I have been taking a vacation from all things flute for about a month now. After the stress of running my summer flute camp… I needed it! of course… I have still been busy practicing…. but other than setting up a new facebook page(visit www.facebook.com/judybraude) to sell my cd on-line in yet another place…. I have been enjoying a wonderful summer of relaxing!
Well… now it is time to get back to work! Teaching starts up this week again… have an orchestra gig next weekend…. starting to work on a November recital and a January Concerto performance(another World Premiere of a Brody piece for Flute and Orchestra) …… well you know ……that is life as a flute player and flute teacher. So…… bottom line… here goes my first Blog Post of the new academic year.
It has to do with putting yourself out there….and on the line..
For many years I didn’t. I was truly scared of what other flutists miught say in public about me and my playing. OMG I thought….. what if someone cricized me or my playing in writing in a review or something else…… how could I stand that????….. well… believe it or not… that has actually come to pass. And you know what? It has gotten me thinking about this subject. Here are some of my thoughts.
First of all.
We musicians have to have a pretty thick skin if we want to survive in this field. It actually strikes me as being similiar to having as thick a skin as President Obama or Mitt Romney have to have. Yes, it has occurred to me that being a muscian has allot of similarities to running for a political office. You have to develop a very strong sense of self and self belief. It has to come from the core of your being. You have to heed that inner voice that says “I am worthy” “I can do this” ” I truly believe that I have something to offer the world”. And you have to trust that feeling….. but not in a narcissitic way. It cannot develop into some kind of narcissistic grandeur where you portray the idea or impression that you are simply the Best Flutist in the world or that everything you do is “perfect”. And you need to be ok with people saying unpleasant things about you or your playing but you also have to keep your cool. (That is one thing I really admire about President Obama…. he really gets this aspect of public life… Even if I don’t always agree with what he says, I LOVE how he takes the time to consider his words carefully BEFORE he opens his mouth)
Another important point: The fear of being criticised shouldn’t affect your decisions to….. as I say in my title” put yourself out there”.
Well….. it took me (and maybe some of you out there too?) a very long time to listen to that inner voice of confidence and to overide that other voice that told me repeatedly that I simply “wasn’t good enoough to audition for an orchestral job,” or “to play a recital in that Hall” or more to the point……..to ”run a flute camp” …. to “record a commercial CD” and to “put someof my performance videos up on youtube”. And until last night…. I was feeling ok with my late comer decision to do all that. And then at 11PM last night I received an email from my Youtube Channel that someone had posted a comment on my Handel G Major Sonata Video.
Looking at it was painful. Although whoever posted it did end with some positive comments…. the first part was pretty awful. And I was mortified! This would be read by people all over the world I thought!!! OMG!!! What should I do NOW!!!!
Having spent quite a bit of time on Youtube myself ( not commenting btw unless I made positive comments) I knew that all kinds of famous flutists had negative comments on their postings. Someone perhaps would not like a certain player’s vibrato, or his tempi or whatever…..and simply put it out there to all that that was how they felt…… but NO ONE HAD EVER DONE THAT TO ME BEFORE!!!!!
Well…. I took a big breath and thought before Iopened my mouth ( see…I learned from the president!) and so I decided to go to bed and not post a response to it right away until I had a chance to think about it before shooting from the hip. But at 3AM I woke up with a start and simply could not get it out of my mind. All kinds of rebuttals were floating in my brain. As I said before I felt that I HAD to RESPOND and that I COULDN”T just LEAVE it ALONE… but at the same time I didn’t want to appear too defensive. WHAT TO DO???
WEll… around 6AM after tossing and turning for three hours… I sat down to write a response. Aterwards…..I finally fell asleep but woke again with a start feeling a little later feeling that my response was incomplete and therefore added something else to it.(BTW… you can check all this out on my Youtube Channel…. the Video is the second one posted there the Handel Sonata in G Major)
And after I posted a response I got to thinking about doing this Blog entry. Because you know we ALL face this in our professional careers as flutists.
Yes! Even students!!
We are all now back into our Fall schedules of performing and teaching ( if we are adults) or taking lessons if you are a Kid or college student etc. And if you are taking lessons EACH week you put yourselves “out there” and on the line… for me or for your teachers ….. or in concerts ….if you are a professional and are performing for the public. It really is the same as running for High Office. President Obama has to “put himself out there and on the line” every time he says anything in public and so does Mitt Ronmey while he is challenging Mr. Obama. (Then we get to decide essentially who does it better.)
Well…. it is really the same for musicians. If we don’t take the risks and allow ourselves the possibility of being criticised … we can’t get applauded either …. and we lose the possibility of learning nothing at all about ourselves or our playing. But More importantly, we never grow.
For students it is the same. If you don’t audition for Districts or All-State or that Youth Orchestra or that Flute Choir opening…. you will never learn what you need to do to get better …….we all need to have that feedback. Even if it is negative. Even Famous Performing Artists need it too.
(Perhaps Mr. Pahud or Sir James Galway don’t ever look at the comments posted on the Videos on Youtube on which they are playing …. but perhaps even someome as fantastic as these justly famous players are can still could benefit from a stray negative comment or two? It would be interesting to me to find out how these two players feel about this……oh well ….THAT will NEVER happen….)
So my Blog thought for this entry is simple:
Take those risks! Put yourself out there! For in doing so…. you can get many rewards. EVEN if someone is citical of you. It can only help you grow. So…. if you like ……you can check the relevant Youtube Video out and see if you agree with the criticism or not. I know that I am taking it seriously because I want to grow as a flutist as long as I can still play the flute. And more importantly because I am no longer afraid that someone might say something negative about me. I have finally come to heed my inner voice that says I have something to offer the world as flute player and that I am still ok even if someone criticizes me.
I think we all can come to that place too.
Many students are in the dark about how to practice effectively and especially how much time to spend on each aspect of their daily practice routine. I often also b find that many students spend too much time daily on their pieces and not enough time daily on what I call the basics of playing the flute…. at least that is what I have observed in many students who have come to me as “transfer” students. Many times I am actually astonished to find that the only music they have worked on are pieces( or as students nowadays call repertoire…. “songs”)!
In my opinion daily practice of only pieces is simply not an efficient way to improve or to get better on the flute. I firmly believe that repertoire should be the “dessert of our practice” and should be approached daily only after one has spent quite a considerable amount of time working seperately first on what I call the basics of practice: that is tone exercises . technique excercises and etudes. Pieces simply should be practiced only after all the rest of these basics have been done! I also believe practice should divided up into sections because I feel repertoire needs to be approached musically and not as fodder for perfecting the technical elements of flute playing. Practincg a piece for overcoming technical elements cannot be helpful in developing musicality because if we have to focus on technique perfection when we pactice a piece….. we cannot also focus on playing musically and epressively. And I firnly believe that the technique of playing the piece should not get in our way of practicing to playi musically !
So, with this in mind below are some suggestions for how to effectively schedule your daily practice sessions in a way that I believe will help you end up improving faster and also end up helping to use your limited practice time more efficiently so that when you do get to your pieces ( at the end!!) you not only will enjoy them more ,but you also will end up playing them much better.
In general, assuming you are planning to practice two hours a day, the regime described below is how I suggest my students divide up their practice time The first half hour should be spent on tone:Here are some suggestions for tone excercises:
a. start with the Moyse De La Sonorite exercise number 1 first in the low register
b.Then add Trevor Wye’s slow melodic tunes in the low register.
c. After that do some harmonic exercises to get ready to move into the midlle register.
d. when your lips and embourchure are ready move into the middle register with some of the Suzuki/Takahashi exercises from the Flute Book #1.
e. Then do the entire Moyse tone exercise in threes: loud and then repeated soft from B 2 down chromatically.
f. finaly move up into the High register with the Moyse excercise #1 going up and finsih up with the Baker tone study for virbrato ( the “high tone study”)
Your second half hour of practice should move you into technical studies such as the Taffanel Gaubert Daily Excercises. (or the Reichert Studies or whatever else your teacher has you working such as the Pares etc studies) Here are some suggestions for those of you working in the Taffanel – Gaubert Studies.
a. First do T-G Number 1 all slurred then double tongued.
b. Then move to number 4 and play through the entire section with as many of the varied articulations listed in the beginning of the excercise. as possible.
c. Finally finish up with the sevenths Arpeggio study from the T-G all slurred and then double tongued.
By now your lips, tone and fingers should be ready for the third half hour segment of your daily practice routine: Etudes: If you are working in Andersen studies, do them now or Altes or Berbiguier etc. I recomend spending at least 30 minutes on this portion of your daily pracice.
And only now lastly should you move onto the final segment of your daily practice routine: your pieces.When practicing your pieces a very effective way to learn how to play more musically is to focus on the so-called “skeleton” of each phrase.
Practicing with this method involves breaksing sections down into melodies based on the most important notes in each phrase. By practicing this way you can then add notes back …. little by little…. onto each phrase so that you end up playing the entire phrase as written but intelligently and don’t end up playing the written phrase randomly or worse…. not expressively. By the time you get all of the notes put back after only playing the most important ones in each phrase first , the manner in which you want to perform that phrase will be totally clear to you! You will know how it should go. By practicing the skeleton first we can therfore learn to play more musically! (BTW, If you have an orchestra concert coming up ( or band) I suggest that you can substitue your band or orchestra parts to this “skeleton” section of your daily practice.) Notice that in order to do this, you cannot and definitely should not have to focus on any technicaly aspect of the piece. That should have been taken care of from your previous practice of tone excerciese, technical excerecises and etudes.. At this point you want to focus completely on how to play your piece expressively and musically. Nothing should interfer with that objective!
Also notice how much time I reccommend you spend on what I call these fundamentals… tone,technique and etudes…. and how little comparatively speaking time, I reccommend you spend on your repertoire… whether it may be pieces, of orchestra/band parts. I firmly believe that we get better by practicing and perfecting our playing in these three technical aspects of the flute daily rather than by playing peices only( or excerpts or orchestra/band parts.)
I also firmly believe that when we practice in the manner desctibed above spending three quarters of our time on those tcchnical aspects of playing , the rest tends to fall into place. This is so because we are perfecting our control of the intrument seperately from our practice of the musical aspects of our playing……and therefore we can focus on the musical aspect of phrasing in the manner descibed above( the ‘skeleton” method ) without worrying about the technical aspects of our pieces….since we have already practiced that in our previous three segments of our daily pracice. So by this point we are therefore ready to work on the music and it’s interpretation…
I know that many teachers and students do not approach practicing in this manner. However, I personally have found that this is the most effective way to get better and I urge all of my students to approach their daily practice in this manner. I also teach all my lessons this way too; Starting each lesson with first with tone studies , then technique , then etudes and only lastly do I hear students playing pieces.
I believe that this is not only the most effective way to divide our practice up daily, it is also the best way to end up playing musically and more imprtantly …….expressively….. Which is surely the point of why we do what we do…..that it to play expressively and communicate our love of music to our listeners!
I am also …. and I am sure you …. are also ….. all for …..as Trevor Wye says repeatedly in his books…. wanting to “spend more time at the beach”……..AND at the same time are all for getting better at playing the flute ……. therefore we all need to be as efficient and as effective in our daily practice as possbile .. and we cannot not waste any time ….which none of us have in abundance for practicing….. so…..I hope these suggestions will help everyone to be as efficient as possible wiht our limied resources for practice time daily ( and will also enable all of us to spend more time at the beach this summer and at the same time also get better at flute playing!!)
I have been thinking for a while about how we learn the flute and how we teach it nowadays.
It seems to me that when I was taught I was pretty much never told “how to do anything” but rather what the result should be. Yet, nowadays it seems to me that “Flute Pedagogy” is very different. It seems to be all about the “how todo it”….. and sometimes I really wonder because of that, if the desired result…i.e the music has been lost….. or at least diluted.
This also relates to my previous post and the discussion which followed about individual differences in anatomy affecting the results of how we hold and line up our instruments.
Specifically …..as a kid I was pretty much handed a flute headjoint and told to get a sound. No one really told me how nor did they show me how. I remember spending several weeks before I managed to figure it out….Nowadays.. I prepare all my students for weeks with spitting rice, practicing our horsey faces, and lip “trills” etc many times before I then show them how to get a sound. (It is much more efficient and also much more effective for sure… BUT and there is a big BUT here…… read on…..)
Added to this…..When I got to College my teachers never told me how to tongue or what articulation syllables to use…. it was instead all about the desired result…. i.e. the music. In fact, I was encouraged to be a musician first and a flutist second… When I was finished with my Masters Degree in flute I studied for many years with Julius Baker…. and he never once told me how to do anything on the flute. I used to quipe that I learned from him by “osmosis”…… as I think all of his students did. With “Julie” as with all of my other teachers…..it was all about the music…i.e the desired result …. and not about the mechanics of how to play the flute.They simply expected that I was talented and musical and that playing the flute was secondary to making music….. and more to the point , that I should be able to figure out the mechanics on my own.
Next point…..My first professional job was a union gig that I held for years as the second flute and piccolo player in the New Jersey State Opera Company Orchestra. We played all over the state of NJ… in the Graden State Arts Center, at the Trenton War Memorial, and at Symphony Hall in Newark. I even performed on national TV ( NBC) with them. Yet I never had had a piccolo lesson before I got that gig at all. I was simply handed a piccolo in eighth grade and told to learn how to play it.In fact, the first formal piccolo lesson I ever had was two summers ago at the Wildacres Flute Retreat when I scheduled a piccolo lesson with Brad Garner! Yet I have been a professional piccolo player for decades!
Moreover, I took piano lessons as a child but only had a few months of formal flute lessons from a flute teacher until I was accepted at the Ithaca College School of Music as flute major ( I was instead taught by my Middle School Band teacher … who happened to be a sax player.)….. and only took flute lessons form a real flutist as a Senior in High School to prepare for my college auditions! If you think this was unheard of 50 years agao… think again.. None other than Wally Kujala was in the same boat. We simply taught ourselves!
But .. and it is a BIG but…. I did study MUSIC as a piano major all those years before College and Wally Kujala had his father who was a professional musician to teach him music … even if it was not to teach him specifially to play the flute.I think there is some merit in considering this for a moment. Especially if…. as it seems to me ….. that there are so many flute pedagogy”truths” which are so different … and they seem to depend so much upon the particular teacher with whom you study ….for example ….as to whether you forward tongue or not etc. ( BTW…..Julius Baker NEVER forward tongued… at least as far as I could tell he didn’t… and yet his articulation was simply amazing) or whether you hold your left hand in a “cocked” position or not etc. etc.
Yet nowadays we spend endless amounts of time on how to not just hold our flutes ….but even how to hold our bodies!
Don’t get me wrong here. I do believe that flute playing and teaching has made huge strides for the better…. and that so called “body mapping” etc and specific pedagogical techniques such as I learned in my Suzuki flute training have not only made me (and many of my other contemporary flute teachers ) better flute teachers than many of my/our own teachers were…. but has it made todays’ students more musical? And isn’t THAT the point?So—here is where I begin to really wonder and really question what it is that we are trying to do.
In the final analysis for sure… our instrument is only a means to an end which surely is the prduction of music… and more to the point… the expression of the wordless emotion which is in the sound. It really is NOT about how we hold it nor how we blow it etc etc…. but it really is about the desired result….i.e. the music.
I don’t for a moment believe that teaching what we think is the best way to hold our flutes or teaching how what we believe is the best way to articulate is not important to that end result at all… and I am not suggesting here that we should go back to the way I and perhaps many of my generation were taught….. BUT I do think that something valuable may have been been lost along the way and that perhaps a re-ordering of our pirorities may be in order.
For in the end… if there is no consensus on how to do all these flute things (and there really isn’t as far as I can tell!) … and if that is at least partially true because of individual differences etc , then why is the emphasis in flute teaching today so focused on the “how” instead of the end result… which is the music and how to play it?
Well…. this is probably more controversial than it should be for a public Blog Post …. but honestly it does trouble me allot.And I have been thinking about posting a Blog Entry on this subject for quite a while… so here it is.
Any thoughts/comments out there?
Proably the most important book in your/our arsenal for developing your /our finger technique on the flute is the absolutely essential “Taffanel-Gaubert 17 Big Daily Exercises” book . Every flutist should own this book…….And in this classic flute book…. out of all of the 17 exercises which you will find there … the very first excercise is the most important one of all.
I frankly find it quite amazing that even though about 100 years have past since this Book was first published , that this very simple but effective scale excercise number 0ne is still the most important and essential scale excercise we should do on a daily basis to develop our finger technique!
so……although there are countless ways to practice this excercise. Here is the first and most basic way that I recommend ……
1. First of all….Memorize this study! It is essential to memorize this study so that you do not have to look at the notes and can listen to yourself as you practice. ( and be able to watch your fingers in a mirror while you practice it). The pattern is really quite easy to discover: it is a five note pattern starting on low D in D Major repeated four times and then it progresses to a five note pattern in Eb Major but still starting on low D…. but on the fourth repeat the pattern changes and resolves to Eb Major. This pattern continues up the entire compass of the flute into the third octave all the way to high B natural (we can extend it of course even higher).
2. Julius Baker used to make me (and all of his students )play the entire first two lines in one breath and hold the resolution note of the third line for at least four beats. Then he made us start again on the resolution note ( in this case that aforementioned Eb) and repeat this process throught out the entire study.
3. It is important to play this excercise with as big a tone as you can on all the notes and with with a healthy virbrato on each note.. In addition, it is also important to make every note clear and your fingers very even. You may find intially that this is quite a challenge but in time you will see results!
4.Once you can play this excercise slurred try it in the same manner but double tongued.( no virbrato in this case of course except on the very last held note.)
Now on to the second way…….
5.While slurring as you did initially try repeating the first two notes as if you are trilling them….. that makes the pattern into D,E,D,E,… D,E,D,E, ….D,E,F#,G,….. A,G,F#,E……. and on the next line it would be D,Eb,D,Eb… D,Eb,D,Eb,….D,Eb,F,G….Ab,G,F,Eb etc. Now you are specifically practicing the finger combinations of the third finger of your right hand and your pinkie etc…. make sure your finger every note absolutely correctly so that you are working your fingers as much as possible while at the same time keeping your hand as relaxed as possible.
6. Next vary the top note…. in this case the A and the note which is not indicated in the music above the A (which is a B) …. that is play D,E,F#,G,….A,B,A,B,…..A,G,F#,E……..Now you are working a completely different set of fingering combinations!
7. Pracice these two variations as you did the intial two ways… that is first slurred as indicated in step number one and then double tongued as indicated in step number four.
8. Start at whatever metronome indication you can in which you are playing with an even finger control…. no fast fingers in places which are easy for you and slow fingers in places that are not. And all the way through the entire excercise all the way up throughout the entire compass of the instrument up to at least the high B which is indicated in the printed edition( it is claimed that Taffanel hated the high C so he left it out…. but that doesn’t mean we should!!) at the same metronome mark! The slowly increase your tempo to at least a quarter note to 120. Later when you can do this excercise well you can increase it up to perhaps even 160 ( or at least 140-152).
This is best way I know to get your technique up to snuff and onto a virtuosity level. In fact…. believe it or not there is an added benefit to this…..because when you practice this study you are actually also developing your tone…. because in the slurred variaitions you are also practicing virbrato …. and you are also listening….. assuming if it is memorized…. to every note for pitch, tone color matching between notes , even virbrato on each note and dynamics to be the absolute same on every note on the flute!! And of course you are at the same time developing finger eveness througout the entire range of the instrument.
There are many excercises we can practice and many books of scales which have been published since this little 17 excercise study excerpt of the complete Taffanel-Gaubert Method for Flute was published about 100 years ago …. but this book and this particular study still remains the very most important one….. in my humble opinion …..for us to do on a daily basis in order to develop your/our finger technique.
Doing it daily with all the variations …. should rapidily help you improve ……. So………Have fun fluting and enjoy getting better at the same time while also doing your daily excercises!
So I thought some of you migth be interested in more news about the picc part to Daphnis in case any of you ever have to confront it. And I mean confront it!
Progress had been really slow for me despite many many hours of practice… so I finally realized that maybe it wasn’t actually me who was at fault. I think most of us musicians always assume that if we don’t make progress on a passage in an orchestra ….or any other part/piece for that matter….. that it must be US who is at fault. And surely, in fact, most of the time it really is our fault and NOT the instrument. However……. just as I often ask my students in a lesson where they are stuggling with something week after week … “when have you last had your flute looked at by a repairman”?….. sometimes it really helps to have your instrument looked at if you simply cannot make progress after significant practice on something. For…..In some cases… it may not really be you afterall….
In fact… in one of my orchestral excerpt books…. (in regard to piccoli….as opposed to “piccolos” ….often players have not just more than one piccolo head joint… they also often have more than one piccolo……) it really states that if none of these fingerings works on your instrument…. TRY A DIFFERENT PICCOLO!
So…. dear readers…. that is precisely what I just did. I tried a new headjoint.
And happily I can now announce… as Robert Frost so elegantly says in his famous Poem” Stopping in the Woods”… etc…. “it has made all the difference!”
My piccolo original headjoint.. though it is lovely and very good and I still like it… just doesn’t respond quickly to fast high register articulation… and consequently the famous piccolo passage which ….btw is always on orchestral auditions for piccolo at m. 183 in the Daphnis picc part …..simply was not getting any better….. to my frustration and the conductors’…..so off I went to the piccolo factory ( which I am fortunate to live near ….as one of my former teachers once famously told me….. that living in the Boston area was like living in the center of the flute universe!) and much to my husband’s frustration…. “Oh no!!! Not yet another piece of flute equipment”!!!!! Have procured myself a second piccolo headjoint…. which DOES allow me to play that passage much ,much better.
It is of course not just the piccolo… but of course also me… but to be fair… the former picc headjoint simply was not helping me achiveve my goal. Perhaps another better player might have been able to work with it and make it play … but the key point here is that FOR ME… it just wasn’t right …. and I finally realized that it was just not working.
I think the moral of this sotry is that as we get better, our equipment needs often change… and sometimes we literally outgrow our flutes/piccolos etc. And what worked before simply doesn’t work any more.( or we are confronted with a more difficult piece?)
Tranlated to students and student flutes….I think this means that if you can’t make any progress on a difficult passage after a reasonable amount of time and serious hard work… it may be time to take your instrument to the repairman and have it checked out for leaks or any other malfunction. Sometimes it really is NOT you( or us) but it is the instrument.
And tranlated to us professionals…. the moral for me is that this is the first time I have been confronted with a piccolo part as hard as Daphnis since I first entered the profession many years ago and had to learn the famous opera piccolo part to Verdi’s “Othello” in two weeks for a performance with the NJ State Opera Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Newark NJ …and thus now it seems that my current piccolo headjoint…. which worked fine for Mahler’s “Das Lied” two years ago simply was…. and is not up to playing Daphnis.
So….Sometimes it is us….. and sometimes it actually is not! At least… that is my conculsion at this point…. so stay tuned…. we shall see if in fact I can play it better at my next rehearsal and/or the actual concert……..I will let you all know soon enough.