Quick tip: Tongue Ram or Tongue Thrust

Here's a quick tip regarding the extended technique known as the Tongue Ram (also known as "Tongue Thrust" or "Tongue Stop"). 

To achieve a Tongue Ram, the flutist vibrates the air inside the flute by quickly plugging the embochure hole with the tongue. It's only possible on the lowest octave of the flute. The flutist completely covers the lip plate with their mouth, then "stops" the tongue into the embouchure hole and plugs it up. Blowing fast air into the flute followed by the stop can yield a louder effect. The result is a percussive thud with a pitch that can sound a major 7th to minor 7th lower than the written note.

At the lowest end of the flute, the sounding pitch is a major 7th below the fingered note. Due to the variation in conical head joint design of different flutes, the sounding pitch will become a minor 7th lower than the fingered note as the notes fingered get higher. In the examples below, you will hear that my particular Bass flute sounds a minor 7th lower than fingered note starting at Ab. My C flute flips to minor 7th at A-natural. 

It can be notated like this:

Tongue Ram notation example

Tongue Ram notation example

It sounds like this (1st time = Bass Flute, 2nd time = C Flute):

 

TIPS FOR FLUTISTS:

  • To play a loud Tongue Stop note, you do need to blow harder right before the Stop. If you find that you are getting a Jet Whistle sound, you can try "rolling in" with the flute and it should help reduce the Whistle. 
  • If you are still getting too much air sound or too much jet whistle action, and not enough percussive "thud" sound, you might be trying too hard. It's tempting to ram forcefully but it's usually counterproductive to use a lot of force for this technique (and for most techniques, actually). Aim for a resonant sound rather than a loud one and you might find that the most resonant sound usually yields the loudest and most effective sound. 

TIPS FOR COMPOSERS:

  • This technique will never really be as loud as a normally blown note (unless the flutist is Robert Dick). Always get a live demonstration from a flutist friend instead of relying on recordings such as the one on this blog, since you have no context for dynamics and acoustics in a space.
  • The flutist needs time to prepare before and after a Tongue Ram note. We can only effectively switch from a regularly played note to a tongue ram note (and vice versa) if you give us time to do so. 
  • "Slap Tongue" is a single-reed instrument technique and it is not useful to use this term on any flute part. 
Creative Commons License
This Blog Post (including Image and Sound Recording) by Meerenai Shim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

For more useful tips for flutists and composers, please check out Helen Bledsoe's excellent website. It's one of my favorite flutists' blogs. And of course, the modern flutists' bible: Robert Dick's The Other Flute.

How much does it cost to make a CD?

This is a common question I get from classical musicians. I'm going to do my best to answer it in a way that it's most practical and useful for the classical musician who is serious about producing their own CD. Here's my advice based on my experience.

THE EASY STUFF FIRST

Physical copies of CDs don't seem to change in price. It's about $1000 to manufacture 1000 replicated CDs in a jewel case with a one double-sided page insert. If you want fancier packaging, it can get really expensive but there are many options these days so it helps to do your research! Read more about CD manufacturing, the difference between replication and duplication on the internet. A company I like to use for CD replication is Oasis. The Oasis website is a great place to start to read about the  manufacturing process. Shipping costs from the manufacturer to you may not be trivial. The $1000 number is a good placeholder for ball-parking budgets.

Distribution. If you're going to self-release an album, I recommend going with CD Baby for world-wide physical and digital distribution. They charge a one-time fee per album. You should use the barcode they can assign your album (extra $20, totally worth it). You should also put your album on Bandcamp. (Read up on ISRC codes. You're going to want to use the ones CD Baby assigns for digital distribution on Bandcamp too.) For most classical musicians (performers and composers) the Standard distribution package (currently $59) is what you want (plus the barcode) at CD Baby

OTHER COSTS

Recording, editing, mixing, and mastering costs can vary widely depending on your project.

You need to answer the following in order to estimate your costs. Some questions will lead to more questions as you answer them:

  1. What am I recording? 
  2. How long will each piece take to record?
  3. How long will each piece take to edit and mix?
  4. How much do I need to pay my collaborators?
  5. Is it best to record this in a hall or church or is it better to record in a studio?
  6. How much is the hourly or day rate for the engineer and/or studio?
  7. How much does it cost to rent the perfect hall or church?
  8. Am I going to produce this all by myself or do I need a close colleague or teacher to help me record my best performances at the studio/hall on the day of recording? 

The only way to answer #2 and 3 is to try recording and mixing something. It's a good chance to try a new recording studio or engineer or space. You might be a genius that gets the perfect take every time, the first time, and maybe you never need to edit anything. You might be a perfectionist that needs to record the same thing 20 times and then listen to the takes obsessively over several days before deciding to completely record it again. So a lot of the recording costs depend on you. If you hire the best collaborative pianist in your area, your sessions will go quickly. If you don't hire professional collaborators to record with you, you will waste a lot of time and money on recording/editing/mixing. If it's going to be an entire CD of solo piano music recorded in one location with the same engineer, your mixing process will be pretty quick. If you have mixed percussion or if the instruments are recorded separately, not all at once and in the same room, it's going to take longer to mix. In general, the more instruments, microphones, locations used, the longer it will take to mix. After your experience with recording/editing/mixing one piece, you will have more information to estimate the recording costs for the rest of your album. 

How do you choose a good recording studio or engineer? The best method is to ask around of course. If you're new in town or just don't know anyone, I say evaluate the studio based on the staff. You want someone who is smart, organized, and not lazy to be your engineer. If an engineer seems bothered when they have to get up to add another microphone, Get. Out. ASAP. 

I tried out three local recording studios before I went to Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. Fantasy Studios and all three engineers that work there - I've worked with all three - are the absolute best. (I can go on and on about how great they are but this blog post is not all about them so... Just take my word for it.)

Mastering. Find out who mastered the CDs you like that use the same instruments or style that you will have on your CD. Ask your recording engineer for recommendations too. If your recording/mixing engineer did a great job on mixing AND if the style and instrumentation of the entire CD are similar, the mastering process will not take more than a day in the hands of an experienced mastering engineer. A mastering engineer should be able to give you their hourly rate and an estimate on how many hours your CD will take to master based on length of the entire CD, number of tracks, style and instrumentation. 

Mechanical Licenses. If you composed/published all the music you're recording on the CD, you can skip this paragraph. For everyone else, you need to pay for the Mechanical License to the publisher of the music you are recording unless it's in the public domain or if you are recording a piece for the first time and you have negotiated an alternate arrangement/rate with the composer/publisher. The Harry Fox Agency is the main company that administers these licenses online. If you know the composers or have a direct relationship with the publisher you can ask if you can pay them the license fees directly. In this case you save some money that you don't have to pay Harry Fox. This will require really good record keeping on your end. 

After all this: there's more. Promotion. Getting your CDs reviewed. Etc. These are promotional costs you should consider since it makes no sense to make a great CD that no one gets to hear because they just don't know you recorded and released it. (Maybe I can get a guest blogger to address this! *hint* *hint* Any takers??)

DO MORE RESEARCH

Most of the information I've found on the internet are geared towards indie bands and singer/song-writer types but all those industry how-to's and articles are totally worth reading. Read everything you can. It's all out on the internet for free! Some of my favorite resources for recording or indie-music-ness:


Do you still have specific questions? 

I am available for consultation on certain topics. If I don't know the answer, I'll try to refer you elsewhere. 


Was this article helpful to you? If so, please consider leaving a tip: 

DIY flute key modification

Different C# touch-piece key thing made by Nagahara.

Different C# touch-piece key thing made by Nagahara.

squishy left index finger rest made from a mechanical pencil gel cushion and blue painters' tape.

squishy left index finger rest made from a mechanical pencil gel cushion and blue painters' tape.

Cork plug in my E key. Silicone plugs work too. I just prefer cork.

Cork plug in my E key. Silicone plugs work too. I just prefer cork.

Not every flute or mechanism is the right size/shape for every hand/body. 

On my main flute (the Nagahara Full Concert) I have one permanent modification and a couple that I add now and then: 

After using a plastic "C# key extension" made by Brannen for about an entire year (and having to replace them all the time - at $40 a pop! - because they were made to fit Brannen and not Nagahara) I was still unsure if I wanted to make a permanent change to my flute so I asked my local flute repair wonder-woman Lori Lee to make me a removable but more sturdy metal extension. Lori's contraption worked very well for a while but I finally decided to make a permanent change. I requested a different C# key shape from Nagahara and they were able to replace the old C# very easily. I must not have been the only person to request this modification. The price of the key replacement was LESS than what I spent on replacing the plastic Brannen extensions! In the future, I would make my own temporary C# key extension out of buttons (see below for photos) and save some $ while I decide whether I need to make it permanent.

I found that my high register technique and comfort in my left hand improves a lot when I can bulk up the tube where my left hand touches the flute body. I made a left hand index finger/hand rest by pulling rubbery pencil grips off some mechanical pencils and cutting them lengthwise. The beauty with this material is that it keeps its shape and will fit on a C flute without leaving any marks on the silver. I usually put a piece of masking or painters tape on top of it because the rubber is too tacky sometimes. Some people use a piece of adhesive moleskin padding instead and that works well too but I found that I needed to replace it much more often because it will eventually fall apart or get dirty. On my Sankyo Kingma system flute, I use a piece of plastic flexible tubing I bought from the hardware store instead (see additional photos below).

In my right hand, I usually place a cork plug in my E key because my ring finger naturally wants to drift closer to my middle finger and I have to make an extra effort to cover the hole otherwise. 

Experiments with my new Sankyo Kingma System flute: 

I glued two buttons to each other with glue. The bottom button is taped to the key with double-sided foam tape. This is what I would suggest as a DIY C# key modification.

I glued two buttons to each other with glue. The bottom button is taped to the key with double-sided foam tape. This is what I would suggest as a DIY C# key modification.

Another view of the left index finger/hand rest made with flexible plastic tube that I cut in a hurry with a pair of scissors.

Another view of the left index finger/hand rest made with flexible plastic tube that I cut in a hurry with a pair of scissors.

I had to remove the buttons on this flute in order to actually use all the extra Kingma system keys but here's another view of the buttons. Way cheaper than the plastic Brannen C# extension. 

I had to remove the buttons on this flute in order to actually use all the extra Kingma system keys but here's another view of the buttons. Way cheaper than the plastic Brannen C# extension. 

I use the same plastic tubing on alto and bass flutes but it's not to bulk up the left hand area, it's just for a bit better traction. On these larger instruments, I also use a piece of adhesive moleskin pad where my right thumb touches the flute for comfort.

the plastic tube cut to fit around my Trevor James bass flute for better traction with my left hand

the plastic tube cut to fit around my Trevor James bass flute for better traction with my left hand

another view of the plastic tube part on my bass flute

another view of the plastic tube part on my bass flute

moleskin pad on my bass flute

moleskin pad on my bass flute


For some flutists, an offset G is not the ideal setup. I told myself that I would go back to an inline G on my next flute. But my next flute ended up being a Kingma System Sankyo so an inline G is not possible.  

There is no hard and fast rule about who should have an inline or offset G. Some say that the off-set G is more ergonomic - it might be more ergonomic for some people, but NOT EVERYONE. Those with short fingers should give a flute with an inline G a serious audition (over several days) with fast technical passages in the high register. I've seen/heard those with really long fingers play very well on inline and offset G flutes. I've also seen/heard those with short fingers play very well on both types. Play the flute that works best for you, keep an open mind/ear, and stay aware of your body so that when your hands give you hints that something is not working well, you can make the necessary changes.

One reason that some (especially flute repair pros) might favor the offset G: it's easier to maintain and work on since there's less going on in the main rod. Because of this, I think it's probably easier to manufacture student model flutes with the offset G. I'm speculating that this is why most new student model flutes are offset these days, not because it's more ergonomic than inline G flutes. If anyone has a good explanation other than it's more ergonomic (because I do not buy that reasoning) please let me know!

If I did not play so much contemporary music, I would get a closed-hole or plateau style flute - in which case, it's not as important whether the flute in in-line or offset. 


Two must-read books for musicians

There are many excellent books written for musicians of course. I just want to mention two of them right now.

1) The Musicians Way by Gerald Klickstein

This book should be handed out to all undergraduate music students along with their diplomas when they graduate. Or maybe during their junior year. This book is probably most suited to "classical" music performers but I'm sure it's a worthwhile read for all musicians. Mr. Klickstein also runs a fabulous website with many support materials and articles to help musicians navigate their careers. I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter too. He covers topics such as how to practice, get started in your career, and maintain a musically satisfying career - including how to avoid injury. I can't imagine a better how-to book for the classical musician just starting out in their career.

Gerald Klickstein, is Director of the Music Entrepreneurship & Career Center at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. (He's also an excellent public speaker. I met him at the 2014 Chamber Music America conference when he moderated a panel of concert presenters and artist managers.)

2) Making Your Life as an Artist by Andrew Simonet

This book resonated with me so strongly that I cried while reading the first three chapters. Andrew Simonet is a choreographer and is living the artists' life. He articulates our struggle and reasons for making art so clearly that it makes me completely trust him. So when he hit me over the head with practical and real-world advice about what I need to do to keep on making art, I kept reading carefully. None of his practical advice is new to me. I've heard them many times (manage your time, don't work 24/7, delegate, manage your money, etc.) but this time I think this advice will stick. [I seriously hope so...for my sake.] 

Even if your eyes glaze over at the thought of bookkeeping or time management, I hope you read the book for the first 3 chapters. If you're not an artist-type and want to know what it's like to be an artist, you should read this book too. 

And the best part: this book is available in paperback and as a FREE e-book. Get it!!

Using the iPad to read sheetmusic

(Photo: metroactive.) Reading music on my iPad at Rockage 3.0 in February 2014. Dark stage, no stand light, no problem - one of the perks of using an iPad!

(Photo: metroactive.) Reading music on my iPad at Rockage 3.0 in February 2014. Dark stage, no stand light, no problem - one of the perks of using an iPad!

Lately many of the questions I get asked after a performance have been iPad related. I was going to write up something about using an iPad for reading sheetmusic but my Facebook friends told me about a great blog post by clarinetist Heather Roche. Check it out!

For the record, here's what I use:

  • 30GB Retina Display iPad 
  • AirTurn Bluetooth pedal
  • Gig Easy iPad mount
  • Straight vocal mic stand when I'm performing close to home and a kick drum boom mic stand with short boom for touring (it fits into my suitcase!).