Practicing Suzuki’s Tonalization by Timothy Judd, complied and adapted for Flute by September Payne, DMA “Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.” “Tone has a living soul without form.” -Shinichi Suzuki

Tonalization (vocalization) is “the ability to produce and recognize a beautiful, ringing tone.” Dr. Suzuki observed that singers cultivate their voices daily through “vocalization” exercises. He believed that instrumentalists should approach tone in a similar way. Great musicians make their instruments “sing”, developing a concept of tone that is inspired by the natural expression of the human voice.

Tonalization starts when the beginner first draws the bow across the string or blows the "air reed" in the flute. Through continuous, careful repetitions of the first the tone, the physical feeling of creating tone begin to take shape. Throughout Book 1, Suzuki offers scales and Tonalization exercises in the keys of A, D and G. More advanced students and professionals work on tone with three octave scales, arpeggios, thirds, sixths, octaves and more. The quest for the most resonant tone possible never ends. Daily attention to Tonalization leads to improved tone for everything else you play.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you work on Tonalization: Listen. In order to achieve your best tone, start by listening carefully. Consider each note carefully. Don’t ever be completely satisfied. Always assume that an even better tone is around the corner. Dr. Suzuki asks string students to pluck the strings and listen as they ring. He considers this to be the string’s most fundamental and natural sound. As you bow or blow, keep this ringing sound in mind. Play the head joint and try to get the same resonance. Next, challenge yourself to get the same ring on fingered tones, even though these will have a slightly different timbre (or tone color). After the sound stops, listen to how long the ring lasts. Over time, try to increase the length of ring.

Notice that each tone has a beginning, a middle and an end. The air attack or tongue or bow connects and pulls, articulating, gripping at the striking edge (far side of the embouchure hole) and then releasing, allowing the string or tube to ring. Make sure the volume and pressure stays even as a single note is played, or throughout the phrase. Consider what the string bow or air bow has to do. The bow or embouchure can be pressed into the string or embouchure plate, cutting off the instruments ability to vibrate, or it can slip around on the surface, never really catching the string or striking edge of the flute.

Placement of the bow or lips in relation to the bridge in relation to the embouchure hole is important. Consider the bow or air speed. Playing in tune is essential for tonalization. Albert Tipton, former Principal Flute of St. Louis and Detriot Symphonies always reiterated in my lessons that "An in tune sound was a beautiful sound and a beautiful sound was an in tune sound".

Find that one place on the fingerboard where the tone rings. Move your finger slightly higher and lower to see if you can get more ring. For flute find the "sweet spot" on the striking edge. Make sure the posture in the lower, upper body, head and arms are in correct relation to the angle of the flute. Once you find the correct place, take your flute away and try to find it again. Your body memory will begin to remember where it needs to go.

Keep a cushiony, relaxed feeling in your hand. Tension will limit resonance. Develop a visual image of the tone. Allow the flute to ring like a bell. Imagine that the tone has a strong and intense center that is focused like a laser beam. Around this focused center is a soft layer of “ring”. Imagine that you are pushing the sound out of the flute.

Turn on the energy. How you feel inside will impact the way you blow the flute. Practice turning on an attitude of inner energy and vitality. Don’t try to change anything you’re doing technically. Just turn on the energy and it will affect what comes out. Play the room. This is how the unique sounds of the world’s greatest orchestras are developed over time. Listen to how the sound is coming back to you in the room. Treat the room like another musical instrument that you are playing.

Dr. September Payne is Adjunct Flute Professor at San Diego State University, Mesa and Grossmont Colleges, Emeritus.; Founder of Music West Flute Studio located in Carmel Valley, 4S Ranch and San Diego. musicwest@septemberflute.com

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