I love how this picture shows the division of the ocean, the waves, and the beach. Yet, at the same time, they also blend seamlessly into each other. This portrays perfectly how you should divide your practice time as a flute player. I call it the Law of Thirds. For example, if you practice for an hour a day, spend 20 minutes on tone and technique, 20 minutes on etudes, and 20 minutes on solos.
Tone Exercises: De la Sonorite by Marcel Moyse is the universal tone exercise. In addition to that, harmonics are helpful and many other tone books such as the Trevor Wye books and other exercises are available. In fact, you can even make up your own exercises. The important thing is that you spend time playing slowly and take the time to listen. Save the fast finger work for later. I once heard that Moyse said he never played above a B before breakfast.
Technique: Piano players have Hanon exercises. Flute players have the Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises for Flute which is a vast collection of scales, 3rds, 6ths, and arpeggios. It is essential to any flute players development to spend a lot of time with these exercises. One of my teachers shared a true story of a friend of his who was part of a professional symphony orchestra. While staying in a hotel one night while the orchestra was on tour, what do you think the principal oboe player was practicing? You guessed it…scales. It is one of the foundations of music and critical for any musician at any level.
Etudes: I have a file cabinet drawer (technically, more than one drawer) full of various etude and method books complete with Altes, Andersen, Berbiguier, Casterade, Gariboldi, Jean-Jean, Kohler, and more. Students that spend diligent time doing etudes have better technique and learn how to phrase. Etudes help improve finger coordination which strengthens technique, provides opportunities to expand your breath control and vibrato, teach you how to play with dynamics, help strengthen tonguing, and improves sight reading abilities. They are another critical foundation block for any flute player at any level.
Solos: If you are preparing for an audition, festival, or recital, you already have your work cut out for you. If not, it’s nice to have two solos to be working on. Perhaps contrasting in style, such as one slow and one fast or one in the baroque style and one in the romantic style. The goal is to have a well rounded feel for different types of solos out there. I’ll be eternally grateful for my teachers, especially Dr. Ted Wight, who did an incredible job of introducing me to the world of flute repertoire!
If you are not currently studying with a private flute teacher, you can still explore solos. A simple way is to visit www.flutetunes.com where they post “A New Score a Day” and you have access to free flute music in a variety of styles. They also have links to scales and arpeggios. With access to the internet these days, you can easily find free music sites and others to purchase more music than you could ever imagine.
I fully believe that incorporating tone, technique, etudes, and solos equally into your practice time create the balance you need to become a strong, well rounded flute player. If you only play solos, you are missing out on a lot and I guarantee that you will be lacking in other areas. I challenge you to make it a habit to divide your practice time using all of these critical elements.