Friday, June 28, 2013

From My Undergrad Archives: Expressive Note Shape Chart


While recently cleaning out my files, I came across this page in a practice notebook from my college days.

Scrawled freehand in pencil on erasable bond typing paper, it has become smeared and blurry over the years. I have referred to this piece of paper frequently during my many years of teaching as the beginning of my personal journey to musical expression on the flute. Those of you who have studied with me probably recall conversations about this page, and I thought you might enjoy seeing an image of the document.

While an undergrad student at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, I obediently practiced the excellent and plentiful tone and technical exercises assigned by my teacher Robert Cavally, but I desired to practice tone on a more microscopic level--how the shape of each individual note could serve a phrase.

This required considering that every note has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. One day in the practice room I drew out this chart of possible shapes for note beginnings and note endings. I dutifully practiced the shapes on the chart on every pitch over a period of months and noticed increased control over phrase direction and expression in my music making.

Here is a cleaned-up/legible version of the chart-- I invite you to try it out--or I encourage you to create your own chart!

c. 38 Days to Mastery


Throughout his 2008 book, The Outliers, Malcom Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success is basically to practice a specific task for about 10,000 hours. But here’s an approach that will foster great improvement in tone and embouchure flexibility in just over a month!

How many different notes can you play on the flute? The answer varies slightly depending on your specific playing range and whether on not you have a low B  key. Three octaves of flute notes from low C to high C creates a total of 37 notes. If you can play a low B and/or extended high range notes above high C your total number of notes will be higher. If you are a beginner or intermediate student your total number of notes will be lower.

“Attack and Slurring of Notes” from Moyse’s De la Sonorite

Use as a model the section from Moyse’s De la Sonorite named “Attack and Slurring of Notes.” 

Begin the exercise on a different note each day, practicing the expanding intervals in each direction to every other note you can play on your flute. 

If you master the tone and smooth transitions in one expanding interval exercise each day, in just over a month you will have perfected every possible interval on your flute!

Of course, there is no such thing as “perfect” tone, but I challenge you to see how much your tone and flexibility will improve!

Non-flutists, this study will also improve your playing!  Give it a try!


Friday, March 8, 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Study Head and Throat Muscles for Improved Tone while Playing and Singing


Here is a great web page from Dr. Robert Droual, Professor of Anatomy & Physiology at Modesto Junior College, listing muscles, locations of origin and insertion, and actions of the muscles.

I hope you find the my thoughts on these images helpful!


Of particular interest to wind/brass players and vocalists:

Muscles at the Floor of the Mouth
These muscles elevate the hyoid bone and move the tongue back during swallowing and are NOT used while playing or singing. Check out these muscles which restrict tone production and breathing!

Muscles of Facial ExpressionThese muscles move skin rather than a joint when they contract. They control minute movements affecting embouchure and tonal control. Try experimenting with gentle contractions and releases of individual muscles and notice the effects on your tone.
  • Flutists: experiment with simultaneous gentle contractions of Depressor labii inferioris, depressor and anguli oris, zygomatic major and minor, and levator labii superioris to free the tongue and lips. 
  • This is what I often call a "square embouchure. See this post for more info.

Muscles of Mastication
Wind and brass players should take particular care to avoid tensing the muscles of mastication while playing. It is amazing how much simply visualizing these muscles and focusing on relaxing them improves tone!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Great New Tuning App!

InTune iPhone app

InTune is an app from Wittenburg University that helps musicians play in tune by improving their ability to hear. It is set up as a simple game. You hear 2 pitches and you must decide whether the 2nd pitch is higher or lower than the first. Pitch variance becomes increasingly small as the game progresses. 

The app is an outgrowth of twenty-five years of research and testing by cellist and professor Daniel Kazez. In a university research study, Kazez discovered that students’ hearing improved the more often they played — at triple the rate of those who did not.

I had a student who improved his score this week from 14.9% to 2.39%. Huge improvement for one week!

I suggested to my students to warm up their ears before rehearsals by playing the game. Looking forward to hearing the results!

Check it out for yourself! 


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jean-Pierre Rampal performs Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major, K 313


I hope you enjoy this performance of Mozart Concerto in G Major, K 313 performed by Jean-Pierre Rampal and The McGill Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Brott, conductor.