Sir James Galway was in town just a few weeks ago and the flute students at the University of NC School of the Arts raised the funds to have him teach a master class at the school. This master class took place in Watson Chamber Music Hall on the UNCSA campus and was open to the public. Of course I went! It’s amazing how much I learned in just 3 hours of him instructing others. I remember watching an interview of him once and what really stood out was how gracefully he played the flute, his fingers hardly moved and he made flute playing look so easy. In the master class he went into great detail as to how he got to that point. The information he shared was so valuable and he was especially helpful in clarifying what path every flutist should take if they want to achieve a professional standard. His main topic was about choosing the right methods, then breath control, then hand positions, body movement and finally phrasing. This blog is meant to try to get his point across to the beginner student, should they have a dream of one day becoming a professional, but then to also point out that to start on these methods from the beginning would be overwhelming. The beginner student should be introduced to the music theory and technique step by step, similar to how math is taught. In math, the student must first have a clear understanding of addition before they can understand multiplication, if they begin to memorize their multiplication tables before understanding addition, then it’s just memorization with no understanding. This type of teaching happens all the time with flutists and is very tragic.
So lets talk about the topic on which he placed a lot of emphasis, choosing the right method. His method of choice is Daily Exercises for the flute, by Marcel Moyse. The methods that were most used by Philip Dunigan at The North Carolina School of the Arts, when I was a student there, were 17 Grands Exercices Journaliers De Mecanisme Pour Flute by Taffanel and Gaubert for technique, and Mathilda Marchesi Vocal Exercises for phrasing. The Marcel Moyse, and the Taffanel and Gaubert are exercises that target pretty much the same type of scales, intervals and articulations. I like how Marcel Moyse has organized his scales and intervals. I really like how both the books have you practice your scales using the full range of the flute. Some exercises have you practice scales within 2 octaves and as a result the third octave might remain weak. These books also cover articulation patterns which is very important. If you’re a beginner student and you are taking lessons, please keep in mind that learning and understanding all your scales: Chromatic, major and all it’s modes, minor and all it’s modes, whole tones, arpegios, etc is very important. If you are asked to practice the scales and yet you don’t quit understand them, then speak up. Understanding music theory is a big part of my method of teaching, it’s a slightly slower process to begin with but my students go a lot further in the long run when they understand them. I believe that was one point Sir James Galway was trying to make, that if you practice the Marcel Moyse book consistently then you get to the point that you can play anything, but I believe that this only happens if you truly understand the scales and can recognize the patterns in the music. Long story short… when finding a private flute instructor, make sure they’re goal is to one day have you practicing and understanding a good flute method.