Erin Spencer - flute expert

How to Master Rhythm on the Flute - Flute Lesson

Learn how to deal with rhythm on your flute

In this video, Erin approaches rhythm on the flute. What is the best way to learn and master it?

Released on November 4, 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, this is Erin back for another video on Virtual Sheet Music. And today we're going to talk about the number one way to improve your rhythm on flute. Use a metronome. Video over.

No, just kidding. Using a metronome is definitely a wonderful way to improve your rhythm, but there are lots of ways to practice poorly with a metronome. People can just ignore it, and for a lot of younger students, it's just really not fun. And I try to have my younger students do that sparingly so that it doesn't start to feel like a huge chore to practice.

But one way that they can practice their pieces that's a little bit more fun than a metronome, but will still help improve their rhythm, is to tongue the smallest subdivision. That's not how I present it to them, but let's start with a really easy example, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. There are mostly quarter notes in this, but also some half notes, nothing shorter than a quarter note. So when we get to a half note, we will tongue two quarter notes.

You get the idea. You just keep tonguing every single downbeat, and kids can usually do that really well, even if they're struggling with switching their fingers to D, or something like that, they'll typically have still a pretty good sense of internal pulse and be able to keep that going.

But when you start having longer notes, they can't necessarily keep good time if they're not doing something physical. So we'll start with tonguing the smallest subdivision in their piece, and then once they have the experience of doing something physical for that beat, they can kind of remember the feeling of what that was in their head and play it as a normal half note.

Let's level up a little bit here, and we're going to look at Hazelnote Crunch, which is from level two of the RCM Overtones series. I absolutely love this series. It's not something that people use super frequently in America. It's a lot more common in Canada, but there are so many really great sounding, but not very difficult, flute solos in this series.

So we're going to look at Hazelnote Crunch. This one is mostly eighth notes, but there are some tied eight notes and some longer notes. It's really easy for students to get lost in the pulse when there's all these constant eighth notes, and then suddenly they have to count a long note. They're just freaked out. There are no 16th notes in this. So the smallest subdivision will be eighth notes. So let's tongue all them.

In this specific one, the ties will often trip up my students, but for example, measure nine that has a quarter note, they tend to mess that up more frequently because they see the tied eighth notes, and in their head, that's easy to think two eighth notes, but for a quarter note, you're not necessarily always thinking two eighth notes.

So in your own piece, if you have one where eighth notes are the smallest subdivision, you can put two just little tick lines on top of a quarter note, write three in, whatever is going to help you remember that that quarter note deserves two eighth notes, or you're not giving it all the love that it needs. With my students I really use this to check their understanding of rhythm as well. How many eighth notes fit in a dotted quarter note? How many eighth notes and a half note? How many 16th notes in a half note?

And even if they're playing something mostly correctly, a lot of times they don't have that core understanding of how rhythm breaks down. So it's really helpful to understand that as well.

Now let's level up to the Faure's Sicilienne, available here on Virtual Sheet Music. This is a really great flute solo that many flutists play when they're usually in middle school, but it has some complicated rhythms. And a lot of recordings I hear, people just kind of ignore the complicated rhythms, but we're going to do them.

So in this piece, we're in six eight, but the Sicilienne has that typical feel, (singing), and it's really easy to get lazy with that rhythm and not have it be super precise. So from the beginning, the smallest subdivision here is 16th notes. We're going to tongue 16th notes. How many 16th notes fit in a quarter note? Four. How many 16th notes fit in an eighth note? Two. How many 16th notes fit in a dotted eighth note? Three.

Let's look at a typical troublespot. Measure three you have to come in on the pickup, on the sixth eighth note. People usually just come in on the downbeat, and it sounds fine if you do that, but it's not what Faure wrote. So let's try to come in on the sixth eighth note. If we're talking 16th notes, it makes it much easier, because we already know we had a four 16th notes on the quarter note, and then we just need two more on the eighth note.

After you have tongued all of the smallest subdivision, with my students I'll usually have them tongue it, then we'll tongue it together, then I will play it as written and they will continue tonguing the subdivision. Then we'll switch. I will tongue the smallest subdivision, and they will play it as written. And then they can play it as written on their own.

But that's a really great way to scaffold their learning and let them take it in small steps if it's a really tricky rhythm. If it's an easier rhythm, they don't necessarily need all those steps. If you're doing this with yourself, you could record yourself tonguing the smallest subdivision, and then try to play it as written on top of yourself tonguing the smallest subdivision. Then you can try to play it as written without the recording and see if you still feel as consistent of a tempo.

Let's take a look at the next section of the Sicilienne, starting at measure 22. This part, we have a lot of this rolling (singing) rhythm, and then you suddenly have a long, loud note, and most people, because they've been flowing with this quicker rhythm, do not hold the G long enough. So you really have to make sure it gets all six 16th notes. Let's try that.

This is also a really great way to make sure you're not being lazy with the endings of notes. Are you holding it out all four 16th notes? Are you cutting it off early? Or are you just holding it out forever because you're a flutist who loves listening to your own sound? There's a lot of us out there.

Being precise with the ending of your notes, depending on the context, could be really important. If the piano is going to change a chord on the next beat, you might actually really be clashing with them if you hold over your note. Another reason that in this piece specifically it's incredibly important to have accurate rhythm, is because the piano has almost constant 16th notes, and if your rhythm is wrong, they're going to have to do all sorts of wacky things to stay with you. And we love happy pianists, not mad pianists.

Right now, where a lot of us are playing remotely with each other, we're recording, sending each other recordings, trying to make them fit together, that just makes rhythm extra important right now. So I hope this helps you with your rhythm. If you use this on a piece you're working on, let me know down in the comments below. I would love to hear if this helps you. Thanks so much and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kitty * VSM MEMBER * on November 4, 2020 @9:26 am PST
Thanks Erin...I love your videos. They are very informative, useful and you are always so enthusiastic. (Plus you live in a great city and state...I’m from Colorado and went to Colorado College). I am helping an adult friend learn to play the can I best help her improve her tone?
Erin Spencer - host, on November 5, 2020 @5:56 am PST
Hi Kitty, thanks for watching! Without actually getting to see her play, I don't know what the problems with her tone are. However, there are some things that will help everyone.

-open, relaxed jaw, lots of space between the teeth
-tongue stays relaxed at bottom of mouth when not articulating
- aim air further down into the flute
- push the end of the flute forward
And of course... Faster air!!

Good luck!
Kitty * VSM MEMBER * on November 5, 2020 @8:21 am PST
Thank you.
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