Returning problems

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On Sunday I played some of the Marais Les Folies d’Espagne at the Flute Guild concert, and while it was generally good I encountered one significant problem – one that has troubled me many times before, one that I have supposedly overcome. I also had a lesson today with Patrick on my AYO excerpts. I’m not especially on top of them (really I’ve dedicated very little practise time to them), but that wasn’t the biggest issue.

In both instances, the problem was that I got “stuck” at a low dynamic seemingly unable to move outside of a very limited range. As Patrick pointed out (and I had already guessed this was it, although without confidence), I was turning in too much and jamming my jaw forward, forcing any movement to be confined to the lips alone.

How many times have Patrick and I worked through exercises freeing up my jaw, moving through the spectrum of soft (forward, closed, lips tubed but relaxed) to loud (back, dropped, large embouchure, slow air)? How many times have we done harmonics and undertones to make the high register sing? It would appear that my obsession with finding clarity as early as possible in practise and the way I approach tone exercises leads to me turning the instrument in and in, covering more of the embouchure hole, and backing myself into a corner. I’d also wager that when I’m out of practise, this is the default position that I revert to – this is how I played back in my Qld Con days, and it’s not that I never got a good sound, I just played pretty quietly overall and my intonation was rubbish.

This realisation was a bit of a downer, as it’s just one of many recurrent problems of mine that have raised their head lately. I feel a bit like I can’t be trusted to work “on my own”, that I still need my hand held by regular instruction despite an expectation that I should have graduated to a level of greater self-awareness and self-criticism and problem solving. (I feel that expectation externally, although I’m quite sure it’s more my own than anyone else’s.) Even though the solution is relatively straightforward, and maybe even has the potential to strengthen good habits, the feeling that I’m eternally in danger of falling back into that trap is pretty strong. Depressing.

Anyway, Patrick’s suggestion is that I change my tech practise to have a longer warm-up session, tone practise only within repertoire, focus on articulation and a few well-chosen finger exercises, and then just spend most of my practise time on rep for the time being. Sounds like a wise idea at this point, considering the notes I need to get secure over the coming weeks.

Some of his warm-up exercises:

  • F-G-A-G-F swelling up to the A, F-E-D-E-F swelling down to the D – repeat, adding a note of F Major each time both directions. Use the funnel image to create lip/jaw space/shape.
  • Harmonic to normal fingering bisb. (mid-high reg), sustained normal fingering, then drop to lower octave in single jaw movement down.
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