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.