Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

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Phillip
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Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:38 am

Hello all, this is my first post here and I am feeling rather despondent in my flute playing. I hope you might be able to help.

Like the subject line says, I am really struggling with the middle octave, it almost always plays flat regardless of what I try. Looking through some of the topics I realise that I am probably "goldfish kissing" to get the middle B/C and this is apparently a bad technique. It is most certainly an inconsistent one.

I started playing around the age of 32 and now, at 37, have picked up the flute again and decided to do the ABRSM grades. I have been playing again for about two and half months and have been practising every day for at least half an hour often an hour or more spread throughout the day. I also recently returned to my teacher and have been having a one hour lesson every other week. While he remains hopeful that I'll catch on I am struggling to keep going. I have set myself a target of Grade 4 but am having trouble with my grade one pieces. The lower octave I can play consistently and in tune with a relatively good tone though, again, this is not nearly consistent enough for my tastes. I am aware that the grip on the flute is problematic and it often moves in my hand which seems to mess up the tone. I am also aware that my lip shape is far from ideal. I have a sort of protrusion in the middle of my upper lip which apparently gets in the way. My teacher tells me that I shouldn't be making a shape with my lips I should be blowing a hole through them. He also told me that Jean Pierre Rampal had a similar lip shape and dealt with it by playing from the side of the lips. I have tried this many times without success.

If my playing ambition was limited to the lower octave I might well be happier with my performance, however, I am hoping to achieve more. I picked up the flute when I heard that one was never too old to learn an instrument and when I was old enough to appreciate music with any depth I wished I had paid more attention when I was being forced into piano lessons.

I am calling on the collective wisdom and experience of this forum to help me through this patch and on to grade one...to start off with. I hope you can help.

With Thanks,

Phillip

jefkearns
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by jefkearns » Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:34 pm

Great that you picked it up.

Stuff like that is kind of difficult to describe in words, but if you go on YouTube there are people giving instruction ... some of them are offering bad technique. I would recommend Nina Perlove's channel.

Here's her vid on sound production http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0XfoandDjk
Soul Flute
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pied_piper
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by pied_piper » Sun Mar 17, 2013 9:40 am

Have you checked the position of the headjoint cork? If it is not positioned correctly, the octaves will be out of tune, but it affects the third octave the most.

You may be covering too much of the embouchure hole with your lip. Try covering a bit less and see if that helps.
"Never give a flute player a screwdriver."
--anonymous--

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:45 am

Yes pied-piper, the head cork has been checked. If only it were the flute rather than me! :D

jefkearns, thanks for recommending Mz Perlove's channel. I will say that her method doesn't really work for me since my lips are larger than average and in the position she recommends my bottom lip covers most of the hole. I have experimented over the week and am slowly (painfully slowly) developing a position and embouchure that works for me. Sometimes the middle octave notes come out sweet and true and I struggle to remember every detail of what I'm doing so that I can repeat it, which hasn't worked. It seems that Trevor Wye's advice of patience and intelligent practise will have to do for now. Long notes (b natural) and harmonics to develop control and feel.

If anyone has any other tips I would be glad to hear them.

evrmre
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by evrmre » Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:46 am

I had a similar problem with my tuning until recent times, with the lower octave sounding good, and the middle being flat and sometimes missing notes entirely. What I did was to turn the head out a ridiculous amount, so that the airstream was constant across the two octaves, and let the pressure point of the lip plate sit more on my chin than my lip. I've since adjusted back to more normal head position, but the time spent working with it so far turned out seems to have helped me retune to something a bit more consistent.
Just to give some idea, the embouchure hole's near edge was lined up with the far side of the tone holes... much further than I think anyone would recommend. Kinda trained my lips to handle the octave shift without significant movement, which I've brought back to where I am now.

Another thing I became aware of during my search was that not all flutes are created equal in tuning. I'd suggest trying a few out to see if the problems are constant...

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Wed Mar 20, 2013 1:11 pm

evrmre wrote:Another thing I became aware of during my search was that not all flutes are created equal in tuning. I'd suggest trying a few out to see if the problems are constant...
A very good point. I tried my teacher's flute (at his urging) and the middle octave was almost effortless! His flute was also so far beyond my means that the word 'mortgage' springs to mind...

As I mentioned earlier I have, for now, put down the grade one book and picked up Trevor Wye's Practise Books Omnibus and am focussing on long notes and harmonics. When I get fed up with those during practise I will occasionally revisit the grade one pieces I selected to see if there has been any change in tone, fluidity between the octaves etc.

It's very slow going! But this is one of those times that being a stubborn so and so may well pay off :D

evrmre
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by evrmre » Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:00 am

hmmm... if the difference was that significant... what make and model are you currently playing on?

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:09 am

I am playing a Yamaha YFL271ID beginners flute.

evrmre
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by evrmre » Fri Mar 22, 2013 9:33 pm

This may be a bit of a long shot, but I'd suggest going into a few music shops and trying a few makes and models just for perspective, both cheaper types and expensive ones. I know yamaha have an excellent reputation for student flutes, but if you're having that much trouble, yet found your teachers flute easy to play, then it might pay to try a few others as well.
I'm assuming from the comments above that you've had your flute fully checked out by a really good tech? If not, then do that also, because it sounds like only part of your problem is in your technique, from what you've said so far. I will also assume your teacher tried your flute out also? And found no issues?

To give some perspective, I personally dislike any of the yamaha flutes I've tried to date (and I've tried quite a few). I didn't find either the tone or the playability to be all that great, and can't figure out what people see in them. So regardless of common opinion, I'd be inclined to try a few others for comparison. You might be just as individual as I am ;)

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Sun Mar 24, 2013 7:56 am

evrmre wrote:I'm assuming from the comments above that you've had your flute fully checked out by a really good tech? If not, then do that also, because it sounds like only part of your problem is in your technique, from what you've said so far. I will also assume your teacher tried your flute out also? And found no issues?
Actually, no I haven't had my flute checked out by any kind of tech other than my teacher. My teacher did try out my flute and had no problems with it though he wasn't overly fond of the the tone. He had an earlier version of the same flute from Yamaha but said he never felt inclined to play it. I think my flute should have a reasonable sale value having been carefully looked after and it might well be a good idea to experiment with other makes and models. It will probably come as no surprise that money is an issue, I suspect for most of us in this day and age. However, who really needs two kidneys? 'tis a question of priorities :lol:

I've been working hard with the long notes and harmonics but am still struggling to find any kind of consistency. There are so many small variables in playing that it does get overwhelming and each practise session seems to bring up as many issues as it solves.

Let me ask this, I know that pinching the lips (goldfish kissing?) to slur up to the middle octave is be avoided but can there be no narrowing of the lips at all? Should my lips be relaxed at all times while playing? If so, I may be in trouble. I find that even when avoiding pinching I am instead squeezing my lips together to narrow the hole to slur up the octave, is this okay?

I'm told that each note on the flute requires a subtly different embouchure and for me this is most apparent between the bottom end of the lower octave and the top of it. Often I find that the middle octave comes easier than other times and after playing for a while I find it difficult to maintain the middle octave without slipping down despite my best efforts. Fatigue perhaps?

I will continue to work hard and hope that with time, and assuming that my practise is intelligent, I will get better and more consistent.

evrmre
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by evrmre » Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:08 pm

I'm not going to commit to a definite opinion on this, as I'm a bit of a hack with technique, and might be wrong, but as I understand it, the thing to avoid is excessive tension in your lips. My embouchure narrows fractionally when I go up an octave, allowing me more airspeed for the same breath strength. I'm somewhat instinctive in my playing, but I think the breath also shifts fractionally downwards (into the hole) as well. All of this is done without significant tension on my lips (the edges should remain relaxed throughout). To think 'no tension' is probably not accurate, but if you're struggling with fatigue from playing for a short time, then the whole embouchure technique might need addressing (just how effortless is the lower octave to play, for instance?). Perhaps let go of the middle octave for a bit, and focus on playing without effort in the lower octave for a bit. Then try adding the D back in... without adding tension. You can adjust the lip shape, but keep it relaxed. Then continue on from there...
And yes... even with the lip shape. If you could play your tutors flute without issues, then don't stress about lip shape. It probably isn't the issue. Everyone has a slightly different embouchure, which is largely governed by tone and comfort.

Remember also that a well developed player can often play instruments that are hard to play. I'd definitely get a tech to check it out. All it takes is one slightly leaky pad to make it hard work. If your teacher has a firm fingering technique, he might not even notice, but for a student, whose fingering might be less definite, it could be an issue. A check up shouldn't cost the earth, and might be money well spent.

And try some other flutes. You don't have to buy one to prove if your flute is the issue, and it will show where the issues are soon enough. Most important: make sure one of the flutes you try is a new flute of the same model as you have, or as close as you can get. Then you'll know if your flute needs work for certain...

Keen to hear how you get on...

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Fri Mar 29, 2013 6:29 am

Had a bad day yesterday. After two days during which I was unable to practise it took me over half a frustrating hour to be able to play at all. It seems like when I have a day or so when I can't practise I have to start again!

I'm taking my flute over to my teacher for him to check it over. It will also allow me to try his flutes and see if the problem is me...I think it is.

Phillip
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by Phillip » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:04 am

Okay people, say hello to my little friend!
2013-04-09 16.00.58.jpg
Trevor James Performers Series, Privilege.
2013-04-09 16.00.58.jpg (49.99 KiB) Viewed 9524 times
After much discussion with my teacher we went together to the shop and after trying out a number of different flutes we decided that this had the best tone and was easy and enjoyable to play. 'tis a Trevor James Performer Series Privilege.
2013-04-09 16.01.13.jpg
2013-04-09 16.01.13.jpg (53 KiB) Viewed 9524 times
I also remembered that before I stopped playing a few years ago I had never really gone above G in the middle octave and so was expecting myself to quickly remaster something I'd never mastered to begin with...genius! So I'm working the lower octave and building my way up as I was doing before I stopped.

So, all is well here. I will say that the difference in tone is remarkable even to my untrained ear and it is so much easier to play than my old one. Bottom C is effortless. Though, in the defence of my old flute I should mention that they did detect some leaks that my teacher missed which meant it wasn't playing at its best. I have also switched from open hole to closed which also seems to make a big difference.

Thank you all for your help, I've no doubt I'll have cause to call upon the collected wisdom of the forums in the future.

evrmre
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by evrmre » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:14 pm

Great to hear it worked out for you. All the best with your new flute ;)

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flutego12
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Re: Older beginner struggling with middle octave!

Post by flutego12 » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:58 pm

congratulations!
On both your new arrival (it is beautiful)
and your new found abilities & greater pleasure in playing.
flutist with a screwdriver

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