When playing a tone on the piano, that’s it. It will have to do, even if the tone isn’t entirely pure. Playing a tone on the flute however, is much more flexible. Even whilst playing, you can control the intonation. On the one hand this is a blessing, but on the other hand it can be a challenge as well. It’s great that we can control the tone whilst playing, but it can be tricky too if we don’t have enough control over the flute yet in order to do this on purpose.
Fortunately, this flexibility can be trained in. Tone bending exercises are particularly good for this. There are three ways to apply tone bending:
1. Increasing or decreasing the air speed,
2. Bending your head upwards or downwards,
3. Moving your arms back and forth.
These exercises can also be combined.
Before discussing the benefit of each exercise, I would like to point out that I’m no proponent of turning the flute whilst playing scores, études, etc. (unless specifically indicated by the composer). Flutes nowadays tend to be of good quality and do not need to be turned. This technique is intended merely to explore the possibilities.
1. Increasing and decreasing the air speed
When decreasing the air speed and lowering the breathing support, the tone goes down. When increasing the air speed however, the tone goes up. It is advisable to explore this technique tone by tone. Ask yourself the following questions and give it a try:
- When increasing the air speed by heigtening the breathing support, what happens to the tone? Does it sound better or forced?
- Are your lips relaxed?
- Try again. How far can you take it before the tone starts sounding unnatural?
2. Bending the head
If you bend your head downward or upward whilst playing, the direction of the air changes, which has an effect on the intonation. If you blow harder into the flute, the tone becomes lower, whereas if you blow from a higher angle into the flute, the tone becomes higher. Practising tone bending is an extreme way to find out which angle of blowing into the flute works best for you, which is why I recommend experimenting with it. Which angle works best for each specific tone?
3. Moving the arms back and forth
This is another extreme way to experiment with the blowing angle. Does it sound better if you bend your arms slighly forward, or instead backward perhaps?
In conclusion, this is all about exploring your tone. Sometimes this can be challenging. Ultimately you’re not only training the flexibility of the tone, but also of the brain. Don’t be afraid to experiment, which is the point of the exercise. Don’t like what you’re hearing? Then just change what you’re doing again.
Tone bending exercises are true mind bending activities. By taking them to the extreme, you gain control over your technique and the flute. These exercises push your technique to an extreme, whereas in your ‘real’ playing, it’s generally a matter of a fraction of a millimeter, which can however make all the difference between producing a beautiful and an incredible sound!
Translation: Elise Bikker