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Knowing the Next Note, Not Just Reading Ahead — Flute Technique

Dawn's Azumi flute


I haven’t seen this particular and helpful flute technique mentioned. There’s discussion about embouchure, about fingers, about breathing, about tone, but not much about something so simple and easy to do that it should go into every flutist’s (maybe even every musician’s) knowledge base. It was taught to me, so I’ll pass it along. It’s ‘knowing the next note’.

I’m not talking about reading ahead, where we are reading one, two, or more measures ahead of what we’re actually playing.  No. This technique has nothing at all to do with whether you are playing something that you are reading off a score or something you are playing from memory.

‘Knowing the next note’ means: Have the next note you are going to play after the one you are presently playing already in your head. When you do this, your brain already has set up for the transition.

A lot of players play ‘in the moment’ only, note by note. They may know the piece inside and out, they may read ahead, but they’re concentrating solely upon the note they are playing — its intonation, its quality, its dynamics…a lot of things, including quality and type of vibrato. But. They fail to ‘know the next note’, much less the entire phrase, both of which are exceedingly helpful, giving your body, via your brain’s mental preparations, a head start in preparing for the fine motor skill changes that lead to smooth, clean transitions, note-to-note, regardless of difficult fingerings or of interval jumps. Here’s how:

When playing, simply ‘know the next note’. So, if I’m playing a first register A and the next note is a third register E, I already ‘know’ that, next, I will be playing that third register E, no matter how fast or slowly that E comes after the A. And as I’m playing that third register E, I ‘know’ that the next note I will play will be a second register D. Then, as I’m playing that second register D, I ‘know’ I will be playing a first register C# after that.

The ‘know’ is an active ‘knowing’, instant by instant, note by note.

If it’s a run that comes after, then, ‘know’ the run, and, especially, ‘know’ that run’s target note while playing the previous note.

In essence, you’re focused on the note you’re playing, but, underneath, are actively aware of the note you’re going to next. And it also helps to know the entire phrase in your head in the background, behind the active ‘playing this, knowing that next is this’ technique.

This is a ‘brain technique’ that, once mastered, effortlessly does magical things to performance for smoothing out transitions between even the most difficult fingering changes and intervals one must play.

Hope this helps you.

Azumi flute


For Each Note?! Really?!

Dawn's Azumi flute


I got a good chuckle yesterday. Somebody I know was working on intonation, clarity, and truing pitch, and, in frustration, turned around and asked, “Do you have to adjust your embouchure for each and every note on the flute?”

“Yes,” I answered, not bothering to clarify with specifics and cases of exception, because I know this individual doesn’t like the ‘if’s, ‘and’s, and ‘maybe’s.

“For each note?!”

“Set for each note, yes — each note and each type or quality of tone.”

“Really!” — snapped in disgust. “I should have taken up electronic keyboard. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about embouchure and I’d always be in tune!”

They turned around and stared at me, then. “For each and every note you play on the flute, you adjust your embouchure?!”

“Yes.” Now, I added in a small clarification, inaccurate at best in the interest of keeping my response brief and comfortable for them. “Unless it’s a speedy run where you start here on this note, then aim for the target note of that run. Then, it’s a sort of smooth transition through the embouchure adjustments.”

They sighed in disgust, rubbed their face, complained about muscle fatigue, and put their instrument in its stand.

“So every note you play, you set that note with your ear and with embouchure adjustments!” they stated.

“Yes.”

They shook their head. “I can’t even imagine how long that took you to get perfected.”

I didn’t respond. The truth is, it takes a long time to master a wind instrument, because of embouchure requirements. It’s taxing; it’s long, tedious, slow work, note by note up and down the chromatic scale, the major and minor scales…. It’s working slowly and methodically through all the intervals. It’s doing a lot of long tone work and even more harmonic work. It’s not something mastered in a year or two. Maybe four if you work really, really hard, but usually at least a decade. I didn’t mention that. I know that knowledge wouldn’t sit well, not with a beginning clarinetist.


Music as a Career – NO.

Learning an instrument is wonderful. Learning the written language of music does wonderful things in brain development — yes, really. Best, the experience of playing with others under a decent conductor is an exceptional experience, as I cover here in “On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra“. Learning to play an instrument with an eye to the skill and art of it as a career, however, is not a wise choice. Let’s put that notion to bed, right now.

At any given moment across the globe, there might be eleven (11) — count them — well-paid, not-so-well-paid, and unpaid openings for, for example, flutists, mostly in temp, part-time, or teaching positions. Same is true for performance artists of other instruments. The available openings probably won’t be something that’s your dream job. If one of them is, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get it, because there’s a lot of “who knows who” involved in landing those positions, never mind that there’s usually a better player competing for that rare-as-hen’s-teeth (hens don’t have teeth) job.

Orchestras are vanishing — too expensive to maintain. Performance venues are more interested in contracting for sports events than for music events. The public is more interested in old, has-been rockers or in the latest young pop star who’s good at stirring their hormones or giving them a dopamine high than in a bunch of skilled musicians performing flawlessly. If it ain’t got glam and bling, if it ain’t got some schtick, forget it.

Want to teach music for a living? Really? Okay. But real teaching jobs are, again, rare. In the U.S., public school music departments are being slashed, as are art departments. In fact, all the creative arts are being reduced to unpaid extracurricular activities. The money is in sports, also an extracurricular activity, but usually quite well funded by local booster clubs. Music? Nah. Art? Nah. Drama? Nah. Go to an upper crust school, and, yes, music, art, drama, and all sorts of other things, like horsemanship and archery, are supported. But these are all activities to broaden scope, not taken as serious career pursuits.

There are, in fact, less and less opportunities in every type of career, but especially music, and more and more competitors for those fewer opportunities. So, unless you want to spend your life chasing after success in entrepreneurial endeavors, which means get a degree in marketing, not music, don’t focus on performing, or even teaching music as a career.

At best, you can look for a future to utilize your skills as a musician and a teacher as an avocation, something you do on the side to maybe generate some ‘pin money‘, but you’ll be hard-pressed unless you’re absolutely the hands down best in the world to expect to put bread on the table and money in the bank with a career in music. That’s the reality now and in the future. There are just too many people competing for dwindling opportunities and not enough public interest to sustain you as a musician.


Glass Curtain Shattered in Sandpoint Last Night

I met a cellist, Sam Minker, at Kathy’s veterinary hospital Wednesday last. I was staring at an unwanted Windows update that had interrupted my computer fix, chatting about our latest recording project with Georgette, the resident receptionist with whom I have a humor-filled rapport. This twenty-something guy leans in over the counter and says, “What did you say?”

I thought he was asking about my grumbling about Windows 10, but, no, he wanted to know about the music project …so I told him a bit about Zentao Music. He seemed genuinely excited to meet a working musician.

Outside, he mentioned that he was performing, and, after a harried day of interruptions, I changed clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and carted twenty bucks with me for a ticket. (Forrest opted to stay home, which was probably a good thing, though, originally, I’d arranged to go because I wanted Forrest to meet Sam.)

Anyway, I pulled in about quarter to seven, went in the main door — a mistake — then, with guidance, found the ticket person, got processed, and found a seat. The auditorium was about two-thirds filled.

Young dancers were first, and their pirouettes were quite good, and the last performer was graceful and elegant. Next came a has-been jazz pianist/vocal act. I won’t say anything more about it, thanks. Now came the trio I’d come to see. Comprising piano-forte, cello, and violin, the trio began with Brahms. It was going quite well, indeed. Then, the grand piano broke.

Really.

Literally.

The pianist, an old hand, got up and engaged the audience about the problem. Someone got up and, with the aid of a flashlight, began to address the problem — the whole upper end had gone dead silent. Somebody in the audience offered that they had jumper cables in their pick-up, which got delighted laughter from the audience — that’s my town, thanks. That broke the ice, the stiffness, the stiltedness of the evening that had been rather palpable. The glass curtain, I call it. Even when you all pretty much know each other, there’s the us and there’s the them on both sides, audience and performers. The gift is to be able to shatter that curtain and have the performance be a co-experience with performers and audience literally ‘in concert’ with one another. It happened here. Wonderfully. All thanks to the piano tuner having erred earlier in the day when reassembling the grand piano after tuning it up. It was a blessing, and everybody benefited, the performers keeping their aplomb, the audience rallied to their cause. Great stuff, that.


If You are a Flutist, Beginning or Advanced, I Suggest This Book

This is a very slim volume written by my teacher, the pre-eminent flutist, Professor Richard Hahn. It’s only $5, so it isn’t going cause you any pain and may, in fact, bring a good bit of ease and practical help.


Laughter, Joy, and a Few Tears

It was a service of caring, of sharing, of laughter, joy, and poignancy, the pews filled to overflowing in a beautiful non-denominational church called The Gardenia Center in Sandpoint. I sat quietly behind the piano after my accompanist, Laura Clark, and I started the service with “Greensleeves,” chosen by Patrick because it harkened back to their wedding. Laura then bridged between the Western and the Eastern with an improvisation on Native American flute.

The Buddhist ceremony, led by the benevolent Reverend Master Zensho Roberson, was short, yet beautiful, gentle incense discreetly flavoring the air, after which came Patrick’s eulogy, an extemporaneous expression that brought much, much laughter, joy, and delight from the attendees. Patrick is a wonderful extemporaneous speaker, always engaging his audience with encouragement and embrace. His eulogy broke the shyness of others who then shared with us how Elaine had touched their lives. It was a very good send off. We finished with the playing of ‘Here Comes the Sun’, a bright and hopeful ending, and people seemed satisfied. I didn’t stay for the reception afterwards, but, by all accounts, it went off very well, too — Elaine remembered well and surely with joy and a few tears.


The February Lacewing Reprise

Last year about this time — late February — I was sitting outside on the steps. It was morning, a few hours past sunrise. In my peripheral vision came tiny movement. I glanced that way and was startled to see a lacewing struggling across the snowy slope of the snowbank to my right, a mountain of snow that is the result of snow coming off the second story roof immediately above.

“What are you doing, emerging right now?” I wondered aloud.

I reached over and nabbed the struggling creature who was somehow functional despite it being below freezing. I stuffed “her” under the cantilevered kitchen overhang where, not trusting the heat tapes alone to protect the plumbing from our vicious winter north winds, I had wrapped and insulated it for winter, stuffing a heat lamp under there just for good measure. It’s warm under there all winter — well above freezing. If she was to have any chance at all, it would be there.

Never thought another thing about it. It was a fluke, I figured.

Sunday morning, Feb 25th, 2018, a full year later, a couple hours past sunrise, I was again sitting on the porch steps, sipping a cuppa to take a break from chores and demands for attention by animals and humans. And what do I spy in my peripheral vision? Yep. A lacewing struggling across the snowy slope of the snowbank …again.

Obviously, it was not the same lacewing. But, considering the timing, I’ll bet she’s a close relative. Nabbed her and stuck her under the cantilevered overhang, down where things stay warm and cozy till the weather moderates. Hope she makes it. More, I wish they’d fix their emergence clock. Obviously, it’s not timed properly for North Idaho.

 


End of the Week Update

This week has been fraught. Just fraught. Everything was a crisis, everything was a scramble to get done in time, and I managed to just squeak through by a just keep pounding away at it determination, all with almost no sleep. Today, after the last flurry of frantic, I crashed for five hours this afternoon. Then, I got up and sat outside in the cold, letting the crystalline snowflakes coming down outside land on my upturned face. The feeling was wonderful after such a numbing week.

Today is Mom’s birthday, Mom who unexpectedly died October 13th of complications from a twisted intestine, which itself was the result of having an appendectomy when she was just nine years old. Today, on Mom’s birthday, I finished up the memorial service program for Elaine’s funeral and got it to the printer, saw a proof, and then did all the other jobs and chores still pending with their own deadlines. Elaine was one of Mom’s friends — a family friend, actually.

I think the whole winter has just been one overwhelming hurdle after another. Everytime I think I can maybe get my life back, something else happens.

Anyway, sitting out in the cold with the snowflakes hitting my face was a small recess. It felt good to just sit and let the cold seep into my bones after such a hectic time. I know more “hectic and frenetic” is just around the corner, but the time out felt wonderful. It was sorely needed.

Here’s what the memorial service program looks like. It’s a trifold, top is the outside, back, and inside flap; bottom is the inside.


Family Friend Elaine Tormey Has Passed

I got a phone call Sunday morning last. Family friend, Elaine Tormey, who Mom spent untold hours with on projects and talking about their projects — making quilts and clothes and other things, Mom doing embroideries for them, Elaine sewing them up — passed away. I’ve spent the last few days helping Patrick with preparations for her memorial service, which takes place March 3rd. I’ll be playing flute at the service, the intro and outro, along with a lady accompanist named Laura. This has been a winter of death and passing. More later when I get my feet grounded, again.


The Hammer Has Fallen

Overnight
Snow. The snow could be heavy at times. Steady temperature around 26. Blustery, with a north wind around 18 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.
Sunday
Snow, mainly before 10am. Patchy blowing snow after 10am. Temperature falling to around 19 by 4pm. Blustery, with a northeast wind 16 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 33 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.
Sunday Night
A slight chance of snow between 7pm and 10pm. Patchy blowing snow before 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 5. Wind chill values as low as -11. Blustery, with a northeast wind 16 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Washington’s Birthday
Mostly sunny, with a high near 21. Wind chill values as low as -12. Northeast wind 7 to 11 mph.

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