Repertoire Notes: Low flute repertoire – where to start?

Carla Rees gives advice on how to get going with low flute repertoire.
Many players come to low flutes through flute choirs or just because of the love of their deeper tone. However, for many, knowing where to start with repertoire can be difficult, since many of the titles are unfamiliar, and often hard to find in music shops. Here I’ll make a few suggestions as a starting point – but feel free to get in touch with any questions.

I can’t stress enough at the beginning that the alto and bass flute require different playing techniques from the C flute if you are going to get the most out of them. That means that no matter how good you are on the C flute, it is always worth treating yourself like a beginner on low flutes when you first get them, and don’t try to run before you can walk. Start with easy studies and pieces (and don’t forget technical exercises!) and gradually build up the difficulty level as you get used to managing the air flow.

Most flute etudes will work fine on alto and bass, but go at least one level easier than you would on the flute, and play one notch slower (two notches for the bass) to allow for the response of the instrument. For specialist low flute etudes I use:
Emma Rogers – The Big Picture - written especially for people converting to the alto flute for the first time, these studies are a great starting point, and they work on bass too. There are four simple studies and then four more complicated variations, and a duet at the end.
Andrzej Kwiatkowski-Kasnakow – Suites - this excellent book of 16 studies (10 for alto and 6 for bass, although they can all be played on both) is a little more challenging, with each study focussing on a different area of technique. Well written and good fun to play.
Bach Cello Suites (arr Carla Rees) - I made these arrangements because I find Bach is a fantastic composer for learning how to manage the air flow effectively. The Cello Suites have it all – easy movements, technical challenges, melodic lines, breathing challenges, intervals – you can’t get better studies for low flutes than these. There are specific versions for alto flute and bass flute and two volumes of each.

Solo repertoire
Again, solo flute pieces can work well on alto or bass. Try things like Syrinx or Bach's solo sonata. For pieces specifically written for low flutes, try:
She Cried by Shiva Feshareki is a popular starting point for bass flute. Originally written for untrained female voice, it has a simple but expressive melodic line in a contemporary language which exploits the fragility of the bass flute’s tone.
For alto, David Bennett Thomas’ Steeples in My Soul has proved a good start. It’s around Grade 7-8 and has a jazz inflected language which leads the way into contemporary repertoire
Listen to ithere

With Piano
Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is a favourite with flute players, and this arrangement for alto flute brings the melody back into the lower range.
For both alto and bass flute, Zipoli Aria is a simple, and beautiful baroque melody that is great for developing tone.

With electronics
Low flutes go brilliantly with electronics, and it doesn’t need to be complicated! Michael Oliva’s works are a fantastic starting point – try Moss Garden for bass flute or Threnody for alto flute. The electronics are provided by download and only minimal equipment is required. Give it a go!

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