One of the most important exercises in my teaching toolbox is playing octaves through as much of the range of the flute as the student knows. As soon as we broach the topic of low and high notes using the same fingering, I introduce the octave exercise, usually within the first month of starting to play. We expand it as the student learns more notes. We start out by tonguing all the notes, but then progress to slurring up and down when the students gain enough breath control to blow continuously through three notes.
I also model the exercise out with them by playing each octave first and having the student play it back to me. What’s great about doing it this way, is the student learns to blow through intervals almost unconsciously. It just becomes how they naturally play. You can play octaves in a group or one-on-one.
If students start doing octaves early on in their development, it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of additional time helping them transition to playing in a more legato style. As they mature, the types of exercises change, but they are already well poised to understand that the air moves between the notes and not just on them. By the time kids are in high school, they are ready for Moyse style long tones because they are already in the habit of listening to and evaluating their tone. By playing half steps slowly, it is possible to really focus in on the connection between the notes, as well as issues of the blowing angle, quality and focus of the tone, size and shape of the blowing aperture, along with the smoothness of the fingering combinations.
There is a long precedent for adapting a melody that inspires you in order to work on expression, blowing through intervals, tuning, tone color and other facets of interpretation. The 20th century flutist, Marcel Moyse, wrote an entire compilation of his favorite melodies (Tone Development Through Interpretation) from opera arias, flute repertoire, string and piano repertoire to explore all aspects of his playing. He used these melodies in his woodwind seminars with not only flutists, but every other wind instrument. You can use popular melodies as you find in the play-along anthologies available from popular movies and artists. Examples of good contemporary melodies to practice blowing through the line and through intervals include the Titanic love theme, Hedwig’s theme from Harry Potter, Over the Rainbow, Let it Go from Frozen, Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars. Any melody that has long lines, sweeping intervals and has an strong emotional appeal makes a good choice for working on legato blowing.
To make a legato exercise from a melody, take one or two phrases. Play it in the written key. Then modulate either up or down a half step and play the phrase again in the new key. Modulate again in the same direction and play it in that key, and so on. The response of the instrument changes as you move through the different keys. The student learns to be consistent in their blowing and legato regardless of the key or interval. It’s important to keep the phrase short in order to have an easy basis for comparison from one key to the next. Once you have created an expression exercise on one melody that speaks to you, it is easy to find other tunes that can likewise be adapted in the same way.
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