Sometime last school year, one of my private students was learning the Poulenc Sonata for flute and piano. If you are familiar with the piece, you know that there are at least five 32nd note runs that the flute does together with the piano in the first movement. When she got to the first run, she played the first couple notes, did some kind of faking in the middle of the run and played the last couple of notes. Inside, I was flipping out. What’s this? I never told her she could or should fake this run. It’s not that hard to play correctly, etc.
So I asked her about what she did in the most neutral way I could summon, why she wasn’t playing all the notes in this run, but in fact, faking it. Her answer elicited an even stronger reaction from me than just the fact that she was faking to begin with. She told me that her middle school band director had told her that was how to handle runs as a general rule! She had been told not to worry about the notes in the middle of the scale, just hit the bottom and top and you’re good. And this is a student who, herself wants to be a music educator.
A few thoughts about teaching kids good technique:
- It impacts the quality of the entire ensemble when you let your woodwinds fake fast runs and scale rips.
- It does kids a huge disservice to let them or even encourage them to fake their technique, both in their ensemble playing and when they begin working on solo repertoire.
- If you only ever test kids on playing scales in eighth notes at mm=80, they will never develop the ability to play rip scales that are so much a part of woodwind writing in concert band music
- Include technical work for your students both as a section and individually into your curriculum.
- There are vast resources available through traditional band methods, band technique books and online resources you can use with your students with very little effort on your part
Technique resources that I like from the band world include the huge library of scales, arpeggios and wiggles in SmartMusic. Foundations for Superior Performance and Habits of a Successful Musician both have excellent technical exercises. Then, of course in the flute realm, there are a wealth of great technique books including Trevor Wye’s Practice Books Omibus edition and Complete Daily Exercises, Patricia George’s The Flute Scale Book, and of course the venerable Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Big Daily Exercises
Personally, I’m not a fan of scales that have an 8th note followed by seven 16th notes. I don’t really think this type of scale teaches technical fluency. What I do like are five note scale patterns in every key including sharp keys, scale rips starting on each note of a scale, scales that cover the full range of the instrument (for more advanced players).
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