I was recently teaching a masterclass and afterward, a brave young student asked about slowing down finger technique. There is so much attention paid to the topic of speeding up slow finger technique, but there are also those students who seem to have the opposite issue: their fingers move so fast that they can’t control them. Just like people who are left-handed in a right-handed world, these students feel so much frustration because most advice and exercises take the wrong approach. Here is a handy guide for evening out wild technique.
Finger Dexterity is a Plus…
…once you learn how to maneuver it. Don’t feel discouraged because your friends and colleagues seem different. Watch this video of Denis Bouriakov, there’s no limit to what you can do once you get your wild fingers under control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syUwtHlON-0
Always hear every note in your head before you play it. To practice this, try first singing the pattern and then playing it. Experiment with singing part of the pattern and then playing part.
Change the beat emphasis with your metronome. Instead of imagining that the metronome is clicking on the beats, practice imagining the metronome is clicking between the beats. Do this slowly at first, it is quite challenging!
Add rests. Keep the fingers as precise as possible, but add rests to check up on the other notes.
Add fermatas. Listen for a beautiful sustained note, and then continue with the metronome.
There's no doubt that Taffanel and Gaubert's technique book 17 Grands Exercices Journaliers de Mécanisme pour Flûte has been a staple in flutists' practice routines since its inception. These exercises provide flutists with a thoughtful and methodical approach to conquering technique. One of my favorite exercises in the book is EJ4. It succinctly works the flutist through the major and minor scales in a progression that is both musical and mechanical. However, many young students struggle with getting started with this exercise. Here's a simple approach to getting started with this exercise, enjoy!
Before you get started with the actual exercise, familiarize yourself with the major and minor scales in all three forms. Get used to playing them over the full range of your instrument, not only from the tonic-up-and-back.
Step One: Majors
Practice all of the major scales in the exercise. Start with the first seven measures plus the first note of the eighth measure. Skip ahead to measure 17-24 and so forth. Hint: look for the double bar and key change, that is the start of the next major key area. Get these really good and memorize them! Work up the tempo until you can do it in one or two breaths.
Step Two: Minors
Practice all of the minors following the same procedure as in step one. Before you start the first minor key, analyze the pattern. When is it harmonic minor? When is it melodic minor? This pattern holds true for every minor scale, so learn it well in the first key area and then apply that knowledge to the less familiar key areas. Memorize them!
Step Three: Transitions
Practice all transitions. First practice the transitions from major to minor as a unit. This would be measure 8 to the downbeat of 9, 24 to the downbeat of 25, and so on. Learn how they work and memorize the pattern, from there you will be able to play the notes! Follow the same procedure for the transitions of minor to major (measure 16 to the down beat of 17, and so on.) Memorize this!
Step Four: Putting It All Together
Now that you can do each individual skill, practice them in units. Start with one major and minor key area, and then add more until you can play through the entire exercise. This step is more about mental training and focus than it is about learning the actual notes. Remember, you have already done all the heavy lifting, now all you have to do is maintain through consistent and committed practicing. Celebrate your achievement! You now have the entire exercise memorized and you are ready to go on to the scale game!
flutist, writer, traveler, teacher