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Lesson Focus: Smooth Fingers and Support

Find the music HERE.

Another really gorgeous little etude, I enjoyed learning it very much! Just like all the others it provided a good challenge for my technique. The key signature for this one adds an extra layer of difficulty, as you must coordinate the fingers and air very well in order to avoid glitches and bumps between the notes. All this while bringing out the melody and observing the hairpins!

STEP 1: Get your C#’s in check.

If you skipped the study guide for Caprice No. 8 check it out HERE. As I mentioned before, all of these studies build upon one another and what you learn in one is very likely to be applicable for another even though it isn’t the main lesson focus for the post. C#’s are a long-term goal and there are enough of them here that I would definitely start by building upon that skill.

STEP 2: Record Yourself

Seriously – do not skip this step! In order to really hear all the little glitches and bumps that we want to iron out you must record yourself playing this through. It’s really hard to get a complete picture of the way you sound while you are playing. Any time of recorder will do, I use my phone because it’s usually already with me and it’s easy to use. Listen to yourself playing and evaluate how smoothly the notes move from one to the next and how smoothly the whole etude sounds.

  • Do the high notes jump out in awkward places?

  • Are there little bumps when going between difficult fingerings? (Ex. C# – G#)

  • Can you hear the hairpins?

  • Is the melody coming across as accented?

STEP 3: Finger coordination

Use a mirror to look at your fingers while you play over your glitchy spots. You could also video your hands as you play and then watch it back for an even better view. This key signature is tricky because you really have to coordinate between some more awkward fingering than you would have if it were in C minor for example. Coincidence? I think not. I think it’s the point of the etude actually, at least one of them anyways. So how do you work on finger coordination to smooth these out?

  1. Play SLOWLY! This problem is solved with careful, methodic work where you play slowly enough to actually smooth out the transition.

  2. Keep your fingers close to the keys, even when they aren’t pressing a key down. The less distance your fingers have to travel through space to reach a key, the easier it is fir your brain to coordinate them with the other fingers. This is especially true for the LH pinky finger as you navigate the G#’s

  3. Keep your fingers as curved as possible. Curved fingers can ultimately move faster and are easier to coordinate than straight fingers.

  4. Relax your hands! Having a death grip on your flute through passages you find awkward makes them a lot harder to play. Counter intuitive for most of us I know. Play SLOWLY and let your hands chill out.

STEP 4: Air Support

Ultimately step 3 and 4 assist one another in obtaining the smoothness between notes. If you’re able I would attempt to apply both simultaneously as you practice.

Notice how the smoothness is more difficult in certain finger combinations and certain leap directions? This has to do with the length of the tube that is created and the amount of air required for particular notes. For example, if we play D# to G# we actually close the first key in the LH for the upper note. This adds a tiny bit more resistance to the airstream required for the G# so if we don’t have good air support on the D# we get a little bump as we move up to the G#. How can you smooth this out?

  1. Think about blowing between the notes as you ascend upwards. Stopping the air to avoid the bump just creates more bumps or negatively affects sound quality.

  2. Use the amount of support you need for the upper note on the lower note. The upper note should speak easily from the start. This is possible if you prep the support it requires before you get there.

  3. Conceptualize the longer melodic line so that your airstream doesn’t get bogged down. Having the long line in mind keeps your air (and the music) moving in a forward direction where it is less likely to stall out and contribute to extra bumps between notes.

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