Making The Flute Sing!  How Does a Player Do This?

by Eileen Gilligan

It all started with the Boehm system flute and the French School of flute playing. The Boehm system made from metal and with larger tone holes enabled a bigger tone and more resonance than the Baroque wooden flute with few keys.

The French School with Taffanel and Gaubert explored timbre, vibrato and a lyrical singing approach to tone and playing. Every note was important and needed to sing through.

Madrigal played by Philippe Gaubert.

This was carried on by Marcel Moyse, no doubt the greatest influence on playing this century. He has written over 32 tutorial books to impart his thinking, musicality, and technical finesse to generations of flute players. His recordings are a legacy to be treasured.

Evening Primrose played by Marcel Moyse. Probably my favourite of his recordings. 

Moyse produced some wonderful students such as William Bennett, Trevor Wye, James Galway, Paula Robison etc. I was truly fortunate to spend two years with William Bennett, and these two years changed everything for me.

J. S. Bach Harpsichord Concerto played by William Bennett. 

It was the first time I heard a tone on the flute that was so rich and intense I thought the flute was going to jump out of his hands, amazing!! This was the start of my never-ending journey to get the flute to sing like a voice and to pursue other instruments characteristics like string players.

To bridge the gap between the inner musical expressive soul and the physical instrument has been my focus every day and has led to the website series The Flautist.

All of Moyse tutorial books are fantastic but he has two books, 24 Little Melodic Studies and Tone Development Through Interpretation that are an amazing resource for players to build a strong foundation on. These books approach expression, articulation, tone, and dynamic control as well as developing the players musical intelligence from two different perspectives. 

24 Little Melodic Studies

The 24 Little Melodic Studies approach expression from the perspective that each study is in a different key, so key colour is developed and learnt. Each study explores different time signatures and important beats of the bar, so the player really gets to understand this and develop a melody and phrase with this in mind. Each study explores different articulations, phrasing traps that a player can fall into such as accenting the wrong notes or beats in an “elephant” or an “I love you”. With every little study Moyse is teaching us to always think about where we are going musically and what we are trying to say musically. They are a true gift to us. By the end of this book, the both times I have been through it, once with Wibb and once coming back after many years away from the flute I was a different player on the other end it. Everything became all about the music and the composer at the end of this book and it changed me both times musically. 

Tone Development Through Interpretation

Tone Development Through Interpretation approaches tone and musicality directly through opera, string, and orchestral extracts as well as some wonderful exercises in the back of this book. Working through this I have found invaluable to compliment the 24 Melodic Studies and enables the player to pursue subtleties and nuances in phrasing and interpretation. In The Flautist series background reference recordings are provided as well as an overview of the extract so the player is fully equipped before commencing the guide on the extract recorded by me. Every extract also has a separate sound file of the extract for the player’s reference. Knowledge is so important to tone, and expression and it also affects the quality of tone we produce as well as the depth of musical insight into our interpretations.

Getting the flute to sing takes everything to be working together at the same time. The body has to be in the right position and open. Breathing has to be full and all the way to the top of the head and you have to feel as though you could sing the phrase you are about to play. Mastering The Flute with William Bennett is a real legacy that Roderick Seed has given the flute community. It encapsulates all William Bennett’s thinking and teaching in one place. This is the third source to get the flute to sing and really the first place a player needs to visit. It explores everything from finding the speaking point of the flute, harmonics extensively because to quote Wibb “if the harmonics are not in tune the sound won’t add up”. It develops flexibility and vocalisation such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. These are just some of what is in the book and what is explored in The Flautist series.

The Flautist

The Flautist was designed to have everything in one place with ease of access to players to develop their tone, interpretation, technical skills and to make educated musical decisions because it is only with knowledge and stretching ourselves can we step outside ourselves and let the music speak.

All guides for Melodious Studies, Tone Development and pieces come with background notes, a sound file played by Eileen, a video guide by Eileen to the study, extract or piece, a reference recording, and a backing track to enable the player to understand the harmonic structure of a piece because too often we listen and think melodically and not also vertically at the same time to truly understand the work we are playing. The site is designed for the player to work at their own pace to master each step toward a beautiful tone and expressive skills.

Here is a sample of one of the guides to the 24 Little Melodic Studies on YouTube:

For lots more content and membership go to the website:

Eileen Gilligan

The Flautist | Facebook | Youtube

Eileen completed a Bachelor of Music in Performance at the Canberra School of Music in 1979 with high distinction under David Cubbin. Eileen was a Commonwealth finalist in the ABC Concerto Competition that same year with the Mozart D Major Flute Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Looking to further her studies internationally Eileen went to Europe and studied with William Bennett (Wibb) in London for 2 years and during this time was accepted as one of 10 people to play for James Galway’s masterclasses in Switzerland.

The time with Wibb focused on tone, expression, colour, control, and legato line. His thinking and musical approach focused on every single note, making it sound beautiful, have life, intensity and meaning. Wibb was taught by Marcel Moyse who wanted the flute to have the same expression and beauty of a singer or violin. 

Eileen is passionate about bringing together into one place “” all her learnings and experience to help others. Utilising the content on the website and YouTube series “The Flautist”. The Flautist explores a vocal lyrical approach to the flute and tone and the challenges in repertoire and flute playing in general. The Flautist delivers the resources for the flute with guides for each piece and tools to assist with the challenges faced by flute players, as well as an understanding of the piece and composer and the era it was written.