Are you tired of a boring flute practice routine? Consider the benefits of practicing flute harmonics to revitalize your love of playing.
Harmonics can be difficult at first, but they’re an amazing way to improve your sound. You don’t need a ton of time or to be an expert flute player to make harmonics work.
But what are the benefits and how do you practice harmonics?
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What Are Flute Harmonics?
Flute harmonics force you to work on your tone a bit differently. When you play harmonics, you use the fingerings for low notes, like middle C and the notes up to the octave above that. However, you use your air to change the pitch.
This is very similar to how brass players produce different notes. They only have eight (or maybe 16) different possible fingerings. To be able to play multiple octaves, you have to use harmonics.
On the flute, that’s not necessary, but it does offer some fantastic benefits. So why are flute harmonics so good?
1. Better Tone
One of the most significant benefits of practicing flute harmonics is that it can help you work on your tone. A lot of players use chromatic long tones to work on their sound, which is great.
Because harmonics have you use the same fingering to play different pitches, they can help you work on your tone. You have to learn how to center your sound to get the correct pitch.
Trevor Wye includes a page of flute harmonics exercises in the first section of his practice book on tone. Other books in his series also have information on the practice, so they’re very useful for improving how you sound on the flute.
2. Better Intonation
Along with your tone, you can work on your intonation with harmonics. Since you have to hit the correct pitch, you can work on that for your overall playing. A good way to do this is to alternate between the harmonics and the “real” fingerings.
For example, the harmonic series starting on middle C is (using scientific pitch notation): C4, C5, G5, C6, E6, G6, Bb6, etc.
So if you practice this series and go up to any of those other notes, you can switch between the low C fingering and the “regular” fingering for that pitch. If you do that, you can get an idea of how the note is supposed to sound.
Work with a tuner to figure out how far off the note is with the regular and harmonic fingerings. Then, you can work on playing those higher notes more in tune.
3. Quick Warmup
If you’re short on practice time, flute harmonics are a great addition to your warmup routine. You can practice your tone throughout the entire range of the flute in just a few minutes.
While you may want to use chromatic long tones, those can take a while to get you through the whole range. Of course, you can speed things up. But when you practice harmonics, you can go through multiple octaves more quickly.
Doing your harmonics can also help you figure out how your tone is that day. Even if you have more time to practice, an efficient warmup can help direct your practicing for the day. Then, you can make more progress, regardless of your practice schedule.
4. Easy to Memorize
Once you start practicing flute harmonics each day, you can start to memorize the exercises you use. Then, you don’t have to look at a piece of sheet music to go through your practicing.
I know that I get bored if I stand or sit in one spot for too long. Walking around even a small area keeps me engaged. If you’re the same, you may feel like you have to stick to a few exercises. But you can quickly memorize new harmonics to help keep practicing interesting.
Memorizing music isn’t always easy. But a lot of harmonics exercises follow a pattern. Once you learn the pattern, you can play without having to stand at a music stand, so you can practice how you practice best.
5. Get Creative
Once you start to practice flute harmonics, you can do a lot with them. You can make up your own exercises. As a performer, you don’t always get to improvise or create your own music, especially as a classical musician.
But you have so many options when it comes to harmonics. You can turn your repertoire into harmonics exercises. Or you can figure out the melody of a famous pop song and use that.
If that doesn’t work for you, you can just improvise melodies using harmonics. Then, you can continue to use the music that works for you. As you do that, you’ll be able to improve your flute playing overall.
How to Practice Flute Harmonics
Practicing flute harmonics can seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, it will get easier just like any other type of flute exercise.
Whether you’ve never played harmonics or it’s been a while, here are a few tips you can use to get into it.
Choose a Good Exercise
Having a good set of flute harmonics exercises is incredibly important. The exercises can help direct you as you learn how to play harmonics. Sure, you can make up your own exercises, but choose a few to start with.
As I mentioned, I’d recommend getting the Trevor Wye Practice Books for the Flute. The book contains some good examples you can use. I used these exercises in college when I first learned about harmonics, and I still use them today.
But if you find another set of exercises, such as from another book or from a teacher, use those. Make sure they cover the whole range of the flute. Then, you can work on your skills and learn to play harmonics well.
Take It Slowly
You’re learning something new, and you may not sound the best when you first play flute harmonics, especially if it’s also a new flute. Fortunately, you don’t have to sound that great the first few times you play these exercises.
But if you continue to work on your harmonics, you’ll eventually get better. Then, you can keep improving your tone and intonation overall. Like any etude, piece, or exercise, it takes time to learn something.
However, you can follow a system or process to help learn your harmonics. If you want to learn more about how I learn pieces and other music concepts, check out my eBook How to Learn a Piece of Music.
As you know, sounding good at the flute takes time. You can’t just practice something once and expect to play it perfectly. The same applies to harmonics, so don’t just practice them a few times.
Add harmonics to your daily practice routine. You don’t need to practice them for hours, so start with a few minutes each day. I love to play harmonics before I play anything else so that I can figure out how good I’m going to sound that day.
But you may want to use harmonics later on in your practice routine. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you do it. Then, you can improve over the course of time.
Do you practice flute harmonics? If not, will you start to practice them? They’re an excellent addition to a short or long practice session.
Whether you want to work on your tone or simply keep your practicing interesting, you need to use flute harmonics. Be sure to get your copy of the Trevor Wye tone book to get started.