Improving Your High Range

Improving Your High Range

Hello, Everyone! Welcome back to the new school year! It's time for all those new challenges that come with returning to our fast-paced, highly competitive world. In band classes, you will likely be asked to play higher, faster and more notes than you may be used to in the past. You may have to worry about chair auditions or challenges. You may be learning to extend your range ever higher.

What is the best way to work on the high range? It really depends on what aspect of high-range playing you are trying to improve. Are you trying to work on your tone, and being able to attack notes individually without cracking? Or are you working on those tricky fingerings, and moving from note to note smoothly?

You CAN work on both of those skills simultaneously, but it would probably be better to think of them separately, at least to begin with.

Let's take a look at technique first. On the road to fast fingers, something else must come first – SOLID FINGERINGS. If you are still learning the fingerings for your high notes, you will want to add only one or two notes a week to the following exercise, or it may get too frustrating.

Exercise #1 - Begin on a B above the staff, and do an ascending chromatic scale to your highest note in quarter notes (at about quarter note = 60), all slurred. Now, were there spots that you had to slow down? Did you hear little “in-between” notes at any point? Now, go back and do the same thing, but this time, slur only one pair of notes at a time, repeat the second note and slur to the next. (i.e. - start on B, then slur to C; re-attack the C and slur to C#, etc.)

When you have gotten the above exercise to the point that you are able to maintain the same tempo throughout, and everything is smooth, with no in-between bobbles, begin working from your highest note, and descending back down with the same paired slurring pattern.

At this point, there are many ways to improve your high-range technique. You can move on to a five-note major scale exercise, such as found in the Taffanel-Gaubert “17 Grands Exercices Journaliers de Mecanisme”. Begin this exercise on G just above the staff, and continue in the 5-note patterns until you reach your highest note.

An alternative to this would be to work on repeating intervals. Exercise #2 - Begin with half step intervals, repeated three times. This exercise will need to be slurred in a 3-note pattern. (i.e. - slur B,C,B; slur C,B,C; slur C, C#, C; slur C#, C, C#; etc.) Once you are comfortable with half steps, begin again with whole steps, then minor thirds and major thirds.

OK, now let's move on and discuss how to practice tone in your high range. Just like in the earlier exercises, I will have you work with patterns of slurred notes. The key to improving high notes is learning where to place your airstream, and that is easiest when you begin with slurs.

We will start with the selection of a one-octave major scale. For our purposes, we will choose F Major, but you may select any scale which begins between the F at the top of the staff and D above the staff.

Exercise #3 – In half notes, begin on the first step of the scale, and slur to the second step. Now, re-attack the first scale step, and this time slur to the third. Back down to the first step and slur to the fourth, continuing this pattern for one octave.

As you are working your way through this one-octave exercise, you will likely get to a point where the second note of the slur will want to crack down an octave, or require a big push of air for it not to crack. The point of this exercise is to find that note, and to adjust your embouchure to hit that note rather than using an increased air stream.

“How do I do that” you ask? In past blog entries, I have discussed that the direction of your airstream plays an important role in being able to change registers smoothly. For instance, in the low range it is best to think of an “eee” embouchure shape and blow air towards your chin. In the high range, it is important to think of an “oooo” embouchure shape, while blowing your airstream more across the flute. Having a free-moving jaw is important!!

Now, try Exercise #3 once more, and this time adjust your embouchure to more of an “oooo” shape while you are slurring to the higher note. Every time you re-attack the bottom note, go back to your “mid-range” embouchure, and adjust to more of an “oooo” shape with every rising note. Get comfortable doing Exercise #3 on all the major scales between F and D. You can even practice this exercise in other scale patterns, such as whole-tone, any of the minor scales, as well as chromatically.

Another suggestion, beyond the major scale exercise, would be to utilize harmonics. Exercise #4 – This entire exercise will be done on a single fingering. Begin with the fingering for Low C. Now, while playing a low C, and keeping that fingering, adjust your embouchure to more of an “oooo” shape, and directing the air across the flute rather than down, until you produce a new note. This note is most likely the first note up in the harmonic series (you can test this by fingering the C in the middle of the staff, and see if it sounds the same as the harmonic note). Now, begin on that first harmonic (still fingering the low C), and again try to adjust your embouchure to more of an “oooo” shape. The next note that will likely be produced is either the second harmonic (a G at the top of the staff), or the third harmonic (a C above the staff).

You can perform Exercise #4 on any of the lowest fingerings on the flute. You will produce a different series of notes on each new fingering. As you rise in the harmonic series, it is important NOT to blow harder, but only adjust your embouchure. Once you have reached the highest harmonic that you can produce COMFORTABLY (without blowing harder or straining your lips), then begin to slur down by the same harmonic intervals that you played on the way up.

As you continue working on Exercise #4, you will find that you will gradually be able to expand your harmonic range, and with it, the ease at which you are able to produce high notes with a clear and beautiful tone.

Happy high notes, Everyone!!