Pedagogical Approaches to Extended Techniques

I have been lucky to have teachers that encouraged my love and curiosity for contemporary music since I was a high school student. From my first encounters with Elizabeth Brown’s Trillium and Katherine Hoover’s Kokopeli to my present-day career, I have been inspired by new music and the collaborative composer-performer process. I am equally interested in early, traditional works such as the Bach Partita in A minor and edgy, contemporary works such as Jennifer Higdon’s running the edgE. When I was a student, I dedicated myself to the study and execution of new extended techniques in order to keep up with all of the new repertoire I wanted to play (Ian Clarke, Nicole Chamberlain, Robert Aitken, Wil Offermans, and so many more), but I was first introduced to many of these techniques as a way to improve my traditional flute playing. The study of harmonics develops tone and improves embouchure flexibility; singing and playing can resolve throat tension; flutter tonguing is an excellent tool for developing a strong and steady air stream, just to name a few examples.

Given these benefits and the fact that the modern-day flutist must be equally well-versed in early music performance practices and contemporary techniques, I begin introducing extended techniques to students as young as 12 or 13. Extended techniques and the study of contemporary works are also an essential part of my university flute curriculum. Whether you are a student yourself or a teacher of middle school, high school, or college-aged flutists, this is a great place to get started with extended techniques and new music.

Common Types of Extended Techniques and Basic Approach/Use

  • Flutter Tonguing: Finger the indicated pitch and roll your tongue (rolled “R”) while blowing through a traditional flute embouchure. Another common method is the growling technique in which you gargle the back of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while blowing through a traditional flute embouchure. This technique can be used while practicing Taffanel & Gaubert technical exercises to develop a strong, steady air stream.
  • Jet Whistle: Finger the indicated pitch and seal your lips around the lip plate. Without rolling the flute in, but rather keeping the embouchure hole facing upward, use extreme force to blow into the embouchure hole. Do not allow the cheeks to puff too much.
  • Tongue Ram(s): Seal your lips around the lip plate. Using strong air, push your tongue between the lips and into the tone hole. When the tongue blocks the entire aperture, thus stopping the strong air stream, it will result in a “thud”. In order to play several tongue rams in a row quickly, the tongue can stop on the back of the top lip and top front teeth rather than stopping in the tone hole.
  • Pitch Bends: Bend the pitch down or up by gradually going flat or sharp. You can do this by rolling the flute in or out, using the embouchure to change the air direction, increasing or decreasing the air pressure, or sliding the fingers off of the open holes. Pitch bending exercises can also be used to improve intonation by bending the pitch above and below a drone. This develops the flutist’s ear and their ability to quickly adjust the pitch up or down using only the embouchure and air stream.
  • Harmonics: Finger the notated pitch on bottom but achieve the notated pitch on top by increasing the air pressure slightly and using more forward lip-position. Practicing harmonics also develops a purer tone and improves embouchure flexibility. Use Trevor Wye’s Tone Book for Flute, Book 1 for excellent harmonic exercises.
  • Pizzicato Tonguing: Use a hard “do” or “tu” articulation over the embouchure hole (not blowing into the embouchure as normal, but slightly more forward). It will result in a percussive effect similar to the sound of a plucked string.
  • Beatboxing (ch, za, ka, ts, shh, boo): Use the notated syllables above/below the notes as the articulation for the notated pitches. This will result in a breathy, percussive effect.
  • Singing and Playing: Sing one notated pitch while playing another notated pitch with a normal flute embouchure. Practice using a step-by-step process. 1. Sing a basic, short pattern while maintaining a flute embouchure (without the flute). 2. Sing the same pattern while blowing out through the flute embouchure (still without the flute). 3. Place the flute in playing position, and play the same pattern you while singing and blowing out through the flute embouchure. This technique is excellent for flutists who are trying to resolve throat noises or throat tension while playing.
  • Speaking and Playing: Speaking can be done either over the open tone hole, or into the flute by covering the tone hole with both lips and speaking into the flute.

Additional Requests in New Music

  • Extended Registers – 4th Octave Notes (C, C#, D, Eb, E, F)
  • Extra-musical Demands – Choreography, Stomping, Props
  • Electronics – Fixed Electronics or Live-Processed Electronics
  • Multimedia – Video, Lighting, Artwork, Dancers

Composers and Flutists to Research 

Instructional Videos

  • Nicole Chamberlain’s YouTube Channel

*Nicole Chamberlain also leads an excellent class titled “Beatboxing to a Better Bach” for college flute studios*

Great Introductory Pieces/Methods

  • Charanga by Michael Colquhoun
  • Crosswalk by Nicole Chamberlain
  • East Wind by Shulamit Ran
  • Great Train Race by Ian Clarke
  • Honami by Wil Offermans
  • Icicle by Robert Aitken
  • Smorgasbord by Nicole Chamberlain
  • Paper Blossoms (PapierBluten): 24 Short Pieces for Flute by Ulrich Gasser
  • Three Beats for Beatboxing Flute by Greg Patillo

This is great place to start, and there is much more to explore! Questions? Feel free to contact me at

Flutist Mary Matthews enjoys an active career as an international soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral flutist and has performed on four continents in venues such as Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Severance Hall, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Fundação Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina in Brazil, Festival Goethe Institut Música Nueva in Bolivia, and Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France. She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician at the Newport Music Festival and is a regular member of the Maryland Wind Festival. Dr. Matthews joined the faculty at Tennessee Tech University’s School of Music as Assistant Professor of Flute in 2018 where she is also a member of the Cumberland Quintet and principal flutist of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.

A sought-after performer of new music, Dr. Matthews has premiered over 30 new works by prominent American composers. She is known for her command of extended techniques and her adventurous programming. In February of 2018, she released the album “Three-Nine Line” on the MSR Classics label in collaboration with flutist-composer Nicole Chamberlain and flutist Matthew Angelo. The album features Nicole Chamberlain’s solo, duo, and trio works for flute. Additionally, she is half of Duo Rossignol with soprano Hillary LaBonte, and the two have been featured at New Music Gathering, the Dairy Arts Center’s Soundscape series, the National Flute Association convention, and the Music by Women Festival. She also performs as a member of the Khemia Ensemble, a 12-member ensemble dedicated to the programming of diverse and innovative repertoire. 

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