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How I warmed up with a phrasing study and a coffee stirrer

The Sensible Flutist: How I warmed up with a phrasing study and a coffee stirrer

Monday, February 6, 2012

How I warmed up with a phrasing study and a coffee stirrer

I took some time to read the February 2012 issue of Flute Talk over the weekend. I was overjoyed to see Phyllis Louke recap a class (“A Fresh Look at Breathing, Tone, Articulation and Dynamics”) that Keith Underwood gave in Oregon recently. After reading this article and Patricia George’s Phrasing Study on Barret Melody No. 1, I was ready to play with a hefty dose of motivation.

The Barret melody looked vaguely familiar. I pulled one of my old copies of Mrs. George’s Flute Spa handouts (I have handouts from 2002 and 2003 when I studied with her) and there she had included first four of Barret’s Forty Progressive Melodies. I credit Mrs. George for teaching me so many of the phrasing ideas that now have become second nature to me. I felt inspired to explore these melodies again so the phrasing study and a coffee stirrer became my warm-up.

The week I spent with Keith at Ghost Ranch became a week with the coffee stirrer. This is a great way to figure out where you are placing articulations inside the mouth. It also encourages you to open up behind the embouchure rather than moving your jaw and lips with every note. Using the coffee stirrer to practice tricky rhythms and articulations maintains the most efficient embouchure so that you do not overshoot the notes. It’s a great, inexpensive tool to improve your tone, breath control and articulations.

In order to practice on the coffee stirrer, place the stirrer inside the mouth (with the tip above the top teeth) at a 45 degree angle. Blow into the stirrer, take the air back and play. The challenge is to take in your air through the coffee stirrer when you need a breath. Since the stirrer doesn’t change size, practicing on the coffee stirrer addresses embouchure size changes between registers and makes the breath more efficient. A three step process to practicing with the coffee stirrer is to play a passage on the coffee stirrer, then without and finally with the flute.

As I practiced, I stayed inclusively aware to recognize tension as I played. I practiced the phrasing study within the context of contour and stayed aware of the places where I felt less efficient and began trying harder to achieve the sound and shape I wanted. I practiced those specific phrases on my coffee stirrer in order to feel how I could open up behind the embouchure while breathing with less effort and movement. By the end, I felt like I was beautifully contouring this first melody with efficient, organized movement.

With this smart, efficient practice, I felt an ease that usually doesn’t happen until after a good warm-up. With a little creativity and inspiration to try new things, I feel that I’m arriving into a new level of practice. Quite simply, it was nice.

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At February 6, 2012 at 9:55 AM , Blogger Patrick Smith said...

As a guitarist I do not understand the application of the coffee stirrers to embouchure on a practical level. But whatever may take us to a new level of practice certainly commands attention. Wonderful.


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