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Technology, Innovations & Flutemaking

Colors and Sound

It is surely every flute player’s aim to play and sound as beautiful as possible, and yet I am so often surprised that many players forget to actually practise making beautiful noises.  Tone exercises have for too long appeared boring, with successions of long notes and very little information about how to work at them in order to develop the sound.  Playing with a beautiful and expressive sound along with communicating the music should be the ultimate goal of all musicians and yet this skill is often the area which is left to chance.

In my book “The Expression of Colour,” I have isolated the main components of expressive playing, into 4 sections: colour, dynamic, vibrato and emotion. Each component is explored using some simple exercises and lots of melodies. The ideas will help you develop your communication, making your playing more interesting and breathe life into your performances. They add focus, direction, interest and meaning, and need to be constantly changing in order to adapt to the different needs of the music. 

Learning to control your sound, gives you the choice of how you sound.  We all have the potential to sound individual, because the physical make-up of all of us is original. By learning how to exploit these distinctive characteristics, we can all produce a purely personal sound.

Developing any technique is always much simpler when you know your starting point.  Learn to increase your self-awareness.  Start by asking yourself some simple questions:

 Do you have a clear or unclear sound?
 Is it open or closed?
 If your basic sound was a colour, what colour would it be?
 What image does your sound create?
 What texture does your sound have?
 If your sound was food or drink, what type of food or drink?

There are no right or wrong answers here. This is your chance to listen more critically to the sound that you produce and make decisions about how to describe it.  For example, if you have a light, airy sound with little harmonics, you might call that sound pale yellow to reflect the lightness. If it was a food it could be cheese soufflé, or the texture of cotton wool.  Creating an image helps you define, and then you can work on developing that sound further or changing to something completely different.  Your basic sound may be described as “blue” beef steak or “green” pasta salad!  The possibilities are endless, but by creating these images, we can better understand the sound we make.

These different colours of sound are controlled and also changed by making the inside of our mouths form different shapes.  If we use the concepts used by singers, we need to work on our vowel sounds.  While songs are a combination of vowels and consonants, flute playing is a combination of vowels and articulation. The shapes needed to form vowels are open ones and the shapes to form consonants are closed.  So vowels have the ability to add an open and warm quality and the articulation will create the drive and excitement.  If you pick the vowels from the most forward and open, to the most closed and back, you will get:

oo-oh-ah-ay-eel

As a starting point try singing a simple tune with each of these vowels in turn. Listen to the resulting effects.  Then play a simple tune on your flute and try to re-create those same shapes.  What colour changes do you hear?  With practise they will begin to change how you sound, adding freedom of expression.

If you’ve found this article interesting, please look at the book which fully explores colour, dynamic, vibrato and emotion.

Clare Southworth
September 2010

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