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!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

About Spit and Air..part 1

Recently I have been corresponding with a flute friend about getting enough air into my lungs, and dealing with the spit in my mouth during a solo. I had recently played Massenet's "Meditation" from "Thais" and she was preparing to play it. I found myself thinking our conversation was worth sharing. So here's Part 1.

Question: How do you get enough air in your lungs to manage a long phrase?

Answer: I break phrases an awful lot to breathe. It seems like no matter how much I practice bit, when it gets to performance, I put so much more air into things, that I end up breathing more frequently. My teacher keeps reminding me what one of her teachers told her: "the only ugly note is an unsupported one, better to breathe in the wrong place, than to run out of air."

I have worked a lot on developing the ability to sneak bits of air between notes and not breaking the phrase while I do so. Some of the time, I am able to pull air in through my nose between notes. Like so many things, it takes practice! 

I guess you could say I work at having good supported notes, and maintaining the Essenes of the phrase at the same time. 

Hope this helps! Part 2 will address the spitting part of breathing! And Part 3 will explore other breathing styles, like "circular" breathing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tests!! Thoughts on my first-ever music theory test!

This year I am taking the Music Teachers' Association of California Certificate of Merit test.

I have completed the written exam, which included ear-training elements, and will be participating in the performance element in a couple weeks. The performance part doesn't worry me. I am one of those rare individuals who does not get nervous. Lucky me!

I have nothing to which I can compare my experience taking this test. I certainly wasn't prepared to be in a room with students of other levels, and other instruments, and hearing a boom box play all the different ear-training tests the entire time! (Our classroom had 8 students: 2 flutes, 4 violinists, 2 cellos.) It was terribly distracting.

I found it almost impossible to concentrate on writing Dominant 7th chords (my nemesis!) while a voice was instructing the violinists to determine what era a musical example came from, and then playing the sample twice. (I wanted to stop and listen to the music!)

I also found myself distracted wondering why the violin ear-training offers music on a violin, but the flute has to identify intervals, etc played on a piano? (I have to admit, I am easily distracted.) It just seems odd to me to spend so much time learning the sound of intervals on a piano when I play a flute.

When I began to play the flute, I would have said that I had close relative pitch, from all the years I spent playing piano (never instructed, I just played for the joy of it). It was very surprising to me that my "relative" pitch disappeared when I listened to the flute! The notes sound so different to me! (Maybe this is just a "me" thing?) Anyway, this is why it seemed odd to me that my ear training was linked to a piano sound...especially when I discovered that the violinists were tested on a violin sound!

I also wasn't prepared to wait weeks until the scores would be made available. The written test and the performance portions are scheduled 4 weeks apart, so maybe we have to wait for the results after both portions are completed? I don't know.

Well, it's a journey, after all, and I must say that preparing for these tests has been a great tool to push me forward in my studies as a musician. It has been well worth it, (in spite of the craziness of how the test was administered). 

It won't stop me from pursuing it again next year, that's for sure!! Onward!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My "Internal Brace"

Nothing is new under the sun, and so neither is this, but that doesn't make it any the less exciting to discover. After years of effort to build my air control and sustain it, I have finally discovered what my singer friend always talked about as "support" ... And which never made sense, and looked ugly as her belly pooched out when she sang.

My internal brace supports not only my air control, but my spine and internal organs. I learned it from my physical therapist whose goal was to strengthen my posture to protect my "new" knees and my hips from the deterioration of arthritis. (Check out my blog on Partial Knee Replacement - an awesome surgery that has restored my life!)

This brace is the area below the diaphragm, starting just below the waist, downward to just above the crease where your legs begin, and into the lower back. It is hard to describe, but I'll try, because maybe it will help. 

  1. Lying flat on a firm surface, place your thumbs on the top of the hipbone, fingers pointing down. Now slide your hands toward the center of your body, about 1 1/2-2 inches.
  2. Push inward with your thumb and index finger. Push pretty hard so that you are poking yourself. (It should hurt a little.)
  3. Now take a breath and try to expand into your fingers and thumbs without allowing the belly to push out. Try to create the sensation of a balloon within your body that pushes against the muscle walls, both front and back. It pushes on your backbone and supports it.
  4. Try to hold this balloon solid and breathe in and out. You will feel like you can't exhale without letting go.
  5. As you practice and get better at it, you will not need to poke yourself so hard. Eventually you don't need the fingers at all.
  6. This is an exhausting exercise! Easy does it!  Only do it for a maximum of 5 minutes each day. These muscles exhaust very quickly, and once fatigued it is counter-productive to keep working them.
It takes quite a bit of practice to master this technique. But it's worth the work, and eventually you should be able to hold the bace without a lot of conscious effort. As you feel more confident in the lying down position, try it sitting, standing, and even while walking about the room. For ladies, make sure you are lifting the pelvic floor before you brace so that you will not be pressing downward. This is an expansion out to the sides, not up or down. (An upward thrust will just push the belly out and give you that ugly look.)

I have been working at this for just a few weeks, and the other day when I was practicing,  it occurred to me to "put on my brace" at the same time I took a big breath for a long passage, and all of a sudden I could play it all the way through without losing the note! 

Give it a try and good luck!