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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: June 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Music Teaching Resources - A Great Online Resource for Flute Teachers

I was approached by Robert Hylton of to review the vast assortment of worksheets that he and Ken make available on their website. As a private flute teacher, I have been looking for a cheap resource like this for quite some time so I was very excited to be given this opportunity to review the worksheets.

Many of my students that come to me do not have a good theory background, which is why incorporating music theory instruction into their flute lessons is so important to me. If you know just a little bit of theory, you will waste a lot less time working on technical studies and repertoire. With my older students, I prefer to spend a lot of lesson time analyzing new technical exercises to help the students make sense of them and to allow for greater freedom in playing. I explain the theoretical concept (such as scales or triads), but often the student continues to have trouble identifying those same elements in the next lesson. This is where comes in.

For example, if I wanted to spend a lesson introducing a student to Taffanel and Gaubert E.J. 1 (from 17 Big Daily Exercises) but I knew the student had a very limited grasp of key signatures, I would use the block of worksheets on major scales and key signatures. Using these worksheets help me to explain the concept in an individualized way while reinforcing the topic by having the student complete a worksheet (or two) during the week. Since the student is already seeing the key signatures every day as they practice E.J. 1, the use of these worksheets will enable faster progress because the student is thinking about scale construction.

Approaching the technical exercise this way also allows the student to begin memorizing the exercise as well since they can start going beyond the notes and start memorizing based on the key signature. I can keep reemphasizing key signatures every week because there are enough worksheets to work on this throughout several lessons. With this study, the student has not only learned a little about music theory, but they're becoming more technically fluent on the instrument and they've improved their memorization skills. Both student and teacher are happy!

Key signatures, major and minor scales, interval identification, and chord and triad constructions are all concepts I work on my students at various stages. Robert and Ken have easy to use worksheets for all of these topics! For my more adventurous students, I especially like the Pentatonic and Blues scales handouts. Robert and Ken have done a great job of organizing the worksheets so that they are easily accessible. Now instead of wasting precious time searching online for worksheets that I can use, these handouts are in PDF format and can be printed instantly. The handouts do a great job of tying together all of what I teach in a lesson.

The resources rate 4 out of 5 stars. The only con is the lack of a handout that provides succinct summaries of the topics being discussed. There also appears to be no logical sequencing to the files themselves, but this is only a minor issue especially if you make a binder of all the handouts. You can go to and download free pages. It's only $18 to download all the resources currently available with no restrictions on the number of copies you can make. It's well worth the money to be able to provide cheap handouts to your students while saving time!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Leone Buyse - What Makes a True Artist?

I'll be performing at the Ithaca Flute Institute later this week, and I thought I'd bring to you some wonderful words of wisdom from Leone Buyse, one of the faculty members at the institute. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Active Breathing

I have just recently began exploring the concept that Nina Perlove discusses in the video above with the help of Dr. Christine Moulton, who teaches at Mansfield University. I had never heard of this way of breathing prior to Dr. Moulton discussing it with me, and I find that this way of breathing is much more natural and frees the sound and the player.

This method of breathing is a little controversial which is why so many of us flutists haven't heard about it. I worked on breathing a lot in college, and exploring this new method has actually improved things in my playing that have always driven me nuts.

I find the concept extremely interesting. I'll post more in the future as I do further research on the topic. For now, enjoy the video and please comment with any thoughts you may have!

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jean Pierre Rampal - Debussy Syrinx

Totally different from Moyse and Robison, who was a student of Moyse. Personality!

Paula Robison, flute - Syrinx by Claude Debussy

Marcel Moyse plays Debussy Syrinx

Speaking of personality...

The Personality of a Musician - A Deeper Look

“Being academically and musically correct, yet having a distinct personality is the goal. Difficult, but possible. Too many lose the personality.”

The other day, one of my former teachers Patricia George with whom I studied with in the summer of 2002 at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival and again in 2003 at a masterclass, posted on Facebook the very succinct and accurate statement above. The general consensus from the responses to this statement was one of teaching students to think for themselves, to make their own choices before letting another’s influence them. I interpreted this more deeply: you cannot strike your own way as a musician unless you have personality. You have to have the confidence and courage to make your own way.

Without education, there is no chance of success as a classical musician. There is continuous discussion on whether one has “it” and whether that increases their chances for success. As someone who has worked really hard to become a flute player and a musician, I don’t think I have “it” but those of us less fortunate but still have talent can still find our personality and make smart choices in the music we share.

Personality will make you stand out from the crowd. There are SO many flute players in today’s world with the same dreams that finding a niche is essential. For some, it seems to happen overnight and for others, it takes years. To make that niche-finding process easier, not worrying about what others think and owning the music will help get you there faster.

One of the thoughts I’ve had about regarding my own playing is how I tend to lose myself when attempting to perform under the auspices of a teacher’s interpretation. I’ve studied with wonderful teachers, and their playing inspires me; however, I have to be confident of my abilities in the here and now to play with those influences while adding my own flair. How liberating would the experience be if you injected your own personality into the music and play freely? This is the exact reason we all go to college as music majors. Knowledge is power, and that knowledge frees us to play musically. Musical playing is not often heard among us flute players, and that philosophical point is a topic for another day.

Great teachers prepare their students to find and develop their own personality that will lead to future success. Approach the flute with a good, mindful work ethic and musicality will fall into place. I think Mrs. George’s statement falls into the realm of social commentary. Within the public schools, so much emphasis is placed on standardized testing that today’s young students are not able to think for themselves and explore what interests them in the name of bureaucratic “standards.” Developing a musical personality draws upon what you know and have experienced. Take chances and if you turn out to be wrong, accept your mistake and move on. We are human, we make mistakes, but the successful musician will learn from those mistakes and become successful.

While I’m taking my break between degrees, I’m learning things in my own research and exploration that I wouldn’t have grasped if I had immediately entered grad school. My intent during my undergraduate years was to learn, to become better, and to utilize my knowledge and experience as a budding professional musician. Musicians are a highly educated group of people, but how many have personality? To be musical, you must be personally committed and totally convinced of your skills. Forget the technical aspects, just play and let your personality shine through.

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Memorization: a Few Tips to help the Medicine go down

Most of us flutists hate memorizing anything. Very few are able to easily memorize and must learn a technique that works best for us to be able to go out on stage and perform a piece of music. The way in which you learn (are you a visual or aural learner?) also affects how easily you may be easily to memorize that concerto.

Here are several techniques that musicians utilize. Experiment finding which combination of techniques works best for you by choosing an exercise like Reichert No. 1 from Seven Daily Exercises and memorizing it, always conscious of what leads to the fastest results for you. This is also a good way of finding which type of memorization you're best at, and which type your skill not be as strong.

1) Visual memory. This is usually one of the primary ways we learn how to memorize the first time we are asked to do so (high school marching band, anyone?). Remembering what the page looks like is only one part of the memorization process. More often than not, utilizing visualization as the sole means of memorization will not result in a successful performance in public or in a lesson setting. Most of us don't have a photographic memory so how can we expect to have one if we are relying completely on visualizing the music. How can we make it better?

First, look at what you're playing. What's the tempo marking, time signature, accidentals, odd rhythms, etc.? Once you've answered these questions and sang the passage to yourself, then play the passage. Starting the memorization process with a visualization of the piece is the first step in utilizing a total system of memorization so that you do not go into a performance with a one-dimensional conception of the music. Let's move on to the second type of memorization.

2) Tactile (Muscle) Memory. Many young piano students like memorizing music by remembering where their fingers fall on the keys. As a flutist, this technique is a little difficult and recalling information on the basis of touch alone is a faulty system that does not take into account the total picture. To take advantage of this strategy, silently finger the patterns of steps and leaps on the flute. The visual strategy has already given you the key information, so you can focus more on the intervals with this method. When you've reached the end of the passage, always review what you've just done. This mindfulness will prepare you to move on in your next practice session.

I stress to my students the importance of developing a daily technique practice schedule that incorporates the practice of scales and arpeggios. The best foundation a student can have is all scales and arpeggios memorized in their most basic form. From there, technical exercises become much easier now that we know the fundamental patterns. This leads to a understanding that tonal music is based upon scales and remembering these patterns will make the process of memorizing easier to manage.

3) Aural Memory. Good aural training develops a musician's ear to make this final layer of the memorization process the icing on the cake. For a tonal piece, singing the passage with solfege (I prefer Movable Do) solidifies the pitches in the ear. Once you can hear the pitches in your ear, transferring it to the instrument will be very simple. In tonal music, there are basic tonal patterns such as La-Sol or Do-Re-Mi that are easily played on the instrument. If you already know your scales, you can play those tonal patterns in any key.

For more modern pieces that are not easy to sing with solfege, learn the piece with the music first in order to easily familiarize yourself with the pitches. Go back to the visual memory strategy and analyze the piece as well. Again, just as with either of the other two strategies, beware of relying too heavily on just one. You may memorize a piece and be able to hear the opening phrase in your ear beautifully, but fail miserably to communicate the phrase in a performance setting.

Memorization is a very useful tool that can be used to communicate music more powerfully. Combining all three strategies saves flutists time and stress. If your visual memorization fails you in a performance, rely on your aural memory and vice versa. The more tools we utilize to memorize one thing, the better our chances of success.

I remember memorizing the first half of the Jolivet Concerto for a competition. I used all three strategies to memorize, but when it came time to perform the piece in the semi-final round, I relied heavily on my aural memory. Several sections did not go very well, and strengthening my visual memory of the piece would have solved many of my problems. But as with each new piece you memorize, your method is a work in progress. So keep practicing!Here are a few more resources to check out in your pursuit of learning to be a better memorizer: (this isn't music related; however, it discusses multi-sensory learning techniques)

Yoga Breathing & Warm-Ups : Yoga Three-Part Breath

The immediate effects of yoga are noticable--a more relaxed state, more energy, and a feeling of openness. Many flutists begin their yoga practice in a quest to improve breathing technique and to learn relaxation techniques to ease performance anxiety. Watch the video linked below on the Three Part Yoga Breath. This is a good place to start if you're new to yoga and would like to see how your breathing technique might benefit from yoga breathing.I highly recommend finding a local teacher to begin your practice.

You will gain the greatest benefit by having a guide. I started my yoga practice almost 7 months ago in a quest to destress, but now I'm on a quest to see how continued practice can benefit flute playing.

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