Walking along the river to Carla's.

Walking along the river to Carla’s.

Today I was naughty. With the help of the lovely Paul and Sue, I escaped Elmsted and disappeared off up to Windsor and London. A friend at the SoundSCAPE festival had out me in touch with alto and bass flautist Carla Rees, and I was super keen for a lesson. I’m sure that Trevor would disapprove, but I figured there are some things he just does’t need to know about. Luckily he didn’t drop by the Dairy today, and so my lurking sense of worry through the day was ill-founded anyway.

The trip was definitely worth it, both for my first ever specific instruction on alto flute, and also for the broader career insights and advice that Carla was able to provide. The key points with alto flute are:

– More air!! Put as much air as physically possible through the instrument, and then try for a bit more. But it needs to be slower air than for the C flute, or else the sound will split.

– Lower breathing. Carla noted that I was breathing quite high-up, and said that for really good resonance on the alto our bodies need to become part of the instrument. The way to achieve this is to breathe from lower down, really using the maximal expansion of our rib cage, and keep everything in the upper chest, shoulders and neck really free.

– I need to put the flute much lower on my lip, so covering more of the embouchure hole. Mardi mentioned this about my C flute playing earlier in the year, and with alto it’s even more so. In the lesson it felt a little unnatural, but the resultant sound was much bigger and crunchier.

– Along with that, I need to direct the air further downwards, but without turning the flute in. Easier when I remember the relaxed embouchure, but this concept is going to need some work!

– Finally, the alto is really physical to play. I should feel exhausted and will need to build the stamina and strength to deal with that. Looks like my morning runs are staying then.

A quick glimpse of Windsor castle on the way back to the train.

A quick glimpse of Windsor castle on the way back to the train.

Carla encouraged me to play around with the instrument, to experiment with how I could get it to sounds really fantastic and push my boundaries. The alto (and by extension bass) flute isn’t just a low C flute, it is a very different instrument and behaves differently. We need to practise with that in mind, and not aim to recreate C flute sounds. She also said that the best thing to play on low flutes is Bach, as it encourages us to deal with the real-life musical problems of leaps, tone colour and breathing.

More tomorrow, but today has given me some good thinking material, much of which I can apply to the C flute as well in moderation. After the lesson I had coffee with a lovely Australian friend Brontë who is studying flute at the Royal Academy. Hopefully the escape has given me to energy for a really full day of practice tomorrow!

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