Dynamics and Intonation, part 1

Dynamics and Intonation go hand in hand.

Dynamics = playing loud or soft, or somewhere in between

Intonation = the art of playing in tune

Changing the volume on a radio or headphones requires changing a button. It takes very little effort to make this change. However, as a flute player, it’s not that simple. Anyone can play one volume. Learning to play various volumes adds to the musicality of your phrases.

Musicality = expressing feeling through the music by adding dynamics and stylistic characteristics. This makes music more interesting to listen to and to play instead of sounding monotone.

Phrase = a musical sentence. This can be any length, but frequently is 2 to 4 or sometimes 8 measures long.

There are many articles and books written on the subject of flute dynamics and more specifically, intonation. My intent here is to do a basic, simple summary for flute players and give you a place to get started. Here is a chart to help explain it.

Dynamic levelpp ffpp
Lip shapeooAhoo
Size of lip opening (embouchure)smallerbiggersmaller
Angle of the air streamhigherlowerhigher
Amount of airlessmoreless
Abdominal supportalwaysalwaysalways
Elements affecting dynamic range

The column on the left describes the elements that affect your dynamic range. The columns on the right describe how those elements should change when you are playing the different dynamic ranges as listed at the top of the chart.

Just as these colors gradually shift from one to another, you must progressively adjust your lips, opening, angle and amount of air. Sometimes the smallest modification can create a big difference in your flute sound.

First, practice moving from the pp column to the ff column. Then start at the ff range and gradually move to the pp range. Practice this on random notes in the low, middle, and high registers. Try to create the widest extremes that you can. For example, play even softer than you think you can and try playing even louder than you think you can. Then, after you are feeling comfortable with this, try going from pp-ff-pp all in one breath. Do this exercise on random notes in different registers as well.

Check back next week for part 2.

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