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Flute/High Notes and Low Notes, Loud and Soft

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Question
Hi Holly!
I have an audition soon and in the music, I have to play notes like C, B, and D (in the middle) louder than the higher G and D (the really high ones). However, I cannot play the G and D softer than the C, B, and D. Can you please tell me some way to make the G and D softer?

Thanks so much,
Kristine

Answer
Hey Kristine,

Playing high notes softly on the flute can be tricky, so here's some tips:

- Lessen the pressure of the flute resting against your chin.  Believe it or not, this actually helps make it easier to play high notes softly.

- Let your airstream be directed upwards slightly.  This helps keep you from going flat (a common problem flutists encounter when playing soft in the high register), and keep the channel of air moving quickly.  It helps the airstream skims the hole in the lip plate - less contact, less sound.   

There's no quick and easy fix for soft high notes, though.  Playing softly up high takes lots of practice, so here's what I'd recommend in your daily practice:

- Crescendo-decrescendo exercise using long tones:  Take a deep full breath, and start a note at a comfortably soft dynamic.  Hold the note steady and quickly get louder until it's as loud and full as you can play it.  Then, without taking a breath, gradually diminuendo until you can't play any softer and then release the note as cleanly as you can.  This exercise will be helpful on any register of the flute, but for now, since you have an audition looming, I'd use it most on the upper middle to the highest notes.  

- Tone comparison: Since the trouble notes for your audition piece are high G and D, practice playing softly on notes above G and D.  You don't want G and D to be the extreme end of your soft high note range, you want notes above them to the tough ones to play softly.  So as much as you practice long tones on G and D, make sure you practice the notes above them as well.  Then, when you go back to playing G and D again, those notes should feel much easier in comparison. :)

Another way to help increase the contrast between your loud and soft notes is to make your loud notes louder.  For a full, loud middle register, try dropping your jaw slightly when you play, as well as using more air and supporting your airstream from your middle.  This increases the size of the space inside your mouth, and the air resonates in a different, fuller way.  To illustrate the mouth space / resonating / abdominal support idea, think of how someone shouts the word "HEY!" to a person across a field as opposed to whispering "pst - hey" to someone next to her.  The way air is used, how the mouth is shaped, and how abdominal support comes naturally into play when shouting as opposed to whispering is very similar to the way air is used on the flute to play loudly or softly.

I hope this helps!  Please keep in mind that these are very general suggestions - since I can't see you play, I can't be more specific to help you play softer in the high register. :( Good luck on your audition!

~Holly~

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Holly

Expertise

I can answer questions about learning to play the flute, reading music, problems encountered when playing, flute repertoire, practicing tips, and performing, as well as information about classical composers and their works. Please note that I am no longer accepting any questions about what kind of flute to buy, upgrading, flute brands, reselling, what a flute is worth, etc. I have answered many of these questions in the past, so please either view my answers in the the previously asked questions section or visit my website, which has a page about buying flutes: silentgalaxy.com/buyingflutes.html. Thanks!

Experience

I've played the flute since fourth grade, graduating with my master's degree in flute performance. I have taught at local music schools, given flute lessons for over ten years, have played in and soloed with several orchestras, chamber groups, and various other ensembles. For more information about me, visit my website at silentgalaxy.com. I love the flute, and I love helping people, so I welcome your questions!

Education/Credentials
Bachelor's and master's degrees in flute performance from Carnegie Mellon University.

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