Thursday, December 5, 2013

Do, Re, Mi...

It is a whole different world to study music on your own as opposed to taking a prescribed course of study in a college setting. It is easy to simply focus on the art of performing the music and never go beyond that. 

Lucky for me my teacher loves music theory! Once I was finally ready to explore it, we have worked together. Sometimes I would like to put my flute away and focus entirely on theory for a while. 

This year the opportunity to participate in the Certificate of Merit program as an adult student has pushed me to a more focused study. When I realized an element of it is testing on ear training, I began to freak out a bit. This brought about a discussion of focusing on scales as "Do-Re-Mi" -- I was resistant. I didn't see a need to apply silly names instead of note names, (C-D-E..).

Enter a new app called EarBeater. As soon as I discovered this app, I was thrilled. Here was a way to work on ear training, anywhere, anytime I have a few minutes. Here I can create tests that narrow in on exactly the things I need to work on. And here is where I changed my mind about "Do-Re-Mi."

I started working scale identification: Major (Dorian),  Natural minor (Aolian), Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor. I quickly realized I needed to focus on the intervals between the notes, or rather, the whole and half steps and where they are in the scale. 

This led me to make a little card which gives me a visual representation. With the focus on the relationships of the notes, hearing all different keys of scales...the only answer was "Do-Re-Mi"... And now I see why my teacher advised me to explore it. 

Here's my card: 
The vertical lines are the space of a note. 
Two note names within a space indicate half steps.
Above the lines are "W" and "h" - indicating the scale degrees. For example, a Major scale is W, W, h, W, W, W, h

By looking at the card it is easy to see that Major and Melodic minor will sound the same except for the half step between Re and Mi. Also, Melodic minor and Natural minor are the same except for the half step between So and La, and the whole step between Ti and Do.

A friend of mine just showed me another trick for learning to use Do-Re-Mi.. Curwen hand The senses you can involve in learning, the better!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Air, more air, more air!!

Flutists are an airy bunch: we lose more of the air we put out than other wind instruments. Other wind players blow into their instruments, but we create our notes by bouncing the air across an into the instrument. In fact, part of the skill of playing flute is to direct the air into it as well as across the hole.

As a flutist air capacity has been one of my problems from the very beginning. My teacher would stand there and say "more air, out more air into it!" and I would push,but there was nothing to work with. I have improved, but putting enough air behind a note is still an issue. I am forever running out of air in the middle of a phrase.

My teacher has a new exercise for me: pick an easy note, play it very softly, for as long as you can, until the air is fully exhausted from your lungs...goal: 1 minute. Sounded easy until I tried it. I thought I was blowing for at least 30 seconds....nope. Only 17. Sigh. 

I just had a partial knee replacement (second knee, now both are fixed!), and part of my time in the hospital was breathing into a bottle. The bottle is called an "incentive spirometer." It's purpose is to expand and oxygenate your lungs. Your goal with this little tool is to breathe in through the tube and keep the markers in the right place. It is surprising how difficult it is! I thought I had good deep breathing technique, but not so good as I thought. As I used this tool, I also focused on making a flute embouchure and blowing the air out as long as possible. 

I haven't picked up the flute since my surgery, and all my breathing in the bottle (10 breaths very hour!) but I am eager to see if it is any better.

There are other ways to work on air, so check back to see what I come up with!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Body mapping and balance.

I just spent 90 minutes learning about arm and shoulder pain. It was an excellent webinar presented by Lea Pearson. Lea gave me a whole new way to look at my shoulders, neck and arms. I am eager to try out what I have learned, and hope to come back here and share some helpful insights.

During the seminar I found myself remembering a principle I learned a long time ago. It's so simple to apply, and I have found that many people will automatically experience an immediate benefit when directed correctly. So try this on yourself. It is (in my personal opinion) the foundation of the Alexander Technique. (Learn much more about this from others more experienced than I!)

So, don't try to DO anything, but rather ALLOW your body to follow through. Here's the guideline: "Let your neck be free, with your head floating softly and gently upward, and your shoulders lengthen and broaden".

As a fitness instructor, I have watched literally hundreds of students release tension out of their necks while lifting weights, simply because I said this words to them. Cool, huh?

As a flutist, this principle is just as important! Let your neck be free and balanced on your spine!!!

This is JUST THE TINIEST PART OF THE WHOLE CONCEPT! My intention here is to inspire you to look for more detailed information. I know a great deal about the body, but Lea (and others) know more. Go to the link and start learning!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The "other" side of performance: your accompanist

There is nothing new under the sun. Most likely everything I will say in this post has been said before. However, I feel it is something that isn't put forward enough for amateur and new performers.

YOU are not the ONLY one on stage! Your pianist is your team mate. She has worked just as hard as you have to learn your music. She also much be constantly aware of what nuances you bring to a piece of music. There is a real art to being an accompanist, and not all pianists can do it.

There is also an art to knowing how to rehearse with your accompanist. As the soloist, you need to be ready to communicate various details to you accompanist:

  • You must set the tempo.
  • You are not a metronome, and shouldn't play like one. Music ebbs and flows, and you need to know where you want to speed up or slow down.
  • Are there places where you just need a fraction more time to get through the notes? This must be addressed, too.
  • You need a clear idea of where you are going to take a breath in passages without rests.
  • Dynamics! How loud, how soft, when do you start your crescendo? Are there places where it changes suddenly?
In addition to all of this, there is one more step you need to take: familiarize yourself with the piano part. Don't just listen to it, but sit down with the score and read it through. I wish I could take credit for this final thought, but I can't. I have a recital in 2 days, and my accompanist just said this:

"Music is a conversation between the flute and the piano. Analyze the score so you can understand when each instrument is talking."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ever heard of "Body Mapping?"

If you have been around in the music or fitness world very much, you have probably heard about "body mapping." I have heard of this tool many times and in different ways for years. It is similar to other disciplines like Physio Synthesis, Pilates, Alexander Technique, Feldencrais in the sense that it is a way to align the body and get things working well.

The thing about body mapping is that every article I have read doesn't really give me an understanding of what it is or how it can help me….until now. I got lucky enough to listen in to a webinar on arm and shoulder pain for flutists and violinists presented by Lea Pearson. I learned sooooo much!

I won't try to share what I learned, because that would not be a service to you. Instead I offer a link to Lea's website and hope you will go there and learn something valuable.

So here it is, check it out:

Click HERE for Lea's website.

Click HERE to share your discoveries on my facebook page.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

When a note doesn't speak well.

A common problem for flutists is the note that wheezes or doesn't speak at all. Our lowest and highest notes are usually the ones that challenge us, but others can, too. 

Today I had an experience that reminded me of a very important point: the note that doesn't speak isn't always the culprit! The problem may be the note before or after it, or even several notes away! 

Consider today's challenge: first octave, middle C. The preceding notes were moving donward: A-G-E flat; then the C began a scale moving upward, C-D-E flat-F-G-A ....

When the E flat was wheezing, and the C not speaking at all. Of course my first thought was to focus on C, which is always a challenge. But upon slowing down and playing the preceding notes, I discovered that my left hand fingers were not covering the holes well, and although the G sounded, it wasn't a good note, and as soon as I fixed the G, I no longer had problems with either the E flat or the C. 

So, the next time a note is giving you trouble...take a good look at several ones leading to it and following it. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Holding the Flute in Balance

Recently I ran across something talking about "the Rockstro Grip." I had never heard of it, so went digging around on the web. The result of my research is this excellent article.  Go ahead, read it, or at least skim down it, save the link and come back to read it thoroughly later.

It has changed my position! There isn't really anything in this article that my teacher hasn't told me before. But it's all together in one place, and maybe I have come to a point in my development as a flutist to apply it.

I started playing flute with tendinitis, or maybe arthritis, in both thumbs. My hands would often ache, and that had nothing to do with playing the flute. So I have struggled because it seems my hands just don't go the way they should. 

But today they did. My balance was lovely, my tone was awesome, and I felt a freedom in finger movement that I have never had before. Wow.

Now, go check out "the Rockstro Grip," revolutionize your performance!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Summer Challenge!

It has been a while! I have been focused on healing from knee surgery for the past 3 months. You can read all about that in my blog on that subject:

Now that I have two strong legs to stand on, I am back working on my flute performance. I am going to be taking the CM Test, Level 7 next winter, so there is work to be done!

My teacher has decided to focus on daily practice (for herself) this summer, and I like the idea, so am taking up the challenge. We each post our daily progress on her Facebook Page: Stephanie's Students

                                     ****     ****      ****     ****

On another front, I am working on music theory again. We have been going through "Basics of Keyboard Theory" by Julie McIntosh Johnson. I am doing Levels 5 through 9 simultaneously. Sounds funny, doesn't it?

Here is why and what I am doing. These are really just workbooks. Each book is arranged in the same order: Key Signatures, Scales, Intervals, etc. I worked all the way through book 4, and when I opened up 5, it was frustrating to me to go back and re-learn everything. I felt like I was getting a sample of each subject area, then moving on without really learning it.

So I took Book 5, Key Signatures, did the worksheets, and then moved onto Book 6, 7, 8, and 9. By that time I had actually learned the key signatures, and felt confident with them.

It is really working well for me, except with intervals. My slightly dyslexic brain just rebels at grasping intervals!!!

Since I have been not working on much of anything music-wise for 3 months, this is a good time to step back and attack intervals again. I found a website with great exercises, all very customizable. I first found this site when I wanted a way to quiz myself on key signatures. 

Now I discover they have an app which I can keep on my iPad, so I don't have to be at the computer, or internet connected to study! Sweet.

Now I have the app, and am doing daily practice on intervals. This website is really terrific, and the app is a good deal at $3.99 so I recommend you check it out!
Click here for the website.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Whether you are a beginner or advanced flutist, good articulation is key. It is important to understand the different techniques, and learn them correctly to begin, and later on it's a good idea to be sure you haven't gotten sloppy.

Click here to go to an excellent article on articulation.

Now get out your flute and PRACTICE!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Learning from the Masters

From time to time I run across a YouTube video that offers an opportunity to learn from a Master Flutist. I discovered Emmanuel Pahud a few years ago when I needed a recording of a piece I was learning. I fell in love with his sound, so the other day I was wandering around on YouTube and found this clip from a Masterclass he gave: watch and learn! 

Thursday, May 9, 2013


If you play flute, and you have (or had) a good teacher, you know that proper posture is key to good tone and performance. I am a self-educated expert on posture..not that mine is perfect...but that I know what perfect is/should be, and what muscles lead to it. (Once a Fitness Instructor, always a Fitness Instructor!)

I had the delightful opportunity to go to a Masterclass with Sir James Galway (one of my heros!) and here is what he said: Place your weight on you right foot, lean back slightly onto that leg, and tilt slightly forward at the hip. Tilt your head a bit to the right, but keep the flute at a right angle to your lip. By doing this you have a strong stance, and can move a bit to enhance your performance. The right arm gets a bit of a rest when you are playing for long periods of time.

I tried this stance..but here is the wild thing: I found that FOR ME, I have much better tone when my weight is forward on my left foot, my head erect, lifting from the back of the head, and flute parallel to the floor. (It does make the right arm work more.)

Try placing your weight in various places--left foot, right foot, central on both feet. Try a slight lean from the hip,or a tilt of the head (always maintain flute at 90 degrees to lips). Experiment and explore until you find the right posture to give you beautiful, round tones. 

More Fantastic Discoveries

I love the process of rediscovery...the times when you make a discovery and it feels fresh and new, but you know that it is something you knew before.

Today's discovery is about standing when practicing. I have always disliked having to standup when I play. And as my knee deteriorated, I found I would get too fatigued to stand and practice, so more, and more I reverted to sitting, and only stood to play when performing or at a lesson.  I liked the excuse, and didn't notice that it made much difference. Yeah, sure.

Today was the second time I tried to practice following my partial knee replacement (you can see all about that on my other blog: Partial Knee Replacement: My Experience . I started to practice, with two chairs, one facing me so I could keep my feet up. But that got a little uncomfortable, so I got up on my feet...Wow!! WHAT WAS THAT!?!

My tone changed 100%! It was incredible! Who knew? Well..I guess lots of people know. But after not being able to stand firmly for months, I am seeing months of effort/practice show up all at once!! 

For more information on proper posture, check out my post labeled "Stance"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

About Knees and Shoulders

Who knew that having a partial knee replacement would improve my flute playing? I certainly didn't! For the last 4 years I have had a steadily deteriorating knee due to osteoarthritis. It's not been a big deal until about 6 months ago when it began to catch, lock, and cause sudden bursts of pain. 

Long story short, I eventually found myself in the hands of an excellent surgeon who introduced me to MakoPlasty Partial Knee Replacement...totally awesome. But I get ahead of myself.....

About 9 months ago I noticed I was having more trouble holding up my flute. My shoulders would collapse, my chest would cave in and my right arm would drop. We all KNOW that posture is key to performance/tone/technique. I have always had a weakness in my upper back and shoulders. Until I discovered the world of fitness at the age of 48, I was not able to hold my shoulders back for more than a few seconds at a time. 

In the process of becoming a fitness instructor, I engaged a personal trainer to help me to develop my upper body strength. The process of weight training for strength improved my posture, and ended the pain in my wrists which had developed because of lack of muscle tone of the biceps and triceps. 

Two days ago I made a discovery which is best explained on Day 8 of my other blog, Partial Knee Replacement: My Experience.  

Here is the essence: now that my knee has been repaired, and I am able to stand balanced on both feet, my shoulders no longer droop or become fatigued in a few moments!! Holding up my right arm is suddenly easy. 

Who knew?