When you first take your new Baroque flute out of its case, don’t be tempted to just grab a Bach sonata and get stuck in. Just like with the modern flute, you’ll need to start with some tone exercises. The embouchure and air stream required to produce a pleasant sound on a Baroque flute are quite different than what is required of you when you play your modern flute, and these exercises will help you get acquainted with the changes that must be made. The following exercises are a mixture of those recommended to me by my tutor, and some that I’ve discovered during my own practice, that I feel are helpful enough to pass on. For these exercises to be most effective, play through them in the order in which they’re presented, and don’t move on until you’re happy with the way you sound.
This first exercise is all about establishing that all-important flexibility. I recommend starting your practising sessions with this exercise every day (and doing only this exercise when you first purchase a flute and are practising it in), as it will help you set your embouchure and get used to the feeling of the movements and mechanics of playing a Baroque flute.
For this exercise, you’ll be moving the direction of the air stream upwards and downwards in front of your face. I’ve found that a helpful visual for this is to imagine a semicircle reaching from the top of your head (we’ll call this fringe position) to the bottom of your chin (beard position). So, imagine blowing from fringe to beard and back!
We’ll start with a C♯, as this is the easiest note to bend. Set your embouchure, then bring the lower jaw forward and raise the air stream to the fringe position. To bend the pitch and make a downwards glissando, you’ll gradually do a few things:
To make the glissando back upwards, slowly:
When you’re comfortable and confident in your ability to bend the C♯, you can then move on to bending every note in the first octave, starting on C♯ and moving chromatically all the way down to D’.
Start by playing the notes with their proper fingerings. This will help you establish the desired pitch in your head. You’ll then take a deep breath, lip the note down a half step and back, aiming for an exact half step. Try to do this in one breath, and remember: cover more of the mouth hole as you diminuendo, and uncover as you crescendo. Then, with the best sound you can muster, return to the original correct pitch.
While practising this exercise, don’t be discouraged if it gets more difficult to bend the notes as you descend the scale—lower notes, and cross-fingered notes are harder to bend a complete half step, and will require a bit of extra practice to get a handle on what needs to happen to your embouchure and air stream. A note: F♯ doesn’t need to be bent down as far as other notes, and in fact needs to be lipped up even higher at the beginning, as it tends to be quite a flat note on most flutes.
Once you have a grasp on the movements required to bend notes, you can learn to make crescendos and diminuendos. As with a modern flute, when you blow more and crescendo on a Baroque flute, the pitch will start to go sharp; when you blow less and decrescendo, the pitch will flatten. Don’t despair, as this is an easy fix that I’ve helped you prepare for by placing the note bending exercises first: you’ll use the exact same lip movements, but the opposite air stream speed.
Start the note softly with your bottom jaw pushed out and your airstream raised up to your fringe. Then begin the crescendo:
To diminuendo from forte, slowly:
The only way to stay in tune is to carefully coordinate all of these movements, but with proper practice, you’ll soon realise what you need to do to accomplish this. While practising this exercise, don’t force the notes any further than comfortable, and again, keep in mind that cross-fingered notes will be a bit more difficult. Also, remember to start the piano F♯ in a higher position than the other notes.
Once you’re comfortable with the base exercise, you can add some variations into your practice.