Hi there, our flute friend! We hope all is well with you and your family in this frightening and also unsure period of 2020. You might also find some unexpected surplus of time at your disposal. Why not make good use of it and get to some deeper practice? How to learn to play the flute – and not be played by it!
When concerts and travels, lessons and maybe other kinds of demands are always too early, just too fast and no time to breathe at all… this is unfortunately not the case right now. But let us look at the positive side of it and build a stronger relationship with our instrument, music and practice.
Often we do not have the time to tackle technical issues and make the best of it as we go. No time, no peace of mind, no tranquility to get to it. But always
Remember : you to play the flute, not the other way around!
So let us get started. Take some deep breaths and try to feel where the air enters your body. Every part of the way. Are you breathing shallowly, or deeply? Does it enter both nostrils at the same time and amount? Is your throat open to welcome the air? Does the air go deep or stop in your breast area? Can you feel the air going into your back as well?
This might seem a little meditative and it is. But your first instrument is not the flute, it is your body. So get to know it from the inside and understand and control the air pathway. The is the very first and important step when playing any wind instrument, well any instrument at all. Sit straight but not stiff. Relax your legs and pelvic area. Welcome the air to every part of your upper body and try to feel it expanding in the back part or your shoulder blades and below as well. You can verify by leaning against the back of the chair and breathing in “against” it.
Breathing out is how we produce a sound
Well breathing in is important and a first step. But even more important is breathing out! That’s how we produce a sound on the flute and that is what we wish to control.
Choose a consonant like s or f, or sh, and let the air leave your body slowly. Our breathing is not triggered by lack of oxygen but by a surplus of CO2 in the body which urges leaving. So actually we have a lot more to work on than we think in terms of air quantity and time span. Try to play with it. Augment the time span, as long as you can. Then try to make the air go faster or slower, change the volume, pressure, velocity.
Now that we have a feeling for it, we need to go back to feeling all the muscles involved in the breathing activity. When you breathe out, where does the first air come from that leaves your body? Chest or lower? Shoulders? Where is the most reserve of air. Where are you able to control it best? Get to know your instrument, you play with your breathing, nothing else.
Once you have achieved a feeling for your air stream and body resonance, you could try and take your surroundings into account. Playfully and at this time of lockdown, imaginatively. Use your creativity, balcony, terrace or garden and try this out:
You decide the four qualities of the flute sound
What are the four qualities of a sound? O yes, pitch, volume (intensity), timber, duration. But playing the flute there is so much more to it, any part of it.
- With our air stream we can control pitch as well (not just our fingers) and fine tune while we play.
- The intensity is obviously controlled by the volume, pressure and velocity of our air stream, same as with the fine tuning.
- The timber has to do with where we let the air pass before it enters the flute, so with our oral cavity, open or tightness of the throat and the whole resonance in the body of the sound we produce. But as well with the positioning of our lips, embouchure, posture and gesture.
- The duration of course depends on the air stream and we can also control the attacking of the note and the ending of it in terms of articulation and dynamics.
As you might begin to see, playing the flute has to do less with the flute in itself than with how you use your body and air on it. Even the fingers and what is usually called technique is largely depending on how you control your air stream.
With flute playing we also have the wonderful expression tool of vibrato that we can use in a not very appearant way to embellish all sounds, in a more obvious way of presence and lack to establish a style and period of time, or climax of a piece of music. To read more about vibrato technique have a look at my articles here
When you learn how to play the flute
When your awareness rests in your body and not outside with the flute or the fingers. You can begin to really play the flute. The big difference is not so much what you hear with your ears and see in a mirror, but what you can anticipate with your inner ear and how you can prepare your body to collaborate and enhance the musical experience.
It can help professionals but also is important to know for beginners. You do not play the flute with your lips and fingers or throat, but with your musical imagination and physical control of the air stream.
When you understand this you can communicate anything musically and overcome even the most challenging “technical” obstacles. Remember you to play the flute and not the other way around.
How to learn to play the flute – deliberately
To be able to do that, you also need to listen. To flute music, but actually any kind of instrument and music. Build your imagination. Creativity is never a pure invention, but a new connection between things you have experienced. The broader the better! So do not focus only on flute music and scales, but enrich your musical ideas with new and stunning experiences.
This will build your flute personality and help you become unique in sound and playing. Listening to different instruments can enlarge your chromatic and timbre color palette.
Be in control and have fun!
So enjoy creating beautiful sounds, let yourself be surprised and once you are able to control your flute playing, try to let go. You will be astonished at what you can create. It all starts with the breathing, so if you have never done any meditation, it could be helpful to start a 5min routine in the morning. It helps, it is not a must. The more you can be aware of what happens in your body, the more you will be enjoying what comes out of your flute!
On how to unleash your inner potential and rise above your limits, check out this article HERE.
We would be happy to read your thoughts on this topic, so please share your experiences and ideas in the comment section below.
Stay healthy, take care and play the flute!