Sound – Dynamic – Intonation

The first and main difficulties, when you start learn to play the flute, especially the Indian Bamboo Flute, the Bansuri, are:

1. getting a good sound (or in the very beginning getting any kind of sound at all!)
2. getting the right intonation
3. getting a range of dynamic, especially playing high pitched notes in low volume

These aspects are all interconnected. To develop everything at once is not possible, and the qualities will develop incrementally. But we can outline a step-by-step process on how these qualities are created. In case you struggle here already, believing that you cannot produce those qualities because you are “not gifted”, please first read my article on Talents, Wrong Believes & Psychology.

How to create a good blowing technique on the flute

The qualities of sound, dynamics and intonation come from our blowing technique and our aural imagination. The last one is not a technical skill, it is a pure musical skill. This does NOT mean that it cannot be trained! You will learn about the methods of classical ear training later.

For now, let’s focus on the technical aspects first, taking one step after another:

1. Produce some first notes, basic blowing technique (for beginners):

Start producing any notes, no matter what. Do NOT play to a drone or another instrument, do NOT care about intonation or a good sound. Not yet. Just start to get any notes. Start with those who are easiest, and then slowly move on to all the other notes on the Bansuri.

For detailed basic instructions, please have a look at the two videos: “The very first steps”.

You need to try out a bit, because every single note on the Bansuri has it’s own difficult parts, and each individual person will have different issues. So first: find the note which you can produce the easiest, and then move on to the others. This can differ from my suggestions in the two videos about the first steps!

Play around with it, free as a child. Just produce sound. Do not evaluate or judge this sound. Not yet, just fool around a while to get a start.

2. Start to develop a sound

Slowly and naturally you will begin to bear out some sound qualities. Play with it, experiment and research. In case of the flute, especially the bamboo flute, this part is very subtle. Little minute changes at the embouchure turns everything around. More and more you need to concentrate the air-stream on the opposite edge of the blow hole.  And also the aural imagination is very important!

Remember the beautiful sound of the bamboo that inspired you in the first place. Stick to this memory and keep experimenting only on the aspect of sound. Do not care about anything else yet. And also do not worry about finishing this job now. It will take your lifetime, because it is a never ending process of refinement.

3. Develop stability in pitch and volume

Next, when you are at a stage where you can produce a fairly sufficient sound, try to make the notes as even as possible. Try to keep the pitch and the volume of each note even. Do not worry now too much about other aspects. As you are getting a little more comfortable you can switch your focus between 2. (sound quality) and 3. (stability in pitch and volume).

These steps so far are also shown in the video “How to get the sound”

From here on you can add playing long notes. This is a major task to be done for all flute players! Keep focusing you air-stream, aiming at the opposite corner of the embouchure. And always keep in mind, this is a process of refinement. It is never ending, day after day the sound will develop more and more. Strife for perfection, but be aware that ultimately perfect is not possible. Watch out not to end up in the Trap of Perfectionism. Always keep this in mind!

Nevertheless, TRY to make it perfect. TRY to produce a note as even as a computer would generate it. Try it even by knowing that it is impossible. But sooner or later you will succeed to have a certain quality. And this quality, today to you as a total beginner, very likely APPEARS to be perfect, but by the time you will “get it” you will also realize that it is still not perfect!

4. Develop dynamic

As soon as you get a bit comfortable with those steps (and pleeez, do not wait until they are perfect!), you can add the aspect of dynamic. Try to play notes as silent as you can and let them get louder slowly, up to your loudest. Start with the notes in the lower register and then slowly work yourself through the higher register. After a while you can combine and switch the focus forth and back between 1. 2. 3. and 4.

5. Keep the intonation

Especially when playing around with dynamic, we tend to change the pitch quite a lot. It requires another training to keep the intonation while playing softer or louder.

To check on this you can use any tuner device or app. On the page Useful Tools you find some recommendations, if you need.

The exercise I propose now is: play any note, first WITHOUT looking at the tuner! Find the pitch which is most suitable for you. Do not look at the tuner at this point, because the pitch we are looking for now is not the “correct” one according the fixed norms. It is totally dependent on your instrument, the weather (quite a lot, I will write about this later!), and your technique.

We want to find the ideal starting point for you first. Take your time, and also consider to have a note that will sound best to your own taste!

Then you look at the tuner to find out, where this note is. You will see the scale, it will show you the name of the note as used in the western system, and then a + or – some cents.

Now comes the last exercise:

Change the volume and try to keep the intonation the same. Work yourself through all the way to your softest and your loudest note.

Then do the same game with another note. Finally do this with all the notes on the flute.

Those steps are not necessarily chronological. 4. (dynamics) and 5. (intonation) can also be completely swapped. You might start to work in intonation first and then on dynamics. Start with what is easier for you, and later on emphasize the things that are most difficult for you.

Also I suggest you to move back to the earlier aspects once in a while. Naturally you will do, because when exercising such things, we also train our perception. We start to recognize nuances which we were not aware of before, and therefore we naturally will go back to the basics again and again.

Getting ready to make music – Let’s add a drone

This procedure will slowly prepare you for making music. You will develop the technique and with some experience you will be able to identify the tuning you need to play in.

Everybody has a different embouchure, and also the tuning of the flutes change with weather and temperature. So when you use the Indian Bansuri, you always need to tune other instruments according the Bansuri. BUT you have a range of flexibility in Intonation. It only might compromise you comfort, but also the qualities of sound and dynamic.

With a tuner you can find out. You will also recognize: having the intonation even in the lower and upper register of the instrument is sometimes tricky. Depends also on the quality of the flute a bit.

So find your ideal calibration and set up your drone. You can use a Tanpura app, but also you can use a synthesizer to produce a stable sustaining bass note. If you want to try the way of Hindustani Music (North Indian Classical Music), then you need to set the drone to the root note, the “Sa” on the Bansuri. In North Indian Music they use the middle note, the one with all 3 fingers of the left hand (for right-handed player) closing the wholes.

With the sustaining drone we can start to explore different scales, moods, Raags, harmonies, and also we can start to make music.

You might also start to play together with another instrument, but the other player must tune according your flute. Now the musical journey can begin!

Happy practicing and have a nice day,
Michael

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