Articles and Activities
If you're at home and looking for ideas to further and support your musical and flute-playing interests, there are articles and ideas aplenty here on Flutes at the Barns - and all are free! From the monthly warm-ups to tutor blog-posts, we want to keep you inspired!
Free Flute Playing Warm-Ups
For monthly hints from FATB tutor Zoë Booth - to help you improve your playing - don't forget to visit the Warmups page, with descriptive tips and downloadable exercises; you can find the link from the bottom of the homepage.
Monday 8th June 2020
With FATB Online, we've recently enjoyed the "Super Scales" workshops, focussing on why scales are so good for the health of our playing as well as creative ideas for learning and reinforcing them. In case you missed the workshops, here are a few ideas you might want to try:
1. Scales offer us so many benefits; not only for embedding those finger patterns - useful for muscle-memory and enhanced recognition of patterns - but for control of sound and breathing. For many of us, they might regularly prompt us to play without music too, not always the case in the rest of the practice session.
2. Scales are most great for us when we already know them - that allows us to get creative in making the patterns more interesting in terms of rhythm, range and so forth.
3. Our motivation for scale-learning can lapse if we're not achieving - who wants to do something they're not good at? Whether it's because of a fiddly key and fingers, or a difficult jaunt into the highest notes of the flutes, there is always a way we CAN achieve something positively if we get creative! Scales don't have to be two (or three!) octaves tall; one octave is fine and there is still plenty we can gain from that. If you practise scales to a twelfth, you only have three notes left to master to make it up to the two-octaves another time. Even just practising the first five notes up and down is useful....
4. ...find patterns that use the first five notes of scales repetitively; next try this pattern on groups of scales, for instance going round the circle of fifths, or covering all the majors starting on black notes, or all the melodic minors on white notes.
5. Once you know a particularly scale really well, there are lots of ways to vary it to make it useful for your playing. Long tonic patterns are pleasing over two octaves; whole-range scales count in 4s, and that's great for embedding patterns which go against the rhythm you're thinking of you; crab-wise scales, or scales in thirds, both of those sound pretty and stretch your technique yet further!
6. If you still get muddled up between your minors, now is the time to get it sorted. There are only twelve major keys and twelve minor keys, nothing a bit of theory and rule-learning can't solve... there are lots of tricks and tips to make minor scale-learning easier too, so don't miss "Super Scales" with FATB Online another time!
7. As well as major and minor scales, chromatics are brilliant - you learn one and you get another eleven for free! Chromatics flow in 3s or 4s; very pleasing!
8. A chromatic scale is a semitone scale; why not try a whole-tone scale next? They sound really magical, and crop up in Debussy and other French music, as well as Ian Clarke's "The Mad Hatter!"
9. Try some jazz scales, and maybe practise these with swing rhythm? The major pentatonic uses the notes of a major scale except for the 4th and 7th; the minor pentatonic misses out notes 2 and 6 of the natural minor pattern - both of these are perfect for improvising!
10. There are loads of other scales out there - modes, Rags, Blues scales, octatonic and more! They never need be boring again!
"Amazing Arpeggios" workshops will be held on Wednesday 17th, Friday 19th and Saturday 20th June, for insight into using arpeggios for flexibility, recognising harmonic changes and getting familiar with the different types of arpeggios to enjoy!
Monday 11th May 2020
Two weeks ago, under the workshop topic title "Mastering Ornamentation" FATB Tutor Zoë Booth offered a guide to the stylish - and correct - choices available when playing appoggiaturas, mordents, turns and trills, all illustrated through stunning flute repertoire from the baroque and classical eras. Later this week, "Perfecting Ornamentation" classes (for which there is just one place left, as this is being typed, on Saturday 16th May at 2 pm) will be reinforcing these ideas and taking a further step towards an approach oozing with authentic baroque style, explored using the music of Quantz, Telemann and Handel - how delicious to have a fully-fledged Handel Largo by the end of this class! If you don't get a chance to join in, here are a few helpful reminders on ornamentation for now:
1. Appoggiaturas are stylish, leaned-on and on the beat, essentially pushing the harmony note aside for a racy dissonance (or so it may have seemed at the time!).
2. Mordents should start on the beat and they can go up or down - the line downwards through the symbol indicates it goes downwards.
3. Turn - like a backwards S lying on its side. Placed between two notes it creates a four-note link; when the symbol is placed on top of a note, that note is replaced by the four notes of a turn... trickier in some ways, as you have to start on the note above the one you see!
4. Trills are met at the cadence point principally, as well as elsewhere sometimes. For baroque and classical playing, starting on the upper note, on the beat, is usually best practice, with a few exceptions you'll meet to soon gain confidence.
5. Ornaments are there to decorate the music, they should sound expressive; the underlying musical phrase, direction, shape and line remain all-important however.
The more ornaments you play, the more you'll get a feel for style and inflection, but listening is great too. Enjoy your playing and take care.
Wednesday 22nd April 2020
As Flutes at the Barns reaches the milestone of 25 musical and happy online workshops (!) we've now covered a broad range of subjects, from breathing to fingers, solo repertoire to performance skills... and with more topics yet in the pipeline! Last week participants explored "Sublime Sonority," FATB tutor Zoe Booth providing ideas for practice and performance - here are a few headlines to think about next time you practise:
1. There are a number of mechanisms involved in sound... but ears - and experience - come first.
2. There are so many different ways to demonstrate "good" and it varies from player to player. Celebrate what you have!
3. Fuelling the sound through good technique - and solid breathing technique in particular - make a big difference to the flexibility in effecting changes of dynamic and register, not to mention avoiding those accidental changes.
4. There's a place for tone exercises which promote reliability, consistency and reassurance for a player; in our musical playing however, uniformity has limited purpose, and we want to offer expressive range through adaptation of colour, vibrato, dynamic etc.
5. The very lowest part of the flute needs reliability first and foremost, and then offers the chance to develop those louder dynamics...
6. ...although colour variety down here is widely available!
7. Up high, there's no problem playing loud, although we need to nourish the tone quality; it needs positive, patient work here to develop the softer playing without diminishing the quality of sound and expression.
8. Finally, it does no good to feel anxious about top F#s - those worries are part of the problem, so take good care of them instead.
Thursday 16th April 2020
Practising - it seems like we should have the time at the moment, but is the motivation there? When we play are we getting the most out of our practice sessions, making them both satisfying and musical? Last week, Flutes at the Barns Online explored "Purposeful Practising" in its workshop topic; here are a few top tips for anyone who didn't manage to catch the class:
1. For practising to become a successful daily habit, it needs to fit into your life - it's unlikely to happen if you wait for life to stop and a magical empty hour of practice time to fall into your lap; instead just play whenever you can, even if it's for just a few minutes.
2. Drop any guilt you have for enjoying playing your instrument, for not having more time or for not practising as much or as well as someone else. Music comes from positive energy and total involvement.
3. Listening and being mindful in your practice are the keys to success; choose to play at a time when you have the energy to do more than focus on the reading, finger-patterns and exercises. If you're a night-owl, you might get more from a few minutes playing later in the day than you would by picking up the flute in the morning like your early-bird friend.
4. Being creative, imaginative and musical are the things we enjoy; if we include these whenever we play, it will help the motivation to pick up your flute next time!
5. Instead of listening "critically" it's more positive to listen "diagnostically." Be aware of any negativity to the tone of your inner voice - moderate thoughts like "I can't play this bit" or "this usually goes wrong" by adding the word "today" or "yet!"
6. Like an athlete, start your practice session with a warm-up, if only to avoid frustrations later. If you've got ten minutes, two minutes of warming up fingers, articulation, tone and breathing will do; if you've got an hour, maybe ten minutes at the start would allow you to let the embouchure and fingers get going before you begin on your repertoire.
7. To make the warm-up really relevant, why not bring some of the technical challenges from your pieces in? Think of the keys you'll be playing in and use these for your scales and patterns; maybe turn tricky passages into exercises for articulation; play everything with the best sound you have to carry this into your playing later.
8. Whether you practise everything over one session or split your practice activities across a whole week, aim to include as much variety as possible. Two, three or four pieces is probably enough not to overload, and to gain a balance of styles, speeds and keys. Try, also, to include a variety of stages, for instance a piece you're just learning, something that's nearly ready for performance and others in between.
9. Practice makes permanent and we do this through successful repetition... but repetition doesn't have to be boring! Find new rhythmic or tempo challenges that also show you how you're making progress, or simply use your creativity to find interesting ways to play things over and over but always correctly, coming from a different angle every time.
10. When we first learn something the trajectory is noticeable and positive; there's a sense of satisfaction from reliably getting difficult patterns under the fingers. After this, it's harder to feel like the positive trend continues, as progress is more subtle. The focus is then on shaping, variety, colour and communication, so you might have to change your approach; both focussing on very small details and running sections through for overall pacing and musical style might be more useful at this time.
Wednesday 25th March 2020
Here are some top, no-nonsense tips from Flutes at the Barns for getting online easily for your flute lessons or classes:
1. You'll need an app on your phone - these are nearly always free so you just go to your usual app store (Google Play, iTunes) or search online from the device you want to use and then install!
Monday 30th March 2020
After the FATB online class topic of "And Breathe.." last week, here are a few snippets for flute players looking to develop their breathing:
1. Musical sound, shape and involvement come first; if you're trying to make your air so long that your tone suffers, just find new places to add breath-marks.
2. Be confident in where you choose to breathe: if you have to interrupt the phrase, be more guided by your ears than your eyes.
3. Find out about good breathing technique for flute playing; we all know how to breathe in daily life, but a new habit is needed for our music-making.
4. There are exercises to develop your capacity; do these carefully and not too often - it's a marathon, not a sprint.
5. As well as expanding capacity and breathing well, notice if there are economies you can make when you release the air. Think about speed, tone and dynamics in particular.
6. A breathing challenge is good - as long as it doesn't compromise musical sound, shape and involvement. Why not choose a reference piece to use with a focus on breathing technique, and then you'll notice how you improve over the days, weeks and months?!
2. Skype is widely used (especially on Flutes at the Barns); other commonly used video-calling/meeting apps are Zoom, Facebook Teams and Google Teams. It's fine to have more than one installed.
3. You can install the apps across more than device if you own them - you just sign in with the same details. For instance, you might want to watch on online class from your computer but prefer to sit in the garden with your phone/tablet to group-call the family.
4. Before you can make/receive video-calls you might need to add a contact and ask them to confirm they know you, or maybe follow a link from an email. Although this sounds fiddly, it's just for your security and usually only has to be done when you first link up with someone; at FATB we are happy to help all you need to get you set up!
5. Having done all that, you're ready to go! Sit in front of your device at the agreed time and get ready to join in the fun - it's as simple as making/answering a phone call to connect! Try not to have any other programmes open whilst you're video-calling, and see if others in your household can also reduce their wifi use (especially streaming) during your appointment.
6. Before a flute lesson, tell your teacher what you want to play; if they don't have a copy they may ask you to scan/photograph each page and send it to them. It's a good idea to position your camera so it sees you and your fingers. As well as your music, have a pencil and your notebook to hand, maybe a metronome too?
7. If you're going online for a FATB class, print out resources if you've been sent any (some classes will have this, although resources will normally be sent by email afterards).You may wish to take notes, and maybe even try things with your flute in your hand (although you'll only be asked to play in an online masterclass).
8. If the signal struggles in a lesson, it's a good idea for the teacher to switch off their video for a while; although you won't we able to see them, you'll know they're still there as you can see their icon on the screen - it's much more important that they can see you! In a class, the reverse is true, so aim to become familiar with how you can turn off the video without exiting the call/meeting.
9. Do agree who is to do the calling at the appropriate time - if you get cut off (a rarity, but it happens) that person should do the calling-back, otherwise you might end up blocking each other's attempts to reconnect.
10. Once you're feeling confident about how it all works, you might even check through and adjust your settings, or even set up a speaker, microphone or other device to enable you to improve the quality and experience in your own home!
We all want to be able to get back to seeing each other in real life activities but online-life is the current reality... we're embracing it positively and just a few weeks' experience tells us how amazed everyone is at how well the online events work! Give it a go and enjoy!
Sunday 22nd March 2020
During this period of social-distancing, how about some FATB suggestions for flute/music-related reading (well, we can't practice all day... can we?):
1. Nancy Toff's "The Flute Book" - phew, such a comprehensive volume will definitely keep you entertained over the next few weeks, whether you're interested in the instrument itself, style, technique, repertoire or more modern updates! Recommended as a real-life book (rather than digital) as it's not so much a cover-to-cover read as a textbook.
2. There's not much opportunity to perform to a live audience at this time, so - to avoid getting out of the habit - why not keep on top of your performance psychology by brushing up on some thoroughly-researched ideas from the experts? "The Inner Game of Music" by W Timothy Gallwey and Barry Green is an excellent place to start; also there are helpful websites like www.bulletproofmusician.com that are really worth checking out.
3. We have no recordings of music until relatively recently, so how do we know how it was played? JJ Quantz, that's how! In his "On Playing the Flute" you can dip in and see in quite some details how players of the day used ornaments, how their articulation differed from from what we do now, this is an excellent style manual. The antiquated language (translated) is also wonderful! If this interests you, also have a look at youtube where modern-day-early-flute-expert Lisa Besnosiuk offers some amazing free tutorials.
4. Is this extra time giving you a chance to read about your favourite flute players? There are excellent biographies and autobiographies on the big names. For me "Taffanel, Genius of the Flute" by Edward Blakeman is the business, giving you an insight on the father of modern flute playing. For more up-to-date players, you could read about James Galway (his 1979 autobiography and more recent biographical books) and William Bennett (Wibb - A Flute for Life" also by Blakeman) to name just two.
5. Coming away from flute-playing as such, there are so many ways to read about the lives of the bygone composers that inspire you. For accessibility and well-researched clarity I can recommend the Classic FM Lifelines series, which seem to be out of print... so I notice you can pick them up for just a few pence via amazon market place!
7. If that is all sounding a bit too heavy and prefer to read fiction, do look for writers - such as Rose Tremain - who often have a musical thread throughout their writing. A highly recommended title is "The Noise of Time" by Julian Barnes, a deservedly award-winning and compelling story about Shostakovich's life in the Stalin era.
Happy reading all!