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What to Expect from Flute Lessons

Your mom (just because that’s who almost always contacts me – thanks moms) signed you up for flute lessons from a stranger. Was it her idea or your idea? In any case, now what? Are you excited? Are you nervous? What will it be like? Will he or she be nice? What if you make a mistake?

These are all natural questions and natural feelings you might have before attending your first lesson. Maybe you are a beginner. Maybe you’ve played for a few years. Maybe you played when you were younger and now, as an adult, you finally decide you want some private instruction that you never had in your youth. Coming to your first lesson can be apprehensive. Of course, all teachers are different, so I’ll share what you can expect from me at your first flute lesson.

Once we have decided on a day and time and length for your lesson, I’ll give you some detailed instructions.

For NEW beginners: Make sure you have a good flute in proper working condition. I’m happy to help with this process and have flutes for sale and also have connections to resources for good beginner flutes. No matter where you got your flute, and especially if it’s your aunt’s old flute, or a friend’s old flute, I’ll want to play it and make sure it works well. Having a flute in good condition is critical to getting off to a good start.

All you need to bring is a flute and I’ll provide the rest. At your first lesson, we’ll do some fun breathing and blowing games and get you started with skills to help produce a great flute sound. I require beginners to purchase a Pneumo Pro device, which I have available. You will also need a method book, a solo book, and flashcards if you haven’t previously had piano lessons. I purchase these for you and ask for reimbursement. This way, I know that you have the correct materials for your lessons.

For those who have some experience: Whether you’ve played for a few years or 20 years ago in your youth, when you come to your first lesson, I want to hear you play something. Prepare to play something slow and something fast. Even if it’s just a folk song, a band song, a hymn, a song you taught yourself, anything. Review what scales you know and be prepared to play them for me. If you don’t know any or very many, don’t worry; scales will soon become your best friends. Bring any flute music that you have.

After I’ve heard you play, I’ll point out the things I feel you are doing well and address at least one issue for you to improve your tone and/or technique. I’ll give you a practice journal to keep track of your lesson assignments and it has a place for you to record your practice time each week. If you have music that we can utilize for lessons, we’ll start by using that first. If you only have band method books, it will be necessary to purchase a different method book. I’ll also assign a solo book and a duet book. As stated above, I purchase these for you and ask for reimbursement. Like the beginners, I will also check your flute by playing it and make sure it is in good working condition. I am able to fix some small issues, but sometimes it will be necessary for you to take your flute to a service technician for repairs. I’ll give you recommendations for that.

FOR EVERYONE: Be yourself. Don’t worry about the things you don’t know. That’s why you are taking lessons, so you can learn and improve, right?

Everything I do during your flute lesson is to strive to help you become a better flute player, a better musician, and a better person.

Benefits of Studying the Score

Last month we had our flute festivals. In preparing students for those and judging for two days, it is clear which students have an understanding of the score. Especially for more advanced students with more advanced repertoire, but even with beginners, it is extremely important to be familiar with the score and not just the flute part.

Frequently when learning a song, we skip over the long measure of rest. However, if preparing for a performance, those rests are VERY important. I tell my students when practicing, if it is less than two measures of rest, they should always count it out and get used to feeling the rests. If it is a longer set of 4 or more measures of rest, skip it when practicing, but when preparing for a performance, you absolutely need to know what those 4 (or more) measures sound like. Sometimes you can get mixed up in your counting, but if you know how it sounds and when you are supposed to come in based on what you are hearing, that will, no doubt, prove to be a more confident and successful performance.

As a music major, while in college, I was required to take a form and analysis class. In this class we studied the whole score, frequently of large orchestral works. As an example, one thing we were required to do was to identify sections and chord progressions and musical patterns and had to label them. Looking at a whole orchestral score verses a flute and piano score, was obviously much more difficult. But over time, I learned how to recognize things quicker and analyze the music.

When starting a new song, and especially when working on memorization, I teach my flute students to learn to recognize musical patterns and sequences, label small and large sections of their flute music and identify scales and arpeggios. We even color them sometimes. I talked about that in more detail in a previous blog post entitled Memorization Tips, posted on May 17, 2021. That is the beginnings of musical analysis.

One great example of the need for this is the Duo for Flute and Piano by Aaron Copland. This piece, as well as many others, require a knowledge of both parts. I love that it is named Duo for Flute and Piano because it really is a conversation together between the flute and piano. Super fun piece to play and to listen to!

So as a flute player, take the time to do the extra work and look at the piano score while listening to a recording so you can hear how your part fits in. I promise that if you know what’s happening in the score, you will be more confident with what you are supposed to be playing.

Remember, as with life, keep the big picture in mind and don’t be focused on just yourself.

Hard Work Rewarded

Gold Cups from the National Federation of Music Clubs

Last weekend we had our Federation Festival for the Timpanogos Area Flute Chapter. Congratulations to two of my students for earning a 15 point Gold Cup and a 30 point Gold Cup from the National Federation of Music Clubs!! That takes at least 3-6 years to earn. They’ve both worked hard to earn these. They’ll get their name engraved on the front of the base. Way to go!!

Frequently our hard work goes unnoticed. However, please remember that it is still valued, even if there is no immediate reward.

It is nice for these students to be recognized for all their time practicing and preparing for festivals for so many years.

Congratulations!!

Dynamics and Intonation, part 2

In my most recent blog post I addressed Dynamics. Here’s the other half of the equation – Intonation, which is learning to play in tune. This is intended for the flute student that is new to learning about intonation.

Start by getting a tuner or tuner app. Turn it on and calibrate it to A=440. Tune your middle and lower register As and middle D. The goal is to have the needle vertical so the green light is on. Remember to play with a consistent air stream for each note. If your air is different, for example, playing soft for one tuning note and loud for another, you won’t match the intonation with the different octaves.

If you are sharp, meaning it is leaning towards the right, then pull your headjoint out a little. Here’s a way to remember. If you step on a tack – or a pin, it is sharp and you want to pull it out. (Do people even use thumb tacks anymore??) If you are flat, meaning it is leaning towards the left, then it’s the opposite, push your headjoint in slightly.

Next, practice harmonics. Finger a note in the low register, then overblow to get different pitches. You do this by changing the lip opening, air speed, and angle of the air.

Try this exercise. Play low G, middle G, then overblow to get the pitch high D. Then switch to the “true” high D fingering and try to keep the pitch the same. Play the

Continue reading “Dynamics and Intonation, part 2”

Dynamics and Intonation, part 1

Dynamics and Intonation go hand in hand.

Dynamics = playing loud or soft, or somewhere in between

Intonation = the art of playing in tune

Changing the volume on a radio or headphones requires changing a button. It takes very little effort to make this change. However, as a flute player, it’s not that simple. Anyone can play one volume. Learning to play various volumes adds to the musicality of your phrases.

Musicality = expressing feeling through the music by adding dynamics and stylistic characteristics. This makes music more interesting to listen to and to play instead of sounding monotone.

Phrase = a musical sentence. This can be any length, but frequently is 2 to 4 or sometimes 8 measures long.

There are many articles and books written on the subject of flute dynamics and more specifically, intonation. My intent here is to do a basic, simple summary for flute players and give you a place to get started. Here is a chart to help explain it.

Dynamic levelpp ffpp
Lip shapeooAhoo
Size of lip opening (embouchure)smallerbiggersmaller
Angle of the air streamhigherlowerhigher
Amount of airlessmoreless
Abdominal supportalwaysalwaysalways
Elements affecting dynamic range

The column on the left describes the elements that affect your dynamic range. The columns on the right describe how those elements should change when you are playing the different dynamic ranges as listed at the top of the chart.

Just as these colors gradually shift from one to another, you must progressively adjust your lips, opening, angle and amount of air. Sometimes the smallest modification can create a big difference in your flute sound.

First, practice moving from the pp column to the ff column. Then start at the ff range and gradually move to the pp range. Practice this on random notes in the low, middle, and high registers. Try to create the widest extremes that you can. For example, play even softer than you think you can and try playing even louder than you think you can. Then, after you are feeling comfortable with this, try going from pp-ff-pp all in one breath. Do this exercise on random notes in different registers as well.

Check back next week for part 2.