Flute Studio of Emma Pease-Byron

"Flute music is love music from the heart. It must not stop, lest the pulsing of the heart be broken." ~ Judith Redman Robbins

Musicality – Quick and Dirty Tips that Make Music Out of Noise: Small Gestures

Ever been told to play more musically, with expression or with feeling? I’ve always found those types of comments frustrating. As a high school and college flutist I wanted to play expressively, but I often didn’t know how. More commonly, I thought I was playing musically and was surprised to find out that I wasn’t. I didn’t have the rudimentary skills of musicality, expressivity and interpretation, which need to be taught and understood, just like tone, technique and articulation. In this column this year I will attempt to distill musicality down to its fundamental components.

The following small gestures should be handled the same way, more or less, in every piece of music. These are each small, basic ideas that all flutists, even beginners, can execute.

Put Space Between Repeated Pitches. This makes the second note easier to hear and distinguishes it from the preceding note. Imagine the way a pianist would have to play two repeated pitches; their finger would have to come completely off the key before re-striking, a lift you can see and hear.

Emphasize First Note of Two Note Slurs. This emphasis is made by articulating the first note heavier than you would normally and tapering, or creating a decrescendo, through the slur. Avoid accenting the first note or playing the second note shorter than written.

Create Variety in Repetition. When notes, or groups of note repeat, play successive repetitions louder, softer, or with gentle changes in tempo. Different notes in each repetition can also be emphasized by playing them heavier, longer or with different kinds of articulations. Always play echoes softer.

Crescendo through Large Ascending Leaps. In addition to creating a dramatic shape the additional air will help keep the big interval in tune.

Eventually these all become automatic, leaving head space for bigger, more sophisticated shaping. Along with following these tips, and the advice of a good teacher, listen lots of recordings of fine performers.

 

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Finding the Motivation to Practice: Performances

Motivating my students and myself to practice is something that constantly occupies my thoughts. In a perfect world we would all practice because we are passionate about music and devoted to our instrument enough that we do the necessary daily work to improve our skills, or, at the minimum, that we maintain them. However, we all have slumps, reach plateaus in our development and find too often that much of our time is already occupied by non-musical activities.

I get the best motivation from upcoming performances. Nothing scares me more than walking on stage unprepared and that fear has me hitting my daily tone and technique exercises with renewed focus weeks and sometimes months before a performance date. Being in shape technically is as important as knowing how to play the music before the first rehearsal. It affords me the flexibility to follow the conductor and adjust to the ensemble.

My students seem to be primarily motivated by solo performances, especially competitions. In Las Vegas, between the Las Vegas Flute Club, Music Teachers Association and Clark County School District, there is practically something to do every month between November and May. I get the best lesson preparation in the weeks preceding these events and when students participate in many events back to back we see months of accelerated development.

Now, mid-summer, really is the time to start planning your academic year or your performing season. Are there any competitions that you would like to participate in? Would planning a recital help you rev your practice engine? Do some research and planning. Set yourself up with the best motivation.

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