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Teaching notes

This exercise has been written around the first three notes of the study. Any type of scale will present problems of one description or another and one of the most important elements is that of moving evenly between notes.

In a chromatic scale, as we are always playing semi-tones or half steps, every finger movement has the tendency to feel more ‘tight’ than for example when playing a major scale. The concept of moving evenly between notes becomes more complicated and potentially less easy.

There are three areas to focus on here:

Firstly, it is crucial to keep the fingers close to the keys. Just remember, that if you allow your fingers to travel far away from the body of the flute, they also have to come back again when next required to push a key down. In slow tempi, this can probably be done without losing notes. However, the discipline of keeping fingers close to the flute at all times is not a bad one, as with increased speed, untrained, planet hopping fingers are going to very quickly become out of order and unevenness and even disaster will not be far away! It might even be worth practicing a slow melody (Gluck-Dance of the Blessed Spirits springs to mind), with fingers always touching the metal of the keys. Initially, although deeply exasperating, this will have the effect of reining wild fingers in and as a result, greater efficiency should follow. Initially, it will be very worthwhile practicing this in front of a mirror. You will be amazed at how unruly your fingers can be!

Secondly, when we are playing legato passages (and in this case at speed), it is important for the fingers to act in a legato way as well. From the early years, holding a flute is an awkward experience and as we struggle with the complexities of ‘managing’ the instrument we tend to tighten our hand/finger muscles. Over years, this can lead to an ‘on/off’ approach to moving the keys up and down. In this case, legato movement is difficult to achieve, as each new note is likely to have a more percussive arrival. This is due to fingers ‘slamming’ the keys down and effectively moving in a ‘staccato’ manner (this method could be useful at the start of the second page of the Prokofiev Sonata, where a more ‘military’ approach is required). Try to keep tension to a minimum.

Personally, I like to think of my fingers ’feeling’ their way around the instrument in slurred passages, be they slow or fast.

Thirdly, there should always be energy and direction in this study. Without sustained air pressure there is a danger that the passage between notes will not be smooth. We also have to take into account the fact that the length of the tube of the flute will be altering from one note to another. Once again, at speed this becomes more accentuated, so greater air control is required to compensate for this ‘defect’. Think about blowing through the flute, rather than simply into it. To keep your sound alive, energy has to be transmitted all the way to the end of the flute, not merely into the mouthpiece.

Finally, the frequently used phrase “you can’t run before you can walk”, is totally applicable in this exercise, so be sure to set off at a speed, which will coax your fingers into the correct activity. They will swiftly lose interest if you try to bully them into action! You will also gain a huge amount of information through playing these exercises very slowly and analyzing exactly how your fingers are moving.

The weak links will always be the 4th (ring) and 5th (pinky!) fingers in each hand, so no harm should come from repeating the exercises where some or even all of these fingers are featured!