Erin Spencer - flute expert

Improve your flute playing with "Sing and Play"

How can "singing while playing" improve your tone playing?

In this video, Erin teaches you how to improve your flute tone with a technique called "sing-and-play."

Released on June 2, 2021

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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

Hi, this is Erin back for another video here on Virtual Sheet Music and today I'm going to teach you how to improve your tone quality on flute by singing and playing at the same time.

When you sing and play at the same time, it's going to sound something like this. Very buzzy. I think it's a really cool sound. What this is going to do for your sound is give you increased flexibility, fewer cracks and squeaks when changing registers, and it'll also give you a more full rich sound. So if you've never sung and played before, for me, it was really hard to figure out at first.

To execute this technique in the first place, you'll start by just singing any note that's comfortable (singing). Then you'll try and continue the sound while forming your flute embouchure (singing). Then what's really tricky is usually for flute, our air is going much faster than for just singing a random note. So you're going to try to sing (singing), form your flute embouchure (singing) and then increase your airspeed to about what you would do on flute (singing). Then bring your flute up and see if you can continue making a sound (singing).

If you made a flute sound and a vocalization, awesome, you did it. You sung and played. Yay. Then you'll just try to get more and more comfortable with that (singing). Then, once you're really good at that, you can get a flute sound and a singing sound at the same time every time, try to start them at the same time. Next level is to try to match the pitch that you're playing. So first play a note that you're pretty sure will be in your comfortable range. Octave doesn't matter very much. So, whatever octave you played on flute, you can sing it in a comfortable octave for your voice.

(singing) Play it on flute, then sing it, try to match the same pitch your flute was at. Play sing, play sing, then try and play and sing at the same time. (singing) That's what it'll sound like if you match the pitch correctly. If you don't match the pitch correctly. If you have a hard time matching the pitch, you're going to play a comfortable note on flute, middle D is a great option, it has lots of resistance and it is a good one to start with. Then you're going to do sirens with your voice (singing). And just go up and down while trying to maintain the same note on flute.

That way you're using your voice through its almost entire range. We're not trying to go to the very extremes of either end. Then you'll do it even slower and try to land on the note that you're playing. So for that time, I pretty much started on it, went way down low and then slowly went back up until I felt like I was matching pitch. And then it's just something you're going to have to train your ear to hear. It was really hard for me for a long time, but the more I did it, the easier it got and the more successful I am with matching pitch. So we got the basic technique down. Now let's get more into how it's going to benefit your playing. If I just play, for example, a low G. I've done this a lot, so it's kind of automatic for me to go ahead and match, but here's a low G, then I'll sing and play it.

I heard a huge difference in my sound, actually. I thought my low G was already pretty good, but then after I did the singing and playing and then played it again, it was, it felt more effortless. It had more depth to the sound and that's because my throat was matching the pitch of the note. So we call that throat tuning. When you kind of pretend to sing in your throat to match the pitch and that lets the sound of the flute resonate more in your body. Believe it or not, our body is part of our instrument. So if we can tune our body to match the pitch of our flute, our sound will be richer and it will be more effortless, which is always a good thing. This next exercise with singing and playing that I'm going to show you comes from Robert Dick's Tone Development Through Extended Techniques.

This is a fabulous book for thinking out of the box about ways to improve your sound. So this section, it's towards the very beginning of the book, this is on page nine. This section on throat tuning is what you're looking for. And there's a pretty in-depth discussion of throat tuning, which I am not going to go all the way into that right now. But this exercise uses Taffanel and Gaubert number one. You should all have Taffanel and Gaubert, it's a pretty stable exercise book for flutists, but if not, I will link it below. And your first step is going to be to find the lowest note you can sing comfortably and softly. You don't want to be like belting out down there. Oh, for me, it's usually about a low G. Then you're going to your five note major scale, so starting on a G. Then sing it (singing). Then play and sing at the same time. Then take away the singing, but imagine that you're still singing. So your vocal folds are moving and tuning to the correct pitches.

This is a great exercise to record and compare that first time you played it to the last time after you played and and sung it when you're then imagining that you're singing. The difference in your sound is just amazing. From there, Taffanel and Gaubert. That's what we did. The next one would be. So you start on the same note, but you're playing the first four notes of the major scale a half step up, so you'll do seven one two three four three two one seven. That one is always harder for me to match pitch on. It's very easy to match pitch on a five note major scale for me, much trickier with seven one two three four three two one seven. Just not as natural for my voice, too.

Well, as you get more comfortable with this exercise, I actually often will eliminate that second step of singing it by itself. For me, I can just play and sing it at the same time and pretty much accomplish the same thing for my purposes. The next step is to apply it, apply this to a piece. So we're going to look at the Brahms four flute solo. It has some big awkward jumps to tricky high notes. So, we'll talk about how this can help your flexibility. First. I'm just going to play this excerpt without doing any singing and playing work. It'll probably be in the back of my mind. I'm sure. But it's been a long time since I've looked at this excerpt, haven't done any singing and playing work on it recently. So, we'll see how this goes.

That probably went about as I would have expected. The high F-sharp actually popped up a lot easier than I thought it would, but again, maybe I was subconsciously doing some singing and playing. Let's start at measure 100, do this jump up to the high D. That's not too big of a jump, but sometimes people will crack here. I'll use the same steps that we used in the Tone Development Through Extended Techniques book, but now on a chunk of an actual song. So we'll play it, sing it, play it and sing it maybe a couple times until we feel like the pitch is matching really well, then take our voice out (singing).

For me I'm more comfortable singing this low, but if you're more comfortable at the (singing), that's fine, whatever octave is comfortable for you. I'm already noticing that my voice is a little reluctant to jump up to the D. It wants that interval to be smaller than it actually is. So I'm going to play and sing it a few more times until I really feel like my voice is getting up to the D (singing). Yeah, that felt a lot better. Now I'm going to take out my voice and play it. Oh my gosh. I wasn't happy with my taper on the C, but the high D was, wow. It had so much more life behind it. I'll still have to work on my intonation on the taper, but the jump to the high D, gorgeous. Okay, so now the next measure, 101. That time I had a crack up to the high F-sharp (singing).

I'm going to go back and forth between Playing and singing just by itself a few times until I get really comfortable with the pitches. Wow. Yeah, the high F-sharp, though. Oh my gosh. That is not an easy one to get out beautifully coming from that C-sharp higher. High F-sharp is a pretty gnarly note, but I really felt like that gave it more life and depth to the sound, even with that somewhat awkward jump up there. So now let's go back a little bit and include our singing and playing strategy with the whole excerpt. There was a lot I would still need to work on with that if I was prepping for an audition, but I am happy with the sections that I really worked on and zoomed in on with the singing and playing. So I like singing and playing for any situation where I'm frequently cracking on a note or frequently not jumping up to a high enough interval or frequently not jumping up to a high enough partial on a high note, or I just feel like there's an awkward leap.

Singing and playing is good for those sections or entering on a note you're not very comfortable with. Maybe it's really quiet, maybe it's just not a great note for you. Singing and playing is helpful for those sections, too. Sometimes I wonder if the singing and playing isn't even so much about the throat tuning, but more about just your ear knowing what's coming up and then your brain is more in-tune with the melody and therefore everything just works better. And I don't really know why it helps so much, but man, love singing and playing. My students, high E, if they sing it, boom, immediately it sounds a million times better. So I hope this is helpful for you. I know singing and playing has been wonderful for me and for my students. And I try to include once they start getting to high school or just more in that high E high F-sharp area, we start doing more singing and playing. Have a great rest of your day, and I will see you guys next time. Bye.
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