – the materials are simply different.  Silver and gold each have their unique characteristic qualities, and Paul appreciates these qualities and differences.  From his perspective, he finds that in his own playing, the silver sound is “closest to the human voice,” and the “brilliance of gold is breathtaking.”  And, as he said, it all depends on the player and the player’s preferences.

Powell Custom 19.5k with 14k keys (left) and Powell Custom silver (right)

However, for flutists who are currently playing a silver flute and considering moving over to gold, Paul presented several suggestions on how to experiment with gold.  Since it can be a huge change to shift over to a gold flute, he finds that Aurumite® is a “very good middle ground to investigate gold,” given its composition of one layer of gold and one layer of silver.  In terms of “experimenting” with gold, he suggested the following:

1) Try your silver flute with a silver headjoint that has a gold riser.
2) Try your silver flute with an Aurumite headjoint.
3) Try your silver flute with a gold headjoint.

Even with Aurumite, you will have choices.  The “Aurumite 9k” and “Ruby Aurumite” have rose gold on the outside.  The “Aurumite 14k” has silver on the outside and 14k rose gold on the inside.  Moving along with the progression of steps Paul suggested should, however, give you a logical method for testing just how much gold is right for you!