In this post we’ll be looking at exercises that can be used for the individual flute student – particularly useful during remote/hybrid instruction. The levels of student have been split into 3 sub sections; since this is directed towards students enrolled in traditional band programs there is a standard of Western musical literacy that is expected:

  • Beginning: Minimal musical literacy and/or minimal or developing flute sound production and technique.
  • Intermediate: Basic musical literacy (limited range, clefs, note names, etc) and/or developing flute tone, musicianship, and technique.
  • Advanced: Established musical literacy (full range, all basic music reading, articulations, dynamics, etc.) and/or developing flute tone, vibrato, musicianship, technique, etc.

These are just generalized levels – not necessary for students in a specific grade level; supplementing materials for material to be more age appropriate such as having a beginning high school student may be necessary…


Beginning

  • Drone – Matching just ONE pitch. Whether that be a B (Bb) A or G.

There are apps (ie. Tonal energy), physical drone/tuners (ie. KORG), or downloads that keep it interesting.. that students can use to match pitch.

Provide directed questions to optimize student achievement: Is that note higher or lower than the drone? [Reset] Play your note in 3 different spots in your room/house, which would sounded the best?

  • Listening/Rhythm – Depending on the level of musical literacy of the student there may be more set up on your end for them to be successful.

Either create or find rhythm cells [isolated patterns] for whichever level the student is at; one example is this Talking Rhythm: Counting 101. If the student is developing musical literacy you could provide them with a sample of the rhythm to read alongside the recording.

If the student is young or struggling to grasp certain patterns; varying instruction such as providing words for rhythms/telling stories with a set of familiar rhythms; or making a game out of rhythm call and response could successful.

  • Air/Breathing – Air direction is just as important as breathing well, especially for beginners.

A very “Suzuki Flute” concept is spitting rice this is invaluable because it achieves many skills: routine, tongue position, air direction, and air volume/force. Likewise it requires less explaining and more letting the student figure out how to do, definitely worth looking into for long term success.

A simple game you could have beginning flute student’s do is have them figure out “how old they are in flute years”. This can be done on the head joint or on any one pitch; basically, the student will time (either count or have someone count for them) how long they can hold a pitch and see if they can match/exceed their current age.


Intermediate

  • Drone – Depending on the student you could have them match anywhere from a Perfect 5th or a full octave (you could also break this up into several weeks on the first tetrachord and second tetrachord).

You can use the same directed questions from the Beginner drone warmup. You could also ask which notes against the drone sounded better/worse; if any of the intervals reminded them of songs they know. Try to engage them in active listening, extending to connecting music they know to the music they play.

  • Listening – Building student’s ear training you can provide them short excerpts (2-4 measures) to learn by ear.

There are books (ie. Funky Flute series) that include CDs that has a limited range that would be suitable for chunking, combined with range and simple rhythms for beginning-intermediate students. [Optionally, you could record a short excerpt on a keyboard for all instrument groups to work on by ear].

  • Rhythm/Musical Literacy – Both without and with the flute – it’s important for the students to be able to reproduce the rhythms/read away from the instrument so they can have an easier time transferring knowledge that is most likely very foreign to them.

Building upon common rhythm patterns; adding in rests would be the next step. Again recording rhythm cells/using words to represent rhythms/movements to go along with rhythms students can engage with music in a multiple ways.

  • Air/Breathing – Reviewing and maintaining solid breathing is the foundation to air support and developing a good tone.

You can continue to build on the beginning flute warmups such as the “How Old Are You In Flute Years?”. While also encouraging a more refined, focused tone. Listening should be incorporated in tone production – by presenting the students with a clear model to emulate they are less likely to get that airy/wide sound.

For fast passages – or passages that require a lot of articulation – your first spot to check may be the fingers. HOWEVER having the students turn their head joint upside down (still in playing position) so that the student’s air gets caught in the lip plate and creates a snake/hissing sound; when students are having issues with their air they can actually HEAR the difference between achieving or not achieving the hissing sound.


Advanced

  • Drone – Expanding the intermediate warmup, you can have the students practice scales or pieces with a drone of the tonic.

The important thing is active engagement/listening. Having the students close their eyes – taking away one of their senses to focus on listening – can be useful early on as a way to get student feedback. The students can play a scale against the drone and have them only move to the next note after getting the one before it in tune with the drone.

Advanced students can also work on vibrato width against a drone. John Wion‘s website is fantastic because it has examples of famous flute player’s vibrato in notable works at tempo as well as slowed down.

  • Listening – Some advanced students will continue to struggle with ear training so keeping them on the chunked excerpts from intermediate warmups is not doing a disservice to them.

However, for students with a more keen ear you can provide extensions for them with either longer excerpts – even better if it’s a piece they have interest in learning on their own. You can have them compile a list of performers/recordings to reference and work on learning the piece by ear.

  • Rhythm/Musical Literacy – Again, it is still important to build this skill with and without the flute.

More advanced students can develop their literacy in music theory. Reviewing the Circle of Fifths and looking at chords and their functions.

The rhythm cells can still be useful for advanced students for reviewing learned rhythms as well as learning more complex ones as well as polyrhythms.

  • Air/Breathing – Reviewing and maintaining solid breathing is the foundation to air support and developing a good tone.

You can continue that fast and/or articulated passage practice strategy with the flipped head joint.

Also, at this point the students will be developing their independence in self assessment/student direction so standard flute tone exercises such as the famous Marcel Moyse long tone exercise from De La Sonorite can be used routinely.


What type of warmups have you been utilizing with your flute students? Do you use any of these? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!

There’s not just one type of student or teacher. Everyone has there own learning styles, needs, and quirks that make up a diverse learning community.

In the instrumental ‘traditional’ symphonic band and orchestra tracks, the expectation is excellence, discipline, and high-achievement – this is a grandfathered system that keeps going, but why? Because it’s comfortable or at the very least familiar? Or because it is what is right for our diverse learners?

In this article, I will be providing an argument for why it is important to seek alternative paths and perspectives that can be married with that familiar “excellence, discipline, and high-achievement”; as well as how these alternatives will help keep our art form alive for there to be another 100+ years rather than gradually lose public funding and favor.


University – Who are you?

When in university you are exposed to a whole new pool of people that – most likely – differ from you and the people from your formative teenage years. You have an immediate choice: do you integrate yourself into as many of these diverse pools as you can? Do you dip your toes into a few pools that either rebel against your former experiences? And/or end up fitting into your former experiences? Or do you completely reject these new perspectives in favor of your own personal experiences?

Identity.

This is something most people begin thinking about around the time they develop social awareness; however, one people are left on their own – without a familiar backdrop of places and people – they are forced to see who they really are.

Hence, why it is paramount to take advantage of the time you have in university to explore these alternative perspectives. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do things that go against your morals or beliefs; but LISTENING to people about why they feel the way they feel does not do any harm to you. It doesn’t suddenly mean you are rebelling against your morals or are doing anything wrong.

One term that has gained popularity with the widespread use of internet forums is “echo chamber”. For those of you unfamiliar, you can read about it here; to summarize, it is usually characterized by people seeking out others who hold the same opinion as they do to further solidify their biases – most of the time this is not malicious and can often be done subconsciously.

With all this in mind, every once in a while take a step back to reflect on the media you are consuming to see if you are exposing yourself to a wide array of ideas or are just listening to what you know you will agree with.


Grandfather Music Education

Like many things in life, there isn’t one way to become a music educator.

Most people may think that you become a music educator through a 4/5 year Bachelors program (which includes clinical experiences, teaching portfolios, and state/nation required exams). The first glaring issue with this is that this is strictly an American perspective. Likewise there is also the bias of time – expecting someone to finish their degree in a set number of years – more or less. As well as assuming that someone HAS to do their Bachelors in Education. And the list can go on….

Here I will be reflecting on Music Education in America because that is where I studied and have the most insight on:

  1. One of the biggest issues is the separation of music in school and out of school. We demand support for the arts (rightly so) yet when it comes to music making we rarely ever create new things, we simply recreate what is expected. On top of that most of the music we perform is not meaningful to the students. Popular instrument, music technology, film score, etc. classes are heavily undermined and not taken seriously by many educators. However, can it be at the fault of all these educators? Or is it really the lack of preparation and training in degree programs to get these educators to make music education more accessible.
  2. Accessibility for special needs. At the end of my Bachelors they tacked on a few special education courses – which they graduate above my year never took and that is worrisome. I graduated with my Bachelors in 2019 and special education was not given a platform to all these educators who may not actively seek ways to support and reach students who really need it.
  3. Poverty – this gets touched on yes, but no one actually knows what to do, most of us are just told to make it up as we go. Not having enough instruments for students, or not enough materials (stands, music, chairs, space) for students is devastating when the engagement is there. However when there is low enrollment or interest, how do we get these students in the door? How do we make an environment that supports them, their learning, and their financial need?
  4. Racial distribution – this was never really discussed in my undergraduate classes (even with my University being on the East coast). Racial diversity doesn’t look one way it is highly dependent on the school you teach in/the district. You CAN NOT have a band of predominantly one racial group and them a sprinkle of other groups in there and call that diverse. There are many interconnected issues within this topic such as: lack of proper healthcare (which can effect proper diagnosis of special needs) and economic inequity.

Those are just a few of the topics that stick out the most (from my perspective). Others may want to call out gender, family/home stability, LBGTQ+ harassment, and more. Those are all valid perspectives that are not covered in this grandfathered music education pyramid.

Expanding Grandfather Music Education: Resources

Here are some resources that I could find address these topics – feel free to share ones you have found:

Roderick Cox – Conductor’s Perspective discusses “A live conversation among four American conductors across generational lines- sharing their unique stories navigating the elusive profession of orchestral conducting, and perspectives on classical music as a unifying art form for the future.”

NAfME: Teaching Lessons to Children with Special Needs

Article: Inner-City Schools Find Music Programs Could Be Key To Happier, Harder-Working Students

@blackgirlmusic_ / @iamcreateorg supporting Black and Latinx female musicians.

BrassChicks

Article: Orchestrated Sex: The Representation of Male and Female Musicians in World-Class Symphony Orchestras

Reddit: Hello r/flute! What are your thoughts on males playing flute?

Trumpet Headquarters – Black Female Brass Players

NAfME: How to Teach Commercial and Popular Music in Schools

Forum: Students with Divorced Parents

Article: The ‘shadow education system’: How wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out

Article: Teaching Music in Inner City Schools


Is it that easy?

No it’s an ongoing battle. Especially for the groups that can not just walk away from it. If you are able to turn it off and walk away you NEED to acknowledge your privilege. We (especially those with privilege) need to complicate our lives to make any sort of impact in the way music education is taught and experienced.

Especially with this pandemic that is rolling into its tenth month: people are either going into poverty or deeper in to poverty; the gaps in educational achievement are widening; people are stressed and emotionally unwell; and there is still so much instability in the world.

As a future educator my one message to you is: that people come first. Ease your students into lessons – how was your day/week? What did you have for breakfast/lunch? Who’s that on your shirt? What have you been listening to?

Make them feel seen and that they matter because they might not be getting that support elsewhere. The music can come later.


Share any resources you like in the comments!

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.

Summer practicing blues and unexpectedly bad auditions are the usual culprits of draining motivation. But this year is different, with a pandemic looming for an indefinite amount of time, how are we meant to establish tangible goals when we aren’t even sure what horrors tomorrow will bring?

What do I work on? What am I working towards? When will I get to play with others again? When will I get to play live again? When will I get to see live performances again? What’s the point of all this?

These are all questions a good handful of musicians have been mulling over since March 2020. Things are uncertain and look like they will be for some time.

Gone are the days of routine and structure that we knew just one short year ago. As a college student in New Jersey that would mean 3 months of summer break (just 3 months of uncertainty) and the other 9 months of the year are familiar, stable and secure in a fixed, predictable school and work environment.

You skip a day of practice, that day turns into 3 days… to a week. And then you realize you haven’t practice this entire month. Why would you? What are you practicing for? You feel torn – an unspeakable loss at the fact that the last time you performed may be the last time you will ever perform with that group of people again… or just perform live again. A bit dramatic, but for graduating students that is a reality that this past semester may have been the last chance they had to perform live. So how do you keep going?

Here are my tips for being motivated when life feels unstructured and insecure:

  • Create a routine – this doesn’t have to just be in music. Make a morning, afternoon, night routine that leaves the time you need to practice. If you make small changes all around rather than trying to wedge practice in you will be more likely to stick with it.
  • Listen/watch performances that bring you joy – I will link a couple of my own at the bottom of this blog post.
  • Determine what you want to achieve before you practice – do you just want to play? Do you want to work on technique?
    • This can be hard when you feel like you don’t have anything to work towards. If you are stumped on this one, record yourself playing and WAIT. Listen back to it a day or so later, and be honest with yourself with what you did well and where you can improve.
  • Be kind to yourself. This is not the time to beat yourself up because you think you sound terrible or whatever hurdle you are trying to surmount. Take the time to become aware of how you talk to yourself and make it a priority to be your own cheerleader.

Performances that bring me joy:

Elgar – Enigma Variations – Nimrod

Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1997, dedicated to Sir Georg Solti.

Holst – The Planets – Venus, Bringer of Peace

Hickox conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 1991.

Dvorak – Symphony No. 9 – Mvmt. 4

Dudamel conducting the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Rimsky Korsakov – Scheherazade – Mvmt. 3

Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1978.

Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet

Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2007


How are you staying motivated during this pandemic? Share you strategies and thoughts below – as well as any performances that bring you joy!