Teaching Notes

To play large, legato intervals on the flute, musically and with an even transition to high notes, requires great reserves of energy, anticipation and highly toned support muscles!

When slurring upwards (as at the end of bar 11 into bar 12), there is a great danger that the upper note, with its increased air speed will ‘scream’ out. As in this instance the interval is to be executed over a diminuendo, this is to be avoided!

Exercise 2 is written in such a way that if practiced over a period of time, large intervals should eventually become easier to manage. 

The first area of focus should be how we control the air speed, to shift both upwards and downwards throughout the exercise. 

To make a big interval in an upwards direction will require greater air speed. If you push your air through more rapidly at the same time that the fingers change to the new note, the transition from the first note to the second one will be too violent and the upper of the two will stick out and sound as though it is accented. There is also the danger that it will be sharp.

To avoid this happening, start building air pressure as soon as the lower note sounds, by squeezing the support muscles inwards. In this way the energy can gradually build and by the time the second note sounds, there should be sufficient air flow to ‘land’ comfortably on the upper note. With large intervals, once that air energy is in place, I try to think of dropping down onto the upper note, rather than crawling up to it.

Added to this is the fact that there are diminuendos and crescendos throughout the exercise. In this instance, the crescendos are easier to play than the diminuendos, which require a different approach.

In the first beat of the exercise, the ‘squeeze’ to the upper note needs to be firm, but not forced. In the second beat, you should think of ‘pushing’ your air faster through the flute, in order to achieve the crescendo.

These intervals will also become easier if you very slightly raise the air column for the higher notes and equally, bring it back down again for the lower ones. It has to be stressed though, that any lip movement should be kept to a minimum. Your embouchure should be as undisturbed as possible!

I find that my top notes speak more readily if I am not applying too much pressure from the lip plate onto my lower lip. Pressing hard here has a tendency to force the air column down, which is the opposite of that which is required for the top octave notes and ultimately ‘strangles’ them. You might also like to experiment with releasing any tensions in the arms and fingers for these high notes, by imagining that the flute is being very gently pulled forward, in front of you.

Finally, many students make a buzzing sound with their lips when playing very high notes. Because they know that the air speed needs to be quicker, they press their lips tighter together, which does indeed bring about a swifter air speed. However, this will also cause lip buzzing and due to volume of air, the tone will be thin and lacking in warmth. The embouchure should be more relaxed.

For these upper notes I think of my upper and lower teeth being ever so slightly further apart. This will open up the aperture and ‘buzzing’ will be vastly reduced, if not completely eliminated. Now that there is more freedom in the embouchure, there will need to be greater activity from the support area to provide sufficient air to trigger the upper notes!