August 2015 Convention
Washington, D.C.

Pedagogy Potpourri #2

Bringing the Inside Out—New Techniques for Developing Intonation, Circular Breathing, and Internal Rhythm Skills

A highlight Sunday morning was the second Pedagogy Potpourri presentation. The session was divided into three presentations by Kathy Blocki, Angus McPherson, and Courtney Morton. 

Angus McPherson gave an enlightening talk about circular breathing. He described the process of circular breathing in three steps. First, fill cheeks with air and use cheek muscles and tongue to push the air out of the mouth. Second, do step one, this time while inhaling through the nose. Third, chase the mouth air with lung air. He strongly recommended reading Robert Dick’s Circular Breathing for the Flutist. Some ways to practice these techniques included blowing air through a straw into a glass of water and maintain a constant stream of bubbles. While it is good to start with a normal-sized drinking straw, a very large straw—such as a bubble tea straw—is best.

Angus McPherson

photo by Karen Large

McPherson also suggested playing a didgeridoo and demonstrated that instrument in class. He reminded the class that it can take two years to master the technique of circular breathing. His final point was that for flutists just beginning to circular breathe, it is difficult to do so with a good tone. Therefore, it is important to follow circular breathing work with tone studies so that good tone is maintained.

Blocki’s presentation focused on tuning tips and games that she uses with her students. She suggested performing duets with students at recitals instead of having them play with piano. When students are young and still in the early stages of working on intonation, the teacher can quickly adjust intonation to match the student’s.

Kathy Blocki

photo by Karen Large

Blocki also suggested creating a pitch map so that students have a visual understanding of which notes have certain strong intonation tendencies. Finally, when tuning a chord, she recommended starting with the root, adding the fifth next, and finally adding the third within the scaffolding of that perfect fifth. Having students switch notes helps them develop their abilities to hear intonation within a chord. One of the highlights of this presentation was getting to see Blocki demonstrate these techniques with her students live at the front of the room—and to hear these young flutists with a developed sense of pitch.

Courtney Morton and guests shared helpful ideas on working with a metronome. The ideas presented in this session went far beyond simply setting the metronome to quarter notes or starting at a slow tempo and bumping up the beats per minute until the goal tempo is achieved. The majority of the presentation focused on placing the subdivisions of the beat correctly. Ways to achieve this include lining up the metronome clicks with offbeats or even certain 16th notes within the beat. Another technique was removing clicks every beat and only having one click per bar, or even one click per two, three, or four bars!

With more advanced metronomes like Dr. Beat or the iOS app Dr. Betotte, musicians can program metronomes to have a click at an excerpt’s start and a click at its last beat to see how closely they can come to maintaining the tempo throughout the entire excerpt. These advanced exercises will certainly help flutists achieve their highest goals of rhythmic success!

—Karen Large