Thanks to the support of Yamaha, we were able to take Mimi Stillman to visit four local colleges and universities on March 18th and 19th. We visited Marian College for a clinic the morning of the 18th and then headed up to Ball State for a recital and masterclass that evening. The next day, we were up bright and early to head out to Indiana State for a masterclass and recital. Following lunch, we drove over to DePauw for a masterclass and recital in the evening.
Each session included some group playing and discussion of warm-up techniques. Mimi recommends practicing your scales by starting on the lowest note on your flute and then adding in sharps and flats. This way you’re not always starting on the tonic. For example, start on a low B and (playing in the key of C) go up 2 octaves in groups of 7, then descend one octave in a septuplet and the last octave is a group of 8, turning around and ending on C. (See example below.) Repeat this all the way up to high C or even D. Then begin adding sharps and flats, still starting on B.
Another warm-up she recommends is for tonguing and involves reversing the syllables. Practice tonguing in the following ways: T-K-T-K, K-T-K-T, K-K-K-K, T-T-T-T. Mixing it up will help strengthen the “K”. Also, think of long tones when practicing tonguing; “think of the tongue riding on a column of air.”
Some other tidbits I gleaned from watching Mimi work with several students over the course of the two days:
“Musicians are athletes of the small muscles.” So true!
Really work on discovering all possible tone colors on your flute and/or piccolo. Try changing the lips, jaw, aperture, pressure on the lip plate, how much of the embouchure hole you are covering, etc. There are so many different sounds you can get. Try to match these tone colors with the mood of the music.
When breathing, focus on opening the throat and expanding your shoulders to the wall. Even when taking quick, catch breaths, following the same advice will allow you to take in more air. You should also try placing a hand on your lower back and feeling it expand as you breathe in.
Do your homework for each piece that you play. Make sure you know what all the markings in the music mean and do some research on the background of the piece and the composer. You may also want to supplement with research on the time period, to add the historical dimension.
Practice in front of a mirror. Many of us have movements that are intrinsic to our playing (swaying, beating the downbeats with the flute, etc), but that do not neccessarily add to our flute playing. Most often, they tend to detract, actually weakening the tone and getting in the way of technique.
Play chamber music! (And check out Mimi’s chamber group Dolce Suono!) Chamber music is one of the best ways to develop your ear. Working with your pianist is chamber music as well.
Check out some pictures of the tour below. For more photos, find us on facebook!
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