Tag Archive: articulation

I feel like I spent most of the day practising articulation! Both the excerpts for tomorrow are quite heavy on the tonguing, and then we’ve arrived at a patch of Moyse studies that are all about tonguing as well. On the one hand, I’m quite pleased that my articulation has come on in the past months, particularly in the realm of double and triple-tonguing. On the other, tonguing fasted dotted and double-dotted rhythms is still something of a minefield.

My approach with the excerpts today was not to spend ages on them but to play through them just once a couple of times per practice session. Since Trevor has been critical of my wrong notes of late, the goal was to get rid of them at all costs.

The St John Passion excerpt is mostly about getting through the passage without making any mistakes, and so this approach worked quite well. The goal was to play it perfectly the first time through, without any restarting or fumbling around. By the final practice hour of the day, I made it through several times without error, though it earlier sessions I noticed that I tend to make a mistake in the bar directly following a breath. My solution was then to mark in each and every breath (allowing for nerves in class) and really make sure that I learned them in as well. It seemed to work.

By contrast, the Thieving Magpie excerpt is about just getting through it all triple-tonguing, with a preference for dynamic contrast as well! I found that once I’d got through the first bar or so, that the tonguing wasn’t so bad, but that I often made mistakes when starting because I was still getting comfortable. So then I played just the first bar every ten minutes or so to get it really nice and clear. While the final build-up is still a little bit hairy (my tongue gets tired), I’m happy with the expression in the rest of the excerpt. I played Thieving Magpie with an orchestra only last year, and still am having conniptions about it!

I also went for a run this morning, the first in a while. It wasn’t amazing, and I’ve definitely got out of the habit over the last month. Hopefully Friday will feel a bit better!

The last day of January marks two thirds of the way through the flute studio course! A little more if we’re splitting hairs, since February is short. After a rather turbulent January with classes being shifted around, lots of trips up to London and then a particularly crazy last two weeks, today was a good moment to stop and collect myself a little in preparation for the remaining two months. In aid of that, I took myself off on a long and blustery walk across the Downs this afternoon. It was chilly, and the melted snow made for very soggy ground, but there is something wonderful about squelching through mud. I got back just as it began to snow again, and had a lovely practice session while watching the farm outside turn white!

After the last few days of particularly noticing nervousness and tension, my goal today was to practice well and without tension. I think that in my panic to get things prepared this last week, I’ve tended to note bash, learning in mistakes and then tension associated with them. Not good at all. Anyway, hopefully now that I’m a little more aware of what I’m doing, I can stop doing it an practice a little better.

I’m preparing Andersen No. 13 for Monday, which is a chromatic study with the odd whole tone put in for good measure (to trip us up!). After doing so much practice of patterns and scales, I am noticing that much more of these studies falls under the fingers easily. I suppose that’s why this one feels so devilish – I fall into the pattern and then it changes.

I’m supposed to be doing Altes No. 20 and 21 for Monday, but keep jumping ahead and practising no. 22 as well. It’s a duet arrangement of the Mendelssohn Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I really enjoy playing it. Getting through the whole thing is a tongue stamina challenge rather than (apart from one or two tricky passages) any problem of notes. The first flute part (which I play) doesn’t get the main solo until the very end, after seven pages of double tonguing, and the challenge is to make it still sound fresh, clear and bouncy. I’d like to think I can manage all three studies for class, but we’ll see how things go tomorrow.

Today was piccolo masterclass with Patricia Morris, the retired Principal Piccolo of the BBC Radio Symphony Orchestra and author (with Trevor) of The Piccolo Study Book and Practice Book for the Piccolo. It was a great day, and I felt like I really learned a lot about the way to practice piccolo effectively and for life.

Patricia advocated practising piccolo every day, even if it’s only for ten or twenty minutes. Rather than note bashing, this should ideally be slow practice of tunes of segments of studies, as the most important thing on the piccolo is achieving a homogeneous tone across the whole range. This all needs to be in tune as well! We talked a lot about getting up to high notes quietly, and I need to remember not to push for them – much better to set up properly a few notes beforehand and then let it happen. That said, when Patricia asked me to play (sightread) the picc solo from the slow movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6, I didn’t do too bad a job of getting the high note out. The alternate fingering she showed me did help with this though!

I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago that I’d set myself the task of learning all the excerpts for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra piccolo audition in preparation for this class. I was feeling pretty prepared, with the only elephants still being Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 (eeek) and Verdi’s Othello (I’ve just never played it before). Needless to say, we didn’t actually get onto any of my excerpts at all, though I now think I’m better equipped to work on them myself.

Now I’m working myself up to some more practice, and there are another three classes next week. No rest for the wicked!

There were only five of us for class today, as it seems like colds are doing the rounds. So far I’ve been ok, and I’m hoping that it’ll stay that way!

As I said in my post yesterday, I was feeling a little trepidation about today’s studies, particularly the two Altès that I’ve spent a lot of time on. By contrast, I’d spent very little time on the Moyse studies, and (unfortunately) not as much as I should have Andersen No. 12! The results were interesting:

Moyse #5 and #9: Good following of notes with my lips, though both could have been faster. After no. 9 we talked a little about my needing to open up the tone in my top register. When I played the study again I did it with a lovely full tone, but need to be doing that all the time rather than just when prompted.

Moyse #8: “Lovely” – just get rid of a few wrong notes. I’d practiced this one a lot at the start of the week, but not in the last few days, and so just decided to go for it.

Then Trevor was a bit mean and made me sightread the next three studies so that he could show everyone what needed working on with them! It seems that he wants me to prepare all these in time for Monday which isn’t going to be much fun.

Andersen #12: Started out well but then I fell apart at the end of the B section where there were some particularly nasty leaps. Trevor didn’t seem terribly perturbed though, which was a bit strange. He just said ‘thank you’ and asked what was next – it seems he could tell I just hadn’t spent enough time on it. Looks like that’s back on for Monday, along with no. 13 which is a whole lot of chromatic scales.

Altès #18: “Some good things about this study, but you’re not bringing out the tune” sums this one up, and I agreed. I had spent so long on the notes and making sure that the articulation patterns were right that I hadn’t thought enough about musical direction. I need to play it again on Monday, which is a bit of a pain, but I do think I’ve learned a lot from this study.

Altès: #19: Fine, though I think Trevor would have liked it a little faster. I can play segments of it up to speed, but my tongue still feels like it’s going to fall off when I try to do a page of triple tonguing at crotchet =100!

Bach Variations #12 and #13: Ok but not tight enough…. I need to being doing little bits of this every day for a few minutes to get it tight enough.

Bach Variations #14 and #15: Trevor seemed quite pleased with these, but then tried to push and see how expressively I could play. The challenge with all these studies is achieving the articulation challenges as well as making them sound musical, and I was almost there with both. A case of attention to detail and then forgetting it and letting the music come through.

With regular class as well as the two masterclasses, we still have five to prepare for in the two weeks. Trevor’s solution to this is to set us even more work, and has asked us to write a cadenza for the first movement of Mozart’s G major flute concerto as well for next Thursday. Looks like I’m spending the evening working!

I woke up this morning to some proper snow, though it was in the air rather than on the ground. My morning practice accompanied the flurries and eddies playing round the dairy. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade it to settle, and by lunchtime any little traces at the side of the road had all melted.

It reminded me of another long practice day I spent accompanying snow, five years ago now. I was in Helsinki on my exchange year, and ended up in one of the big practice rooms in the ‘P-talo’ (P-house) with two grand pianos, a couch and a wall of windows. It had snowed for months, and the fluffy morning whiteness no longer astounded me the way it had at first. Yet that day the snow danced as it fell, whipped up by the wind into great swirls and currents of fairy floss. I was practising scales, and remember trying to make them ebb and flow in the same way the snow did, flourishing effortlessly as I ascended. Today wasn’t quite as magical as five years ago, but I tried to capture the same feeling nevertheless.

Tomorrow is a studies class rather than repertoire, as we’re still getting back on track after Trevor’s illness. This time yesterday, I was trying not to panic too much about my studies, the two Altès in particular. I find both of them difficult – no. 18 for the combination of a tricky 6/8 articulation pattern and lots of leaps, and no. 19 for the speed at which I’m required to triple tongue! However, as often happens on the final day before class I really felt like I made a lot of progress today, and am now playing both at something approaching the marked speed. I dealt with the triple tonguing one by playing it every twenty minutes in all my practice sessions today – I probably drove the others a bit mental but it’s working. As for no. 18, I’ve learned the notes and will probably play it better tomorrow in class if I take a step back and trust myself rather than being too pedantic about trying to get every single note.

Though we started a little later than usual, it was back to class today now that Trevor’s on the mend. Having had the extra few days to practise, I was quite confident that I could present something a bit more polished than usual. I’d also taken some more time to focus on my recurring weak spots – dynamics and sloppy dotted rhythms in particular. Overall, my playing was quite good, dare I say a step up from previous weeks. In a nutshell, the feedback was:

Moyse 25, no. 4 – Good expression, good dynamics, but accompanying line wasn’t always even when oscillating between C and D.

Moyse 25, no. 5 – I’d tried to learn the notes to play quickly, rather than thinking about “following each note with the lips”. Back on the menu for next week, along with its partner study no.9.

Moyse 25, no. 6 and 7 – In character and expressive, though a little on the slow side. When I get faster, I need to remember to accent the first part of the beat rather than the triplet in no. 6.

Andersen no. 11 – A few wrong notes here and there, but expressive and even. A little more diminuendo on the last semiquaver of each beat would be good, but at least I wasn’t cutting them!

Altès no. 16 – Expressive, with a particularly good cadenza. I need to watch my trills, which were too fast for the character of the piece, and make sure that my crotchets in the opening melody “disappear into the silence” like a lifted violin note.

Altès no. 17 – Fine, though could have been faster (yes, I know I need to learn to tongue faster – doesn’t everyone?!)

Moyse 50 Variations – Having spent a lot of time on these this week, Trevor seemed much happier about how I was getting along with them. After a few outings, no. 5 was finally passed (jump for joy!), and nos. 9 and 11 were “perfect”. No. 10 was a little harder, and it took a few goes for me to make the difference between the melody line and accompanying parts big enough. I need to keep remembering that for everyone else to hear a big dynamic contrast I have to be making a really huge, supernatural-feeling difference between the loudest and softest notes. Finally, no. 12 was “a bit unstable” and is back on for next week.

I was rather hoping for a bit of chamber music this evening but nobody else seemed terribly interested, so I’ve spent the time working on my new website. Though it’s nowhere near complete, it might be worth taking a look!

We woke this morning to a heavy frost and deeply frozen puddles. On the walk to Trevor’s, the fields and paths lay glistening before us, iced in an ever-so-slightly spiky design. Look closer, and each fallen leaf was individually decorated and embellished, frosted round the edges and along the veins. Here smoky and dark, there crystal clear, the ice warped and cracked under my feet. In some, pockets of air had slipped in under the ice to create an ethereal marbling that foretold the rapid melting to come.

Class itself, and I was starting to feel like I might be getting my aunt’s Christmas cold, which wasn’t great. Trevor was keen to talk about things that we still need to work on over the coming months, and I earned a good list: playing expressively from the beginning, playing loudly, shorter articulation, not waving my flute around and not cutting the ends of notes. Despite these things and my feeling decidedly under-prepared (or maybe because of them?) I ended up playing quite well.

Moyse 25 Melodic Studies no. 1 was too slow, but otherwise make the mark for playing expressively and with good phrasing. Or almost – it took a while for me to play one phrase with the loudest point in the right place!

I then took a bit of a gamble and sight-read no. 2 in the same book. The notes aren’t hard, it’s just a lot of staccato semiquavers, and I did a pretty good job of getting them short. The only problem was that I was unnecessarily accenting the groups of four in the process. Overall, I still need to work on maintaining an even staccato across all dynamics and the entire flute range.

Andersen no. 10 was my low point for the lesson, which I was well and truly prepared for! There are just a few too many notes to cram in a short time. When Alyssa played earlier in the class Trevor asked her to play faster and “make it sound easy”, so I knew I wasn’t going to get too far. The first three lines (relatively accidental-free) were ok, but sure enough I feel apart a bit come the next few. Trevor seemed pretty happy with how the start was sounding though, and my request to spend some more time on it for next week was taken quite well.

Altes no. 12 and 13 were both pronounced fine but too slow, which I was well aware of. No. 12 is double tonguing hell, and to be honest I was happy just to get through it at all. Like Andersen 9b, this is a study for life rather than for just a weeks practice. I also still need to watch C#s here, as they were “horribly sharp” to begin with and I should have pulled the headjoint out before being told rather than after.

As for the impending cold, I’m really hoping that my sinus headache and general grogginess will go away with an early night and keeping warm. Fingers crossed.

Today’s class went a lot better than I was expecting – all my articulation woes over the past few days had me totally prepared for a shredding. However, Andersen No. 4 was generally approved of, at least it was pronounced more staccato, more even and more musical than last week. Trevor’s one comment was that my dynamics weren’t either wide enough of consistent (the piano I started off with was not the one I came back to four lines later). Fair enough, but I was personally just happy that the notes were short enough! I still feel that this study is one that I need to keep returning to, and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play it again for Trevor near the end of my time here.

As for all the other studies, Altès was fine but No. 3 should have been faster (fair enough, I only learned it yesterday). My selection of Moyse studies met with a little more criticism, and I need to play both No. 9 and 10 again next week. No. 9, in Ab major, starts with a double-dotted theme, then goes on to two allegro variations that look simple but are an exercise in decrescendo-ing but not cutting slurs. Needless to say, I was both clipping and not decrescendo-ing enough! I also need to work on maintaining the rhythm throughout the theme. Moyse No. 10, on the other hand, is about playing loudly, crescendoing downwards and tenuto accents, and my fortes still need work.

We also received our allocations for the Christmas concert, with the repertoire mostly Trevor’s flute ensemble arrangements of jazz pieces. After dinner, we all read through them at the Old Dairy. I’ve got a smattering of piccolo and a couple of nasty little runs, but nothing too tricky. All the pieces are upbeat and crowd-pleasing with catchy tunes. I feel like I’m going to be utterly sick of them by the time Christmas comes round!

I’ve been trying to remember to write down some of Trevor’s quotes, with today’s pick being: “When you die, you either go to a flute recital or heaven”. I really do wonder sometimes whether he actually likes flutes at all!

Our little excursion for the weekend was a trip to the bi-weekly Wye farmers’ market this morning, which was enjoyable but rather short, with Trevor whizzing us round all the stalls at quite a brisk pace. Nevertheless, I got some nice bread and tried a selection of gourmet chutneys which were delicious but would have been rather decadent to buy!

Otherwise, practice was once again the order of the day. I managed to play through all six pages of the Moyse finger exercises at crotchet = 116 (from memory of course) without it feeling like a total disaster. Trevor emphasised on Thursday the importance of the tempo being just at the edge of what was possible, putting the pressure on and making it hard. It certainly felt hard this morning, but there is a wonderful satisfaction having got through it all.

Melodic minor scales are continuing to improve, but my augmented and diminished arpeggios haven’t. They seem stuck at crotchet = 84, and I can’t say that I’m remembering them any better than I was this time last week. Is it because I wasn’t practising them regularly before coming here? In an attempt to improve them, I’m going to try two things tomorrow: starting my scales practice with them, and also doing a couple of exercises from the Complete Daily Exercises in my first two hours of practice. Hopefully this will kick them up a notch or two.

Then it was on to studies, and it feels like everything I’m practising at the moment is to do with articulation! I’m finding it frustrating because Trevor highlighted my articulation as another area for improvement on Monday, and I can feel that it’s not up to scratch. So I’ve been practising the beginning of the articulation section from Trevor’s Practice Book 3 – short notes produced only by the abdominal muscles – and am feeling some improvement. However, preparing all these studies rather feels like I’m trying to run before I can walk. I know the notes in Andersen No. 4 need to be shorter, but am having trouble achieving this with all the leaps! Tricky one.

Lots of lovely people brightened my day today – both by email and post. Mum sent my slightly over-large pair of super-warm mittens that I bought in Helsinki, making sure that I’m wonderfully prepared for winter, Grandma and Grandpa sent a card, and a family friend in Cambridgeshire wrote to say I can go and stay for a weekend of Christmas craft in November. It’s nice to feel so loved.

I made it to the end of my first month! It at once feels like I’ve been here a long while and no time at all, and it’s still a bit strange to think of this little dairy and village as home. Now seems a good time for a bit of reflection on what has happened so far, so here goes:

– Trevor’s major criticism of my playing a month ago was that I didn’t play expressively. This has been a point of quite a lot of tension, as I was struggling to realise just how much I needed to project my musical ideas and dynamics, while Trevor was often insisting that I failed to understand the music. I had a turning point with Andersen Op. 15 Study No. 3 almost two weeks ago, and am now slowly counting up the classes I go without negative comments on that front. Hopefully it will continue that way!

– I’ve changed my posture somewhat to have a bigger space between the flute and my right arm/shoulder. This does feel more natural, and I’m not sure how the more closed posture had crept into my playing.

– Along with aiming to project musical ideas more, I have had to push my dynamic range out to a much bigger ff and a pp that is almost nothing. These extremities still need a lot of work, and I still have a tendency to go flat when playing very quietly. I am, however, now happy to play with a pp that is almost nothing, whereas earlier this year I would have sacrificed the dynamic for feeling safe with intonation.

– I’ve learned the importance of ending notes beautifully – essentially every one needs a diminuendo, they just vary in length.

– Thanks to all the hours of scales and technical exercises, I can certainly feel a different in the agility and precision of my fingers. Looking in the mirror, there is so little movement now when I play scales. It’s quite amazing what focused practice can do!

– I think that one of the big focuses of the coming month is going to be articulation, aiming for a really clear, short staccato and well-articulated beginnings to notes. This will be a lot of work, but also something I’m really keen to master.

– For the first time in my life, I feel like my body has finally become comfortable with running! I’ve got into the habit of going out about four mornings a week, and am slowly increasing the distance with an aim of five miles by Christmas. I’m really enjoying running (this still seems so strange to say), and am sure it’s doing some good for my playing as well!

I still need to keep reminding myself that I’m here for me and my flute playing, to go with the flow even if it’s not what I would choose myself. I need to take Trevor’s feedback on board, no matter how harsh (or occasionally bizarre) it seems. Yes, there are some things that he doesn’t need to know about, but he is a great teacher and I can feel the difference that this past month has made.

Today was Halloween, and while I’m not particularly into the idea of celebrating it as some sort of festival, I did contribute a yummy vegetarian chilli for dinner. I’m much more excited about bonfire night next week!