How to Play Intervals Smoothly?
Ory’s Flute Tips
How to play difficult intervals smoothly
Read here as well how to develop your lips flexibility.
One of our biggest challenges to flute playing is to be able to play big intervals smoothly with the same tone quality between the 2 interval notes. Our literature is full of such examples, especially in the slow movements, where we have to play the intervals in the smoothest way possible:
Schubert Trockne Blumen, Variation 3 example:
Prokofiev Sonata, 3rd Movement example:
Mozart Concerto in G, 2nd Movement example:
The are many challenges in these examples : We have to play the phrases very gently, avoiding any unnecessary accents, most of time playing p or pp, some notes are easier to play and speak easily, some react a bit slower (for example, the high F# in Mozart Concerto).
So how can you overcome these challenges?
In order to do that, you have to separate the 3 actions you do in order to play the interval:
- Movement of your embouchure, between the lower and the higher note
- Increase of air speed
- Change of fingers
The ‘trick’ is to be able to separate the timing of your embouchure movement from the increase of speed and the fingers. It should be done in advance, in order to prepare the change of the note.
If I should draw a timeline of events it would be:
Play lower note –> Change of embouchure to the higher note –> Increase air speed –> Change of fingers –> Higher note sounds
When practicing that, you’ll have to be sure you’re able to separate and control the timing of each one of these movements.
In order to get used to it and practice it I suggest the following exercises. I made for you an example with notes and instructions (and you can of course create your own exercises with any interval you find in the piece you are playing):
Exercise. 1 – Get to know the exact position of embouchure needed for the second note
The exercise is rather simple. You should play the 2 notes, concentrating on the differences between the embouchure position of the first and the second note. You should be able to find out the ideal position of the second note and ‘memorize’ it’s position of embouchure.
Exercise. 2 – Practice the increase of air speed
Play now again the 2 notes. This time concentrate on the different air speed you use, in order to play each note. Connect the 2 notes with a legato and gradually increase the air speed, every time a bit slower. You should find a way how to increase the air speed without a sudden, sharp change (because then you will get an accent on the second note). Rather try to play a smooth legato, as if the higher note would ‘come out’ of the lower note.
Exercise. 3 – The ‘trick’ – Combine the embouchure movement and the change of air speed (one after the other)
This exercise is where the ‘trick’ happens. You should play the lower note, change your embouchure for the position of the higher note – but still let the lower note sound, only then increase gradually your air speed till the higher note comes out.
At first, play the exercise in a slow tempo, so you can control each step. Then gradually increase the tempo and reduce the time between each step till you manage to reach a point, when all the steps become like a one smooth action.
Try it out and let me know how it feels. Don’t hesitate to leave your comments and questions.
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN