Monday, November 9, 2015

The Delicious Dessert Approach to Flute Tone & Dynamics

Would you like your tone to sound delicious?

I'm a big fan of any analogy that helps you understand how to play the flute more beautifully, connect to music more meaningfully, and understand yourself and the learning process with more compassion and kindness. For today's post, I'll be exploring the (quite pleasurable!) relationship between creating your flute tone and creating a delicious dessert.  If you would like a fun and easy way to add more depth and resonance to your tone AND feel more comfortable playing with a bigger range of dynamics, read on!

FYI: So that this post can help you no matter what skill level you are (or type of embouchure you use), I'll focus on listening as a way to develop tone instead of getting into physical mechanics.  

Harmonics & Pie

One of my favorite ways to develop a rich tone with more depth and resonance is to practice harmonics and think of pie.  If you're able to use your flute right now, try playing the line below from my (free!) Epic Warm-up as many times as it takes to gain familiarity and comfort and then keep reading (bottom notes are fingerings and top notes are sounding pitches).  

Play the line once more and add a fermata to the final note (the half note fingered as a low A but sounded as a high E). Listen carefully to the sound of the harmonic.  Notice that you can separate what you are hearing into two sounds.  The "layer" on top is the more obvious, easy to hear sound.  You might think of it as the typical sound of the soprano flute.  I like to think of this layer as the top, whipped cream layer in a slice of chocolate cream, key lime, or lemon ice box pie.  

Now, repeat the exercise (with the fermata on the final note), and listen again.  To hear the second sound I mentioned, listen low.  This layer of sound is somewhat softer, less obvious, and reminds me of a whispery or "off in the distance" male opera singer's voice.  When you listen low and focus on this layer of sound, it begins to feel much more substantial. To me, this layer can be connected to the most flavorful heart of a pie... the chocolate... the delicious lemon or lime filling... 

To add more depth and resonance, listen to your tone and focus on the lower layer of sound. When playing harmonics, this layer is easier to hear, especially when you take care to listen low.  When playing "regular" notes, the lower layer might feel like it is more imaginary than real, but it still helps a lot!  To gain comfort with this concept, alternate practicing harmonics and any part of your music that you would like to play with more depth. 

Louder Dynamics & Birthday Cake

Are you one of the many flutists that struggle with keeping your beautiful tone and intonation when you play louder dynamics? Chances are, you are blowing more air, but not listening low to figure out the air direction and speed that you need. Look at the vanilla birthday cake with marshmallow frosting above.  Imagine the frosting layer as the soprano part and the cake as the masculine singer part of your tone.  When you just blow more air, it is like having too much frosting.  The sound equivalent would be a sharper pitch and a "top heavy" sound, which often comes across as more shrill (just like cake with too much frosting can be way too sicky sweet!).

For a more beautiful and rounded sound when playing louder dynamics, be sure to add a proportional amount of depth. Practice harmonics, listen low, and imagine just a delicate layer of frosting with a much bigger, more flavorful amount of cake.  

Softer Dynamics & Glitter Frosting

If you are like many flutists, you may want your soft dynamics to be gorgeous and dramatic, but struggle with drooping sound and pitch (or, worse yet, a forceful sound after you give up on the softer dynamic and just start blowing!). To gain more comfort with soft dynamics, try the harmonic exercise from my Epic Warm-up again. 

This time, focus your ears on the twinkling, sparkling, very top layer of sound. Like the glitter on the frosted cupcake above, this layer of sound is a glittery decoration on top of the soprano voice in your tone.  When playing truly soft dynamics, dedicate your ears, your lips, your air, and your spirit to this shining top layer of sound (perhaps with a little shimmer vibrato thrown in for good measure!).  Practicing your soft dynamics may take time and patience, but it's a worthwhile project with lots of musical rewards! 

To me, imagination is the key to beautiful music.  If the idea of "flute sound as dessert" is pleasurable and helpful to you, I highly recommend immersing yourself in the concept every day when you practice!  If not, I bet you can come up with your own way of connecting with tone and dynamics that empowers you to play more beautifully than ever.  

Since the topic of this post is all about listening, here is a performance of me and my husband performing Georges Barrère's Nocturne for Flute and Piano.  Now that you know I think of sound like desserts, listen and see if you can tell!  

Happy Practicing!

Terri Sánchez