Monday, March 27, 2017

Preparing a Flute Solo: Are You Fighting Frustration?

Are you preparing a flute solo for a performance? Have you become frustrated? Do you feel like your tone has gone into the trash can, your technique out the window, and nothing seems to help? Are you discouraged and wondering if you’ll ever improve?
The first thing you want to explore is the source of your frustration. Mine is completely self-generated. I am motivated by performance. I want every performance to be perfect, and when I feel like I am not moving toward that goal, I get frustrated. It’s silly, I know, but that’s the way I work! Other people become frustrated because they are trying to meet the standards someone else has set for them. 

No matter where your frustration comes from, it does not have to be an on-going part of playing an instrument!  Nevertheless, if you struggle with it like I do, and if you’ve answered yes to any of the opening questions, then this article is just for you! I am going to share some tips that help me, including one I just discovered today, which was my motivation to write this article.
Techniques to fight frustration:  

First apply your scale study techniques–
  • Before you start to play through your solo music, play the scale that matches your key. Play it from the tonic all the way up and down. 
  • Next play it so that you cover the entire range that your music covers. For instance, if your music is in the key of D, and the highest note is a B, then start on low D, go all the way up to the highest B and back down to D.
  • Work your way up and down the scale, staying in the key.
  • Work your way up and down the scale, chromatically. ie: D to D, then D sharp to D sharp, now E to E, etc.
  • Now play it in arpeggios.
Now use your theory: 
  • Go through the music and identify scale progressions in other keys, and practice them.
  • Break your music into short pieces, say 4-12 measures. Then practice ONLY one section a day. Use a metronome and focus on all aspects of that section, rhythm, dynamics, ornaments, finger patterns that trip you up.
  • Go through the piece backward. Start with the last 2 notes. Play them. Make sure they work well together. Then the last 3 notes, then the last 4, and so forth. In doing this you will identify little spots where something is a problem. The fun thing is that usually it will be a surprise where those problems are!
  • Ignore your solo piece for a day, and pick up music that you played as a solo a year or two ago. Play it through, just like you were sight reading. Listen to yourself. You should be very pleasantly surprised and able to see how much more skilled you are, how much easier it is. This is especially effective if it’s something that you had to work at, or had frustration with at the time.

That’s what I did. I played a piece of music from a performance a year ago. It’s not an especially hard piece of music. It wasn’t terribly hard before, it’s just a piece of music I enjoy playing. I didn’t expect anything to happen, and what a surprise!
wow, Wow, WOW!! 
All of a sudden, my fingers flowed with ease.
My dynamics (always a struggle for me) were right on target.
I heard myself and the tone was lovely, full of the right expressions.
It was so much MORE in every way than the last time I performed it.
Best of all, I enjoyed playing it–no frustration, no struggle, just making pretty music.
So now I have a new tool for fighting frustration and discouragement: play something that I haven’t played in a while. When I do that, I re-discover the joy of making music. I see my own progress. Once I’ve done this, it is much, much easier to go back and work on the new piece because I know that one day I can come back to it and find it easy!
These are not all the techniques that exist to fight off frustration. I’m sure you have ones that work well for you. Write a comment and share your own favorite techniques!

New music: Hiking the NaPali Coast

Many years ago we had the opportunity to go to Hawaii. We figured we may never get another chance, so we made it a big trip. We stopped for a day in Oahu, then on to the Big Island for 8 days, and finished up on Kauai for another 5 days. It was a wonderful trip.
While on Kauai our friends who were traveling with us encouraged us to go hike a "short" distance along the fabulous NaPali Coast trail. Now, I am NOT a hiker, but my friend said it was well worth the effort, and we were only going to hike into the first beach area, swim a bit, and then back out.
Two grueling hours later we arrived at the base of the trail to find multiple signs that warned us that the currents in the water were so dangerous that even wading could kill you! I was pretty mad at my friend, because of course, we had to hike back out again! So I sat with my feet in a little stream that came down to the beach, the kids played in the sand, and explored a lava cave, and after a bit we headed back out. 
Here's the wild was the highlight of our stay on Kauai!!! I will never be sorry we spent that time exploring the coast. The views of the ocean were amazing, expecially the first overlook where you can look down onto the beach where they filmed "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta' My Hair." If you ever get to Kauai, go at least that far, you won't regret it.
The saddest thing is that I had a new camera, hadn't installed the film correctly, and when I got home, I discovered a blank roll where my pictures should have been. So all I have now is my memories of the trip, and pictures that other people haved shared.
A friend asked me to write a piece of music for piccolo and guitar. As I began to write for the piccolo, the tone of the instrument took me back to the experience of NaPali.  I've made a video, using photos others have shared, and Sibelius Music Notation software to create the music. It lacks the human quality, but I have not yet recorded it with real people...a CD is in the planning stages. Click on the title below and experience hiking the coast, or remember it, if you've had this opportunity. 
Special thanks go to Armin J Hinterwirth for his photos that capture the hike as I remember it.
If you are interested in purchasing the score, please contact me by sending an email to:
I spent the better part of a year preparing my flute solo music for my recent recital. This was a very big deal to me. After last years’ recital I bought a digital camcorder so I can video and post my performances on YouTube. I had a beautiful piece of music that I loved. I was prepared. Ready to go. Polished and confident. I played, as is usual for me, without being nervous.
And I was disappointed, which brings me to my thoughts for today. How often do we perform and then spend the next minutes, hours, days and sometimes more criticizing ourselves for every little thing that didn’t go as we wanted it to? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why can’t we just be happy with what went right, and move forward? I don’t have the answer.
In spite of my “after-thoughts” I am going to post the video for the world to see. It’s not my best performance of the piece. I started too slowly, and that left me gasping for air in the middle of phrases I KNEW I could play without a breath. Of course, that led to mental distraction. I forgot to maintain good posture in my arms and legs. I forgot to maintain a nice round inner mouth. I forgot to hold my shoulders back and stand tall. I got in a hurry afterward and didn’t take enough time to acknowledge my audience. I look at the video and see an old hunched lady (“why are my shoulders so round? and when did I get so old???–I don’t FEEL that old….usually”). “OW! that note cracked! Oh, dear, I KNOW I can play that phrase without fumbling my fingers! How can I be so BAD after almost EIGHT YEARS!?”
Yeah. If you’ve ever played in a recital, this should sound pretty familiar. The details may be a bit different, maybe it’s your hair, or your outfit….We can all find things about ourselves to criticize.
So what’s my point? It’s this:
1. Forget about yourself, get over it. It’s about sharing, not about perfection.
2. Be happy with the fact you had the courage to get up there and DO IT.
3. Remember there will be other opportunities, and every time will be different.
4. Be willing to accept praise from your listeners. They are looking for your success, not your failure.
5. Focus on what you did RIGHT, and then praise yourself for those things, even if it’s just that you walked up there and didn’t faint or quit!
So here it is, in all it’s imperfection and flaws….my performance of the “Hamburg Sonata in G major,”first movement, by CPE Bach. It’s a lovely piece of music which isn’t played often enough, and in my humble opinion, like the “Minute Waltz” – usually played too fast to let the listener enjoy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Metronome: Monster or Friend?

I find myself in the midst of a diverse group of musicians who are active on twitter. We are composers and performers, students and teachers, amateurs and pros. Recently a conversation about metronomes caught my attention, which led to this collaboration of blogs on the subject.

I fall in the category of amateur. I am also a student and a composer. For this reason, I will tackle the emotional end of metronome use and leave the technical aspects of metronome use to the teachers and pro's to talk about.

My metronome is a source of love and hate; a tool that helps, or a beast to appease. I have been playing flute now for eight years, and was in my 50's when I started so it's quite a different experience than the child student.

My metronome is a merciless taskmaster, tick-tick-ticking and never missing a beat. One little falter of my fingers and I am off the beat--out of sync. And still it just goes on ticking. Pushing me to keep up and in doing so I tense, and miss all the more.
It took my teacher about two years to get me to stop complaining and resisting this beast-tool....and probably four or five years to get me to use it without being told to do so on any kind of a consistent basis. It is only in the last two years that I have come to see the good side, to actually begin to like it.

My current focus is the balanced placement of 4 notes fitting into a single beat. It is invaluable as a tool to make sure I hold a rest long enough. And don't forget those tricky places where the note is on the half-beat! I have found placing a note between the beats ever so much harder that it seems.

Speaking of beats, did you know that every beat has a beginning, a middle and an end? Even those really fast, close-together beats? Oh yes! If you lead the beat and your duet partner hits the tail of the beat, you will be out of sync, even though both of you are technically "on" the beat!

Another challenge, which may only apply to flutists, is the tone in which the metronome ticks. I find it almost impossible to hear over the flute, because the tone/tick is in the same frequency level at the flute range. I think the general tone of a flute contributes to this masking problem.

Here's what I think is happening: Back in "the good old days" of mechanical metronomes, the sound was created by the resonance of the wood casing. Today it is generated by electronics.

I have two metronomes: a Korg MA-30 and an app on my iPad, "Metronome Plus." The Korg is accurate, easy to tote around, has a visual representation of the swinging lever of a mechanical metronome. It has plenty of options for split beats, leading beats, and an earphone input. The iPad app has all of that, plus an option to change the tone of the beats. Even with several tones to choose from, I find it hard to hear. I am waiting for developers to give me a nice bass tone that I can distinguish from my flute!

Nevertheless, this beast-tool is an invaluable resource for anyone who desires to play an instrument. It is the only means to proper note placement. As a composer, when I put music into notation, I have a reason for every beat and portion of a beat. I don't want the performer to change my rhythmic choices. So I try to perform other composers work with as much accuracy as I can possibly manage.

Bottom line: if you chose to play an instrument, proper note placement is just as important as your tone, air, bowing technique, or fingerings. Yes, the metronome is an unfeeling, relentless little beast. Embrace it, love it, and get beyond the tension. It is your friend.
Read more on metronomes: I will be adding here over the next several days links to the other collaborators on this project. So check back for links! First up: 
  • Erica Sipes Click on her name to go to her blog site: "Beyond the Notes"
Please note: links for the metronome and iPad app are offered for your convenience, not as a means to generate income for me. 

Practicing Toward Perfection: Part One

The Background, or "Why I Wanted to Write About Practicing."

A couple of years ago, I was faced with a new challenge as a musician. This challenge started me thinking about practicing in a different way. However, when I sat down to write this article, I realized that I needed first to explain my background as a musician. So if you are not interested in the story, and just want the tips, thoughts and links, that will be in Part Two, which will be along in a day or two.

There are advantages to learning an instrument as a child or teen. Children have time. They have someone to push them to practice. There are--(or used to be!)--opportunities to be involved in an orchestra or band at school. When the parents can afford it, there are--(from the students point of view)--free private lessons. By the time the concerns of adult life kick in, you have six or more years of practicing as your background. That's a lot of muscle memory! 

It's different when you start your music career as an adult. You have to fit in practice around the mundane: dishes, laundry, errands, yard work, spouse, a day job, family and more. That means making the most of your time.
I returned to the world of making music late in life, and had the good fortune to find a teacher skilled at teaching adults. I had been going along for a few years, learning music for annual recitals, and to perform at or two pieces at a time. That all changed a couple years ago when my teacher said: "I think you should consider giving a full recital."

It sent chills down my spine! I'm don't have the energy than I did 35 years ago. My hands ache often, and it takes me longer to learn than it did when I was college age. I have people around me who depend on me to keep the household running. Cooking, cleaning, errands, yardwork all take my limited time and energy!

I couldn't imagine how I was going to be able to work on more than one piece of music at a time!! As it turned out, I learned the music, but after sliding the deadline back multiple times, I decided I didn't need to do the full, one-hour recital. It would have been quite expensive, by the time I rented a hall, paid an accompanist. Where would I find an audience? When you're in school the hall/accompanist/audience are all "built-in." 

I did get to perform all the pieces I learned, but not all at once. I enjoyed the challenge and learned a lot about practicing along the way.

So that's the background. I am an adult student, with arthritis in my hands, and a busy life. I've been working at playing the flute for 11 years. I have written and published 10 pieces of music for flute and piccolo, and am working on more. (Check back for details on purchasing "Musical Journeys" or "Aurora Borealis: A Trio of Solos for Piccolo or Flute.")

Practice is the foundation to being a good musician.

That is what has led me to write about practicing. How does anyone work on more than one piece of music at a time?  How do I keep track of it all? How do I use my limited time effectively? Those are the things to be addressed in Part Two.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Looking for new music?

I have written some nice 3-4 minute recital pieces for intermediate flutists.

"Musical Journeys" is a collection of 7 pieces with piano accompaniments.
"Aurora Borealis: a trio of solos for piccolo or flute" is a suite of 3 unique pieces, designed to be played without accompaniment, allowing the piccolo or flute to show it's singular beauty on its own.

You can hear samples of the music on my Youtube Page

Interested? Email me at

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I just ran across a sheet of paper in my files and thought it worthy of sharing. It's from 3/10

"If I've learned nothing else, it's that time and practice equal achievement." 
         - Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography

"Talent is only a starting point." 
          - Irving Berlin

"One day of practice is like one day of clean living. It doesn't do you any good."
          - Abe Lemons, basketball player and coach

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
          - Beverly Sills

This final quote is attributed to "Tim Duncan, basketball player, quoting his mother" - but I am sure I have heard it elsewhere as well. No matter who said it first, it is still a valuable thought:

"Good - Better - Best.
Never let it rest, 
Your Good is Better,
Your Better is Best."

Now, go practice!!