The flute is not the most ergonomic instrument. It’s played horizontally; where the instrument is mainly on the right side of the body. There is a lot of fine motor skill required for advanced flute playing which can lead to significant injury if done without they key element of balance. Not just of the flute – but taking regular breaks, stretching, etc. to maintain stamina and wellness.

Here I’ll be sharing some tips and resources I’ve worked with on the everlasting journey of maintaining health while playing the flute.


Breaks!

Taking 5-10 minute breaking during practice sessions is so important. No matter how long you plan to practice for: IF YOU FEEL STRAIN/FATIGUED… STOP, TAKE A BREAK!

One of the hardest things for me to accept as an undergraduate student was taking multiple breaks during practice sessions because I felt like I could better spend that time practicing – pushing through the strain – because my schedule was so hectic that I knew I wouldn’t be able to make up for lost time.

Now, I know that’s completely pointless. Pushing yourself is one thing, but when your hands are numb, tingling, or extremely sore you shouldn’t “push” yourself. And if the problem is consistent start tracking when (if a particular exercise/pattern triggers pain) and what (level of pain and where is it located).

TLDR; 5-10 minute breaks during practice sessions, especially when you become fatigued is #1!

Change your warm ups

Variety is good – coming up with creative exercises and ways to practice the same material is not only beneficial to your physical health, but it will also keep you engaged and active in the warm up process.

For example, if you were to warmup with Taffanel and Gaubert #1 (Major scale, spanning scale degrees 1-5) every single day at the same time: You do your TG #1, long tones, articulation, and etude in that order all day every day (or most days…). That can lead to issues down the line.

While, yes, you are building muscle memory. You are also only using the same muscles and can cause strain from the repetitive motion. How can you prevent this?

  1. Change the order of your warm up – or intersperse your warmup with short/easy pieces on occasion (like the Moyse 24 Petite Exercises)
  2. Section/chunk larger exercises and spread throughout the week – with TG #1, for example, practice the lower register one day, middle register the next, and high register the day after that. Then loop back to the lower register.
  3. Find different exercises that focus on the same area. Again, looking at TG #1, you could do Paula Robison’s the Singer’s Warmup.

Breathing/Relaxation

Being aware of any tension while playing is worth noting.

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I developed (or became aware of) my cubital tunnel and carpal tendonitis. It started with soreness any time I played for more than 10 minutes. During that time I was under a lot of stress – student teaching, recording for graduate pre-screenings, making travel arrangements, etc. I had to take a break from playing (more so than if I had done preventative care) to go to a rheumatologist (aka a hand specialist) who referred me for occupational therapy after the 2 diagnoses. I’ll come back to that in the next section.

Preventative care is #1, it is ongoing, so being aware of your body’s needs is so vital. Taking time during those 5-10 minute breaks to breathe or just decompress.

Many of the wellness/tracking watches have a breathing reminder. Or there are apps to follow along with breathing exercises. You can even just watch a short video on your phone and breath/decompress while watching that.

The Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book even starts with several breathing/stretching exercises to do.

Stretches

Stretching is necessary for any physical activity so playing an instrument shouldn’t be exempt from that.

Everyone will have a different area of fatigue that they will want to focus on maintaining. For me – back to the experience I had in occupational therapy with cubital tunnel and tendonitis – the strain was coming from the larger muscles in my shoulders (the serratus anterior) and causing issues in the small muscles up my forearm and in my hands (particularly numbing the pinky).

I did a full blog post on my OT experience right after I finished my therapy – it’s still an ongoing process and I still use many of those exercises to this day – check the link out if you’d like to see that full process (getting referrals, what occupational therapy entailed, and what modifications I needed).

If you are unsure if you need occupational therapy, you should consult your primary care doctor/family medicine doctor – even if they aren’t specialized in music medicine – the repetitive movements of flute playing can cause physical injury that shouldn’t be minimized.

Some of the stretches I do my own areas of fatigue include: tendon glides (obviously for the tendons – focusing on my forearms), cup stretches (for the upper traps in my shoulders), hip and back floor stretches for hyperextension, and wall exercises (in which I face a wall with my elbows flat against the wall – to focus on the serratus anterior or ‘wings’ area in my shoulder/back area).

Definitely seek out a referral for physical or occupational therapy if you believe you are suffering from injury (repetitive fatigue or strain while playing) to learn your own personalized stretches and modifications.

Other Ideas

Breathing Gym

Video

Alexander Technique


Do you have any wellness recommendations that I didn’t include here? How do you balance your physical and mental health especially during COVID? Share your ideas in the comments below.

My first collegiate ensemble was in no conceivable way the best showing of my talents…

That summer I had been studying with an alumni of the flute studio I was joining. Unbeknownst to the both of us, the audition requirements had changed since her time out of school (which had only been 3 years at that time)…

The audition list for the semester called for Beethoven Leonore No. 3 overture, Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, Brahms Symphony 4, Bizet Carmen Entr’acte, and the exposition to the Mozart Concerto in G.

The audition packet just included the PDFs of the excerpts, and no clear directions… at the time I decided to give the list directly to my teacher and work through it with her. During her time at the school, students could choose which excerpts to prepare – specific ones were not required (can you guess where things went horribly wrong?). I prepared Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet and Mozart.

When the day of the audition came, to my shock and dismay, I learned that the process had changed and that I was expected to play Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis…. which I did… poorly. And don’t even get me started on the sight-reading (I’ve repressed the memory). Here’s what I’ve learned since that scarring day…


I am going to separate this article into two sections: one for incoming college students and one for seasoned veterans looking to just do better in auditions. After looking at both demographics, I’ll give some suggestions for sending out virtual recordings since covid-19 has already began to change how auditions are being held. Let’s get started with the incoming students:

Tips for Incoming Students

  1. COMMUNICATE with the faculty and current students.
    • Ask for clarification – unsure about articulation? Markings? Tempos?
    • Learn more about auditions – how does the scoring work? Is there sight reading? How many rounds are there? Is there separate Fall and Spring semester auditions?
    • Nail down exactly what you need to prepare – and DOUBLE CHECK.
  2. Find recordings – be selective!
    • Just because it’s available on YouTube doesn’t automatically make it good or bad. Be an active listener and compare recordings. If you are completely unsure, you can always ask someone which one they prefer and use that as a starting point!
  3. Be aware of the audition day protocol.
    • Is it a blind audition? Should you dress up?
    • Who will be on the panel? (Area teachers? Ensemble directors? Mixed?)
    • Should the excerpts be memorized? Will there be sight reading?
    • Sign up for time slots? How early should you be prepared to go in?
  4. 2020 Video Auditions???
    • Determine if there will be a moderator and how the panel will be judging.
    • Dress up.
    • Don’t leave recording the audition to the last minute – you may not get a good take that reflects for playing.
    • Don’t worry about getting all excerpts in one take.
    • Be honest with yourself and listen back – if the judges can hit replay so can you.
  5. Record yourself.
    • Listen multiple times each for different qualities (rhythm, intonation, expression).
    • Be active, and write down or mark any mistakes.
    • Positive mindset, you can start to spiral if you get to critical – there are ways to correct yourself that aren’t negative. For example, instead of staying DON’T RUSH, you can say maintain a steady pulse or slow down. Both these alternatives are giving purposeful action and directing you to change.
  6. At the end of the day… a bad audition does not reflect your playing. Have a plan for the day following your audition. Treat yourself for all the work you put into preparing!

Tips for Returning Students

  1. DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. The more you progress in your program you may start to shift towards a more comfortable bubble where auditions feel less stressful – that’s great – but that doesn’t mean that you will achieve your personal best if you skimp on preparing in advance.
    • As soon as the list is out, the LEAST you can do is compile a list of recordings to start sifting through. Listen to them and begin to separate quality recordings to study and listen to more intensely.
  2. Record yourself! The first day you get the audition list, record the excerpts (it will be nice when the audition is close to see how much progress you’ve really made).
    • And keep recording yourself throughout the preparation process. You don’t need to record every practice session, but you will benefit greatly by listening to yourself and breaking down the same criteria as the judges.
  3. Know what to listen for… Rhythm is FIRST. Intonation and tone is second. And musicality/expression is last.
  4. Find scores whether you buy them or find them on IMSLP or elsewhere.
    • woodwindexcerpts.com was a LIFE-SAVER during my undergraduate ensemble auditions!
    • Knowing the context of what your role is and what the rest of the ensemble is doing is ESSENTIAL to properly preparing.
  5. Practice slowly – you don’t need to have the goal tempo down a week after the audition repertoire is posted. Moderate-tempo, clean technique is better than fast, muddy technique.
    • Take half the tempo on the first read and see how comfortable it feels. Gradually bump it up until you reach a tempo range that it becomes challenging. Don’t be a champion, stay objective to see the best results!
  6. Have a consistent warm up and mental preparation for the audition day. You want to be focused and centered so that you can project that energy in the audition room.
    • There’s no ‘right’ warm up or preparation, figure out what will make you feel the most confident. And don’t forget to treat yourself after the audition.
  7. Prepare for sight reading… you don’t have to jump in blindly.
    • Know what the judges are looking for, most often, they are listening for: rhythm, pitch/tone, intonation, style/articulation, and musicality/dynamics/phrasing.
    • Practice sight reading – use other instrument’s (ie violin or oboe) repertoire and focus on the elements they judges will be listening for.
      • Rhythm: If they notes happen at the wrong time, they pitches have no chance at being correct. Get comfortable with as many rhythm variations as possible.
        • Once surefire way to do this is by practicing “rhythm-cells” which is just taking a single rhythm and repeating it over an over until you are comfortable.
        • Also, practice different meters – practice in duple, triplet, quadruple! Practice simple and compound meters! Even practice odd meters!!
      • Pitch/tone: Practice. Your. Scales. (and arpeggios and 7th chords) You won’t know what key or pattern the sight reading will be in, but if you are proficient in all your scales then you will be able to put more energy into rhythm, dynamics, etc rather than working about getting all the right fingers down in a key signature that has 5 flats.
      • Intonation: Know your tendencies. This should be an ongoing process, be aware what pitches tend sharp or flat and figure out how you should be adjusting (the answer is not always to pull out the head joint).

Tips for Recording

If you were a music student during the beginning of the pandemic, you may have already began to troubleshoot issues that arose last Spring. Issues like peaking audio, recording equipment, placement, framing, etc.

If you have a virtual audition coming up, FIRST figure out what type of audition you will be taking. Will it be asynchronous or will you actually be in a video conference? If it is asynchronous will the audition be blind (aka will there be a moderator to keep the auditions anonymous) or will the panel be watching the videos?

  1. Take a lesson with your primary teacher. And/or do a mock audition with your peers. This is a MUST, first it will provide you with an objective perspective – both with your actual playing as well as how well your playing translates through technology.
  2. Figure out if there are any technology issues in the case of blind auditions mainly audio issues. If your current equipment isn’t cutting it… your laptop or phone is just not getting good results. RESEARCH affordable and quality options. (As of writing this, the Zoom or Snowball microphones are the most accessible – the Zoom one can be plugged into a phone and the Snowball connects to a laptop with a USB).
  3. Experiment, how does moving the camera/microphone effect the sound quality? Move around the room and figure out where you get the best results.
  4. If the audition is going to be a conference or the panel will see you – practice getting comfortable in the space you will be recording/streaming.
    • Make sure the part of you the camera can see if presentable – dress to impress!
    • And make sure you feel free and just as capable in your playing as if you were on stage or in an actual audition room.
  5. If the audition is going to be asynchronous…
    • Figure out if the audition needs to be entirely one take or if you can do individual takes for each excerpt.
    • Communicate with a faculty member or moderator how the recording should be formatted…
      • Should it be in a specific order? Can you send multiple clips or one long clip? When and where should be clip be submitted?
    • If you need to make a long clip (compiling all the excerpts into one video) look into free, accessible movie editing software. For iOS devices, iMovie on either a phone/tablet/laptop can take less than 5 minutes to just put individual excerpts together and save to your camera roll.

What are you best audition preparation tips? Do you have any audition horror stories that you learned from? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

What should I being doing? Should I take a semester of leave? My student teaching placement just fell through – what are schools going to do? How can we even have ensembles or chamber groups?

These are the thoughts that my colleagues and I have been discussing for months – mainly as a coping mechanism since there is really nothing we can do to change the situation. I live and go to school in New Jersey so I can only speak on what my experience has been here – I can not speak for other states and countries experiences with quarantine and the process of reopening things.

When everything shut down in March 2020, my school was on our spring break – which got extended an extra week when our governor, Phil Murphy, mandated that universities cease in-person meetings. It was scary – a recital was looming, our first spring concert was only a week away, and I am a graduate performance student… how was I meant to perform if we couldn’t be together? I managed to preserve through the Spring 2020 semester. My recital (originally a chamber music program scheduled for April 1st) drastically changed to all solo repertoire and was moved to May 13th. Our orchestra concerts didn’t happen… chamber groups didn’t happen… At the time, I thought to myself that there must be another way for us to create. We can’t just stop performing. But we did, at least for that semester. And now as we are rapidly approaching the Fall 2020 semester I am left with more questions than answers:

Are ensembles going to happen at all? Are auditions happening at all? Are lessons going to continue online? Are chamber groups going to be formed? Are my classes going to be remote or hybrid? Will those classes be asynchronous? Are recitals happening? Will I be able to work? How am I going to survive? Should I just take a semester off?

I hope someone out there can relate to these feelings and know that you are not alone in this.

In New Jersey, we are still trying to figure out what to do with schools come September. Our governor left it open for K-12 public school districts to determine their communities’ needs on a case-by-case basis, but with state universities there is a much larger pool of students. International students and out-of-state students will not have to determine whether or not they feel safe or supported enough to continue their education or wait until some breakthrough allows people to feel safe meeting again (which who knows how long we will have to wait to see that). Especially considering – as a performer – that Broadway and the NY Philharmonic have ceased their performances until 2021 at the earliest, the future for the Fall 2020 semester is looking bleak. And the part of the worry is that no one has answers. No one knows when it will be ‘safe’ again.

Yes, there are virtual learning options, but in the arts it can feel like a fate worse than death. We have this desire to communicate and create with others, but using technology to do so feels like we are removing ourselves, putting up barriers, closing ourselves off. There are technological issues, delays, and a whole lot more effort than the time before quarantine. Is it worth it?

If we want to keep the arts alive… yes. We need to be willing to adapt and be innovative given the current situation to pave the way for a safe future. But it will be tough.

I recently had a conversation with a non-music friend about looking at COVID-19 in the grand scheme of things. I said something like this to her, “You know… we aren’t even half way through this.”

And she said back to me, “What do you mean?”

I elaborated, “We’ve only been in quarantine for 4 months – March to July. We still have 5 more months until December… we aren’t half way through this.”

To which she replied, “You really think quarantine is going to last the rest of the year?”

We continued to talk, and between us (of course, these conversations are merely for our morale and not some factual, data-based TEDTalk) we came to the conclusion that we could be like this until March of 2021. What is ‘this’ by the way, well in New Jersey ‘this’ refers to: not being able to go out in public without a mask, maintaining proper social distancing of 6ft or more, not being able to physically greet people, not being able to meet with friends indoors, keeping small friendship bubbles that follow the same strict quarantine guidelines that you follow, spending a lot of time at home, doing the majority of your work from home, etc.

That was harrowing for the both of us as young 20-something-year olds. To think that we haven’t even made it over the worst part. Where is the motivation to keep working? That is a question I have found myself pondering: I am working on all of these things, but why? What am I working towards?

I’ll be honest – I can’t even say for sure what goal I am actually working towards. I feels like one of those dreams that you just keep falling and then you wake up clammy with your heart racing. At the moment, I am holding out the hope that my colleagues and professors do not give up during the Fall 2020 semester. I hope that we adapt and navigate this strange situation together… the best we can.

The solution is to be persistent, insistent and… some other word ending in -sistent. We need the arts to thrive, especially in a time where people are suffering physically and emotionally. I recently saw a post going around online; it was a picture of a sign that read, “Why should we go to school if you won’t listen to the educated”. I laughed when I first saw it. But why should we go to school?

I go to school for community. I go to school because I want to be exposed to new things. I go to school because I get to experience things I wouldn’t have in my hometown. Those are just a few reasons. I don’t go to school for others, I go to school for myself.

To be persistent for me is to preserve through these unknown waters and see it to the other side (think like Moana – a movie I finally watched during quarantine). And to be insistent for me is to not let others or the world’s pandemic stop me from from pursuing something that brings me joy. Yes, I believe it is nonsensical to meet in groups of 30 people and play in an ensemble, but my insistent is finding a way to make it work given the new rules we have to play by.

What brings you joy?

In my MISC blog post for July 2020, I list several performances that have brought me comfort and joy. Ranging from Elgar’s Nimrod (from the Enigma Variations) to Rimsky Korsakov’s 3rd movement of Scheherazade. As music majors (whether we are focused on education, performance, composition, therapy, etc) one of the core elements is creating.

While listening to performances may be a good bandaid for a short time, it isn’t much help when what we really need (in this metaphorical sense) are stitches. What are some ways you can tap into that creativity?

  • Chamber music – yes, chamber music as we know it will be on hold for a while. That doesn’t have to prevent us from playing it: whether you are playing with a recording of your self, collaborating with someone else virtually, or playing with a track someone else recorded. The process of creating music can still be collaborative.
  • Notation software – maybe you picked up Sibelius for one orchestration class and just left it to collect dust after your final project. Notation software is great for a plethora of reasons: Musescore, for example, has an online database where you can find arrangements of music (in the even you want to do a chamber piece, but don’t have the right instrumentation). You can also take you current repertoire and put it in and listen back to – especially if the piece is for your instrument and another – this can help you be more actively aware of what other parts are doing and how everything fits into the larger picture.
  • Take up a secondary instrument or find a way to push yourself out of your comfort zone on your own instrument. As a music education student, if you have access to a secondary instrument, this is probably the best time you have to really hone in on an instrument outside of your primary area – take advantage of it! If you don’t have access to an instrument, consider extended techniques or repertoire that you are less comfortable with.
  • Explore other music technology. Being familiar with recording software – BandLab, Garage Band, Audacity – can be extremely beneficial even after the pandemic is over. Likewise, learning what kinds of recorders/microphones are on the market and being knowledgeable of their pros and cons.

How are you feeling during this pandemic? What has your experience been thus far and how are you coping? What are you hopes and plans for the upcoming semester? And what are you doing to be creative?