HAPPY NEW YEAR! I thought I would start off with the first post of 2021 being an instrument comparison since this [in a non-pandemic world] is the time region band meets again, at least in NJ. I have found that non-flutists rarely think of the flute and piccolo as different instruments. Of course, the other woodwind instruments have doubles (ie bassoon v. contra, all the saxophones, Bb clarinet v. bass v. alto…why are there so many clarinets). However, I have found in my own experiences that the doubling from flute to piccolo is expected to be this easily transferable skill when for many it is not.

Have some sympathy for your brand new piccolo players, and let’s get into what you need to know to help them transition easier from flute to piccolo:


What’s the same? What’s different?

At a glance, the piccolo may just be a “small flute” in fact some scores DO list the piccolo as such; one example being Grainger’s Shepard’s Hey (not exactly sure on the edition, but when I was handed the part I had a good laugh). This “small flute” label is misleading because the way you get a sound on the piccolo is VERY different than flute, and rather than giving piccolo to your first or second chair you should assess who may be best suited to play piccolo.

YES the fingerings are generally the same. However it is important to note that some flute fingerings DO NOT work (intonation wise, coordination wise) on the piccolo.


Good flute players are NOT always good piccolo players, this applies to both in high school and college. Just because a student is responsible and organized does not mean this is always a good fit for them!


The embouchure is a vital difference between the flute and piccolo. Of course, this needs to be generalized because embouchures vary greatly (even on flute alone) because of the differences of people’s mouth cavities, lips, and physical capabilities/limitations. For this generalization I will be referring to Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”:

Nancy Toff “The Flute Book” p. 94-95

YES the body needs to be relaxed, with minimal obstructions that will impact the air stream.

YES both the flute and piccolo should rest on the chin (that space right underneath the bottom lip) rather than ON the bottom lip itself. (Offset embouchures are okay on both instruments, if your primary instrument isn’t flute DON’T meddle too much with this let their flute instructor handle it).

Here’s where the similarities end. The lip formation/apperture as Toff discusses varies just on flute ALONE, add piccolo into the mix and things get confusing (especially for non flutists):

The flute has 3 general registers, each where the lip formation adjusts slightly to accommodate. One GREAT exercise that is rarely used for flute players in public schools is harmonics. While your brass players are doing their fundamentals let the flute players join in. Why? Because discovering the ratio of the top/bottom lips, apperture size, hole coverage is all highlighted when the students can only change the pitch that way (not changing their fingers at all).

The low register (B3/C4-B4): This is the most relaxed, the jaw is slightly lower (more space in the mouth cavity), the bottom lip needs to be wide (touching the lip plate) rather than turned up, to maximize tone quality.

The middle register (C5-B5): A more neutral set up, typically the upper lip is just slightly in front of the lower lip (think of the air hitting the lower lip and going down into the flute), the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is slightly less than before this can be achieved by a neutral jaw or widening the tongue.

The high register (C6-beyond): Rarely would you tell a student to pinch, or squeeze the sound; however things are getting smaller for this top register. The space between the top and bottom lips is the smallest – the lips are still able to let the air pass through, the cheeks are still relaxed, and the corners of the lips are still turned down; the space in the mouth is less which can be done by lifting/widening the tongue which also requires speeding up the air (like blowing out a candle rather than filling up a balloon).

The piccolo is a transposing instrument, it reads the same as flute, but sounds an octave higher. One MAJOR MISCONCEPTION that beginning piccolo players make is taking the embouchure from the middle and high registers on flute and applying it to piccolo. NO NO NO!

Beware, just because the sounding pitch is in that range as flute does not mean the embouchure stays the same. This is precisely why flute to piccolo is this ‘hidden challenge’ in comparison to the other woodwinds because with something actually inside the mouth – reed, mouth piece – the main challenge is size. However switching from flute to piccolo requires a completely NEW embouchure!

Generally, the most common mistakes new piccolo players make is squeezing or forming a too tight embouchure because they are trying to match the mid/higher embouchure from the flute. It is actually the OPPOSITE, maintaining a loose embouchure where the lips can still vibrate, and the cheeks are relaxed is ideal.

Obviously the piccolo is smaller and requires different air than the wider, longer bore of the flute. Also the materials are completely different (especially at the more advanced level).

While flutes are made of metals, piccolos are made of plastic/resin, wood, a combination of these. Piccolo players have to adjust to all of these factors. To summarize:

  • Piccolo size is much shorter and thinner than the flute.
  • Piccolo material varies much more than flute.
  • Piccolo range – transposes up an octave.
  • Piccolo embouchure – despite it’s range the lips and apperture are NOT the same as flute. Stay relaxed, loose on piccolo.
  • Intonation on certain fingerings from flute do NOT work on piccolo.

I have compiled some resources that can be useful for these students transitioning on flute to piccolo:


What are your tips on switching from flute to piccolo? What do you want band directors know before starting new piccolo students? Share you thoughts below!

This fall I completed the first book in the Suzuki flute method, as a classically trained flutist I had some tools in my belt prior to taking this course. After taking the course, I recognized some of the limitations in engaging young students, such as the younger siblings (anywhere from 3+) of students in beginning band (generally ages 9-10) . In this post I will be sharing a combination of methods that can be used to support new flute students of any age.


Spitting Rice

Starting with a Suzuki method technique…

This is a relatively inexpensive tool since one bag of rice can go a long way. The largest benefit of this method is that the student is directing the instruction: you don’t need to lecture them or walk them through the hows and whys. Simply modeling and having them copy you is enough to get them started.

Furthermore, this tool can be build on for the students as the advance: making a game out of spitting rice at a target/picture will inadvertently teach the students how to direct their air without a long explanation. Plus, the students get to navigate what works for them with minimal exposition from the teacher,

Mimicking Sounds (“mm” “pah” “poo”)

Sounds that engage the lips particularly using fricatives which are a hard constant sound (for example, a common choir warmup is singing with a “ffffff” or “zzzz” or “vvvvvv” sound).

You can find a variety of online content that reference about their preferred sounds; some work better depending on the individual – generally the “mmm” like M&M, “pah” with an emphasis on the pop ‘h’ at the end of the sound, and “poo” with an emphasis on the ‘ew’ ending sound are successful for forming the flute embouchure shape.

Breathing; Organizing Air

For early wind students learning how to organize and control their air is most likely a completely new concept. Isolating this skill before introducing the instrument can help avoid headaches and bad habits later on when the students have to worry about assembling and holding their instrument, forming the embouchure, and having enough air to play.

The system used for teaching breathing really depend on the student’s level – regardless of age. Some students are ready for an exposition on understanding inhaling and exhaling, while other students would just rather observe and copy, another group work better in a natural, less pressured environment, etc.

The most important take away is that you isolate the skill of breathing before adding the flute; and then you can play games to build on that foundation.

For young students using bubble wands or balloons, to see how long they can exhale, what they notice about needed to in take more air, and how that results in forming a bigger a bubble or balloon.

Visual Tools

Not all students have the same learning style, some students benefit from seeing what they need to do and building on that some of these students prefer to teach themselves.

Two tools you can provide these students to enable their learning style are coffee straws and a mirror. The coffee straw can be placed between the top/bottom lip, no more than 1 centimeter in the mouth, at a diagonal where the higher point is pointed towards the roof of the mouth. This tool allows the students to see how large the aperture (or the shape between the top and bottom lip) should be. The mirror allows for self-assessment, with or without a coffee straw, the student can see their own lips and observe what they are doing with guided questions to help them notice what to look for.

Eliminating Variables/Distractions

Rarely would you teach a young student to do several things at once. As a general rule, you would want to establish small foundational steps that you continue to build on as they develop. While it is important to hold students to a high standard, allowing them the space to succeed with realistic goals and expectations is paramount.

When introducing the producing first sounds on head joint (after successfully forming the embouchure and exploring air organization), bringing the head joint to the student and asking them to just focus on breathing and forming the sound/articulation will provide the least distractions and eliminate any potential bad habits. By bringing the head joint to the student, they don’t need to adjust their body, move their head, etc – remind the student to let the flute come to them. Early on this could be a game in group lessons where the students “deliver” the flute to another student.


What do you do for getting the first sound on the flute? Have you seen any Suzuki flute teaching incorporated into the classroom before?

Hi Everyone, I am happy to report that I survived my graduate comp essays. I passed the history portion, and just waiting to get my theory results back.

Other updates:

I finished teacher training for Suzuki Flute Book 1 so I can now teach that!!

I got my own ukulele – since my Teacher Popular Music course is coming to an end, I’ll have to return the school’s instrument so I wanted to have my own to continue learning – right now I can really only play the opening to “The Moon and Me” from the Addams family music and the melody to the Animal Crossing New Horizons intro song.


I thought I also might be useful to share some holiday gift recommendations for flute players since this is being posted on Black Friday, and most online retailers will continue sales through the weekend.

Originally, I posted this list on my OG tumblr (x):

Warm up/Technique books:

1. Paula Robinson Warmup Book

2. Taffanel and Gaubert – This is on IMSLP

3. Reichert – Also on IMSLP

4. Trevor Wye Omnibus Edition

5. The Flute Scale Book

6. Moyse … he has so much I like his 24 little pieces in particular

Solo (ie etudes,flute and piano or orchestral/band excerpt)/Technique

1. Flute 101 and 102

2. Baxstresser Orchestral Excerpts for Flute

3. The Orchestral Flute Practice Book – Trevor Wye and Patricia Morris

4. Andersen op. 33 (etudes)

5. Berbigiuer (etudes) – This may also be on IMSLP

6. Karg-Elert Caprices (etudes)

Solo (ie solo flute or flute and accompaniment) music*

*as a general rule, Barenreiter or UrText collections (such as Bach or Handel collections) are great if you’re looking for a specific piece and also want some other material to read through

Also, many parts published by the “International Music Company” are littered with errors (I have had several pianists go on and on about this so just a heads up to be cautious).

Flute-centric books/reading

1. The Flute Book (Nancy Toff)

2. Flute Secrets (Trevor Wye)

3. Quantz’s How To Play the Flute

Some good flute specific online shops:

The Flute Center of NY has an online sheet music shop: Rose Music and the prices have been very fair in my experiences with them – and they usually have sales going on soo definitely worth checking out.

Flute World also has a ton of music on their website, but it can sometimes be more expensive or take awhile to get to you because they do not have the item in their facilities and have to order it for you.

Or the Flutistry of Boston also tends to have a wide array of flute goodies!


How was your November? Do you have any holiday gift recommendations – flute-centric or otherwise?

Hello all!

This month is usually a hectic one for a lot of music students.

This November I am taking my Comp Exams (Graduate Exams in both Theory and History) to graduate. They are research based, running all month. If I was just taking my comps (if only) I might be able to keep on top of posting this month, but I also have to balance projects for my Teaching Popular Music course, Suzuki teacher training and observations, 20th Century Music History War and Peace seminar, teaching, and just my general sanity!

I may add some posts this month as updates to this process, but I will not be posting regular content (at least that’s the plan) again until December once things simmer down.

Good luck to all with a crazy month ahead of them.

Emma

7 months into this ever evolving pandemic teachers continue to search for stability and familiarity in their classrooms. Both veteran and new teachers alike are on a new – unfamiliar – playing field where there are far more questions than answers. Outside of the public school teaching scene, being an instrumental studio teacher is just as uncertain. There is a lot that gets lost without being able to be in the same room with students. Many families and even teachers have tried to make accommodations to replicate in-person lessons, but these past months have been completely new terrain as everyone has different levels of comfort and concerns when it comes to their healthy and safety.

The purpose of this article will be ideas regarding instruction methods, ways to keep students present, and foster positive classroom relationships with students and studios.


1. Encourage time away from screens.

  • Students are spending the majority of their days in front of computers – whether or not they are physically attending schools. In their free time they may be adding to their screen time; therefore, it is important to reinforce activities that either don’t involve technology or are low tech.
  • If there is a way to have the student listen to you (rather than be sat in front of a computer) and be physically doing something or exploring the space around them.
    • For example, you could send your student colored construction paper to represent musical notes and have them practice improvising songs by assigning notes to colors. Rearrange the order of the color papers and see what types of combinations you both come up with.
  • If you are comfortable meeting somewhat in person, drive up/outside duets or chamber music, are nice change of pace in these isolating times.

2. Spend more time on establishing that safe classroom environment than forcing them to work.

  • Let the students lead the discussions. Prompt them with questions that will get them talking; if you have to start with a game to ease them into the lesson.
    • Some games I have seen are “This or That” similar to “Would You Rather” or you can ask them to pick an object/toy in the room that represents them or they find interesting.

3. Encourage activities or listening that can occur away from the instrument.

  • Recently, I have been taking Suzuki courses where daily activities are used to relate to instrument playing. Mental practice for older students – having them do simple analysis (noticing what the accompaniment is doing or outlining the dynamic arch) or for younger students, doing a coloring exercise while listening to music can be another way to get students away from screens and engaging with the lesson materials.

4. Be a cheerleader for the student.

  • Reinforce what the student does well, even if it is a small step.
  • You may never know exactly what is going on that can impact a student’s work or motivation; maintaining a safe and positive classroom environment can help with this. However, sometimes students still won’t feel comfortable sharing and that’s okay, you don’t need to have your student be an open book. Observe when the student starts to close off, and note their limits to start working within their comfort zone.

5. Be mindful of how you phrase criticism

  • While constructive criticism is completely necessary for improvement – ask yourself if there is a better way to communicate what you want the student to do:
    • For example, instead of saying “Don’t rush”… Have the student play it slow (half tempo), and ask them what they notice compared to how they played it before.
      • This can be effective because you are walking them through good practice techniques: slowing down muddy passages (and you can direct the student to gradually bump up the tempo). Then, prompting the student to lead the discussion with their own observations.

6. Don’t be upset if you get off track or you don’t accomplish as much as you planned.

  • The saying “it’s not the destination, but the journey” applies here – during these times you will most likely not see the progress you were expecting for a number of reasons. That’s okay.

How are you engaging your online students? Let me know in the comments below.

Young flutists that are surrounded non-flutists or are self-taught can develop a wide range of bad habits that take years to unlearn. There are common myths that are just taken as fact by band directors when recruiting or coaching young flute players. In this article, I’ll be clarifying what/if there is any true to these myths as well as sharing resources for more information!


Myth 1: Lip Shape/Size Matters

… NO! The way I have most commonly heard this myth is referred to as the “textbook embouchure” where the lips are fairly even is size (the bottom might be slightly wider) and the embouchure when playing is centered or inline with the nose.

James Galway, example of the centered/textbook embouchure

This isn’t the best or the only (obviously) way to produce a good tone on the flute. In fact, people with that “textbook embouchure” may struggle to get a sound out.

In comparison, the lip shape deemed challenging for flute playing is one that is tear drop shaped because of the jut in the top lip, this is also untrue. Accommodations such as forming an “offset embouchure” are common for not just this lip shape, but many others. For more detailed information check out Dr. Cate Hummel’s article.

Anyone who wants to play flute should not be deterred by the shape or ratio of their lips. More factors than just the exterior lips play a role in how easily someone produces a sound on the flute.

Emmanuel Pahud, example of an offset embouchure

Myth 2: Alignment Doesn’t Matter In The Beginning… It Will All Sound The Same

First, Jennifer Cluff has written many articles/FAQ on flute alignment – check these out to answer specific questions.

Alignment is VITAL to setting young flute players up for success,

Balancing the flute properly with the chin, left hand pointer finger, right hand thumb and pinky – helps with the stability of the instrument which creates consistency for students which will improve tone quality and register.

Also, alignment of the flute itself is vital – lining up the center of the embouchure hole with the center of the keys of the body AND the rod of the foot joint with the center of the keys of the body). When the flute is out of alignment, the experienced flutist has to work much harder by contorting to get a focused sound on the flute.


Myth 3: Roll In/Out To Improve Tuning and Tone

NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Below is a representation of how I feel every time I’ve heard that advice during a coaching session before I step in to talk about how meddlesome this is.

For tuning, you should NOT default to adjusting by rolling the flute – this fosters posture and alignment issues. You SHOULD pull/push out the head joint to tune. You can use this saying to remember the direction… “if you have something SHARP in your eye you should PULL it OUT”.

To be clear, this CAN be done, but it SHOULD NOT be the primary or first defense for tuning. Therefore, teaching your band students to do this is unnecessary and causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Jennifer Cluff did an article on this where she states, “Rolling the flute inward only covers the embouchure hole too much with the lower lip and strangles the tone quality, and is not a “cure all” in any way.”


Myth 4: The Flute Embouchure Doesn’t Change For Each Register

FALSE – There are very specific adjustments made to help produce a focused and vibrant tone in each register (typically divided into the low, middle, and high registers). There is an adjustment between the top and bottom lips as well as slight changes inside the mouth (much like singing) that occur with register shifts.

Jolene Harju Madewell articles one on the low register and one on good tone.

And Jennifer Cluff has an article on playing in the high register.


Vital teaching tool:

I highly recommend giving this a watch and sharing this with your students: James Galway embouchure video.


Any flute myths I left out? Did anything here surprise you? Have more embouchure resources to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Not once as a flute student did I have an ensemble director that was a flutist (primarily or otherwise). Granted I started playing flute at age 14, but in my hometown’s district even if I had started in beginning band no one was trained in flute… everyone was either a brass specialist or focused on vocal music. Of course, my directors had knowledge about the flute and other woodwind instruments, but I distinctly remember there being a wall – a barrier – with the instruction, when something explained 3, 5, 100 times couldn’t make sense there was this level of frustration on both ends for the director and students.

Here we’ll be looking at factors to consider before starting, Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book”, free online resources, and common issues.


Factors

For band directors, maybe you are trying to learn flute yourself or you have a student that wants to learn flute. Where do you start?

Clearly, not everyone will start in the same place, but some general factors to keep in mind are:

  • Why do you want to learn?
    • Before pursuing a teacher or instrument, decide what you want to achieve with flute playing. It can change in the future, but if you are planning to just play for fun that will can save you a lot of money on the instrument and help find a teacher (or colleague) that is on the same track as you.
  • Commitment – if you are looking to make vast improvements in your flute playing you need to play regularly (especially in the beginning when it may make you lightheaded, feel like you’re not progressing, etc.)
  • Access to a quality instrument
    • Your instrument will look different whether or not you are planning to play flute seriously – and budget can play a large role in this
      • As well as being aware of cost-saving options (such as upgrading just the head joint rather than the entire flute)
    • Also, knowing where you can get the instrument service is vital to protecting your investment.
  • Knowledge of the instrument or knowing someone who specialized in that instrument
    • It’s okay to not know things, but knowing where to look or who to reach out to can prevent developing bad habits in the long run
    • Like previously mentioned, if you should know what your goals are before finding a teacher. Communication is key.
  • Being aware of quality resources
  • Being aware of free resources (also good quality)

My #1 Resource for Band Directors:

Nancy Toff’s “The Flute Book” 3rd edition

Why?

This book is ESSENTIAL for a band director that wants to connect with their flute section and give them accurate information. This is not a sit down and read type of book (although I did bring this book to jury duty once and made a considerable dent in it…) it is best utilized for a quick pick up, skim over, and then put back until you need it again. Even dog earring or marking frequently used sections can help you consistently give correct information.

Nancy Toff is a is a reputable flute historian based in New York. You can read a summary of her bio here.

The 3rd edition of “The Flute Book” covers:

  • The Instrument
    • The modern flute
    • How to choose an instrument
    • Care and maintenance of the flute
    • A brief history of the flute
    • The flute family
  • Performance
    • Breathing
    • Tone
    • Vibrato
    • Articulation
    • Technique
    • Style
    • Performance
    • Recordings
  • The Music
    • Baroque
    • Classical
    • Romantic
    • Modern
  • Repertoire Catalogue
    • Baroque
    • Classical
    • Romantic
    • Modern

Free Resources

Jennifer Cluff’s website

Although it may still resemble a 2000s website, she now has moved over to BlogSpot to post regularly updated content.

Woodwind Fingering Guide

Need to know regular, alternate or trill fingerings for flute/piccolo? This guide is organized by register.

John Wion – Vibrato

Vibrato… either is comes naturally or it takes a lot of work for new flutist to understand. This website (another 2000s-esque looking page) has:

  • Vibrato slowed down
  • Has a problems and solutions section
  • Provides a list of reputable flutists with their regular and slowed down vibrato

Flute Tunes

If you’re able to do a quick Google search on free flute resources, you’ve likely come across this website at one point. Like the dangers of other free sheet music sites, the parts can be riddled with errors and inaccuracies. If you are just looking for music to play without regard for musical accuracy, this website is still valuable for the wide range of music it provides at beginning through ‘advanced’ levels.


Common Issues and Questions

How to deal with lightheadedness and what does it mean?

One common saying about the flute is that the majority of the air is wasted: not even going inside the head joint. There is some truth to that statement, but framing flute playing in that way only attributes to this issue of feeling lightheaded after only playing a few notes.

The main reason lightheadedness occurs is because the flute apperture is too wide. A common tool to find the target apperture size is buy using those tiny coffee straws (a value teaching tool… which you can find in a dollar store in packs of 300).

How to control dynamics?

Amy Porter has a short masterclass for dynamics in the lower register that you can watch here.

She is working from Moyse’s De La Sonorite.

#1 Experiment – because the inside of our mouths and the way we form our embouchure and apperture are all slightly different there will always be people that dynamics some to naturally and others who spent months trying to understand dynamic control.

Jennifer Cluff has an article on the basics: the main takeaways are that you are not over-blowing OR pushing. If you keep your smooth air and change (1) the vowel, (2) speed of the air – which can be changed by altering the size of the apperture, and (3) which part of the body you are blowing from (think of it relating to singing – head, chest, etc).

How to create vibrato?

Jolene Harju Madewell has a short video with 6 tips on creating vibrato that you can watch here.

Again experimenting is key! In the video linked above, Jolene immediately jumps into pulsing the air; however, I have had students who start to move their lips, face, body in an unnecessary way to achieve the pulsing and this the start of a bad habit. To help these students bridge the concept of smooth air to pulsed air I will have them tongue or go ‘HA’ (a non-tongue attack) to the same speed and pattern that I want to to pulse at.

A lot of vibrato work is imitating other players. At first, working towards metronomic vibrato to avoid the nervous or sporadic, uneven vibrato – start slow and gradually speed up. Only move up as much as you can without tension – once you feel tension that is your body acknowledging you need to take a break, don’t worry about getting your vibrato fast in the beginning.

How to improve intonation?

Emmanuel Pahud has a short masterclass slip on intonation that you can watch here.

First and foremost, look at your head joint. A few VERY IMPORTANT THINGS:

  • The head joint SHOULD NOT be pushed all the way in…
  • The head joint should be pulled out about an inch or so from the body (I tell my students measure in comparison to the width of their thumb) pulled out, but wait there’s more…
  • The angle of the embouchure hole on the head joint should be INLINE with the center of the keys on the body (minus the offset G keys)
  • Lastly, DO NOT continuously adjust by pulling out or pushing in. And definitely DO NOT move the flute or the head joint forwards and back. Set everything up, balance the flute, and you are the one that must adjust and experiment.

The flute tendencies are unlike the majority of woodwind instruments. The lower register tends flat, the high register tends very sharp, and open notes (like C) will go flat. Being aware of these general tendencies, as well as using to tuner to gauge your own, will help train your ear to achieve good intonation on the flute.

Generally, for sharp pitches there is too much tension. By lowering the tongue in the mouth and creating more space (changing the vowel) and physically relaxing your body, the pitch will be lowered.

And generally, for flat pitches there needs to be more support. By raising the tongue in the mouth, keeping a steady air stream (spinning the air, NOT blowing harder), adjusting the vowel, and checking in with your body. Poor playing posture can affect intonation more than you might expect.

How to focus tone? In different registers?

James Galway has a short masterclass clip on Articulation and Embouchure that you can watch here.

A focused sound on the flute comes from understanding and control of the embouchure – particularly the top and bottom lip – and apperture. Apperture size was previously discussed, generally for the high register the apperture will be much tiny then the apperture in the lower register.

To improve the embouchure to achieve a focuses sound practicing harmonics is invaluable. Patricia George and Phyllis Avidan Louke’s Flute Scale Book and 101-103 series and Trevor Wye’s Omnibus edition had harmonics on p. 6.

Likewise, practicing 5 note scale patterns such as Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises – available on IMSLP – #1 or 2 (which are 5 note patterns in Major and minor keys) can help focus on specific notes. For example, in the middle register Eb tends to be a very unfocused note, with T&G you can practice improving the Eb from several different notes…

Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb

Bb-C-D-Eb-F

C#-D#(Eb)-E-F#-G#

Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb

How to improve finger coordination?

KEEP YOUR FINGERS CLOSE TO THE KEYS.

Spider fingers… wandering fingers… if you are a band director you’ve probably seen them all. Students whose fingers just fly high above the flute. What you may not realize is that it takes a great effort to get the fingers back down. It is much easier to lift up than to press down.

The only way to achieve this is through vigilant observation: record your hands when playing or practice in front of a mirror. Be honest and don’t let yourself slack.

Access to quality instrument or music?

What are you favorite flute resources and articles? Or have a question that wasn’t featured here? Share them in the comments section.

When I was in high school we had the ‘drum closet’.

The ‘drum closet’ was a blackhole where the percussionists liked to hide, but it was also a house for outdated marching band uniform ruins, the marching percussion equipment, and the district’s unused loaner instruments. The ‘drum closet’ was a treasure trove of unused instruments, but it was ungodly hot. Our band room didn’t have AC, so why would the drum closet get such a luxury?

Brass instruments can fair pretty well under those conditions: being locked away for years on end, in the heat and freezing cold; most likely never properly cleaned by their former musicians. I had the privilege in high school of cleaning this ‘drum closet’ to do instrument inventory… I took home a euphonium one holiday break to practice and cleaning the thing- I’ll spare you the gruesome details of what I found inside, but I will tell you whoever played this instrument (which, by the looks of it, must have been at least a decade prior) did not like to rise out their mouth after lunch.

Woodwinds, in contrast, are high maintenance – they have springs/rods, pads, cork… all things that require annual upkeep lest you want to spent an unthinkable amount of money to either replace the instruments beyond repair or make a sad attempt to salvage a horn that has already phoned it in. I will make the argument that at the student-instrument level the flute is the most high maintenance of the woodwind family (only being rivaled by the oboe and bassoon). Most student-clarinets are made of some blend of plastic material, the cork is used to connect the joints which can withstand a little chipping and not impact the instrument’s ability to produce sound, the felt pads are sturdy enough; which leaves only the spring/rods to be the main thing to breakdown from wear-and-tear. And saxophones are the instrument equivalent to cockroaches and could probably withstand a nuclear explosion.

Things to consider about student-flutes:

  • The cork in the head joint should NEVER be exposed to water. It impacts tuning and can form mold if not replaced or cared for properly. (And for the love of Sir James Galway, do not let your band students play a flute that is missing a crown… and then replace the crown with the color guard’s electrical tape, I speak from experience it does not work).
  • They rods and springs are extremely fragile. The mechanism on the body is much more small and thin than on the clarinet and the soft metal of the student flutes can easily get damaged if a student grips too tight; knocks the flute on a chair, stand, etc; or tries to mess around with the screws.
  • Temperature matters… this applies to the other woodwinds as well. But the metal of the flute – as well as other factors – can make the effects of climate more detrimental to the longevity of the pads.

Speaking of temperature effects, the silver plating on flutes will start pitting if not regularly cleaned and maintained. To my knowledge there is no DIY solution to pitting, once that happens it is either replace the flute or have a magical bag of money drop into your repair account and send the instrument out for service.

Alright, we’re through all the perils of up-keeping a flute so how do you actually protect your precious flutes?

During the school year: It depends on your inventory and how many students are actively in the program.

Some districts have only a few spare instruments that rarely get used unless a kid forgets their instrument while other districts are reliant on loaner instruments because the families would not be able to rent a quality instrument.

  1. If you have instruments that are rarely used, make sure you leave them in a space where the temperature can be regulated. Maybe that’s in the back of your office or in the back of the classroom, every school is different. You want to avoid leaving them in an area that fluctuates extreme temperatures or is exposed to extreme temperatures.
  2. Try to rotate instruments. Make sure you’re not letting instruments sit unused. If your program is small, consider having a bright, motivated student become a doubler – that way the instrument is still being used.
  3. If you are in a district that is reliant on school instruments, have a cleaning contract that makes the students aware of how to properly clean the flute. See the next bullet.
During the school year: Cleaning and maintaining instruments when in use.
  1. A cleaning contract for students who are loaning out instruments can be a massive help to saving money in the repair budget. Be proactive, don’t let it sneak up on you! So what should go on a cleaning contract?
When summer break hits: Immediately do instrument inventory and assessment

Don’t let those instruments just sit there in your hot band room or storage closet to fester. As students are bring instruments back to you after graduation ceremonies or after the final concert, use those final days of school to take stock and see what the status of instruments is.

  1. What needs to be sent off for repairs urgently? What can wait?
  2. Find out who is taking instruments home over the summer or for marching band, and do a quick check in on the instrument. (Trade in is necessary!)
  3. Be realistic (not always equal to optimistic), if you have an instrument on its last legs think about the frustration it will cause you next school year. Yes it looks like a flute, but does it sound like one? Especially in the hands of an intermediate student.
Summer break: Alternative storage solutions

In a perfect world, there would be reliable temperature control in public schools at the band director’s disposal. While you may be able to store your percussion and brass equipment in these conditions, communicate with your school and B.O.E. to consider your options for more fragile instruments.

  1. Is there a room in the school (or another school in the district) that will have regulated temperature? Is this room secure or does it get a lot of visitors and foot traffic?
  2. Could the instruments be stored in the school office or in the B.O.E. building for a short period?
  3. As a last resort: Is there an option to take the instruments home?

What kind of solutions have you been using to storage instruments? Share your success or horror stories in the comments!