Individual Warmups For Young Flutists

In this post we’ll be looking at exercises that can be used for the individual flute student – particularly useful during remote/hybrid instruction. The levels of student have been split into 3 sub sections; since this is directed towards students enrolled in traditional band programs there is a standard of Western musical literacy that is expected:

  • Beginning: Minimal musical literacy and/or minimal or developing flute sound production and technique.
  • Intermediate: Basic musical literacy (limited range, clefs, note names, etc) and/or developing flute tone, musicianship, and technique.
  • Advanced: Established musical literacy (full range, all basic music reading, articulations, dynamics, etc.) and/or developing flute tone, vibrato, musicianship, technique, etc.

These are just generalized levels – not necessary for students in a specific grade level; supplementing materials for material to be more age appropriate such as having a beginning high school student may be necessary…


Beginning

  • Drone – Matching just ONE pitch. Whether that be a B (Bb) A or G.

There are apps (ie. Tonal energy), physical drone/tuners (ie. KORG), or downloads that keep it interesting.. that students can use to match pitch.

Provide directed questions to optimize student achievement: Is that note higher or lower than the drone? [Reset] Play your note in 3 different spots in your room/house, which would sounded the best?

  • Listening/Rhythm – Depending on the level of musical literacy of the student there may be more set up on your end for them to be successful.

Either create or find rhythm cells [isolated patterns] for whichever level the student is at; one example is this Talking Rhythm: Counting 101. If the student is developing musical literacy you could provide them with a sample of the rhythm to read alongside the recording.

If the student is young or struggling to grasp certain patterns; varying instruction such as providing words for rhythms/telling stories with a set of familiar rhythms; or making a game out of rhythm call and response could successful.

  • Air/Breathing – Air direction is just as important as breathing well, especially for beginners.

A very “Suzuki Flute” concept is spitting rice this is invaluable because it achieves many skills: routine, tongue position, air direction, and air volume/force. Likewise it requires less explaining and more letting the student figure out how to do, definitely worth looking into for long term success.

A simple game you could have beginning flute student’s do is have them figure out “how old they are in flute years”. This can be done on the head joint or on any one pitch; basically, the student will time (either count or have someone count for them) how long they can hold a pitch and see if they can match/exceed their current age.


Intermediate

  • Drone – Depending on the student you could have them match anywhere from a Perfect 5th or a full octave (you could also break this up into several weeks on the first tetrachord and second tetrachord).

You can use the same directed questions from the Beginner drone warmup. You could also ask which notes against the drone sounded better/worse; if any of the intervals reminded them of songs they know. Try to engage them in active listening, extending to connecting music they know to the music they play.

  • Listening – Building student’s ear training you can provide them short excerpts (2-4 measures) to learn by ear.

There are books (ie. Funky Flute series) that include CDs that has a limited range that would be suitable for chunking, combined with range and simple rhythms for beginning-intermediate students. [Optionally, you could record a short excerpt on a keyboard for all instrument groups to work on by ear].

  • Rhythm/Musical Literacy – Both without and with the flute – it’s important for the students to be able to reproduce the rhythms/read away from the instrument so they can have an easier time transferring knowledge that is most likely very foreign to them.

Building upon common rhythm patterns; adding in rests would be the next step. Again recording rhythm cells/using words to represent rhythms/movements to go along with rhythms students can engage with music in a multiple ways.

  • Air/Breathing – Reviewing and maintaining solid breathing is the foundation to air support and developing a good tone.

You can continue to build on the beginning flute warmups such as the “How Old Are You In Flute Years?”. While also encouraging a more refined, focused tone. Listening should be incorporated in tone production – by presenting the students with a clear model to emulate they are less likely to get that airy/wide sound.

For fast passages – or passages that require a lot of articulation – your first spot to check may be the fingers. HOWEVER having the students turn their head joint upside down (still in playing position) so that the student’s air gets caught in the lip plate and creates a snake/hissing sound; when students are having issues with their air they can actually HEAR the difference between achieving or not achieving the hissing sound.


Advanced

  • Drone – Expanding the intermediate warmup, you can have the students practice scales or pieces with a drone of the tonic.

The important thing is active engagement/listening. Having the students close their eyes – taking away one of their senses to focus on listening – can be useful early on as a way to get student feedback. The students can play a scale against the drone and have them only move to the next note after getting the one before it in tune with the drone.

Advanced students can also work on vibrato width against a drone. John Wion‘s website is fantastic because it has examples of famous flute player’s vibrato in notable works at tempo as well as slowed down.

  • Listening – Some advanced students will continue to struggle with ear training so keeping them on the chunked excerpts from intermediate warmups is not doing a disservice to them.

However, for students with a more keen ear you can provide extensions for them with either longer excerpts – even better if it’s a piece they have interest in learning on their own. You can have them compile a list of performers/recordings to reference and work on learning the piece by ear.

  • Rhythm/Musical Literacy – Again, it is still important to build this skill with and without the flute.

More advanced students can develop their literacy in music theory. Reviewing the Circle of Fifths and looking at chords and their functions.

The rhythm cells can still be useful for advanced students for reviewing learned rhythms as well as learning more complex ones as well as polyrhythms.

  • Air/Breathing – Reviewing and maintaining solid breathing is the foundation to air support and developing a good tone.

You can continue that fast and/or articulated passage practice strategy with the flipped head joint.

Also, at this point the students will be developing their independence in self assessment/student direction so standard flute tone exercises such as the famous Marcel Moyse long tone exercise from De La Sonorite can be used routinely.


What type of warmups have you been utilizing with your flute students? Do you use any of these? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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