Erin Spencer - flute expert

Advanced Flute Techniques

All flute players should know these techniques

In this video, Erin shows you the most common "advanced" or "extended" techniques for your flute that you can master... with some practice, of course!

Released on August 5, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, and welcome back to another video here at Virtual Sheet Music. I am really excited for this video because it's about something that I really love about flute that I think makes flute special compared to other instruments, and that is five beginning extended techniques. Extended techniques are anything we do on flute to make a non-conventional flute sound. There is a huge variety of extended techniques for flute, and a lot of them are possible because the instrument doesn't cover out mouth or go into our mouth. There are some extended techniques that are possible on other instruments, but flute has the biggest variety.

I'm going to mention how these extended techniques are typically notated, but because they're all fairly new, there's not really a standard way to notate any extended techniques. So if you have a score that calls for extended techniques, it will state in the beginning what each different kind of note head or notation means for you to execute it. It would be really nice if we could get a standardized way, but it's just all over the place right now. The first extended technique that most people learn is flutter tonguing. There are two ways to do this on flute. The first one is to roll your R's and play at the same time. So you just go ... into the he flute.

This works really well if you could roll your R's. If you can't roll your R's, it's a bit of a problem. But if you can roll your R's, the best way to learn how to do it is to roll your R's ... And then make your flute embouchure and see if you can still do it. Or you can start with just rolling your R's, and then slowly forming your mouth into a flute embouchure ... And see if you can maintain that. Then put the flute on your face ... And see if you can slowly make a flute sound while still rolling your R's. To roll your R's, your air has to be pretty quick, so this works better in the upper octaves. As you go lower on the flute, it gets a little trickier because for those low notes, your air does need to be a little bit slower and maintaining your rolled R's could be tricky. But it is possible.

Now with rolling your R's, you can get a wide variety of flutter tongue sounds for more gentle to more aggressive. So you can really go for different moods here from kind of more spooky and ethereal to really harsh, and take that into account when you're doing flutter tonguing depending on what else is going on in the piece. The other way to flutter tongue is to growl, but I think of it as more of a gargle. Now, I'm still learning how to do this one since I can't roll my R's, that's just what I've always done, but I have some student who can't roll their R's, so I need to know how to be able to teach them.

So if somebody says to me to growl into my flute, I imagine that as a really low down in my throat, but that's really harsh on your vocal chords and your throat, and harder for a lot of people to produce. But if you think of it more as a gargle, like if you're gargling water, then that's a little bit higher up in your throat, less harsh on your vocal chords, and it sounds great. So that would sound like this. But like I said, I'm still learning how to do this, but the really good advantage to this is that your air doesn't have to be quite as fast. So it's nice to be able to switch between rolled R's and the gargle or growl for the low register. That's super helpful.

Flutter tonguing is typically notated with three diagonal bars across the stem of the note. The next extended technique is one of the easiest ones to do and that is key clicks. It's really simple. You just smack down a key. So for key clicks, they really only work G or more fingers. So not necessarily lower, but G or you need to have more fingers down. If you just do a key click with a B, it's very quiet and not very resonant. If you do an A, a little bit louder, a little more resonant. A G, that's quite a bit more resonant than an A. Anything below a G works, but they will almost always sound the best if you do your key click with the G key.

This is a low D comparing key click on the G versus my right hand ring finger. I was changing my ink in my printer today and got black all over my finger. It's a very different sound, and if you put the flute on your face ... Again, it's a very different sound just from putting the flute on your face. Key clicks do not project very well, so they're usually only written for flute solo or flute and piano in quieter sections, so you don't necessarily have to worry too much ... About the difference in projection between those. But depending on the context, the difference in pitch between the flute on your face and the flute off your face may make a difference, so watch out for that. Key clicks are typically notated with an X for the note head.

The next extended technique that people will typically learn is multiphonics. These ones are one that I actually teach quite early to my students because as we play flute for years, and years, and years, our embouchure gets very set into a certain way of doing things, and multiphonics require you to completely change that. And the earlier you learn them, the easier it is to maintain your multiphonic embouchure while really working on refining your typical flute sound embouchure. Multiphonics can be two, three, even four notes at a time, but today I'll just show you two notes at a time. One of the first ones I like to do is you finger a high D, but you pretend, trick your brain, into thinking you're playing a low G.

So if you play a low G first ... And then just lift off this finger, the high D will usually pop right out and you can hear those two notes at once. For multiphonics, your aperture, the hole between your lips, is going to need to be taller because you're aiming your air at the high octave direction and the low octave direction at the same time. Every multiphonic will have a different dynamic that it works better at. Some of them are pretty forgiving and can have a wide range of dynamic possibilities, but for example, this low G to high D multiphonic ... Gets very difficult to maintain at soft dynamics, but it's really easy at loud dynamics.

Oppositely, if you finger at F plus both trill keys, that will give you a D and an F at the same time. This one is much, much easier at soft dynamics. And then you have a major third with yourself, which is pretty cool. I have always found that the further apart the notes are, that actually kind of easier it is because it's a little bit less fine motor control and more like big, big changes to make. But when you have those ones that are really close together like a third or so, sometimes they're a lot easier right when you articulate them. So for example on the D and F multiphonic ... I can do that one pretty much anytime I want if I'm articulating it. It's the holding it out part that gets tricky.

So if you're having trouble sustaining both notes of a multiphonic, first figure out which notes sound you are getting. So for example, on the D and F ... I'm getting the F right now. So then I'm going to try to get the multiphonic only getting the lower note to speak. Now, I isolated the lower note. So now, I'm going to see if I can switch back and forth between the lower and the upper note of that multiphonic. You can tongue it a few times, slur it a few times, and then you just have to notice the moment when you're slurring it that both notes speak, and try to make that time where both notes speak last as long as you can, and just challenge yourself. See how long you can make it last. And the more you do it, the more you build muscle memory for it, and the easier it will be. has an excellent multiphonic database where you can select the base note meaning like what note you must have incorporated into the multiphonic, and then it will show you all the multiphonic possibilities based on that note, and it will tell you the dynamic that they work the best at, which is super, super helpful. That website is awesome for all extended techniques, but especially for multiphonics. Multiphonics are notated to look like a chord. So the notes will be stacked on top of one another, and the composer will provide the fingering. You should never have to look up your own multiphonic fingering if a multiphonic is notated in a piece. That's really the composer's job to find for you. But if you're composing on your own, you will need to look up the fingering.

Next sound I can almost guarantee you already done if you were ever a kid in band because the flutes are notorious for ... Just like making as little sound as possible, just air sounds while practicing our parts while other sections are getting worked with. This is called an Aeolian Sound. And it truly is just aiming your air up a little bit higher, maybe make it a little bit slower so that you get an airy sound, no actual flute pitch. This will typically notated by a rectangle note head or maybe a triangle note head. Aeolian Sounds are typically used only for flute solo or in smaller ensembles.

The last extended technique I'm going to talk about today was one that's really difficult for me to learn, and that's because I was really self-conscious about my singing voice and my ability to match pitch, and I just wasn't very confident in my skills as a singer. But singing and playing on flute helped me become a better singer, and now I'm much more confident singing with and without flute. Sometimes when singing and playing, you will be asked to match the pitch of the flute, and more advanced singing and playing could ask you to actually harmonize with your own flute playing, which can sound really, really cool. So first, pick a note that's comfortable for your vocal range. Almost always on flute, we will end up singing an octave below what is written, and for men, often two octaves below what is written, but the composer should tell you if they expect you to sing in the same octave or an octave below.

For demonstration purposes, let's use a low E and try to sing in the same octave (singing). So first, get the pitch in your head, make sure you can match it. Then you're going to sing the pitch, this is very similar to how we learn flutter tonguing. You're going to sing the pitch (singing) and then try to add in your flute embouchure (singing). And the weird thing about singing and playing is that flute requires a faster air stream than singing typically does, but you're going to have to make your flute embouchure sing the note, get fast air through, and see if you can sustain your singing (singing). And we really want our voice to be pretty loud for this for it to come across effectively. So let's do that little E (singing). That's what it will sound like if you're matching pitch in the same octave.

When you're first starting to sing and play, your voice will probably be super quiet. I know for me, at first I was trying to sing like too high up in my throat, and so it was so quiet and wimpy, and then I figured out how to kind of drop my voice a little bit lower in my throat and that helped the resonance so much, and you could hear the singing more effectively. So be a scientist, experiment with different things. If something doesn't work out, that's fine. You learned something that doesn't work. Now try something different. A great exercise to do when you're first starting singing and playing is sirens. So you're going to play a consistent note on flute, it doesn't really matter what it is, and then with your voice go up and down through your range. Make sure that you can sing and play at the same time regardless of which note you're singing ... And it's pretty tricky to sustain the same flute pitch while you do those sirens.

But it's a really fun exercise, it sounds really crazy and wacky, and it's really helpful for your singing and playing skills. Now we're going to do the opposite. So you're going to maintain the same pitch with your voice and go up and down the flute scale. Let's do G (singing). If you maintain your pitch, that last octave should sound really nice and in tune. Mine was pretty wavy, meaning I did not sustain my pitch very well on the low G. Let's try that again. That was closer than my first time, but I think my pitch was a little bit sharp on my voice. It's great exercise for maintaining a pitch in your head even when other stuff is going on. Practicing that will help your intonation even if you're not singing and playing.

Then once you're good at sirens and you can change your vocal pitch while sustaining the same note on flute, play a simple melody that you've sung a hundred billion times before, like happy birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and just try to sing it and play it at the same time. That's a great one to start off with. Then once you're ready to harmonize with yourself singing and playing, which is so cool and fun, first play the note you want to sing, match pitch, sing and play the same note. Then just change your flute fingering to a different note and you'll automatically be harmonizing with yourself. Let's do it on a major third. It's a really satisfying one. So let's do G and B (singing).

Singing and playing is a wonderful extended technique to incorporate into your every day practice. If you are experiencing a lack of resonance in a passage or you just wish you could have a richer tone somewhere, sing and play it, and I guarantee your tone will improve so much. This technique is describe in Robert Dick's Tone Development Through Extended Technique book, which is a wonderful book I definitely recommend you purchase. He has a whole section on singing and playing to improve resonance, and he'll use Taffanel and Gaubert Number Five. Play it once, then play it and sing it ... Then play it while imagining you're singing it. That's also called throat tuning, if you're moving your throat as if you're singing, but not actually making the singing sound, and it improves resonance across all registers of the flute. It's a really, really helpful technique.

Singing and playing will usually be notated with a square note head, a square filled in note head, or if they want you to sing an octave down, they may write it kind of like a multiphonic and have the lower octave be in parenthesis or something to show you which note you should be singing. That's also what they would do if they wanted you to harmonize with yourself. Other times, composers may just write sing and play, and then write stop singing or as normal when they want you to stop singing and playing. I hope this video was helpful for you in approaching extended techniques. I'm really passionate about extended techniques. I love them so much. I really think that that's one of the things that makes flute such a special instrument.

Let me know if you have any questions about extended techniques, and if you'd like to see any more in one of these videos, and I will see you guys next time. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on August 20, 2020 @8:17 am PST
Thank you for excellent explanations of techniques that are becoming more common.
Erin Spencer - host, on August 20, 2020 @9:05 am PST
Thanks so much, Elizabeth! Glad this video was helpful.
mary loonam * VSM MEMBER * on August 5, 2020 @4:47 am PST
Thank you. It's good have another flute player show what I am trying to teach! Mary loonam
Erin Spencer - host, on August 5, 2020 @8:27 am PST
Thanks for watching, Mary!
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