Letter #09: Start by practicing vibrato
When you play a flute with vibrato (or play with a vibrator, as luck has it), the note you play seems to tremble with in your breath. It's pure joy and it's how I'm getting myself to practice.
Roberts’ Green Letter: An idea a day to transform industry.
Join today! You’ll be glad you started with the vibrato.
Dear friends and colleagues,
I’ll always remember my last run of my first day on downhill skis, at age six.
All day I sidestepped up the red carpet on the flattest part of the bunny slope at Willard Mountain.
All day my instructor in the Star Program guided me downhill in my pizza slice, turn, turn, turn, to the bottom.
I was standing at the top for the last run. Instructor Bill said “What do you want to do this run?”
I pointed myself downhill, straightened my skis, and pushed off.
Zoom! To the bottom and my waiting dad. “Did you see that?”
Going for the joy in that run was the start of my lifelong love of downhill skiing.
About two years ago I bought a brand-new, concert-quality flute.
It was a big expense, especially so since I bought up a tier in quality from what they hand 4th graders in school Band class.
Now and then I would still pick up the flute I played in band in junior high school. I picked up flute so fast that from 4th to 6th grade I was “first chair” in flute section in Band class, front of the stage in an only-female sea of woodwinds.
What toppled me from my lofty position was that I didn’t practice. I’d pull out my music stand and sheet music and work through it enough to get by in rehearsals to the standards of Ms. Kyler, but something stalled in me.
Practicing at home, I’d get bored, start yawning, and pack it up. Meanwhile, Tara Dewey and Colleen Dwyer were exemplars in cheerful pigtails and doing homework. While they practiced, I got bumped one chair at a time closer to the line of boys in the trumpet section.
When Tara started doing vibrato I felt sad, though I don’t remember saying it out loud, not that anyone asked.
Mrs. Kyler hadn’t even started me on vibrato, the introduction of audible, rhythmic vibration into a held note.
When I got my new flute, the first thing I did was pull up vibrato lessons on YouTube. I grew up before YouTube. No one had ever taught it to me, and it never occurred to me to ask.
In my mind, to produce vibrato you wriggle your lips in steady rhythm while also holding those same lips in a steady embouchure.
Did you notice that I just described an impossible act? The lips can’t do those two things at once. No wonder I had never done vibrato except by accident.
From videos, I learned that you produce vibrato from the same place you produce everything in life—from the breath. You are wiggling something in the body. But instead of your lips, it’s your diaphragm you push and release, push and release, to move more or less air through your steady embouchure.
Start with slow, long variations and then speed them up. A whole note for a beginner. A virtuoso flutist doesn’t even need more than a sixteenth-note to display vibrato.
The note itself seems to vibrate. Is it mirroring the trembling in your breath, or is it the other way around?
Perhaps someday my flute music will sound like that. Till then I practice.
I only practice here and there, and I haven’t given myself much structure. Maybe I will. But in starting with vibrato, the joyful skill that left me saddened the last time I left off flute, I’m giving myself greater motivation to practice.
To be drawn to play with the flute, rather than marching myself to practice.
Something about learning flute pulls at me. To give it the best chance of success, I’m practicing straightaway on the most joyful part of it I know, the part that left me dispirited around 9th grade.
Or should I practice my guitar more? A beautiful guitar hangs on our wall. I love to sit with Jack at the campfire and write songs…. joy.
Should I get in better shape? My wrists were sore all the time for reason that were hard to diagnose. My yoga practice halted.
Then I met Robin Zander and saw his lessons on how to master a handstand in 20 days…. joy.
This, more than yoga, motivated me to figure out my wrist issue. Now they feel better. And come to think of it, I need to dust off Robin’s e-book. Maybe I’ll also end up fitter.
Whatever project you or your team are stalled on, how can you start practicing vibrato?
Quill Nook Farm
P.S. Tomorrow we go back to yesterday’s Letter, which suggested you might try saying good things out loud more often. You never know when someone might be listening who has just the skillset you need.
Why don’t we?
Are we afraid of giving away a good idea?
Giving them away is how you get more.