Erin Spencer - flute expert

Relaxations on the Flute

Tips to improve your flute relaxation

In this video, Erin teaches you how to find the perfect relaxation with your flute, which will improve your sound and help with your practice.

Released on April 1, 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. And today we are going to talk about an exercise that will help you relax and get a more full resonant, less sharp sound in your high register. This exercise is called relaxations and it was taught to me by my wonderful high school flute teacher, Jane Copland here in Colorado. I got my undergrad and my master's in music, and this exercise is one that has really stuck with me and remained part of my warmup repertoire throughout those years.

So what you're going to do is start on C above the staff, and you're going to go up one note chromatically, so to a C sharp, back to the C, back to the C sharp, like this. And then each statement of the exercise, you're going to make the high note go up one more half-step. So we did C to C sharp, now we're going to do C to D. Now C to E flat.

And while you're doing this exercise, it's really important to think of a nice frowny, relaxed embouchure, lots of space between your teeth. I like to think of the word whoa whenever I breathe in. Because sometimes when people breathe in, everything is really tight and closed and then that's how you're going to sound when you play. But if you breathe with everything nice and open, it's much more likely to stay that way when you play.

So we finished on E, so let's keep going, let's go to F. F sharp is a real bear to get to from pretty much any note. You can experiment between the fourth finger and the middle finger for that high-up sharp fingering. It just depends on your flute. Make sure you factor in intonation and tone quality, how many ringing harmonics you're going to get. So for example, I did it with four, here's it with three. So for me, the middle finger F sharp sometimes is easier to jump to if I have a big leap. But I don't like the tone quality nearly as much as the ring finger, so that's what I try to use most of the time.

As you start to get into these bigger intervals, that's when you might start notice tension creeping in. And the more tension you have, the more wide and sharp those intervals are going to be and the more pinched your sound is going to be. So we want to try to stay super relaxed even as the intervals get bigger. If you notice you're having trouble with one interval, like say C to A flat, go down to the last one that you did not have trouble with and repeat that one a few times. So maybe I would do the C to the G a few times. Try and keep that feeling of relaxation and just change my fingers to the A flat, but keep how it felt on the last one.

And you want to extend this exercise up as high as you can go, ideally all the way to high C. I don't typically push it past the super high C. I don't really do this exercise up to high C sharp and high D. it's important to practice those notes so we're ready for them if they come up in Prokofiev or something. But this specific exercise was being really relaxed. I don't think it's the proper place to practice those super high notes. So as we get up to high C, ideally it feels like that high C just pops out of the low C and it's like no big deal to get up to that high C, staying nice and frowny, lots of space.

As you get more comfortable with this exercise, add your tuner into it. It adds a whole other level of complication, but it will really show you which notes you need to focus on in your high register to really bring them down. So for the high E flat, that's one that can be really sharp a lot of the time. So I'm trying to stay extra frowny and relaxed on that note, and even tipping my chin down a little bit to help with the intonation on that one because it can be so gnarly.

Another thing you can do if you find yourself getting tense on the high notes is add in a little bit of movement to this. So as you go up to the higher note, sometimes people stretch upwards to fight for those high notes, but that's kind of defeating yourself. So I like to add a squat to it on the high notes. It helps me engage my core, which is going to improve my tone quality and my sense of support. Really feeling my connection to the ground in the arches of my feet, feeling that the floor is supporting me, I don't need to support myself standing up, the floor is supporting me. In Alexander techniques, sometimes they call that monkey position if you also lean forward. You can definitely try that. For me, I find that the squat or plie is enough to help me propel myself to the higher note without making it more tense.

Another reason people are sharp sometimes in the high register is actually because they have bad habits in the low register. So I know that sounds kind of counterintuitive, but if you're not supporting your low register enough, it will be flat and even sometimes your middle register. So then you tend to push your head joint in more for your low register and your middle register. But then it's pushed in too much for the high register where you are using fast enough air. So if you're finding that your low register and your middle or register, okay, but your higher register is super sharp, maybe try pulling out your head joint a little bit and giving more support to your low register and your middle register, and I bet that will help your intonation overall as a flutist. Thank you guys so much for watching this video. Let me know if you have any questions. And I will see you next time. Bye.
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