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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 9:43 am 
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I posted most of this in response to a question about the Mad for Trad tutor. Afterwards I realized that it might be helpful to a lot of people and so I decided to repost it here. I know it would have been helpful to me four years ago. Let me know what you think, and feel free to add your suggested listening, in the spirit of my list.

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As far as getting the right tone. I really believe that the classical embouchure is not the correct one for Irish flute. There has been a lot of debate lately about "tight" vs. "relaxed" embouchure. Traditionally, Irish flute players use a very tight, thin embouchure, that looks very little like a classical embouchure. Seamus Hernon, the son of reknowned box player P.J. Hernon, and nephew of equally reknowned Galway/Sligo flute player Marcus Hernon told me that Marcus has told him (confusing eh?) that to get the right sound one should pull their lips so tight that the corner of the lips and part of the cheeks hurt like crazy. Keep this up for a couple of months and the muscles will strengthen, the hurt will go away, and one will sound like an Irish flute player. I tried this and it is working. Having examined the embouchures of Hammy Hamilton, Paul McGratten, Colm O'Donnel (Achill), Michael Hurley, Marcus O'Morchu, Harry Bradley, Christy Barry, Laurence Nugent, Joannie Madden, Peter Malloy and asked them questions about their embouchures I find that they all play with very tight, and often somewhat deformed embouchures. Joannie Madden has the strangest embouchure I've seen, probably to compensate for the silver flute, followed by Larry Nugent, who seems to be a lip contortionist.
Now, according to discussion on the Woodenflute list, a lot of people are switiching over a more relaxed embouchure. The one player that is mentioned quite often is Tom Doorly of Danu (who plays a Seery flute, by the way). I really have not seen any evidence of some sort of mass conversion to a relaxed embouchure among top flute players, but I have to admit, playing with a relaxed embouchure would feel pretty nice and makes sense on some levels. However, here's what I personally think is going on with these switches to a relaxed embouchure. Someone like Tom Doorly has been playing the flute with a tight embouchure nearly his entire life. His lips are strong. It doesn't hurt him anymore. He has very, very good control over his tone. Having already built up his muscles and established a good, tight embouchure I think he has the leeway, and the control, to loosen up a little bit and hear an improvement in tonal control. However, I think that if one were going to play with a soft embouchure from the start they'd have a really hard time easily tightening up when necessary. Basically, I think that it only works one way. My theory is that you really have to start with a tight embouchure, establish that, and then, once you've already got a good tone, you can do what you will, but this does not work in reverse. This is just my theory. I may be wrong, but I think I'm probably right.
As for good tutorials. I think the best source for knowledge about flutes is Hammy Hamilton's flute guide. It's not a tutor, per se, but it's darn good anyways. To learn ornamentation and the like, L.E. McCullough's whistle tutorial is probably tme most comprehensive, though don't expect to breeze through it. It starts very basic and ends very advanced.
Another thing is to make sure you're listening to the right kind of playing. I would strongly recommend steering clear of the ensemble playing a la Solas, Lunasa, Dervish. They make for great music and enjoyable listening, but they are sort of misleading for those who don't already have a really firm foundation in the music. There are three reasons that I say this. First, it's often very hard to really hear what the flute and whistle players are doing. Second, this is sort of "rock and roll" traditional music. It's great stuff, but you are almost definately never going to find a session anywhere that sounds even vaguely like that. Third, the tunes are often in very strange keys, in very odd versions. Knowing a tune in a strange key doesn't really impress anyone in a session. It tends to have rather the opposite effect, especially if playing said tune require you to play it on a whistle or flute in a key other than D.
Instead, think about listening to solo flute and whistle players, with very basic accompanyment, a la piano, bodhran or guitar. Try to listen to the older recordings if possible. If you're going to listen to recordings with ensembles, try and find duetes or trios in very traditional settings. Here are some of my recommendations for good listening if you're really interested in playing in a very traditional style:
FLUTE/WHISTLE:
- Mike McHale - The Schoolmaster's House
- Any of Mike and Mary Rafferty's albums
- Catherine McEvoy - Traditional FLute-Music in the Sligo-Roscommon Style
-Josie McDermott - Darby's Farewell
- Anything with Micho Russel
- Marcas O Murchu - O Bheal go Beal
- Gavin Whelan
-Eamonn Cotter - Traditional Irish Music from County Clare
- Anything from Matt Molloy
- Hammy Hamilton - It's No Secret
- Colm O'Donnel - Farewell to the Evening Dances
- Conal O'Grada - Top of the Coom
- John Whynne- With Every Breath
- Paddy Carty - Traditional Irish Music
-Harry Bradley - Bad Turns and Horseshoe Bends
- Paul McGratten - The Frost is all over
- Kevin Crawford - In Good Company
- Frankie Gavin - Up and Away
- Mary Bergin





- The Wheels of the World - Early Irish American Music (featuring John McKenna on flute)

SMALL ENSEMBLE/SESSION/SOME FLUTE OR WHISTLE BUT GREAT TRAD
- The Coleman Archive Vol. 1 - The Living Tradition
- Martin Mulhaire, Seamus Connolly, and Jack Cohen - Warming Up
- Music at Matt Molloy's
- The Mountain Road - A Compilation of tunes popular in South Sligo
- An Historical Recording of Irish Traditional Music from Country Clare and East Galway - Featuring Paddy Canny, P.J. hayes, Peadar O'Loughlin and Bridie Lafferty.
-Folk Music and Dances of Ireland
- A Tribute to Michael Coleman - Joe Burke, Andy McGann, Felix Dolan
- Paddy in the Smoke - Irish Dance Music from a London Pub
- Charlie Piggot and Gerry Harrington - The New Road

My two cents,
Chris

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: ChrisLaughlin on 2001-10-31 12:10 ]</font>


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 10:42 am 
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Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to assist whistle playing but hopeful irish flautists like me. I hope to start my flute playing journey this weekend on my recently acquired Copley blackwood, and your article has given me a good sense of direction. "Nothing good ever came easy".....and some necessary discipline is clearly required for quality irish flute playing. Shortcuts in learning lip/cheek embouchure positioning won't do in the long run, so I for one will be following your good guidance.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 11:08 am 
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You are welcome :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 11:11 am 
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Thank you for the information, it was very helpful to me as well.
/Bryan


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 2:53 pm 
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Thanks for the post.

I'm new and would agree with everything you are saying. I listen to Irish Music constantly but latley have started listening to solo albums. Of late I have been listening allot to Seamus Tansey. I have also heard people recommend listening to other solo instrumental Irish music as well. I recently picked up a Kevin Burke (fiddle) album and enjoy picking out the rolls and cuts.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 3:25 pm 
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CragMc makes a good point. Listening to other instruments besides flute is a very good excercise as well. As you play your flute or whistle imagine that you are playing that other instrument and try to imitate it. I'd say that fiddle and pipes will lead you in the best direction. Beware of concertina and accordian, especially accordian, because there is a risk it will influence you to play in a more choppy style. If that's what you like, then go for it, but the pipes and fiddle will help your playing become more fluid.
He mentioned Kevin Burke on fiddle and Seamus Tansey on flute. I agree with them both completely. One of my favorite Kevin Burke albumsis his recently rereleased "Sweeney's Dream", which was his first album I think. Brilliant stuff. Graceful but with a nice rough edge.
Chris


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2001 9:54 am 
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I would like to add that I got to hear Marcus and P.J. Hernon play at Gaelic Roots at Boston College last June, and I would trust their advise on anything to do with traditional music!

Right now I'm listening to a CD called The Grouse in the Heather, all tunes written by Marcus Hernon, and performed by P.J. and Marcus. I recommend it to anyone looking for some new tunes written/performed in traditional style, or just wanting to listen to some great music.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2001 7:14 pm 
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Thanks, Chris, for a very complete set of good advise. I've been only playing flute for a few months as of yet, but I'll add the following:

Regarding embouchure: I found it helpful to know what the "shape" of the air flow is supposed to be. I read somewhere on the net that a flatter stream of air makes for more reediness, a harder-edged sound, with less airiness, while making the stream rounder makes it sweeter sounding, and with more airiness. So I tried it and found it to be true. It seems to me that the tight embouchure helps get the airstream flatter, giving that harder sound. I myself like that hard sound in the first octave, but I like to sweeten it a little in the second octave, so it's counter-intuitive, but I actually relax my embouchure a little more in the 2nd octave. The hole is smaller, to make the stream faster (while using less air), but it's rounder as well. I can also use a tight embouchure on the upper octave, flattening the airstream, but it makes it sound reedy to the point of piercing.

I also found the key to the second octave finding the sweet spot precisely. Once you found that, the 2nd octave becomes easy. I know I've found it (and I don't always-my improvement these days is in being able to find it more and more consistently) when I can play an exercise where I jump back and forth rapidly between the octaves. Also, the high A and B are in tune with the low A and B, with no conscious lipping necessary.

Speaking of which: My intonation on the high A and B was a problem at first, and still is on my off days. What happens, I've figured out, is that I get a lot of low A and B along with the high A and B when my playing is off. Because I'm blowing faster, the low components of the A and B are quite sharp, and clash with the high components. When I hit these notes right, it's all high A, or high B, and nicely in tune.

Final piece of advise: Always remember to relax your hands as much as possible. Not only does it reduce painful cramping, but it makes you faster. I especially notice a huge difference when playing fast passages with Cnat, B, and A when I consciously relax my hands.


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