Trevor Wye’s “Flexibility I” flute exercise

One of my favorite flute warmups is “Flexibility–I (after Sousseman)” from Trevor Wye’s Tone book. (Just buy the whole omnibus edition and thank me later.) This exercise is value-packed and meticulously thought out, and leads inevitably to some fundamental truths about flute playing.

The exercise is slurred arpeggiated figures, like this:


As you might expect, the figure gradually expands to larger intervals and notes in the third octave. It’s challenging to make the intervals smooth and accurate, but especially so if your approach to flute tone production is based on unclear or faulty pedagogical concepts. Wye provides some very crucial advice that is key to getting the most out of the etude, and to developing a solid approach to tone production.

Wye suggests first playing the etude omitting the highest notes, and dynamically shaping the figures as follows:


The forte dynamic on the lowest notes demands a low, open voicing and strong breath support, feeding into an aperture that is “focused” (small). The dynamic shape, stretched mostly across a single note (B-flat here), also requires the aperture to be agile and flexible, opening slightly for the loudest notes and closing slightly as the volume decreases.

The next step is to “work up” to the high note, “so that it sounds softly, but not flat:”


There is a lot going on here. The aperture has to continue to move flexibly in order to produce the dynamic effect. Voicing has to be low and open to make the low notes full and responsive. Breath support has to remain powerful and steady to keep the pitch buoyed up. And something has to happen to produce the register change.

Many flute teachers suggest making the aperture smaller to achieve the higher registers, but this ties register to dynamics—the larger aperture makes the low notes loud, and the small aperture makes the high notes soft. Others suggest something like increasing air pressure or using “faster” air. This can be accomplished by increasing breath support and/or by using a higher voicing; changing these has a destabilizing and register-bound effect on pitch and tone. It also creates the opposite dynamic problem from aperture-based register changes: the higher notes are always loud, and the low notes are always soft.

The most effective approach is to allow the embouchure to push forward for notes in the upper registers, and to relax back for lower registers. This allows breath support, voicing, and aperture to function separately, and intonation, tone, and dynamics to be manipulated independently. The Wye exercise demands all of this from the flutist.

This is a great exercise to incorporate into a daily warmup. I especially like it for its coverage of several flute tone production concepts, since doubling on several instruments means I don’t have as much time to devote to the flute as I would like. Work on it slowly and deliberately—as Mr. Wye points out, “this may take time.”

Vadala doubling book review

Improve Your DoublingI spotted this new review of Chris Vadala’s Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers on

Featured Book: Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers [update: link dead]

I reviewed the book myself a couple of years back.

The review is by Peter Westbrook. He gives some nice perspective on woodwind doubling:

The practice grew out of the need for players to cover parts on more than one instrument in the big bands of the 1920’s and 30s, and spread to the pits of Broadway shows and the TV staff orchestras at NBC and CBS. Saxophonists were initially expected to double on the clarinet until it was largely replaced by the flute in the 50’s, as it saw more acceptance in jazz. The 60’s brought new colors, adding oboe and bassoon parts for doublers—or triplers—to deal with, until players such as the legendary Romeo Penque appeared on the New York studio scene prepared to play every woodwind instrument known to man, often in quick succession, a situation further complicated by the re-emergence of the clarinet on the 1980’s. I counted over 20 instruments stacked up in front of the five-piece reed section of the Maria Schneider Orchestra at a recent concert.

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Quick tip: learn tenor clef

If you’re going to be serious about playing the bassoon, reading tenor clef is a requirement. If you’re unfamiliar with it, click through to Mike Spark’s website for a quick primer [update: link dead]. If you could use a little practice reading the notes, try’s C-clef trainer. Click on “Settings…,” choose “Tenor clef,” and … Read more

Recommended: Jeanjean “Vade-Mecum” du Clarinettiste

Lately I’ve been doing some clarinet work out of the Jeanjean Vade-Mecum. The title page translates charmingly to:

“Vade-Mecum” of the Clarinet-player



render the fingers and tongue rapidly supple

But this is what really sold me:


The aim of these 6 standard-studies (combining the essential parts generally contained in several exercise books) is to prepare instrumentalists in a very short space of time (about 1/2 hour) when, due to their occupations, they are not able to devote the time necessary for developed exercises and must nevertheless be ready to execute difficult passages, from the standpoint of lips, tongue and fingers.

The movements to which these Studies oblige the clarinet-player to submit will rapidly overcome those imperfections, the diminution or the passing weakness that might result from either fatigue or irregularity of technical work.

“…not able to devote the time necessary … and must nevertheless be ready to execute difficult passages…” This, in a nutshell, is the quandary of the woodwind doubler.

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Review: Improve Your Doubling, by Chris Vadala

Improve Your DoublingI only know of one etude book geared toward woodwind doublers, and it’s Chris Vadala’s Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers (Dorn Publications, 1991).

Mr. Vadala is on my list of “notable woodwind doublers,” and certainly he is an outstanding player on single reeds and flute, but I think what makes him really notable in the (tiny) world of woodwind doubling is that he jumped on the opportunity to establish himself as an expert in the field, by writing this etude book and by contributing a semi-regular column, “Tips on Doubling,” in Saxophone Journal throughout the 1990’s. If you find yourself in the odd position of trying to do scholarly research on woodwind doubling (like I do, now and then), you find a lot of Chris Vadala and not much of anybody else.

So. I’m generally leery of anything that is “for doublers.” I don’t want, say, a clarinet mouthpiece “for doublers”—I want a clarinet mouthpiece for clarinetists. What do I want to sound like when I play the clarinet? A doubler? No. And so I find the idea of an etude book “for doublers” to be a little problematic—wouldn’t I be better off using the tried-and-true etude books for each individual instrument?

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Learning to play a woodwind: is previous woodwind experience a disadvantage?

I teach a woodwind methods class as part of my graduate assistantship (and was the teaching assistant in the class for several years before teaching it on my own). In this class music education students get a crash course in playing and teaching the woodwind instruments, in preparation (too little!—but that’s another blog post) for careers as school band directors. My class is made up of woodwind players, brass players, percussionists, keyboardists, and even vocalists. It is interesting to see how to woodwind players fare in comparison to the non-woodwind players.

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Abe Weiss on practicing

I mentioned in a post yesterday how impressed I was by Abe Weiss‘s presentation at the IDRS conference. Mr. Weiss is principal bassoonist of the Rochester Philharmonic.

Here are a few points from his talk that stood out to me.

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