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Tips for improving finger dexterity?

edited July 2013 in Learning
I keep having issues when playing fast lines. I know playing fast is generally hard, but it seems like my practicing techniques are not working.

I always warm up with scales, and I usually try and hit all 3 octaves in my warm up routine. 

When I am working a difficult line, I usually try and take 1 problematic measure at a time, and play it forwards and backwards in a loop to a metronome, while gradually increasing the tempo. I can work it up to a point where I can play it well. However, when I go back and play it in context to the full piece, I mess it up again.

What are some other tips that I can try to practice fast lines, but retain the muscle memory?


  • You could try memorizing the difficult lines? Also, practice the bars leading in and out of the difficult lines? You might be messing up because you're too busy anticipating what comes next...
  • Make sure your hand position is correct. You can end up with dexterity problems if your hand is too busy supporting the flute through technique flaws.
  • Flautas, your approach is excellent. I find myself trying to transpose the line in 12 keys. It's amazing, once I get to the original line after running the circle of 5th, its much smoother! Like feeling great after a cold shower! 
  • Oh that sounds like a good idea, not to mention it should also help with learning to transpose on the fly.
  • It really gets through all the fingering patterns. Do that with a Mozart Concerto!
  • edited July 2013
    You could even try learning simple melodies to pop songs, just by ear, and then learn to transpose in all 12 keys. It will help more with your dexterity than you think. Your muscle memory is going to learn to react as quickly as your mind, and that's going to help you develop independence between your limbs. 

    Basically, the goal is that your fingering becomes second nature to your thought processing.
  • For a classical flutist a good exercise is to take standard etudes such as Berbiguier and transpose them on sire. For example play the first one as written in C Major. Then play it in G major. Then F major. Just doing this will help a lot. Then try C# major for fun! 
  • edited September 2013
    If you want to be able to play something fast, you have to be able to play it slowly first. Perfectly, with great tone and rhythm. Get it down to a speed where you can play it and find out where that is on the metronome. Then take it down a click or two and play it. Go back to your original temp and see if you can still play it, and gradually go up a click at a time until you can play it perfectly but it feels uncomfortable. The next day lower it a click, play through and go up one click at a time only if you feel comfortable. Start the next day a click or two slower than the previous days' marking. Eventually you will be able to get it up to speed. 

    If your technique is lacking in general, playing scales from Taffanel will remedy that.

    Sometimes I've found just putting it away for a few days and then pulling it out again helps. It's as if my brain was thinking about it even though I wasn't playing it.
  • It's interesting there are various points of view on this one. As always. And it makes sense to chip at it from both ends: 

    1. Play perfectly before you speed-up
    2. Try it at speed and try to keep up

    Both have merit
  • My teacher always made me focus on the hardest lines and even if that was all I looked at for the day she would be satisfied at my lesson.


    Say it's in 4/4 and I have 8 quarter notes. I would slow down, play through it normally then go back to the beginning hold 1 play 2 hold 3 play 4. As I kept practicing I would switch 1 with 2 and 3 with four. Pretty soon my fingers were flying over the flute. 

    Slowing down and getting it right helps a lot. I would suggest playing through it ten times that way, then speed up and just keep the pattern going.


    I hope this helps.

  • Play extremely slow with a metronome with different articulations to be sure your fingers are exact.  If you can't play it smoothly slow, you can't play it fast. 

    Play slow to avoid mistakes, it is harder to relearn over mistakes.
  • There are lots of ways to practice fast sections. One method you might want to try is dividing it into a few tinier phrases and then repeating each little part. Then, when you've solidified one or two little sections, sew them together to see how it sounds. You might also want to look for down beat notes, scale patterns, etc. It helps the learning of the passage go faster. Also, some people find playing it backwards helps.
  • Playing slowly passages is fine but do remember to check that you hold your flute in balance (do check that thumb of the right hand!)...with all these fine hints you should play more fast and freelly....
  • Thanks for the tips everyone! I'm still working on it!
  • Lots of good suggestions. It sounds like you are already on the right track but could be a little impatient on the muscle memory. Do the same routine every day for a week - maybe taking it just a bit faster than it needs to go - and I suspect you'll find success.
  • Generally when flute technical problems come up with fast passages it is because of rushing. It is great you are using a metronome, but it might mean you just need more time working on the passages at a slower pace. Not what you want to hear I know! But, generally not being able to play something up to speed means there is an interval within the passage that is tripping you up every time. Find where all those tricky intervals are by going really really slowly and notice how your hands, shoulders and jaw feel with each change of note. The intervals that are more difficult you will feel more tension in these body areas. This kind of work takes a lot of patience. Best of luck!
    Liz Hennessy.
  • You sound like you are doing everything right. You practice it slowly and get it up to a speed where it works perfectly. I presume when you do it this way it feels relaxed and easy. If not all the tips mentioned above will help make it feel easy. When we slowly increase the tempo of something we are also practicing in a sense of ease and control. Slowly increasing the speed bit by bit allows us to hold onto that sensation. 
    Then we want to put it back into the piece and just before the passage comes we think: eeeeek that tricky passage. We get all tense and all that wonderful relaxed work is out the window. 
    My advice:
    Make sure you are practicing the difficult phrase with a phrase or two that comes before it and do this slowly too. While doing this actively think of releasing tension (especially in the shoulders) and changing your thought patterns to something positive like: I trust myself, I have practiced it and I can play it. I have found that changing the way I think about a passage makes all the difference and this is part if the true beauty of slow practice.Good luck!
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