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For the Contemporary Flutist

introducing the 12 flute etudes on extended flute techniques from the etude book 'For the Contemporary Flutist' by Wil Offermans

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Etude 1: Wind Tones

Old and new windmills in Holland
Old and new windmills (Holland)
As we all know, wind is a really important and essential natural phenomena. Since ancient times, in Holland (photo) and in many other parts of the world we have been constructing wind-mills to use the wind energy to grind the wheat into flour to make a delicious bread. Nowadays, we see a world-wide spread of the modern variation of the wind-mill, which we use to create green electricity.

Wind in the atmosphere is the result of high and low pressure areas. Wind is dynamic, continuously in motion, traveling, moving and refreshing. When a soft breeze is blowing over our skin on a warm summer day, we feel a sensitive freshness. When wind is blowing through the trees, we hear a kind of quiet, untuned, but sensitive sound by the dancing leaves. In Holland this sound is mentioned in a famous song for the Santa Claus (December 5th) celebrations, where the children sing "Hoor de wind waait door de bomen..." ("listen the wind blowing through the trees”). The sound of wind is abstract, intangible and above all mysterious. The same is also true for the wind tone on the flute.
VIDEO Etude 1: Wind Tones
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Etude 1: Wind Tones

This short sample video is on Etude 1: Wind Tones from the book For the Contemporary Flutist by Wil Offermans, which contains the 12 studies on contemporary flute techniques. Offermans recorded the etudes on the CD Daily Sensibilities.
* for copyright protection scores in the videos are partly blurred.
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This short sample video is on Etude 1: Wind Tones from the book For the Contemporary Flutist by Wil Offermans, which contains the 12 studies on contemporary flute techniques. Offermans recorded all the etudes on the CD Daily Sensibilities.

Wind as part of the Sound

Remembering my world-wide flute tour project Round About 12.5, which I have introduced to you in the Introduction, I encountered so many flutes around the world, which seem to embrace the wind sound musically. These flutes regard the wind noise as an integral and expressive part of the flute sound. Concerning Japanese flutes, here I would like to mention the ishibue (a stone flute with a natural embouchure hole, picked up in nature), the Jômon Clay flute (over 3000 years old) and the more well-known Shinobue and of course the Shakuhachi. In contrast with these flutes, it seems that our modern flute wants to eliminate the wind sound and tends to search for the 'perfect wind-less flute sound’. From a wider musical perspective, this is quite surprising, since by doing so we eliminate a really expressive and natural parameter from our musical pallet.

Beside the musical value of the wind tone, there is an additional and the most important benefit: by studying wind tones with flexibility we can strongly develop the embouchure as well as the mouth cavity and breathing.

Ishibue
Ishibue - stone flute (Japan)
Jomon Clay Flute
Jomon Clay Flute - Japan

Audio samples: wind tones and wind sounds

1. Ishibue flute, a stone flute, Japan (photo)
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2. Jômon Clay flute, about 3000 years old, Japan (photo)
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3. Wayâpi Guyane, voice, wind and breath, Brazilian Amazon
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4. Wayâpi Guyane, flute with wind, Brazilian Amazon
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5. A panpipe-like flute as a voice-resonator, Solomon Islands
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6. 'Honshirabe' by Katsuya Yokoyama on shakuhachi, Japan
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What is a Wind Tone

A wind tone is a flute sound of wind noise only. The traditional flute sound - which I sometimes like to call the 'belcantolute sound' - is absent. There is no full vibration of the tube, but wind noise only. At first we may think that a wind tone has no pitch, however if we look (and listen) closer we will hear that it actually consists of a complexity of pitches. Exactly this creates its beauty and character: a indirect expression, like the shadow of the 'belcanto' flute sound, and a powerful and musical sonority.

Playing a Wind Tone

To play a wind tone, basically we have to change two aspects compared to a standard playing style:

1/ Make a high and narrow lip-opening, a little similar like when whistling.

The lip-opening

2/ We should 'roll out' the flute, so that the lower-lip covers less of the embouchure hole of the flute. This may feel like we more blow 'over' instead of 'into' the embouchure hole.

Rolling of the flute

Notating a Wind Tone

Concerning the notation, in the score you can see a 3-line mark above or under a note-head to indicate a wind tone, An arrow indicates a gradual change from wind tone to flute tone, or visa versa.

Studying a Wind Tone

So with these two important rules in mind - a high lip-opening and rolling out the flute - we now pick up our flute and study some real wind tones. For this basic but useful study, we will simply play long notes, each on one breath length. We start playing long notes on the low-G and move up chromatically until one octave. Next re-start again from the low-G, but now moving down chromatically until the low-C (or low-B). This we can do in two consecutive series (see image):

  1. Play a long wind tone and very gradually change it to a flute tone. Take a breath. Now play the same note and gradually change back from a flute tone to wind tone. Take extreme care to make no sudden changes in sound. Use standard tonguing to articulate the beginning note. Keep a flat dynamic.
  2. Play a long wind tone, but now change abruptly from wind tone to flute tone. Take a breath. Play the same note and change back rapidly from flute tone to wind tone. Use standard tonguing to articulate each note (both wind and flute tone). Keep a flat dynamic (or even pretend a louder wind tone).

Study

Remember to always use a high lip-opening for the wind tone as well as to roll out the flute. You will realize that it is a totally different position of both embouchure and the flute, compared to the normal flute sound. So it will invite you to make quite active movement.

Study Daily

Like with many exercises, these wind tone studies will give you a better result if you study daily, instead of too long and only occasionally. Just 10 till 15 minutes a day would be fine. Or try to reserve some 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night into your daily schedule. You will realize after some weeks that your embouchure is really developing.

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