Lesson Focus: Using the diaphragm to create articulation
Find the music for this study HERE.
When I first laid eyes on this little caprice I thought that it looked really exhausting to play. I was not wrong, it is. The way you have to use your diaphragm and support to create all these variations in short notes really puts your skills to the test. It is a perfect study to learn and work on articulation as well as endurance!
Firstly, I would recommend you revisit the earlier lesson on evaluating your staccato to make sure your basic fundamentals are in order. Read the earlier post on Caprice No. 4 HERE. Next we want to find ways to build upon this basic skill so that we can create all the awesome variations of articulation found in this study while maintaining a beautiful sound which projects.
STEP 1: Bouncing the air
Bouncing the air on the diaphragm is the name of the game. We want to start by making sure you are controlling the note length and volume primarily with your air instead of your tongue. The diaphragm works by putting pressure on the airstream to speed up the air in the same way that sitting on a deflating air mattress will cause the air to rush out more quickly. Using varying degrees of length and pressure, you can create all the variations of articulation this study requires.
- Get in touch with your diaphragm by repeating some separated “sh sh sh” sounds with your hand resting just above your belly button. Depending on the length and volume of your “sh” sounds your diaphragm will put pressure on the airstream in varying degrees.
- Look at the music and practice just using a “sh” to create the various articulations. This should feel like work in your core. Not insane, Olympic style sit ups or anything, but enough that you should notice. Many students have a habit of controlling short notes with the tongue and don’t use the diaphragm at all so this will be a very valuable exercise.
STEP 2: Playing the flute with bouncing air
- Try playing the etude with no tongue at all to see if you can recreate the bouncing musical air you practiced with in step 1. This is hard to do, don’t worry if you split the occasional note or they seem to run together a little bit. This is more to train the diaphragm to activate while you are playing. It’s not really important to have it sound clean or refined at this point.
- Add in the tongue. Be sure it is as light as can be and resist the urge to start tonguing really hard in order to shorten the notes. Up close they might sound short or accented but from a distance this method does not produce a sound that projects.
- Alternate between no tongue and tongue to try and assimilate the diaphragm engagement into your regular playing. This will also help you learn to lighten up the tongue, using it to start the notes cleanly without using it to create the sound and length.
As with many things on the flute this is not likely to be crystal clear just reading the ideas. Make sure you watch the tips video for clear demonstrations on how to actually execute what I am referring to here. As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section. Happy practicing everyone!