This masterclass focuses on a basic warmup for students of all levels. The exercises that have been discussed in the previous three masterclass articles (October 2008, November 2008, January 2009) may be inserted as needed in the following warm-up.
Repetition is good. Never be afraid to ask students to repeat something from a previous session. A review of these exercises will help players remember how and why to practice certain things. Your goal as the masterclass teacher, is to help students develop proper, informed flute playing and begin to lay the foundation of basic musicianship.
Keep the class moving at a fast pace. Most students will stay with you better if you keep going. Play more; talk less. However, a masterclass plan is necessary so that students feel that one exercise builds upon another. Do play along with them as they progress through the warm-up. You are subliminally teaching by the way you stand, align your body, move, give cues, breathe, and of course by the sound that you make.
1. Stretching and Focus
Stretching is one of the most overlooked areas in flute performance and is the first item on the “Masterclass #4 – Warm-up” sheet. Flutists of previous generations thought very little about stretching or exercise, but they help flutists avoid pain and injuries. The physical therapists that I know recommend Bob Anderson’s book Stretching, which has been their golden reference for more than 20 years. Anderson takes each part of the body and offers a series of stretches that require only a few minutes. Choose several of these exercises to teach at each masterclass. The ones involving the arms and shoulders are especially beneficial.
At the National Flute Association Convention in Kansas City, George Pope, University of Akron Flute Professor, suggested drawing the alphabet with your shoulders before you begin practicing. I often have students draw the alphabet using their index fingers with the arms stretched out in front of the body. The right hand draws the alphabet correctly, and the left hand draws it in a mirror image. This exercise has two benefits: one, the arms are lifted out from the body and two, the mind has to concentrate for the left hand to draw a mirror image of the right hand. To prepare for this exercise, ask students to draw a valentine or heart-shape using their two index fingers, one drawing to the right and the other to the left. Then have them draw a pumpkin and a Christmas tree. Once the students get the idea of drawing in a mirror fashion, then the alphabet is much easier.
Concentration also must be taught and worked upon in daily practice. The current thinking is to practice for 25 minutes followed by 5 minutes of rest or stretching. Another way to concentrate is to reboot the brain. Look up at the ceiling for three seconds and then look down for three seconds. Repeat two more times. When you do this with a classroom full of students, the room will become so quiet that you will be able to hear a pin drop. This works because when you look up at the ceiling, the head rests on the nerve part of the spine – a position that briefly stops the nerve flow from the brain to the body.
One conductor told me that he centered or calmed himself when he was standing on the podium waiting to begin conducting by looking for a straight line on the back wall of the stage. Once he found the straight line, he traced the line with his eyes until he felt balanced and calm. Experiment to find what works best for you.
2. Headjoint Octaves
If you are busy and have no time to practice, the one thing that you can do is play octaves on just the headjoint. It takes very little time and produces the best results. I like to slur the octave (the lower note sounds like a sharp A and the octave above sounds a little flat) and practice counted vibrato so that I am practicing two things at once. Before teaching this exercise to the class, check the headjoint cork placement on each flute so that the group will be in tune. Several repetitions of two, three, or four pulses per note will produce great results later in the class.
Use the orbicularis oris muscle (the circular muscle around the lips) to change the air direction from the lower to the higher note. Page 46 of Wynn Kapit and Lawrence M. Elson’s The Anatomy Coloring Book offers a page where you may color each of the muscles used in facial expressions. For some students this is an enlightening experience.
3. Bell Tones
Play each note with a ringing, rich sound, remembering that the beginning of the note is the strongest part. The vibrato should begin immediately and continue throughout the note.
I chose D for this exercise because it is the most incorrectly fingered note on the flute by student flutists. The left hand index finger is off for this note. By starting the warm-up with this note and its correct fingering, students will more quickly fix this problem fingering. This D is also one of the most easily produced notes on the flute. It is good to begin a warm-up with the easy and progress to the more difficult. Remember that the jaw and arms should hang. Repeat this exercise until you have the sound of the note that you want.
Play three notes with one fingering. The first or lowest note is called the first partial; the second note is the second partial or harmonic, etc. The small circle above the note indicates a harmonic. Students should place the right hand on the flute barrel to help position the flute against the chin, spread out the lower lip across the embouchure plate, and bring the end of the flute forward.
Sometimes I practice counted vibrato on each note; other times I slur the three pitches up and down several times. Note that all these notes are fingered with left-hand fingerings, so using the thumb-Bb fingering is necessary. Also, the left hand thumb should be straight and point toward the ceiling.
5. Octave Variations
The octave is the one interval that is found in every culture around the world. Practicing the octave for tuning purposes offers great intonation benefits. Most middle school flutists know and understand the fingerings from low F up through the third octave E flat because of the way that band method books are written. Unfortunately, each year more demands are placed on flutists to play quickly and easily up into the fourth octave. This exercise will help them play octaves up through the fourth octave D, E flat , E, and F easily.
Note that in the first two measures (octave Cs and C sharpss) the fingerings remain unchanged between octaves, but the D octaves require that the right hand fingers be raised while the right hand pinky presses the key. This takes coordination and practice for good results. For the E-flat octaves in measure 4 players must add the left hand first finger and fourth finger (1 and 4). Because the first finger is stronger than the fourth, finger #1 tends to go down before finger #4. Encourage students to place the fingers at the same time or even the fourth finger slightly ahead of the first finger. For the E octaves, players lift the G finger; they lift the F finger for the A. For the upper G the left hand thumb is lifted.
This exercise works on the problem of weak fingers and third octave fingerings by teaching students to focus on which finger moves, as opposed to working with a fingering chart. As students become proficient with the octaves through high G, you can add another note in each following masterclass visit.
6. Low, Low, High
This exercise takes its name from the order of the notes. On the flute all notes between low E and middle C sharp have the same fingering in the lower and second octaves. Most students are unaware of this association. I like to add counted vibrato to this exercise because it develops the playing of single notes well. On the first quarter note, vibrate three times and rest on fourth sixteenth of that quarter. Do the same on the second quarter, and vibrato at least eight times on the half note. Marcel Moyse calls this quarter note vibrating a vibrating pizzicato in De la Sonorite.
7. Run the G
This exercise uses a one-octave scale fingered with the left hand only and regular fingerings in the first and last measures and harmonic fingerings in bars two and three. The warmup is even better when the right hand is placed on the barrel of the flute. Once students can play the scale up and down slurred, encourage them to play it up and down several times on one breath. This develops and strengthens the embouchure because when students flow from regularly fingered notes into harmonic notes, the embouchure (orbicularis oris) must be forward in a pouting position.
8. Chromatic Scale
I use this warmup to develop skills such as single tonguing (T), the back syllable of double tonguing (K), throat staccato (Hah), double or triple tonguing (TK) (TKT), and vibrato. Practicing each of these pitches with T, K, Hah, TK or TKT, and vibrato prepares students for what they will find in music. You might choose to uses these notes for a “Minute of Tonguing” or a “Minute of Vibrato” exercises from Masterclass #3. You could also use a variety of rhythms. The added benefit of this exercise is that students learn the chromatic scale very quickly.
After you have explained the warm-up routine, play the entire page through from top to bottom. You will find that these exercises take only a few minutes yet provide many valuable lessons for artistic, musical flute playing.
Students should understand that, when they are at home, the natural progression is to follow their warmup with a practice session. A time honored adage about practicing is that “a set practice time each day will help you remember to practice.”