Hello everyone, and thank you for all the interesting posts around here! Many of them have been really useful (or fun) for an adult beginner like me.
I have been playing the flute for about a year and a half, and I have never before had a hobby that I love as much and which brings me so much joy every time I get the chance to play. I attend a music school for adults, and have a great teacher who I unfortunately meet only every other week. I also join the music schools ensemble every week, which is free for the students. (Currently around 5 clarinetists and me.)
So what finally made me get out of lurkdom and post, is that I feel I have trouble, huge trouble, with my ear, and I simply don’t know how to improve it. I believe the reason is that I have no musical background what so ever, and therefore I have not practiced this kind of things. (I was never “selected” to the municipal music school as a kid. And here in Sweden that is the place to learn an instrument when you are little.)
The main thing I wish I could do is for example to tune the flute when I play with others, but it would be great to be able to hear if I play in tune so that I can adjust when needed or to be able to play an easy song by ear. Some day in the future I would also love to be able to sight-sing a little, or at least to imagine how something is supposed to sound like by looking on a score. And I bet you could play a minor scale and triick me into guessing it was a major!
It feels terrible not to know if I play in tune or not. Actually, it is not such a big problem, because I do manage to do some of these things subconsciously. I assume I try to adjust to play in tune, because I have noticed that it is easier for me to play if we have tuned our instruments in a group. That is more correct notes and even a better tone. And I am mostly able to feel if a piece is in a major or minor scale, or if I play a wrong note.
Nevertheless, as soon as I try to actually focus on listening I am completely lost. I have tried some ear-training software/web pages, but when I try I am not able to hear the difference even in very simple exercises. For example, I am able to play some triads (is that the correct term? C-E-G-C, for example) on the flute, and would be able to hum them for myself. But if I am to choose between a major third and a perfect fifth in an ear training program, then I simply don’t know which one is played. It really amazes me, because I feel I should be able to do that…
I have no idea how to improve this, and it feels like it is really impossible to become better at it. I mean I feel confident that I can improve most things in my flute playing with a lot of focused regular practice. But this feels so impossible.
Sorry for such a long post! Please, feel free to ask questions if you need more info on my background, and flute playing.
Welcome! I'm glad you are enjoying your flute playing so much. Its great that you have a teacher and play with other student musicians. That's a good way to become a better musician and have fun at the same time.
Your "ear" will develop in time. The more you play (solo, and with others) the better it will become. Playing scales in long tones are a good way to really work on your tones being in pitch. Do you have a tuner that you can compare your notes to? Sometimes when I practice, I close my eyes so that I can block out everything around me and really "listen" to my tone. Are there any other flute students that you might be able to play with? Perhaps you could take a course in ear training at a local college?
In any case, just keep practicing and keep enjoying and all these things will eventually come in time.
Thank you very much for the kind advice and welcoming, Goldenflute!
I don't have a tuner yet, and I agree that this is the time to get one.
A college course is a nice idea. Since I am lucky enough to live near a university with an excellent music education, I should try to take advantage of it. However, I am a PhD student and that means I am working so much that I am grateful I have the time to practise at all. It would be difficult to find a class that does not collide with my work, teaching, taking courses, meetings, and frequent travelling. Practising the flute is in fact the main thing that helps me relax and cope with the tempo.
I have still hesitated about taking a course because I know that the students usually are not amatuers, but really focused and experiensed people preparing for different music careers. I should think about it again after my licentiate, and when I at least am able to tune my flute.
I am happy to hear that you mean that aural skills are possible to learn over time. I will not give up just yet.
I agree. You really develop with time and practice.
A good practice though is focusing on intervals.
There are lots of exercises on intervals. The key is to make your ears accustomed to the differences between different intervals and trainning yourself to recognise them.
It's more a kind of ear trainning rather than flute playing.
But of course you may do this playing your flute.
Scale long tones could help, but I think that long tones on intervals could help you more.
Hi, To add to the suggestions.
I would get a tuner.
Perhaps even a Tuner/ metronome combination like the Korg TM 40.
I wouldn't worry about too many bells and whistles on them because you shouldn't try to rely on them too much.
So, with a tuner:
1)Learn to play a steady held out pitch. ONe where the needle doesn't jump around much.
2)Learn to do this while you are doing a crescendo and then decrescendo.
3) As far as intervals go, musicians use notes from certain familiar tunes to help us tune.
I recommend the #1 line above because this helps us to tune a unison.
I'd learn octaves. They sound like the first two notes to the Wizard of Oz tune, "Over the rainbow"
Then I'd try to tune a perfect fifth: The first two pitches of the Christmas song: "Do you hear what I hear?" (The "you hear' pitches)
Now these things can be found online if you google > Musical Ear training <.
Great suggestions, and I will definitly give Bilbos step by step plan a try. Thanks!
I probably need to start listening more carefully. It is actually a little amusing that I could be singing a song like "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" during so many years during childhood and still not be able to identify a perfect fifth using it.
I will take it slowly. (and get back to you in a couple of years to report how it went. )
I believe you are covering different problems that, though related, are usually treated somewhat differently.
Sight singing, for example is rather difficult (very difficult for most people, IMHO). It is taught in solfeggio courses and it takes long (sometimes measured in years) to master. But the question should be, do you really need that for your flute playing, at least at the level you are? Not that this is not something many (me included) would like to learn. But if you do not sing and are not forced to learn new pieces very often and in a very short time, I would consider it secondary, particularly if you are short of time. I would concentrate in sight playing, something you will need all the time and allows to learn a piece quickly and without having to hum it. We have our instrument for that!
Tuning the flute in ensembles or small orchestras, well, this is a different issue and there have been posts in this site with opinions from people with much experience. I am not in that group; I have been learning for flute over six years and I still need the help of my teacher when we have to tune in a "simple" Trio. For others more talented than me it may be easier, but I suspect it is not simple matter.
For your ear training, the main thing is time and *lots* of good practise, as suggested in previous posts. A tuner does help, but the important thing is to be able to play in tune -without the tuner. Playing duets with your teacher could be very important, because this way you can notice easily (?) when you are not in tune. Or your teacher will signal it and you will be able to correct. The flute is a rather difficult instrument as for the tuning, you can be easily a half tone off as soon as your embouchure or air pressure is not correct. Apart from this, tuning in all octaves is (at least for me) quite difficult. Some notes are "naturally" a little off (too sharp in my Yamaha) and they require special care when you play them. With one and a half year practice I would say that you cannot accomplish all of it.
But it is important you care about these issues; my teacher tells me that many students do not enough pay attention to this and it is a permanent struggle to get them play correctly in tune.
Sorry, I am also a long-breath poster, I better leave it here for the moment.
Hi Jose! Yes, my aim is handling the flute well, not singing.
If I really could hear when I am sharp or flat, the learning to adjust it seem to be a matter of practicing. I would not worry about doing that well until I am a lot better at playing overall.
But it is the listening part that seems so difficult. There does not seem to be any guarantees for that you can learn it. No reason not to try though!
I have bought a basic but fast cromatic tuner, and I find it helpful. I try to tune my flute to a tuning note on a cd that belongs to one of my lesson books, and then turn on the tuner to compare. Even though I quickly learn how much the headjoint should be pulled out, I assume it is good to get used to beeing in tune with the cd anytime I play along with it. I often play duets with my teacher, but since the lesson time is limited and I have many things to learn, we do not really focus on beeing in tune.
By the way, I need to mention that I burst out into laughter when my teacher assigned me "Over the rainbow" this week. (It is the first piece in "Flöjt.nu 3", a Swedish lesson book.) I will practice that first octave with the tuner, and see if I can make it sound really good and in tune.
Exept for this I am busy preparing for the end of year recital we have the 26 th of May. I am attending a conference from Sunday to Tuesday, I will have guests visiting me Friday to Saturday, and I will be on a business trip from next Friday to Tuesday. So I will really be struggling with finding time to practice.
It should not be much of a problem to play along in tune -with another flute or flute-CD. You should not be too far off (normally), so you can hear the beat frequencies that are produced by the mixing of two frequencies that are close enough but not exactly equal. Our ear/brain system perceives those beat frequencies as a sort of modulation on the main note. I have some difficulties in explaining it in English, I mean a kind of wobling on the main note.
But to perceive it, the frequency difference between the right note and the out of tune one, must be small (close to right tune), otherwise it becomes increasingly difficult to notice it (but the more you are off, the more evident it becomes by normal ear perception).
If you are already concerned with right tuning (you should, if you are going to play with others), you should practise adjusting the tuning of each note with the embouchure, the direction of the air stream you blow and the air pressure. All three react together. You must get important help from your teacher about this.
The pulling out/in of the headjoint is rather a coarse adjustment and it should not be exaggerated, as it affects the whole scale of the instrument. Now modern flutes come tuned to about A=442 (sometimes more), while other instruments play normally at A=440. So when playing in groups you may have to tune your flute to A=440 and normally it is made by pulling out the headjoint some millimetres (but quite variable with the brand/model of instrument. For my Yamaha YFL674 it is about 3mm. But if this pulling out is considerable (in my case, about 30mm if I want to tune to say, a Baroque Traverso), the scale gets almost unplayable for my level of technique. It is an extreme example, just to give you an idea.