Ory’s Flute Tips The reasons for your difficulties playing pianissimo on the flute
by Ory Schneor
Let me first ask you 3 questions:
Do you find playing pianissimo to be very hard?
Do you lose your tone quality when playing pianissimo?
Can you not control your intonation well while playing pianissimo?
If you’ve answered yes to one or more of the questions above, this article is exactly for you!
In order to understand why it might be so difficult for you to achieve a beautiful pianissimo, we have to first understand HOW dynamics are happening with the flute.
Air pressure vs. Air quantity
The first thing you have to understand is that in order to play dynamics with the flute, you need to be able to control the amount of air that hits the wall inside the headjoint’s embouchure hole. If a lot of air would hit the wall – you’ll play a forte or fortissimo. If a little amount of air will hit the wall – you’ll get a piano or pianissimo. But, there’s a catch: the amount of air should be lower, but the pressure of the air shouldn’t be lower, or even be slightly higher.
You need to be able to control the air pressure, which is created inside your body, in order to control the speed of the air that comes out through your lips and the quantity of air that comes out and be able to direct it to a very specific spot on the wall.
That means that there are few techniques you have to absolutely know how to develop and control separately, in order to be able to play pianissimo well:
- Your air pressure
- Your lips flexibility
- Your air direction
These you can learn to control separately with dedicated exercises that address only one of these elements at a time. It’s the only way you can develop a deep understanding of how to control the pressure and increase it as you need, making sure your lips are truly flexible, not limited by anything and truly free to move and develop the control you need to direct the air exactly the spot you wish on the wall.
Become the Flutist You Wish to Hear.
Learn the most effective warm-up routine, online from home
Your sound is just the symptom, but you need to be able to treat the illness.
When you practice, you need to work a bit like when you visit the doctor: you describe to the doctor your symptoms and he/she tries to figure out what might be the illness related to the symptoms you’ve described.
With your flute practicing you should do the same: I’d highly recommend to treat what you hear as the result of what you do (the symptom) and use it to analyze what might have caused it (the illness). For example, if your intonation is becoming too low, it’s most probably a result of you playing with too low air pressure. If your sound lost its quality, it’s most probably because your lips are not flexible enough and you can’t direct the air to the wall in the most ideal way. If you can’t manage to play any softer, then most probably you hold your lips position too tightly and they are unable to move and create a smaller aperture.
If you are not sure which exercises exactly you should do in order to control each one of these techniques, that’s exactly (and much more) what you will learn in my online warm-up routine course.
With my specific exercises you’ll learn how you can adapt your air pressure according to the need, direct the air to the right spot on the wall, allow your lips the flexibility they need and the right movement they need to perform and much more (articulation, tone focus, attack, big intervals, double tonguing, bell notes…).
Enjoy practicing, keep healthy and let me know what you think in the comments.
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 – Intensive Masterclasses in Vienna