How to sound like James Galway in no time

The first time I heard Lauren Daigle’s song ‘You Say’ on the radio I could have sworn it was Adele’s latest hit. Singers having the same sound as each other seems to happens more and more. This becomes particularly obvious in talent shows on the tv. When a contestant is a fan of a certain singer, they try to imitate that singer’s vocal timbre, some more successfully than others. The same can be said about flutists having a similar sound to their idol’s, especially James Galway fans. I find this a fascinating phenomenon which I believe has everything to do with visualisation.

Visualisation and sound

As a child at the local music association I would often listen to some of the flutists. Especially the tonal range from D3 generally sounded pretty awful. One day I resolved never to sound like that. Though I didn’t have a clear strategy, at least I knew what I wished to avoid at all cost. During my course at the music acadamy I listened a lot to professional flutists. Since I wanted to develop my own style and avoid becoming a clone of someone else, I listened to many different flutists. Having an image of how you’d like to sound helps to actually achieve that specific sound. I am convinced that nothing is impossible as long as you can image it.

Visualisation and technique

Sportspeople use visualisation very consciously. Gymnasts for example, before their actual performance, will first consider each movement precisely and visualise every detail in their mind’s eye. As musicians we also have to deal with managing our muscles. Some grip changes are true feats of gymnastics. It is clearly audible when a player is unable to visualise a technical passage. It tends to sound messy or incoherent. However, when you can clearly visualise a passage and know exactly which finger to move at each moment, the audience will hear every single note. I always teach my students ‘to shake hands with a note’ first before moving on to the next one.

Visualisation and modern playing techniques

Visualisation is also important whilst playing modern playing techniques, for example whilst playing harmonics. Using the D1 grip to play the A2 note, you must hear this A2 in your mind before actually playing it. Just like you need to have a clear image of the desired sound when you’re singing or playing, whilst playing multiphonics you must be able to visualise how each note sounds individually. If you’re practising circular breathing it also helps to ‘pre-play’ each step clearly in your mind.

Our power of imagination that is generally little developed and hardly used consciously, can be our biggest inhibitor. However, once this obstacle is eliminated everything is possible. Just try and image what that would be like!


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