Category: semi-pro

the semi-professional side of DLKeur


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.

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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.


On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra

Azumi flute

I found this quote a while back when following a conversation about the future of classical music and classical music performers.

…Orchestral players are trained to become highly-skilled performers who can turn little black dots and lines and all kinds of mysterious indications into a free-sounding musical experience. The exhilarating experience of playing in the middle of a group of some 90 musicians with an inner freedom and [at] the same time, perfect inter-relatedness with the others as if being a member of one large body, as a communal achievement, an experience where the dead letter of the text has been internalized so strongly that the music freely floats as one voice in a communal synthesis, is the freedom which has been struggled for by years and years of study and training, carried by love for the art form. It is difficult to explain this if you are not an orchestral musician of a (good) orchestra yourself….  — JOHN BORSTLAP July 28, 2017

Yet, in my opinion, Mr. Borstlap describes only the very surface reality of the experience that is playing in a good, even great, orchestra, conducted by a good, and better, great conductor. There is absolutely no experience that I know of, save maybe that of performing in a seriously superior choir, that comes even close to it, certainly not the common experiences most players have in their performance history. It’s an immersive experience that transports the performer to heights and breadths of humble — yes, humble — awe and ecstasy. One is humbled that one has been gifted this experience, that one is worthy of it and of contributing to it.  And when it happens again and again, time upon time, then the realization that what you have in that group of musicians, bonded together by a conductor and by the scores you play, is priceless beyond scope. Everything else musical pales by comparison.

If there were one wish I could have for anyone who plays or yearns to play an instrument, it would be this experience. Sadly, that’s not possible. I could plant people amidst such an orchestral experience, yet they’d never really feel it. Oh, sure. They’d feel themselves immersed in the power of that sea of sound, in the energy of the musicians creating that sound, but they would lack one critical element — contributing to the creating of that moving sea of symphony. There is, in fact, nothing like it, and the proof comes at the end.

In the silence that follows the last note of the last bar played, breathing as one, the orchestra stills. And the audience, enraptured, holds that silence, seemingly interminably, until, all at once, something breaks the spell and, as one, erupts into applause, whistles, and cheers, tears streaming from some, laughter from others, giddiness or radiance from yet still others.

Or sometimes the music hasn’t even stopped when the audience breaks to its feet in wild applause, overwhelmed with the emotions stirred in them.

When it happens in rehearsal, though, and it does quite often when playing with a good orchestra, we all just sit, stunned by what we’ve accomplished, in a long moment of shared and humbled awe at ourselves and each other — at the fact that we just created a ‘moment’ in sound …that what we did was magical.

This is why I played. Those days are long over for me, but this is, to me, the ultimate experience in playing. It surpasses anything else one can do as a classical performer, and I wish, I really do, that every player could experience this, even just once.

 


My Daily Flute Repertoire Go-Through List

One of the issues I face is TIME. It takes time to work up and then keep repertoire perform-able, and, never knowing what I’m going to be asked to play, I have to keep them all in the pipe (quite literally when one plays the flute). Added to that is all the foot switching required when you use electronic effects, and that’s the part that I usually skimp on — always a mistake. Invariably, it’s the stuff I skimp on that comes back to bite me, because that’s sure to be the piece or pieces that Forrest will decide he wants us to work on, or even record and video. And, of COURSE, if he wants to do a live recording session, it’s guaranteed that I’ll have neglected to cut my hair and look something of a disheveled urchin. (Of course.)

It takes a lot of time and meticulous attention to the electronics to set up for a live recording session. Because of Forrest’s driving schedule this winter, which has been as brutal, the roads having been the worst winter driving ever in Alberta and, especially, British Columbia, we just haven’t had the time to do any more live recording/video sessions. I know that it’s coming, though, so, below, I’ve pasted the list of my daily repertoire practice.

Some of these are really simple to play …until you add in messing about with the stomp boxes. Some of them, of course, are rhythmic nightmares for me, some just a torture of finger snarls. But all of it is tough when trying to keep my eyes on both music and the switches I have to hit just a millisecond before the effect(s) is or are is supposed to kick in.

In classical playing, one keeps a goodly amount of pieces worked up — about a hundred-and-fifty or so. With the stuff we play, though, I’m lucky it’s only about fifty-some, right now. Here’s my daily task: (And, yes, some of these are already recorded and videoed, but I didn’t feel like editing the list, because, honestly, I still have to keep up the ones we’ve already recorded.)

1. Alone Again Or
2. Another Brick in the Wall/Goodbye Blue Sky
3. Aqualung
4. Baby I Love Your Way
5. Beth
6. Black Hole Sun
7. Black Magic Woman
8. Bungle in the Jungle
9. Carry On Wayward Son
10. Cheap Sunglasses
11. Closer to the Heart
12. Cross-Eyed Mary
13. Dog Breath Variations
14. Duetto
15. Dust in the Wind
16. Eye of the Tiger
17. FM
18. Fooling Yourself
19. Hold Your Head Up
20. Hotel California
21. Icarus
22. Idiot Bastard Son
23. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
24. JS Tull Medley
25. Lazy
26. Let’s Make the Water Turn Black
27. Let’s Move to Cleveland
28. Light My Fire
29. Living in the Past
30. Locomotive Breah
31. Long Distance Run Around
32. Marqueson’s Chicken
33. Mission Impossible
34. Money
35. More Than a Feeling
36. My Favorite Things
37. Never Been Any Reason
38. Norwegian Wood
39. Nothing Else Matters
40. Oh No
41. Oye Como Va
42. Peaches in Regalia
43. Porgy & Bess
44. Roundabout
45. Roxanne
46. Scarborough Fair/Sounds of Silence
47. She’s Not There
48. Siciliano
49. Sing or the Day
50. Summertime
51. Time of the Season
52. Uncle Meat
53. Waltz in A Minor
54. Walking on the Moon
55. Watermelon in Easter Hay
56. What’s New in Baltimore
57. Woman in Love


My Hands

I received a really hurtful email this morning. It was from a fellow flutist who said, and I quote:

“You have really ugly hands. Maybe you shouldn’t video yourself playing flute. Or doing anything. Its [sic] no fun to watch. Ever think about getting your nails done? Try some lotion, too.”

Well, to that, here’s my response …though I neglected to mention in the video, an expert equestrian’s hands:

For those who can’t hear, here’s a transcript of what I say:

“People comment about my hands. The brave ask about them, the concerned and well-intentioned offering me bottles of flowery-smelling lotion, presenting me gift certificates for a manicure and nail job, bringing me ointments and salves. It’s true, I don’t have elegant hands. I’ve got working hands. These hands play flute and piano, type 120 words per minute, move heavy objects, in short, do a lot of hard, physical labor. They’ve moved tons of hay and grain, dug post holes, strung barbed wire, carried wood and water. These are a martial artist’s hands, a musician’s hands, a swordwoman’s hands. They ain’t pretty, but I love them.”


Update on Me & My New Digital Grand Piano.

It’s happening. Finally, something’s kicked open that rusted, locked door in my brain, releasing the sleeping skills therein stored so long ago. After weeks of scales, arpeggios, and interval training, after struggling to play well-known favorites and failing to be able to sightread even some of what I consider to be rudimentary pieces — Hayden, Mozart, Bach 2-Part Inventions — finally, FINALLY my fingers are finding and playing advanced level music without me having to glance at them and adjust my position. I’m reading, my hands moving where they should, as they should. Of course, what is listed as ‘advanced’ on the music books isn’t really. It’s about on a par with what I was playing at thirteen and fourteen — polyphonic and polyrhythmic — but my eyes are reading the music, my brain instantly translating what is read relatively accurately to my hands. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor is now within reach again, as are pieces by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt….


My Morning Funny

Dawn's Azumi flute

So, husband texts, asking which pieces I’d like to rehearse when he gets home. I give him a rather extensive list of well over a dozen difficult pieces. An hour-and-a-half later, when I’m working through number four on the list, he texts to tell me that he’s hit all of them, so we’re good to go, and he’s heading out …which means he’s starting his assigned heavy-haul KW semi- and heading toward customs to get back into the U.S.

I sit there staring at that text, thinking, ‘You hit that entire list? In an hour-and-a-half? Wow!’ Then comes my sigh of frustration.

Music is so totally in his hand, and so is his instrument. What I have to work weeks at, he manages in a few minutes, or, at most, a few run-throughs during his practice sessions.

Laughter strikes me. It’s only fitting, I think, that me, who spent decades in formal study, grilled and drilled, has to work very hard to come up to speed, while he, who had no formal education in music or his instrument, can toss off really, really intricate, difficult riffs like it’s nothing and hit them every time.

I used to be that good, but with a qualifier: only after years and years of determined practice and only by continuing daily practice, practicing every day, at least four hours a day, could I be that adept and agile, my sight-reading top-notch, my ability to toss off brand new pieces superb, and my repertoire flawless — four hours of practice a day. And that, my friends, is the difference between a virtuoso musician (him) and somebody who’s just talented.

Azumi flute


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