Improve your flute playing: presenting the “Active Long Notes”
Ory’s Flute Tips
Improve your flute playing – presenting the “Active Long Notes”
How many of you are playing long notes during your warm-up routine?
Have you asked yourself why do you actually play these long notes? What are you trying to achieve playing them every day?
If your answer is “to improve my tone quality” then let me tell you that your long notes can be much more effective and useful, if you’d only use them differently!
This article is exactly about that:
🚴 The better long notes – the “Active Long Notes”
Very often I see students who would play their long notes as if it was a punishment: playing 2-3 notes, without anything really going on, maybe repeating each sequence once or twice and hoping to improve their tone quality in this way. There’s no wonder why playing long notes is often considered to be very boring – if nothing is happening, it’s just normal that you’ll get bored quickly and most probably stop playing them.
But, if you take the long notes as the basis for a different exercise, you’ll be able to play them in a physically active way and benefit so much more from them. Only then they would actually make sense to play and you’d be able to keep your concentration while playing them.
Let me explain to you how you could use your long notes in a much smarter way, in the same way as I teach all my students to use them:
🎯 Re-target the exercise – It’s not anymore about your tone quality!
I encourage my students to use a sequence of 3 chromatic long notes. You’ll be surprised, but I start in fact the first note completely unfocused on purpose and use that note to learn what I should physically do with my embouchure in order to focus the air stream and direct it well into the flute. That will result in a better focused, purer, darker and richer tone (remember, it’s just the result – not the target!).
Only after managing to focus the first note (Part A), I’ll continue to play the 2 other notes (Part B) – focusing now to keep my embouchure in the exact same position, so the tone color and quality is really homogeneous between all the 3 notes.
You can think about this process as if you were using a magnifying glass and trying to focus the sunlight in order to find the most focused ray that would enable you to light a fire or draw something with the ray on a piece of wood. When you start you don’t know the exact distance needed in order to get this very focused ray and you change (very intuitively) the distance of the magnifying glass you hold until you manage to see the sun ray as a small dot of light. I’m very sure you’re familiar with it and tried it at least once in your life.
✅✅ The 2 parts of the exercise:
Part A is all about learning what your muscles should do in order to focus the sound – the ideal space in your mouth, the position of your tongue, the position of your lips, the lips aperture, the direction of the air, how much you should cover the hole, etc.
Start the first note with an unfocused tone (lips are quite widely open). Then narrow the space inside your mouth and your aperture till the point you play with very focused and dark tone color.
Part B is all about learning how to keep your muscles in the same way without any unwanted or unconscious movements in your embouchure, although you change your fingers (to change the note).
The moment you are happy with your tone color and focus on the first note, change to the next 2 notes slowly – and make sure the color of them is exactly the same as the note you’ve just played before and that you keep your embouchure in the same way.
🏆 What will you gain while practicing the “Active Long Notes”?
The benefits of playing your long notes as “active long notes” are extremely useful for your playing:
- You learn how and what physically you have to do in order to focus your sound till the color you wish to achieve
- You train the movements needed for doing that and will be able to do them quicker when you play your repertoire
- You learn how to physically maintain your embouchure in the same position and not allowing it to change unwillingly or unconsciously
- You’ll improve your tone quality – although it’s not the main target of the exercise anymore
- You’ll develop a deep understanding of your colors possibilities and know-how to achieve the color you want when you want
Here are the notes for the exercises. Make a little fermata on the first note of each group, to allow yourself the time you need to focus the sound.
Such an exercise would be the first of many exercises that I teach every participant in my Intensive Masterclasses in Vienna (learn all about it here). Every day we’ll start with 45 minutes sound and technique class dedicated exactly to gaining such control over your playing. This class will be followed by a 2 HOURS repertoire class, in which you’d get to integrate directly the technical work we’ve done into the pieces you are playing.
Enjoy practicing and let me know how it feels,
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN