Happy Friday, fluties!
Again, thanks to everybody who participated on the @MaryHalesFlute Twitter poll for this week’s topic! Go follow me there if you haven’t already, so you can vote on topics every week. This week’s winner was breathing and warmups, so we’ll be going over some breathing exercises to do before you touch the flute, and warmups you can choose from in your practice sessions when your breathing work is done.
Let’s start with something pretty fundamental – breathing! A lot of the breathing exercises I do are taken from yoga, so there’s a mindfulness aspect to the way I do my breathing exercises that really helps me get into the zone to practice.
- Close your eyes, breathe in, and count to ten. This one seems pretty basic, but it really does work. Use that counting time to try and clear your mind. It’s time to practice now, and this is a great way to leave your cares at the door to the practice room. Think about connecting the apparatus of the mouth that you use when you play to that of the throat and the diaphragm, which support everything that you do when you play.
- Inhale, bring your arms up over your head, and stretch to the right. In yoga, this is called a “half-moon pose”. The best way to keep your lungs and chest cavity open is to straighten out your arms, keep them slightly behind you, and interlace your fingers. Take a few deep breaths here, and repeat stretching to the left side.
- Lay down on the floor (ideally use a piano bench), stretch out your arms, and close your eyes. This is a great chest opener for breathing. Try to think about letting your arms and shoulders completely relax, and open up the muscles of your chest wall as you breathe. If you’re using a piano bench, make sure your head and torso are both on there. You want to keep your neck supported.
Once you’ve found your focus for that practice session, it’s time to get the flute out and start warmups! Here are just a few of my recommendations.
- Long tones/Whistle tones (Robert Dick’s Tone Development through Extended Technique). Remember when we talked about connecting the breath in our first breathing exercise? This is where that comes in. Robert Dick is an expert on extended technique, and how it can relate to regular technique. This book is no exception to that rule. The whistle tones (or as he calls them, whisper tones) in his book are a fantastic exercise to make sure your breath is fully connected. To achieve a true whistle tone, you want to keep the air slower than can produce a regular flute sound, but you should be able to hear the ghost of the note as you play. Here’s an example of what that should sound like:
2. Scales/Scale exercises (M.A. Reichert’s Seven Daily Exercises for Flute, ed. Carol Wincenc). As we all know, scales are fundamental to what we do on a daily basis. In the edition edited by Carol Wincenc, the scale exercises are actually surprisingly fun to play, and there’s so much that can be done with articulation that the book is really a treasure trove. I would recommend it immediately to all flutists. Here’s an example of how the exercises are laid out:
3. Modes, chromaticism, and articulation (Taffanel’s and Gaubert’s 17 Big Daily Finger Exercises). This is the other heavy-hitter in flute daily exercise literature, and for good reason. The Taffanel-Gaubert exercises are comprehensive in articulation and scalar content. I would order it right now if you don’t already own it!
Happy breathing, happy warming up, and happy practice! Until next time!