Flute Pedagogy 101
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?