Tone and...muscle tone

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Tone and...muscle tone

Post by blowtorch711 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:55 pm

I've been thinking about this for some time now and was wondering if this (below) makes any sense. Maybe I'm crazy...

Like a lot of you (well, probably everyone), I'm trying to improve my tone - and in my case, there's plenty of room for improvement. I try to play every day, but work, family, life and other distractions get in the way. Sometimes I a miss a day, sometimes a few days. When I get super-busy with my job, or if I'm traveling, I may go a few weeks without playing.

Of course, when you practice and play often, you get better - at almost anything. But exactly how - and why - has always intrigued me. I know there are various theories on how people learn to do anything complex, including playing an instrument. "10,000 hours" and all that. But in the case of a flute (or other wind instruments), I've wondered about basic "muscle tone" - building up the unique muscles through the lungs, throat, lips, and other contributors to wind and embouchure - how much of "getting better" is simply a question of "working out" and developing those muscles?

Anyone who has been an athlete at any level (even just high school sports) knows that when you work out, your muscles increase their capacity to do things. Work out every day, you build muscle tone. In the spring, you're in good shape. Take the summer off, then when you go back to start practicing in the fall, you're outta shape, a far cry from where you were a few months before. You need to work yourself back into shape. Basic stuff, everyone knows this. Thats how muscles work - use 'em, work 'em hard, they respond by becoming more capable. Stop using them - well, you know what happens.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, I think I'm seeing the same phenomenon when playing the flute regularly, then taking time off, then getting back into it. Of course, there are multiple things going on - muscles working sure, but also brain firing, remembering fingerings, all the complex things that are flowing through your body and subconscious mind as you are playing - there are many different systems working together. What I've been wondering recently is, how much of this is just plain old human muscle development (or lack thereof)?

I went through several months where I had little time to play. Then I started playing more and things started getting easier. Recently, I've been playing consistently for at least 2-3 hours almost every day. The more I play, the easier things get (relatively speaking - I still have lots to improve on!). Lately, I can almost feel a set of muscles in my throat getting, well, stronger - able to project air in a more focused, controlled manner - at least that's what I *think* it feels like. It's hard to be sure, because I can only roughly visualize where these muscles are, I have no idea what they are called, and how many people actually have a solid knowledge of the anatomy of their respiratory system and the related parts that we all use to get music to come out of a metal tube?

Am I crazy when I think I feel my "throat muscles" are getting stronger? Or is that common among woodwind players?

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Re: Tone and...muscle tone

Post by swestey » Sun Mar 19, 2017 10:25 am

I can tell you that I first started out on flute in the 7th grade. I really wanted to improve my tone quality, so during the summer between 7th and 8th grade I decided to really work at it. I would place my mouth into the flute embouchure and quickly blow out like I was playing a staccato note. I really concentrated on lifting my diaphragm as I did this. I would do this exercise 30-40 times maybe 5 or 6 times a day. You can do it anywhere. You don't need a flute or a mirror, but I started by watching myself in the mirror.

Anyway, when I got into 8th grade, my band instructor was absolutely blown away by my tone. He said that I had the best tone in the band. When it came time for solo and ensembles later that year, my judge was absolutely awed by my tone quality also. He asked to see my flute. It was just a cheap Gemeinhardt. He said, "It isn't the flute, it is you making that beautiful tone." It can be done.

Unfortunately, I put my flute down for 45 years and didn't pick it up again until about 5 years ago. My tone quality isn't that good right now, so I need to start practicing that exercise again. I'm sure it will take more effort now that I am 67 years old and my muscles are beginning to get a little saggy. Again, it can be done. Good luck!

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