Lessons from a (gasp) Flutist!

Many years ago, I had the privilege of observing the wonderful James Pappoutsakis, of the Boston Symphony, teach a number of flute lessons.  He always began a lesson with long tones, playing the exercise himself and then listening to the student.  Beautiful sound, and singing, were the watchwords.  Here’s one of his long-tone exercises, which I wrote out for bassoon.  This one he called “matching tone exercise.”  The idea was to play the first note – in this case, the high G — until you found a beautiful, singing sound.  Then move to the next semi-tone lower – here, the G-flat – and adjust embouchure, throat and breath to match the sound of the preceding G.  Once you were happy with that, move on to the following note – the F, here.  Always beautiful, and singing, and each note with the same intensity and color as the preceding note.  When you thought you had finished the exercise, he might say “Again, please, but this time as softly as possible.”  And then “Again, please, still softly but with a more (or perhaps less) penetrating tone.” Along the way, if he wasn’t happy with the sound you made on a particular note, Jimmy would politely interrupt and play it himself, inviting you to copy.  The sound he made was magical; just listening to him play a single long note was enthralling.

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