Need encouragement - I'm back at square one as an adult

Basics of Flute Playing, Tone Production and Fingerings, Using Metronomes, Scales, Tone, Studies, etc.

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virginiak
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Need encouragement - I'm back at square one as an adult

Post by virginiak » Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:55 pm

Greetings all. I need some encouragement. I am in my thirties, and have been playing flute for over 20 years now. I've done OK considering I'm mostly self-taught, but I decided to start studying privately on the advice of some ensemble directors where I play who say I'm a strong contributor, but really have potential to be a fantastic principal player with some formal study and diligent practice. I work hard, learn my music early in the cycle, play and work well with my colleagues, and in general have fun. I do find the idea of being a principal player very appealing, and I very much want to improve.

So, I have started studying with a teacher, and my first lesson was last night. The area I want to focus on is projection and tone. I really like the new teacher. Her style is direct and non-judgmental. She is used to working with adult students, and gave me a pile of homework in between now and our next lesson, as I requested. My first practice session was tonight, and I diligently set out to do as she asked.

Ugh. My tone has now gone from merely weak in the low register to practically nonexistent. She warned me that things might feel awkward for a while as I get used to a more relaxed and resonant feel of my body while I play, but I figured I would at least be able to play the notes I usually can, even if they sound funny. She said that I have a lot of tightness in my jaw and lips, and that I'll be able to play for much longer and project much further if I can gain control over my center lips and let the outer lips and jaw relax.

In theory, it all makes sense. But in practice, I would expect to see at least some glimmer of improvement. OK, there was one... my middle B sounds fantastic. Everything else sounds sucky. Notes below a low E barely even speak.

So my questions to you all are as follows:

(1) Is this a normal experience?

(2) Is it really progress if all that sounds better is one note?

(3) Is there hope for me? Should I put faith in the practicing process and keep at the long tones with the new relaxed approach and see if it improves in the next two weeks?

Thanks in advance for any encouragement or gentle firm input you can provide!

Warm regards,
Virginia
Forewarned is forearmed, and four-armed is half an octopus.

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Zevang
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Post by Zevang » Wed Jan 27, 2010 6:30 am

Hi,

You're experiencing the most difficult aspect of all, changing something you used to do wrong for a long time.

This will sure require you to be patient with yourself, because it's much much more difficult to change something, than beginning from scratch.

I'd add that your teacher is right. Not only your body, but mostly the embouchure must be really relaxed. From a distance it's difficult to say what can be done for you to get this. But as it seems that your teacher is leading you into the right direction, I think you can have confidence in her, but remember that all the work is done by you, there is nothing she could do alone for changing things that only you could do. She may observe and give you orientation, correct you, etc. But 99% of the sweating is yours.

It's quite normal that things seem all bad now, because you are almost learning to play again. Be open for new things as if you were a beginner.

The main path is already taken by you, now it's only a matter of being patient. A good dosis of persistence is required too.

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virginiak
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Post by virginiak » Wed Jan 27, 2010 1:47 pm

Thank you, Zevang. I am willing to work hard! My confidence is low because secretly I fear that the shape of my lips (I have a tear drop in the middle of the upper lip) has doomed me to a mediocre sound forever. My teacher told me that she knows lots of people with the tear drop who really sound great, so she thinks there is hope, I just want to believe too.

I have the Trevor Wye tone book, and that's what my teacher has me working through very slowly and with purpose. The book says that the exercise of descending in long tones one at a time can take up to 20 minutes, and that there's no prize for speed. However, I wasn't able to properly finish the exercise last night because I couldn't get the low notes to speak and be happy with how they sounded. Completing a technique etude can always be accomplished if I slow it down enough. Not being able to complete a tone exercise was very discouraging for me.

I experiemented and tried going back to the way I usually play, and the notes came out, but the tension was so unbearable compared to the relaxed posture I was just using (but sadly producing no decent sounds).

I am hopeful that if I keep with the exercise, that at some point, the E will suddenly sound better, and then the E-flat will sound better, and then the D... I will do my best to remain patient, thank you for the encouragement!

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virginiak
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Post by virginiak » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:49 pm

Oh by the way, in case anyone wonders, the long tones seem to be getting better. Still not awesome, but a little better. And towards the end of my practice, low D's and C#'s were just popping out without much effort at all while working on an etude. I shall keep at it!

kascadian
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Post by kascadian » Sat Jan 30, 2010 9:16 pm

That's great, Virginia! I'm glad things are improving for you! Keep up the good work! You can do it!

Reading your post here has inspired me! I'm in my 40's and I have recently started playing my flute again. It has been more than 20 years since I have played it regularly, so my embouchure is in terrible shape. It is gradually getting better with practice, though! I'm sure there are things I'm doing incorrectly. But unlike you, I don't have a teacher to get me back on the right track. Maybe one day! In the meantime, I'll just have to do the best I can on my own. I guess the important thing is, I'm having FUN playing again!!!

I also have the Trevor Wye practice books. It's good to know that your flute teacher approves of that! I've also been using one of the old flute method books I had when I took private lessons in 7th and 8th grades. It seems to be helping, too.

Have fun and please keep us updated on your progress!

stewyflute13
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Post by stewyflute13 » Tue Feb 02, 2010 2:58 pm

I have some really encouraging news for you, Virginia. What you're going through is completely normal and there is nothing out of the ordinary with the things you are trying to overcome.

In my view, being able to get a fantastic middle of the staff b is all you need for improving every one of the other notes. Marcel Moyse designs his "Sonority studies" on that very precept; that you experiment every way possible to get the most vibrant, beautiful sound on the middle/ low b, and then repeat this. then when this is done, you just "melt" that sound into the Bb, A and so on. what i'm saying is since Moyse designed his (the most famous, well-used and enduring of all flute tone exercises) upon the precept of using your middle b as a reference point for melting into all the other notes, I really think you have much to feel encouraged about!

I must confess, sometimes my low notes don't come out either. This is always when I haven't been doing long tones consistently, so I think that is encouraging for you to keep them up and they will allow them to "pop out" like what you are looking for. I think it's really good evidence and encouraging that you are getting better, slowly and with good progress through your teacher's exercises. That proves that you're doing the right things and there is no reason to give up hope, just keep going!

And also, I would like to reinforce what your teacher said and tell you I can't say enough how the tear-drop thing is not the end of the world. From what I know even some of the world's great flute players had/ have somewhat off-center embouchure's and even blow into the flute at sideways angles. (I don't have the specifics on this info but I am pretty sure that Galway, Moyse, and Rampal all had embouchure's that were off-center in some way) People have always found ways to create a beautiful tone on the flute despite their methods being what many would consider counterproductive to this goal.

overall, be encouraged! Don't give up! What you're going through is normal, and creative work along with relaxation WILL produce the results you're looking for! =)

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virginiak
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Post by virginiak » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:54 am

Wow, thank you all so much for the shots in the arm! I am keeping at it. The funny thing is that during my long tone work, my progress is very slow. I'd say I've got B, B-flat and A sounding rich. From there, it's a roll of the dice. *laugh* But later in my practice sessions, when I'm working on my solo piece (Prokofiev Flute Sonata), the low D's and C#'s just pop right out. Makes me wonder why they pop out then, but not when I'm actively working on them!

Thank you for helping me feel normal, and still on track. My next lesson is Monday, so we'll see where we go next on this grand musical adventure!

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virginiak
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Post by virginiak » Sat Mar 06, 2010 10:31 pm

OK, it's been some weeks, and I wanted to give an update for anyone else who might be going through a similar exercise. The hard work DOES pay off. At my last orchestra rehearsal, our principal bassoon pulled me aside afterward and remarked about how big my sound was (and we've played together for several years, so this was a new development). I'm sticking with it! Thanks to all for your encouragement. :D
Forewarned is forearmed, and four-armed is half an octopus.

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virginiak
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Post by virginiak » Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:35 am

I'd like to add a post script to the story. A few months back, my teacher recommended that I investigate different headjoints. I play(ed) a Brannen silver flute with a Brannen modern cut head. I tried out a pile of headjoints, and settled on a Williams combined with the Brannen flute, and it was like being in the Wizard of Oz, where before everything was in black and white, and now suddenly everything was in techni-color. The right headjoint makes all the difference, and there's a perfect match for every player, and now I'm free to work on other aspects of my playing whereas before I was severely limited by the fear of whether the notes would sound clearly or not.

I still need to focus on staying relaxed as I play and not fall back into old habits, but I feel like I am continuing on the right path.
Forewarned is forearmed, and four-armed is half an octopus.

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cflutist
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Post by cflutist » Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:52 am

virginiak wrote:I'd like to add a post script to the story. A few months back, my teacher recommended that I investigate different headjoints. I play(ed) a Brannen silver flute with a Brannen modern cut head. I tried out a pile of headjoints, and settled on a Williams combined with the Brannen flute, and it was like being in the Wizard of Oz, where before everything was in black and white, and now suddenly everything was in techni-color. The right headjoint makes all the difference, and there's a perfect match for every player, and now I'm free to work on other aspects of my playing whereas before I was severely limited by the fear of whether the notes would sound clearly or not.

.
Glad it worked out for you. Brannen has my 14K Williams HJ right now and is making the barrel of my new flute body to match. They wanted to return it immediately but I asked them to hold on to it so that they can play test my new flute with it before they deliver it in late September.
And since I did not get to test a Brannen flute with a Williams HJ, I hope it works out for me as well as it has for you. Thanks for the information !!!

p.s. my story is very much like yours, hadn't played for 15 years and then started up again

LindaB
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Another re-learner

Post by LindaB » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:18 pm

I too started playing flute after a long lay-off, like almost 40 years. I played 5 years and quit in High School when I had to get a job. While shopping for a snare drum for my son on line, I saw a new flute for $110 so on a whim I bought it. It actually plays quite well. I sold that to my sister a few months later when I decided to upgrade to a step up flute. She said she had been thinking about taking it up again too.
When I went to the flute store I could barely get any sound out of the flutes I tried even though I had been playing and taking lessons for a few months at that point. I think I was nervous and the headjoints were a bit different from what I was used too. They were gracious enough and happy to sell me a flute but as bad as I sounded they must have had doubts. That was about 18 months ago and just last week I put my next flute on layaway, a Miyazawa 402 BR HW, 14kG riser. This time when I was flute shopping I could tell a huge difference between the flutes I tried and I sounded great on a couple of them. The person at the flute store complimented me on my much improved sound.
My new teacher has really been working with me on tone for about 2 months now. I have days where I sound great and days it just doesn't sound right but I'm still working on it. My lower register is my best, oddly enough. I think it is because the flute I had as a kid was a piece of junk and I had to work really hard to get any sound out on the low notes. I also had to press the keys really hard due to air leaks. I am learning that I can relax the deathgrip and the notes will sound fine. I'm much slower reading music than as a kid and the double tounging sounds terrible at present.
Nice to read the trials and tribulations (and successes) of others having this flute experience.

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