I first started playing flute scales and technical exercises in high school. By the time I finished college I could nail the major and minor scales and could play my major thirds around the circle of fifths with relatively few problems. What more does a competent flute player need, right? I learned them once, so why should I keep practicing them?
I’ll admit that until recently, technical exercises have rarely found themselves on my music stand. My practicing consisted primarily of learning my parts for the various ensembles I play in. I’ve never felt too bad about this lack of technical study. After all, music is my avocation, it’s not my career. Between my job, my family and maintaining my household, there wasn’t much time left for scales. But I’ve recently taken another look at technical studies and I’m thinking I may have been missing out all these years.
I was reading a thread on the Galway Flute Chat Network about technical exercises when who should join the conversation but Sir James himself. His contribution was in the form of a challenge. The challenge was to work through Marcel Moyse’s Exercises Journiers every day for one month. We were to work on them for one hour a day in fifteen minute intervals spread throughout the day.
Naturally, the challenge created quite a bit of enthusiasm within the chat group. I was eager to sign on. And why wouldn’t I be? Sir James Galway had personally invited me! (Never mind that the other 3,800 members on the chat got the same invitation.)
I lasted about a week. It wasn’t the difficulty of the exercises, although I’d have to say that these were easily the most challenging exercises I’ve ever tackled. It was the time commitment. I’m an amateur. That means I don’t have 60 minutes to devote to exercises each and every day of the week. My time is consumed by work, family and maintaining a home. I choose to spend some of my limited free time playing the flute because I love it, but seven hours a week on scales? Ain’t gonna happen.
Still, I felt bad about my epic failure. And, I was convinced that my seven days of work had paid off. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but it sure seemed like some of those nasty passages in band didn’t feel quite so foreign to my fingers. So, I decided to try the challenge again, but on my own terms. I would work on the exercises for one fifteen minute session per day rather than four. I would take the weekends off. And, I wouldn’t beat myself up if I had to skip a day.
It took me about six months, but I finally made it through all of the exercises. Has my technique improved? Well, a half a year hasn’t turned me into a technical virtuoso, but I definitely see some improvement. When my music contains a finger wrenching passage or a series of multiple octave leaps, the difficulty factor has gone down a notch. I can’t help but wonder where my technique would be if I had been diligent about scales and exercises for the past couple of decades. I’m hoping to make scales and exercises a permanent part of my practice routine, even if it is just fifteen minutes a few times a week.
The Moyse Daily Exercises are definitely not for everyone. They are extremely difficult and should be tackled only by the most accomplished players with plenty of patience to dedicate to the task. Not only are these exercises difficult to play, they’re difficult to find as well. You’re probably not going to find this book on the shelf at your local music store. It’s even difficult to find online, and the copies that are available are expensive. This book is well worth the cost for the advanced flutist who wants to play in the same sandbox as the great Marcel Moyse and Sir James Galway, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Fortunately there are many other flute technique and scale books out there that are suitable for us mere mortals. If you’re looking to improve your flute playing or to move your technique to the next level, consider adding one of the following books to your practice routine.
17 Daily Exercises by Taffanel & Gaubert – The 17 Daily Exercises are the product of two of the greatest flute pedagogues in flute history. This volume has been a standard in flute lessons for over a century. These exercises are suitable for advanced players.
480 Scales and Arpegios by Marcel Moyse – These exercises are for the advanced player.
Exercises Journiers by Marcel Moyse – These exercises are for the very advanced player.
The Flutists Vade Mecum by Walfrid Kujala – Vade Mecum, meaning Go With Me is designed to serve a flutist for a lifetime. 140 pages in length, this volume covers a large volume of material. The Flutists Vade Mecum is suitable for an intermediate to very advanced player.
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