While you're at it ---> Get the free printable to help you while you practice!
If you struggle to make it through a musical phrase (or a measure!) without taking a breath, this video is for you! Click below to get started!!
While you're at it ---> Get the free printable to help you while you practice!
Are you new to the flute?? Such an exciting time!! In this video I'll guide you through all of the steps you need to know from opening your flute case for the first time to putting it together and finally to holding it correctly.
Have you learned any other assembling and holding tips from your teacher? Leave them in the comments below!
Today, I’d like to introduce myself to you and give you a little peek into my background! I hope it gives you some insight and encourages you on your journey.
I grew up in a smallish town—Salem, Missouri. And, let me tell you… we lived in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Like, a “house-surrounded-by-eighty-acres-of-woods” nowhere. Not ideal for a teenager wanting to hang out with her friends (and this was WAY before texting—even before widespread internet, if you can even imagine!)
I started playing flute when I was eleven and took to it quickly. I had a musical family (dad was my band director), and honestly, I didn’t have to work that hard to get first chair in my band most of the time.
You might be thinking--- oh geez. That must have been so hard. Poor you.
But don’t let my circumstances fool you. Sure, it wasn’t too hard to swing first chair out of the two others in my middle school band… but once I got to high school and started auditioning for things like All-District Band and especially All-State Band, I had a rude awakening.
My natural ability wasn’t cutting it anymore. And I had no clue how to practice—or even how to make myself practice.
So, you can only imagine what happened when I stepped into my first All State Band audition.
Had I prepared? A little. Did I know what I was getting myself into? NO.
I wasn’t prepared for the hundreds of other flute players who would be there—sounding AMAZing. This freaked me out so much that I actually blacked out during my audition. I have no idea what came out of my flute—or if anything came out at all! All I know is that I didn’t make call-backs, and I was so down on myself about it.
It didn’t have to be.
If I knew then what I know now---and if I had access to experienced flute teachers close by, my audition experiences would have been much smoother. I just needed someone to help me believe I could achieve my goal—and someone to show me how.
It took me about fifteen more years to learn how to prepare well for auditions and combat audition anxiety—and I have to say that I am in a MUCH better place then I was then. However, I want to do everything I can to share my experience with flute players just like you so that you don’t have to walk out of your auditions and performances feeling like you didn’t do as well as you wanted to.
Thank you so much for reading my story! If any of it resonated with you, I hope you will join me and the other flutists in my tribe as we crush those amazing goals you have. Be sure to follow me on YouTube for weekly videos and on Instagram for all of my studio and home life shenanigans. I can’t wait to hang out with you there!
Have an amazing day… and Happy Practicing!
Mastering the notes and rhythms of a piece is only one small part of learning music. Much more artistry lies in the ability to convey the style and message the composer intended. Do you know who composed your piece? Do you know when in history that composer lived and penned the music you are playing? Do you know the ins and outs of that particular period of music history?
When I was a young high-school and college music student, I rarely spent time thinking about these things. It was my goal to "get-by" with just learning most of the notes and rhythms and trying to pass my juries and perform my recitals without making too many mistakes. I felt like a trained monkey with little to offer in terms of emotion or style. I just wanted to survive without the dreaded violent shaking and blackouts that often plagued my performances..
Well, I'm here to tell you that this is a very sad existence. Music is so much more than playing everything "perfectly" and I guarantee you will glean much more excitement and satisfaction from your musical pursuits if you can enter into the lives and purposes of those who composed the pieces you are learning. Becoming familiar with the social norms and events that were occurring in these time periods adds a whole new layer of understanding and connection your audience (or jury panel) is sure to appreciate.
To explore the historical context of the piece you are learning, here's a handy guide:
1. Research the composer and the musical period in which the piece was written. These times are approximate--there is much debate over the actual dates of each period.
2. Find out the purpose of the music.
3. How does the historical context relate to the performance practice of the piece?
4. If possible, look for recordings from the time period the piece was written, or a modern recording that uses period instruments and styles. As you are listening, make notes about the performer's interpretation.
As you explore the historical context of your piece, here are some handy online resources:
Oxford Music Encyclopedia
Famous Composers by Musical Period
Learn Listening Online
If you are really interested in learning more, go to your local university's music library and start exploring! Most music librarians are very eager to point you in the direction of your research--make good use of their expertise!
I hope this guide is helpful for you in your study--leave me a note in the comments to let me know how your music preparation is going!
Learning New Music: The "Chunking" Method
I can't think of many things more daunting than staring at a new piece of music. Can you relate? Often times, when I'm in such a situation I want to start at the beginning and play through the entire thing without stopping. This leads to extreme frustration when I can't play all of the passages correctly or anywhere near the indicated tempo.
I give up. Defeated, I file the piece of music away in the drawer from which it came and try to never think about it again. Then, every time I hear someone else performing that really cool piece that I really wanted to learn I feel sorry for myself.
Who has time for this kind of apathy? I know one thing for sure: If I don't have a plan before I sit down to tackle a new and challenging piece of music, I will never learn to play the things I really love.
The following is just one of the many ways to break down the goal of learning a new piece into bite-sized manageable chunks. If you find yourself in a similar situation as mine, just follow this easy guide and you'll be on your way to beautiful flute music in no time.
What are you waiting for? Try it now and then leave me a comment to tell me how you did. I'd love to hear your success story!
The "Chunking" Method
1. Gather a pencil, a practice journal/calendar, and your music.
2. Quickly study the form of the piece:
3. Make an simple outline of the large scheme by marking it in the music or drawing it in your practice journal.
4. Set a goal date to have the entire piece learned:
5. Set goal dates for each larger section:
6. Divide each larger section into logical smaller sections
7. Assign goal dates for each smaller section
8. Start learning your first smaller goal section:
9. Once the first section goal is met--move on to the next one and the next until the piece is learned.
Things to Remember
If this list seems overwhelming to you, you are probably over-thinking it. Don't be too detailed in your diagrams and notes in your journal--make it as quick and easy as you can so you can spend your time playing the music.
As you get started on your chunking adventure, keep me updated on your progress! I'd love to know what pieces you are working on and how you are feeling as you meet your goals.
What are Long Tones?
Long Tones are exactly what it sounds like they are. They are a series of long notes usually in a successive descending or ascending pattern.
Why do I need to practice them?
Long tones are used for warm up or any other time when you feel like focusing on your sound. Long tones help get the air moving correctly and allow you to think about the quality/intonation of sound related to the physical placement of your body. Since the long-tone pattern is simple and easily memorized, you will have the brain power to make sure everything else is executed correctly--air intake/production, inner mouth shape, posture, stance, finger placement, etc.
How do I do it?
If you are new to long tones, start small by picking one range of your flute scale to work on at a time, and avoid extremes at first. I've provided a PDF document of what I give to my flutists who are in their first two years of playing. My best advice is to begin in the staff on a b-natural, as indicated in Trevor Wye's Tone Book, moving to a b-flat/a-sharp by slurring with a gentle crescendo--hold out the b-flat/a-sharp until your air is gone. Letting yourself completely run out of air will feel awkward and a little scary at first, but I promise it will get better! Repeat this pair, and then begin on b-flat and move to a in the same manner. Continue these two note groupings down the scale until you reach the bottom of your range--low f or a low c if you're more advanced. The goal of the long tone process is to seamlessly change from one sustained note to another with a steady air stream (i.e. no bumps or waves).
Frequently Asked Questions:
*This is the third part of a three part series on the history of the modern flute. To view Part 2, click here.
The Nineteenth Century
The dawn of the 1800s revealed still more flute transformations. Parisian Claude Laurent designed a glass flute in 1806 that had a purer tone than its wooden counterparts. His new creation weathered humid conditions more easily, reducing the number of leaks that normally occurred. A modified technique of mounting keys used to accommodate the glass medium became the norm among flutes made of wood after the discovery revealed less lateral play in the keys and increased durability.
Two years later, Reverent Frederick Nolan achieved a more even intonation of the flute scale by fashioning open-standing keys and rings to close open keys and regular holes with the same finger. This invention had the added benefit of enabling the flutist to depress only the ring without covering the hole, and thereby closing the connected open key. Many other flute innovators created varying renditions of the flute mechanism adding anywhere up to seventeen keys. Many of these models were played only by the flutist who commissioned the creation never prospering in the general flute-playing public.
Though the push for more accurately pitched chromatic key work and desire for a larger range was intensifying in early to mid-nineteenth century symphonic compositions, many problems still existed in the makeup of the flute. One issue in particular was the lack of projection the wooden flute provided in the growing orchestra of the Romantic period. This was a problem due to the fact that composers began to use the flute as a soloistic voice in the orchestra rather than merely reinforcement for the string sections. Charles Nicholson (1795-1837), an English virtuoso flutist, attempted to use a flute with larger tone holes to remedy this concern, catching the attention of a young flute maker by the name of Theobald Boehm (1794-1881).
The Boehm Flute
Boehm was a 19th century German flute maker, inventor, composer, and flutist. Beginning flute lessons at the age of 16, he quickly outgrew his instructor and went on to become one of the most accomplished flutists of his time, often performing works he had composed. Boehm initially only manufactured and performed on the traditional “German” flutes. These systems were conical bored wooden flutes with anywhere between one and eight keys. While performing several concerts in Europe, the flute maker became quite dissatisfied with his sound and power of projection compared to another flutist who had an instrument with larger tone holes. Consequently, Boehm swiftly returned to his workshop to begin a twenty-year process of redesigning the flute.
Changes to the Boehm System included adding key pillar mounts and rod-axels that transformed the fingering system, a re-spacing and re-sizing of tone holes to more effectively accommodate acoustics, open venting keys to allow for more resonance, adjusting the conical shape of the flute bore to improve the otherwise flattened pitch, and constructing the instrument of silver rather than wood. The new system was not initially accepted in the mainstream flute community though he began performing with it in Munich in the early 1830s due to the reluctance to adopt a new fingering system. Popularity slowly grew, however, and Boehm’s new flute became the standard in England, France, and the United States by the 1850s. By the end of the century, the remainder of Western Europe had come around.
In the years leading up to 1848, Boehm re-worked many of his initial modifications and sold the patent to Godfroy l’aine in France and Rudall & Rose in England. According to researchers Bates and Bohm, “Boehm’s silver flutes were awarded gold and silver medals at the exhibitions in Leipzig (1850), London (1851) and Paris (1855). Though there have been minor tweaks in the key mechanism since then, the overall make-up of the flute remains unchanged even today, over one hundred fifty years later.
For sources, click here.
I'm embarrassed to say that I was around thirty years old before I really knew how important it was to practice for a rehearsal.
This is a bold and humbling statement coming from a woman who has spent the past fourteen years of her life studying the flute and teaching students, but when I think about why it took this long it really does make perfect sense.
When I was younger, music came as naturally to me as drinking water. I can't remember a time when I couldn't harmonize or pick up the rhythm of a song in a snap. I have my musical parents to thank and it made music study through most of high school a breeze. Rarely did I have a need to practice my flute or choir music--just going through it in rehearsal was enough for me--and even then I was often VERY bored.
Thankfully, I was blessed with parents who saw this and decided to take chunks out of their own time and budget to make sure I had a flute teacher (the nearest one was over two hours away...). I LOVED flute lessons. My teacher, Ms. Cowens, challenged me musically and encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone. The one thing I never really got the hang of, however, was practicing.
Though I was able to slip through my high school years without practicing a whole lot, I was always disappointed when I didn't make the All-State Band or when I didn't receive a high enough rating on my solos and ensembles at contest. I always went in with the ability to play the music--but since I had only learned my own part (and even that was a bit shaky)--I never had a full awareness of the grand musical scheme of my piece. Thus, when it came time to perform before judges or an audience, my delivery was anything but convincing as I sheepishly waded through the notes on the page. I don't know WHAT I thought I was playing, but it was definitely not music.
In addition to performing way under my potential, looking back, I know I frustrated many people in my unprepared path. Stumbling through solos while patient pianists waited graciously on their bench, playing my supporting musical line as loudly as I could while another ensemble member actually had the melody line, coming in at the wrong time during band rehearsals because I didn't know how my part fit into the rest of the piece...I could go on and on.
It wasn't until I was in the middle of preparing orchestral auditions that it finally clicked. My professor, Alice Dade, asked me one day what the bassoon was doing while I was playing the flute solo from Beethoven's Leonore Overture.
I was baffled.
Why in the world would I know? I play the FLUTE.
It was then that she asked me to play the excerpt again while she sang the entire bassoon part along with me. All of a sudden I could feel the flow the music was supposed to have--I didn't come in late--and I knew exactly how to tune--all because I had part of the bigger musical picture right there in front of me.
I am a slooooow learner...
Since this fateful day in Professor Dade's studio, I have worked on learning ALL of the piece I am working on. If it's an orchestral excerpt, I learn the whole symphony to the point I can sing along with other parts while I'm listening--and at the very least I learn what is going on during the section I am preparing. If it's a solo with piano accompaniment, I learn what the pianist has in their score. If it's a small chamber ensemble, I learn everyone else's part. I listen to recordings. I look at scores. I record myself. I play with as many quality recordings I can find. I do as much as I can so that when I show up to rehearse with other musical professionals, I am as prepared as I can possibly be. Only then can we use the rehearsal to actually bring the MUSIC out--and not spend all of our time on rhythms, transitions, etc...
If you can relate as someone who struggles with preparedness before a rehearsal, here are some pointers. Even if you don't have time or the equipment to do everything listed, just doing one or two things will improve things drastically.
Collaborative Rehearsals: How To Prepare
1. Learn as Much of the Music as You Can
2. Use Recordings
3. Take Notes as You Prepare
4. Go Forth and Rehearse!
If you've ever had the opportunity to meet someone who is visually impaired, you know that conversing with such a person is a refreshing experience. Personally, I have a lot of appreciation for those who aren't distracted by the visual nature of our world, and namely, our society. But if you've never had the chance to teach music to someone who is blind, you are really missing out!!
I never dreamed I would ever encounter a situation like this--it's a subject that wasn't discussed in my music education courses--and if by chance it actually was, I definitely didn't pay attention. So when I got the call from a colleague who teaches at a local middle school about how he had a blind student who wanted to learn to play the flute--I was more than a little hesitant. How would I teach her? Would I have to feed her everything by rote? Was it even possible for a non-sighted person to play an instrument and read music? I told my friend that I needed a few days to do some research to even consider the possibility of teaching in such a unique circumstance. After talking with several others and doing countless Google searches, I decided it was worth a try. I would give it a few weeks, and if I failed, I would just help the poor girl find a more qualified teacher.
Well, that was a year ago, and I've never been more proud of Lydia and what she has accomplished in such a short amount of time. We've had several challenges: a flute that was in ill repair, practicing roadblocks, and trouble communicating with those who are helping her at school--but all in all I feel like we've done the best we can with what we have--and to me this is a huge success. Our lessons fly by so fast that we are both left wanting more time to continue the learning process. I've enjoyed it SO much, and it has been eye-opening to educate myself about a musical language that, up until last year, I didn't even know existed.
I've compiled the following guides to use if you or someone you know is teaching a non-sighted musician. Researching all of this on your own can be tedious and time consuming, so I hope these resources take a little pressure off--especially if you are a full time school music teacher who doesn't have time to pee, let alone time to search for helpful tools to teach your student!
Please contact me/comment below if you have any questions or if you have additional pointers!
I record all of the music that is to be learned as well as any additional instructions/reminders. Lessons are too short for Lydia to make notes on her electronic braille device, so I spend a few minutes after she leaves to record and email everything to her accessible phone.
2. Drilling the Braille
Learning music is incredibly difficult for even a sighted person. Take away the ability to see and it gets even more interesting. To complicate things further, Braille Music is COMPLETELY different than normal Braille that a blind person reads on an everyday basis--so they are essentially learning TWO new languages instead of just one. It can be quite confusing for the student and requires intense desire to learn. Though I do choose to teach some sections of music by rote--especially if we are running low on time before a performance--I require Lydia to learn everything by reading it for herself and then to translate it to me before we play. I have print copies of all her music so I can help her double check if the transcriptionist did their job correctly.
3. Tactile Aids
Graphic tape is such a wonderful invention--one that I hadn't even heard of before I started teaching my student. This tape can be placed on various points of the instrument to aid the pupil in locating the correct hand position, joint alignment, lip placement, etc.
4. Hands On
With most students I am very careful not to do a lot of touching--blame it on my public school days--but in the case of teaching someone who can't see, touching is unavoidable. I am constantly using touch to remind Lydia how to hold her head, where to place her hands, the shape her tongue needs to form for effective tonguing, and keeping an efficient embouchure formation.
1. Body Awareness
I have never encountered a sighted beginning flute player that has much body awareness--if any. Encountering a beginner who has never had sight is a completely different ball game. Even a year in, we are still going back to the basics of how and where to hold the flute in the air, where the lip plate should rest under the mouth, the angle of the head, etc. As with most things, I'm expecting this challenge to resolve itself over time as Lydia becomes more comfortable with how it feels to play the flute.
2. Describing Music
Visual aids in teaching the nuts and bolts of music are non-existent in our lessons, so I've had to become better at finding a wide range of explanations for everything from the staff, meters, time signatures, to articulations, dynamics, and repeat signs (oddly enough that has been the most confusing so far). I've noticed that Lydia thinks more deeply than any student I've ever had. Once she grasps a concept or learns a certain technique, she never loses it. Her mental capacity blows me away every time we have a lesson, and I know this will serve her well as she continues to memorize more and more music. I haven't tried this yet, but I received some advice early on about making tactile representations of these different musical elements so that a visually impaired student can be "clued in" about what the rest of the ensemble sees in the music.
Again, I'm sure this one will remedy itself with plenty more repetition--but there's something about seeing the notes go by on a page as your reading and playing the music that makes feeling the beat so much easier. Since Lydia must first translate the Braille into the notes and rhythm, memorize it, and then play it, applying rhythmic concepts such as keeping a steady beat have been so much more difficult. We will continue to do as much clapping and counting out loud with a metronome/tapping feet as we possibly can, and my hope is that eventually it will "click" with her.
If you or someone you know has the wonderful opportunity to teach a blind musician, I hope my pointers and resources have helped you in your instruction. I would love to hear your stories, so please leave a comment to join in the conversation!
*This is the second part of a three part series on the history of the modern flute. To view the first part, click here.
In the last half of the seventeenth century, French flutist Jacques Hotteterre (1673-1763) employed significant changes to satisfy this need. He began by adding the d-sharp key in the 1660s, transforming the otherwise keyless mechanism into the one-keyed flute. In order to educate flutists about the new system, he published a tutor method, Principes de la Flute Traversiere, ou Flute de Allemagne in 1707. Another innovative move was to change the bore to from cylindrical to conical starting at the top of the middle joint tapering to the beginning of the foot joint. This radical modification eliminated the shrill quality of the timbre and flattened the pitch by allowing the finger holes to be placed closer together.
Though progress in workmanship was evident in the early eighteenth century, advancement in pitch accuracy was not. Prior to the days of equal temperament, variances in pitch from a=350 to a=500 were common depending on the country of performance and the other instruments in the ensemble. Pitch versatility, therefore, was a necessity. To accommodate this, common flute components of this period included an adjustable head joint tuning cork as well as interchangeable upper middle joints in varying lengths. The latter, called corps de rechange were carried along in separate cases in the event a different pitched instrument was required for a collaborative performance. Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) also invented a head-joint tuning slide that evolved into the tuning method flutists use today.
The Classic Period (1750-1820)
These innovations achieved moderate intonation success, however complicated cross fingerings and impeccably accurate embouchure placements were required to play many of the notes on the flute. There was, unfortunately, little room for amateur ignorance. Consequently, Mozart (1756-1791) primarily wrote in the flute friendly keys of G and D to appease his own sensitive ears. Nevertheless, to the general listening public, poor intonation was an accepted reality. The great skill required to navigate tuning tendencies was taken into consideration whenever a flutist performed.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, London flute makers Pietro Florio (1730-1795), Caleb Gedney (1729-1769), and Richard Potter (1728-1806) introduced several chromatic adjustments to the flute mechanism. The addition of three new keys—g-sharp, b-flat, and f—left c-natural as the only remaining note needed to fill the d-chromatic scale. The flute making trio added the missing c and a c-sharp key in 1774. Though the materials used in constructing the key mechanisms were not widely accepted until the 1790s, evidence of these changes can be observed in Haydn’s music in the second half of the Classic period.
The “German” or “old system” flute was complete with the further contributions of flute designers Dr. J.H. Ribock (1743-1785) and Johann G. Tromlitz (1725-1805). The resulting eight-keyed flute sported a closed c-natural key and an additional f-key (long-f) to more easily facilitate certain slurs. The eight-keyed flute was highly innovative in its time, though the popularity of the one-keyed flute prevailed into the early nineteenth century. The latter was less expensive to manufacture and flutists preferred the familiar fingering system—troubled as it was.
Stay tuned for next week's post all about how Boehm came to the rescue of flutists everywhere!
Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!
For sources, click here.
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