Flute Exercises

The most important and useful exercises from different teachers are compiled here alongside my own thoughts and ideas.

 Preparations

1. Start the D - Drone: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OQXffTDy68

 

2. Start the 60 bpm metronome: 

REEL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YazdigIuZqk

JIG https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oot_VlS6xqE

 

Jig or Reel does not matter. You can change it yourself depending on what mood you are in. Let these be playing in the background all the time, decrease / increase the volume of them both to your liking. Headphones are good but don't have it too loud for too long. Change the drone / bpm from time to time for variation or when you feel like practicing under a different key / tempo, but we will stick with D and 60 bpm for the rest of the exercises. But feel free to change depending on what key / tempo you want to practice. For more variety you can find more drones and play them at the same time to build chords. 

 

3. Have a glass of water next to you.

 

Mental attitude

  • Maintain a consistent tone and a steady tempo no matter what happens.

  • Do not attenuate the tone if you do not hear the metronome. Then you are practicing with a constant weak tone. Play OUT! It should be heard when you play.

  • Listen to HOW the tone sounds and that you are in tune with the metronome.

  • This whole text is primarily about making you more aware of everything you do and don't when you play.

"Things you do often you will be good at" - Markus Svensson (Teacher at Gotland Folk High School in Hemse). Which means that if you practice playing the tunes too fast and carelessly then you will be GOOD at playing the tunes too fast and carelessly. You do not want that. If you THINK too much then you will be good at THINKING too much which spills out into unnecessary thoughts and comments about your playing.


Always strive for quality before quantity. Nobody wants to play with someone who plays a thousand tunes badly. On the other hand if someone knows that you know "That Tune" very well then they will want to play that tune with you. If you have practised each tune individually, carefully and methodically with metronome, drone and the following exercises, many (if not all) tunes you learn will be of quality.

Take note of the following

  •  Are there any involuntary ornaments? (vibrato, cuts, rolls etc.)

  • How hard is your grip of the instrument?

  • Are there any tensions in your body?

  • Your posture. Are you leaning forward? Are you looking down? Will it get better if you sit or stand?

  • Your embouchure. (emb) Does it feel tense or relaxed? Do you have a so called "Smiley emb"?

  • Are there any involuntary articulations or other separations of the notes? (Eg. consonants like k, t, g, d)

  • Are any thoughts popping up? Are they of any use? Do they affect your playing?

  • When do you feel 100% certain of how the melody goes? Be completely honest with yourself.

  • Have you tuned the instrument? Where have you placed the hole in the headpiece? Have you made the flute longer or shorter? If so, why?

  • Do you make any facial expressions when you play? Almost every expression on your face is some form of comment or reaction to your playing or the music that usually is negative. It also takes unnecessary energy.

  • Do you weaken your tone because you don't hear the metronome or the drone?

  • When you play the wrong note do you make any kind of grimace, swearing or other unnecessary noises? Stop that.

  • When you practice by yourself does it happen that you sometimes fantasize that you are performing in front of an audience in a fictional future or a past situation?

  • Fill in your own points with everything you notice during the exercises.  

All exercises are in this video as well.

Reel

Jig

I. Tone

 

Tone Exercise 1: Long notes

 

Purpose: Start up the respiratory system in the body and build stability

  • Take a deep breath all the way down to your stomach. Play any note (listen to how that note corresponds with the drone). Play the tone as strong as possible for as long as possible. You can time it just for fun if you want to. If the tone begins to fall in strength you shall end the tone instead of forcing your lungs to push out the last breath. Then you'll also practice making clear endings. Do this several times with several notes that you fell like playing. Hear and feel how the different tones vibrate together with the drone.

  • Take an equal deep breath and do exactly the same but this time you shall play as weak a tone as possible for as long as possible while still keeping pitch and stability.

 

Exercise cred: Eamonn Cotter, Ennis 2013

Tone Exercise 2: The natural tone scale

 

Purpose: Build a stronger tone, flexible embouchure and create more stability

  • Take the same deep breath as before. Hold all fingers down throughout the exercise. Feel that you are holding the flute lightly and make yourself aware of any tension. Play low D. (D1). Feel that the tone is as strong as the previous exercise. Go up to the second octave D. (D2). Without lifting the index finger (B1). Use the metronome (60 BPM) and play these two notes. Relaxed fingers. Relaxed emb. Do not divide these notes with any form of articulation.

 

If anything is difficult, focus on exactly that thing and practice that passage over and over again. Imagine that you see the sheetmusic in front of you and that you are actually "zooming in" on exactly the notes that are difficult right now. Practice again and again until the difficult "knot"  dissolves then you "zoom out" further and further away from the difficult area until it flows like running water.

Notice how your thoughts wander and be honest with your playing and your practice; eg: "Did I feel 100% sure of what I just did now?" You do not have to have either the drone or the metronome running but they are fantastic tools for improving your ear and sense of rhythm. Turn off the metronome for a while if it feels too metric/artificial for you.

 

  • When you feel satisfied and ready, do the same from D2 up to the next note in the natural tone scale which is A2 (still all fingers down). Play without making any separations between these notes. Feel how the embouchure changes between the two notes D2 - A2.

  • Play in the same way from A2 to D3.

  • Play all the natural tones D1 - D2 - A3 - D3 and back together with the metronome. Notice when you breathe. It is the changes between these notes that are important. The point is for the embouchure to find it's place to do the best possible tone on each of these notes. Don't articulate.

Exercise cred: This exercise is known in all genres and I got it from Markus Tullberg & Andreas Ralsgård, Malmö 2015

Tone Exercise 3: Intonation

 

Purpose: Flexible embouchure and improve your ear

 

  • Start the G - drone:

  • Play a G on the first octave as strong and stable as before. Keep the three fingers calmly in place. Do not add any finger. Only with the help of your embouchure and the strength of your breath, you shall now lower the pitch down as close to the tone F# as possible. The flute shall not be angled. Imagine that the mouth kind of "gives up", the mouth just goes down almost completely so that there is hardly any tone at all.

  • Now you have played G, lowered the pitch (as best you can today). It's ok that the strength and volume of the tone right now is weak. Now place your finger on the F# (index finger) while adjusting your force of air and emb. (raising the pitch again) to a matched F#.

Naturally this works between any notes. Experiment with it! The note you lower yourself to does not have to be completely clean the point is for the embouchure to stretch and become more flexible.

Exercise cred: Conor Crimmins, Limerick 2016

Tone Exercise 4: Whistletones

 

Purpose: Even more flexible embouchure

  • Play the note B on the first octave. (B1) Just as in exercise 3, allow the emb. to "give up". Reduce the force of air significantly! If the pitch is lowered, it's ok. Now we are in the same position as in exercise 3 but now we will stretch the emb. even further.

The reason we take the note B1 is because the more fingers that are down on the flute the harder it is to play the whistletones. Experiment with different notes. Shape the inside of your mouth into the whistletone you want to play. For example. whistle an A, open your mouth slightly, keep this look and play an A into the flute (with two fingers down).

  • You shall now whistle the note B1 with your mouth. Not into the flute but straight into the air. When YOU whistle this tone, open your mouth slightly. The whistling from you shall now disappear, but you can still hear the tone B, but in a more "airy" form. Now blow with a minimal amount of air in this way into the flute on note B1. It requires an incredible small amount of air. If you think it sounds "mysterious" and / or "scary" or just weird then you've probably succeeded. Be observant and listen carefully to become more aware of the difference between a whistletone and a "real" flute tone. If you feel that you fail in all of this it does not matter the point is for the emb. to stretch even further.

 

  • Next step, you shall go back from this whistle-B to a "regular" B, as it sounded in the beginning of this exercise. Pull back your emb. from this whistletone all the way to a strong and clear B1. Don't divide that movement into different steps. Imagine that there is a spectrum for your mouth and your emb. where it's totally relaxed at one end and at the other end it's an overstretched so-called "smiley embouchure". The intention is that the emb. shall be stretched from one end to the other without ending up in any tension of course. You will notice when  the emb. feels tense. In this way you become incredibly more aware of where your emb. should be in order for you to get the best tone possible. Flexing the air strength from strong to weak is also a stretch exercise.

 

Exercise cred: Conor Crimmins, Limerick 2016

II. Fingers

 

Finger Exercise 1: The Snake (cuts)

 

Purpose: Foundation for all Irish ornaments 

This exercise is fundamental to all Irish ornaments.

 

  • Start the metronome at 60 bpm. Play a low D as strong and stable as before throughout this exercise. Feel how the flute vibrates. All fingers are down. Now lift the ringfinger (Low D) very quickly and let it fall down again. This is the Irish ornament "cut". In this case the note D is cut with the help of this ornament. Make the same "flicky" movement on the middle finger (E). Then the same "flick" with the index finger (F#). A note shall not be heard when you lift the fingers. Only the the low D, in this case, shall be cut in two.

 

Listen to HOW the tone sounds between these cuts. As long as you are aware of how everything sounds and feels you're on a good path. It's too easy to forget the tone and focus too much on your fingers. Remember the first tone exercise.

  • Use the metronome to do the cuts ON the beat. First D (ring finger), then E (middle finger), then F# (index finger). D, E, F #. Do this over and over again until you are absolutely sure that you have done it right several times in a row.

 

  • The next three fingers are E (middle.), F# (index.), G (Ring. Second hand). Make sure that each finger sounds and feels good. Complete each three finger movement three to four times in a row before jumping on to the next three fingers. If you feel ready.

 

The whole exercise looks like this:

 

D,E,F#    E,F#,G    F#,G,A    G,A,B    A,B,A  ***  B,A,G    A,G,F#    G,F#,E    F#,E,D    E,D,E

 

Exercise cred: Markus Tullberg, Malmö 2015 (who got it from Jörgen Fischer)

Finger Exercise 2: Rolls & Short Rolls

 

Purpose: Rhythmic Stability

  • Let the metronome be at 60 bpm.

  • To make the Irish ornament "Roll", the note itself is played first, then a cut "above" this note and then a tap "below".

  • A tap has the same function as a cut and is also done as a cut but in reverse; Let the finger below the note fall down in the same quick "flicky" motion as the previous exercise. Do the rolls ON the beat of the metronome. Do them as many times as needed until you feel good about what your doing. Then switch to another note. The important thing is to keep the pace and rhythm. Practice this in the places you feel unsure about doing rolls. If you are unsure of what you're doing sounds "correct" just listen to any flutist or record you like and let yourself be inspired by that.

 

  • Now we will attack the roll from above and below the note: e.g. a roll on G. ON the beat play A, G and on the next beat a "shortroll on G. A shortroll on G is done with a cut on the G (ringfinger) and a tap on F# (indexfinger). lRepeat until you feel satisfied. Then attack this roll from below; ON the stroke play F#, G and on the next beat a shortroll on G. Do this on any notes that you need to. Keep being honest and kind to yourself in your thoughts. Do you or do you not feel completely confident in what you are doing?

 

Exercise cred: Markus Tullberg, Visingsö 2012

Finger Exercise 3: Cranns

Purpose: More Rhythmic Stability

 

  • Metronome on 60 bpm.

  • The Irish piping ornament "crann" is done as follows: Play the note itself, then do three quick cuts in a row. It's just like Finger Exercise 1 (the snake) but much faster but we need to do it slow at first. Start with Cranns on low D. There are different ways to do them but I do it with the following fingers: ring. (G), index. (F#), middle. (E). Do the crann ON the beat. If it feels hard to do it fast now you shall practice more on "The Snake" exercise at a slow pace and increase the metronome bpm when it feels like you're in control. Experiment on how you can do cranns on other notes.

Exercise cred: Conor Crimmins, Limerick 2016

III. Tonality

Tonality Exercise 1: Chromatics

Purpose: Understand where all the notes are and be able to find them quickly

  • Metronome on 60. Start from Low D. Above all you shall play a stable and clear tone and play chromaticly up to F#. Play one, two or even four notes per stroke. You decide at what level you are in right now.

 

  • Play from F# back down to low D. Remember to listen to HOW the tone sounds.

 

  • Then play: D    D#    E    F    F#    F    E    D#    D

  • Do the same from D# up to G. Breathe. Then from G back to D#.

  • Then: D#    E    F    F#    G    F#    F    E    D#

 

When you feel satisfied and finished with the five notes you are currently working on, jump up a semitone and continue in the same way through all the notes of the flute. Eventually you will be able to play both octaves up and down like running water! Then you can start experimenting on the 3rd octave if you feel like it. Be careful of your hearing when playing on the 3rd octave.

 

Exercise credit: Markus Tullberg, Malmö 2015 (who got it from Anders Ljungar-Chapelon)

Tonality Exercise 2: All Major Keys

Purpose: Become familiar with all 12 major keys

 

  • Metronome at 60 (or faster if you feel like it). Learn these two melodies off by heart in G major. The last note in Träskodansen (The Clogdance) in G major is the first note in the tune when it goes in C major. Learn the tune in C major. Then F major, etc. The tune goes counterclockwise around the circle of fifths. Learn the tune in all keys. Take it slow. It can get trickier the further away from the original key we are until the tune comes back "home" to G major again. You will learn more if you convert the "unknown" keys to familiar ones.

 

Do not learn a new key until you know the previous one inside out and upside down. Look at the circle of fifths below to get a mental picture of what key you are practicing right now. Experiment with other tunes the same way when you feel like it.

Exercise cred: Markus Tullberg, Malmö 2015

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Tonality Exercise 3: Scales

 

Purpose: Understand which notes are in which keys and build muscle memory

 

  • Metronome on 60. Select a key: e.g. D major / B minor or G major / E minor. Start the drone on which key you want to practice. All are under the tools here on the website and on youtube and on spotify. Be realistic and think: "Which key do I benefit the most from practicing right now?" You may have learned a tune in a certain key or you want to learn "that specific tune" that goes in "that specific key" or you simply want to get better at D and G because they are most common. The fact that you HAVE practiced in a "odd" key gives you a stronger self confidence in general even though there may not be many tunes that are in these odd keys. In any case, it's always good to practice scales. It's like oil for an engine. In the last exercise you tested all major keys. Which of them felt difficult? Practice on the scales you feel insecure about. Transform them from uncertainty to security.

  • Simply use the metronome and the drone to guide you.

 

Always listen to the tone and don't get lost in the fingering. Play in tempo no matter what. Listen to HOW the tone sounds and that you are in tune with the metronome. Never judge yourself or anything. Make yourself aware of everything you do. You will be grateful for the exercises later. Let the melodies come to existence through you.

IV. Tunes

 

Purpose: To feel confident in the melodies

AND HAVE FUN!

 

A good way to learn melodies is to take a break from old tunes you've known for a long time and instead learn NEW tunes AFTER you have done previous exercises. Tunes that you've known for a long time tends to drag your playing down to previous "unaware patterns".

 

Take a tune you want to learn. The metronome must be running (on whatever bpm you feel is right for you at the moment). Rather slower than too fast though. Learn the tune FIRST by ear THEN you can use the sheetmusic as a reference and deep diving nerdy analyses. Split the tune into phrases. If a particular place is difficult, zoom in on that exact spot and untie the knot (difficult passages), then zoom out bit by bit and check that the newly dissolved knot works in it's context. Zoom further out from these knots that may appear in the tune until you know it off by heart.

 

Notice where the ornaments are. Try to play the tune without any ornaments. If it's an ornament in a certain place that's difficult; Zoom in, untie the knot and then slowly zoom out. Note when you make involuntary ornaments automatically. Don't judge yourself if you don't know exactly where all the ornaments are "supposed" to be. Feel that the tunes come into existence via you and it's too much to ask that you should know exactly every detail in all the tunes. It's inhuman. As long as you are having fun and are aware that you are unaware it goes a long way!

 

Once you've started to memorize the foundation of the melody try adding ornaments elsewhere, remove / add ornaments. Exaggerate / Understate the melody. Use your creativity. Take some liberties and change the melody a bit; take a long note where there are many notes, play several notes where there are only few. Twist the tune inside out until you´ve found and created a kind of "your own version" of it. Even though the melody has your unique touch one can still hear it's the same tune (if your not twisting and turning too much that is). It's live traditional folkmusic we are playing here. I consider traditions to be alive, moving and flexible. Every player gives their little imprint within the tunes.

 

The tune needs to learn to walk, grow up, become a teenager, test it's limits and find out who it thinks it is. Until the tune has found its place in your musical realm with reservation for openness to change and flexibility. The idea is not to be able to play as fast as possible. Wrong. The point is that it should feel safe in every pace, where you are right now. It takes time to get good at this and there's no point in stress. The goal is to have fun while you play.

Also, always think of quality before quantity. Nobody cares if you can play a thousand tunes badly… Except that people may not want to play with you. But if someone knows that you love "that particular tune" they WILL want to play it with you. Imagine that you've practised each tune carefully and methodically with metronome, drone and everything. All tunes you learn will be of quality. It will feel more meaningful to play them.

V. Exercise schedule

 

Purpose: To get a flow in the practise and get the feel of development

 

Here's an example of how long and in what order the exercises preferably should be done. See this as a source of inspiration. If you come up with a system that suits you better or if you want to practice something completely different, do so! As long as you are aware of what you are doing.

Tone:

  5min - Long notes

10min - The natural tone scale

10min - Intonation

10min - Whistletones

Fingers:

10min - The Snake

  7min - Rolls & Shortrolls

  7min - Cranns

Tonality:

10min - Chromatics

15min - Träskodansen

10min - Scales

This is a recommendation (feel free to change this however you want). Do the exercises from top to bottom. Get yourself and the body ready BEFORE you learn tunes. You refuel the car before you drive off. You warm up before you run.

If you just want a quicky you can prioritize: The natural tone scale, The Snake and Chromatics.

 

Learn tunes AFTER the exercises for as long as you want or can.

The most important thing is that you become more aware of everything you do and that you feels joy in playing.

 

Good luck!