The long awaited Multiphonics part 2! A very long time ago, I wrote a post about multiphonics and why everyone should practice them all the time, promising another post with some tips and tricks I’ve figured out in my own personal practicing with some pieces to motivate you to actually practice them. Here are a list of tips and tricks for multiphonics, in categories.
For soft, low, smaller intervals
- Do not just try to blow in the middle and hope they both come out, start with a much more diffuse sound, and let yourself sound bad.
- If one of the partials won’t come out (particularly the bottom one), blow down way farther than you usually do, while blowing with slow air.
- Blowing down in this way will sometime make you feel like you have a beak, your upper lip will feel like it is divorced your bottom lip.
- If at first you don’t succeed, blow more softly and diffusely, (up and down diffusely, not out of the sides of your mouth)
- A refined multiphonic usually results from having a very forward embochure that is almost ‘regular’ while still blowing widely enough to get both notes.
For octaves and natural harmonic intervals
- Start with octaves. It’s tempting to try to do these all at once, but the other intervals are a lot harder.
- When practicing octaves, start with left hand notes, like C, C# and B. These are more flexible and a little easier to split, in my experience. (Getting them stable is hard, but they’re a good place to start figuring out how to play two notes at once)
- Once your left hand notes are pretty good, continue down the flute to low B. If you have Robert Dick’s Tone through Extended Technique this is nicely laid out in Ex. G.
- With the non-octave intervals, start with 5ths (Ex. I in Tone through Extended Technique). If you can play octaves, you will eventually be able to play 5ths and all the other intervals.
- Even when it seems like you’re just failing over and over at making both notes sound at the same time, you’re learning and growing, so keep doing it for as long as you can stand each day. (Random fact: I practiced only the first interval in Ex. I for weeks, just for a 5 or 10 mins a day, banging my head against the wall, till suddenly one day, it worked. I needed to build up some strength and control, which the daily practice helped me do)
And a last few random tips:
- When playing higher multiphonics (above the treble clef) make sure to play the notes separately and figure out how much air is the minimum required for each note, and make sure to never try to blow less than that.
- When playing really wide intervals, blow for the low note, and sorta squeeze the upper one out. There’s no way to play it like a regular multiphonic, it’s too wide, so really focus on the low note, and don’t underblow. (I think I just made up a new word…)
- If, when playing higher multiphonics, an unwanted lower partial keeps sneaking in, just practice the note you are trying to play a lot. sing it, see where it cracks, find all its limits. This helps you know what your mouth and throat need to be doing for that note to be super stable. You’ll be less likely to drop too low when trying to play the multiphonic.
I have a couple strict criteria for recommending pieces for specific skills. One, it has to be a good piece in general. This is slightly subjective, but I hate playing pieces that don’t really have any value outside of being a teaching piece (A lot of etudes fall into this category). Second, it has to use the skill, or skills enough that you can’t avoid learning them properly. One of my favorite pieces for practicing multiphonics is Afterlight by Robert Dick. It’s focuses a lot on D, in the D-C multiphonic (that was likely your first) octaves, and there are some other not-so-impossible ones too. This piece is bold, and in your face. There are a lot of accented multiphonics that have to speak right away. No wiggling into them in this piece. He also has a lot of dynamics on multiphonics which is also a point in its favor as a teaching piece. I promise, dynamics are possible on multiphonics, just like any other notes. (Remember how hard dynamics were when learning the 3rd octave for the first time? You’ll get them). Another piece I also really like is Fish are Jumping, also by Robert Dick. It uses mostly octave multiphonics, and I think it’s a bit easier to interpret than Afterlight. There’s also an improvised solo at the end of it, which is really fun to mess around with. (It’s also fun, and satisfying as a teacher, to watch someone who’s never improvised embrace this and find out that they are creative musicians).
Other than those two, the rest of the pieces I know with multiphonics use them more passively, not as a dominant sound, but here’s a nice list to help maintain your chops.
Ian Clarke’s Zoom Tube and The Great Train Race
Robert Dick’s Flying Lessons Vol. 1 and 2 -The last couple in Vol. 1 and many in Vol. 2 use a lot of multiphonics, but I think they’re harder than what’s discussed above and aren’t great first pieces.
Gergely Ittzes’s Totem and Multiphonic sound poems -I don’t know these pieces, but I know this flutist is very into multiphonics and these pieces probably use them freely and often.
Wils Offerman’s Honami
Toru’s Takemitsu’s Voice
Here’s a link that has a huge list of contemporary and extended technique repertoire that has several more pieces listed as using multiphonics: http://helenbledsoe.com/erep.html
I hope this is helpful, and if it is, let me know! I love multiphonics, partly because they’re awesome and sound cool, but also because the process of learning them made me explore my flute in a way I never had before. I’ve found new sounds that I’ve never heard used, discovered I could do things that I thought were impossible, and started to look at music in a whole new way. This has inspired me to dig into those pieces with that note or technique that everyone changes because it’s “impossible,” and I’ve discovered that a lot of them really are possible and sound much better as written. I know I’m a better flutist for learning multiphonics, and I think they’ve helped me grow as an artist. I want this for all the flutists I know. Everyone deserves to discover their own creativity and to do something they didn’t know they could.