Vocalisations – a great warm up tool

by Eileen Gilligan

Using the voice, vocal production, and lyrics to help flute players produce a beautiful tone and expression.

Our most natural instrument is our voice and the instrument closest to our musical soul. It makes sense to me to explore and use it as much as possible to bridge the gap between the metal flute and my musical soul.

 Exploring mouth shapes with words and body position when singing has been extremely helpful to me in developing my voice on the flute. Words and lyrics can really open up a lot of space in the mouth and achieve much expression and depth in the tone. Lyrics can help us shape a phrase with elegance and subtlety. 

Watching the world’s best singers carefully we can see they express from their whole body the emotion and the words in order to connect the music to the listener in a profound way. The words are an integral part of the story they are telling and the quality of their vocal production.

A great example of this which I call vocalisations is “The Voice of An Angel” by Takatsugu Muramatsu.

Here is the version with the Lyrics. You can hear there are lots of AHHHH (angel) and OHHHHH (angelorum) shapes which open up the mouth and the lyrics flow expressively with the melody. This is an absolute delight to practice. If the player hits and EEEHHHH it will stick out in this melody in not a very nice fashion.  

Here is another fabulous vocalisation to practice. Caruso by Lucio Dalla which was dedicated to the great tenor Enrico Caruso.

Pavarotti singing Caruso with subtitles. This is also excellent to practice double tonguing bell tones. If you notice his words are our bell tones as they resonate beautifully and ring. I feel this is what Moyse meant by Melodious Study no1 variation 1. They are an extremely musical and versatile tool for us.

The Aria of all Arias, Nessun Dorma, fabulous and challenging Aria to master, the last note is note is not for the faint hearted. The Forte sections require jelly lips and a full open vocal mouth and throat. Much to learn from this Aria.

Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. Amazing inspiration for a flute player. Last note is something to behold.

The Theme to the Aranjuez concerto by Rodrigo in this form is a fabulous vocalisation. I chose an arrangement that was a vocal version with words. I use this also as an extension exercise to the pitch bend low note chromatic exercise in the Foundation Tools section of The Flautist. An example of what happens when you hit an EEEHHH is the climax C. I hit an EEEHH and you can hear it plainly, unfortunate spot musically but I recovered by the next note.  Luckily its not often this happens. It is something that has to be constantly worked at and these vocalisations as warm up tools I find excellent.

Full version available at Music Notes, this is the climax C SECTION.

To develop the skill of firstly meeting the speaking point of the flute with your voice really gives resonance to the tone and then following that with learning to sing in your head the lyrics whilst playing really is a fabulous and productive way to find your voice on the flute. It is another way to practice and focus on telling a story with your playing as well.

Using vocalisations has also enabled me to develop a natural vibrato which changes with the piece and the story I am telling. I believe vibrato comes from the soul and is the musical life force within a note. If everything is in sync (foundation tools) then my vibrato stays as a musical shimmer within the note but is different in each piece.

Here in En Bateau by Claude Debussy it needs to shimmer like sun on the water.

I have found vocalisations a really effective bridging space between Foundation Tools, Melodious Studies and Tone Development Through Interpretation into repertoire. It is also a really good way to find your individuality as the voice being the players natural instrument will guarantee the player doesn’t sound like anyone else, the tone will be uniquely individual. I do however have to work every day at not blowing the flute but bridging the gap between my musical inner expression and the metal flute through my voice, vocal production, and lyrics.

The next step after the foundation material and vocalisations is repertoire like the P. Gaubert Divertissement where the tone has to ring and the vibrato shimmer like gold dust.

theflautist.com has all the Foundation Tools, Melodious Studies, Tone Development and Vocalisations to help the player develop their tone, expression, and voice on the flute. All videos are detailed guides on topics. 

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 “TheFlautist.com” 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.