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?

Prescreening and audition season is just around the corner.

My last November as an undergraduate student preparing for my graduate prescreenings was a complete blackout of stress and crying. As a high school student preparing for undergraduate auditions I was utterly baffled as to how anything worked and whether or not I was sufficiently prepared. Here is some advice to help keep you on track this audition season:

The organizational requirements…

  • What are the audition fees?
  • Is there a prescreening required (are there rounds)?
  • Can it be in person or can it be a tape?
  • What are the audition dates (is it during the week or weekend)?

Planning how many schools you apply to – planning your budget for school fees AND audition fees. Keep in mind that usually the school of music has a separate fee from the university you are applying to – don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Know if there is just one round of auditions or if you are required to send in a prescreening. If there is… do you need to have an accompanist? Is there specific repertoire for prescreening? Do you have or need to get equipment for a high quality prescreening (nowadays phones are pretty good, but you might want to invest in a good microphone to present your playing in the best light. Here is one mic recommendation (Zoom iQ6) that is compatible with iOS.

Do you need to plan to travel? If the school is out of state/international are you eligible to send in a tape? With COVID schools are more likely to accept tapes than live auditions so you may be able to forgo unnecessary travel. Also with planning look ahead at your schedule – what are the specific dates for your instrument? Clear your schedule 3-4 months in advance to avoid issues during audition season.


The music requirements…

  • Is your instrument in good shape?
  • What scales do you need prepared?
  • What repertoire do you need prepared?*
  • *Two contrasting pieces or movements is a very commonly asked requirement. Clarify with the faculty at the school you are applying or your teacher what would be appropriate.

The first thing you should consider before preparing for auditions is the condition of your instrument. You do not want to have your instrument break down or put off a much needed service during audition season. Get it taken care of BEFORE you start preparing (at least 3 months) before your auditions so that you have one less thing to worry about!

Ask the faculty (if not abundantly clear on the audition list) what scales you will be required to play. What kind of articulation? Is there a preference for tempo and rhythm (band style v. straight eighths)?

Again ask the faculty if you have any confusion about the repertoire listed. Is there a specific edition asked for?


Mental preparation

  • Remember: The faculty are not looking for someone who is perfect, they are looking for someone they can TEACH. If you make a few mistakes that is fine, it’s how you handle them and respond to feedback that is so much more important!!
  • Practice tip: Work on starting pieces/excerpts once you feel like you’ve got a piece down. If you are able to get yourself centered, comfortable with the opening of pieces it will help maintain stability throughout. If you are nervous starting a piece, you may start to snowball.
  • Practice tip: Closer to the audition date (1 month or so) practice with the increased heart rate, high energy. Go run up/down the stairs; do jumping jacks; etc. before you run a piece to help acclimate to the way your body responds under stress.
  • Plan out your day of the audition so that you know what to expect. Will there be exams (theory/ear training)? Will you have an interview? Knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the audition day anxiety.

What tips do you have for college auditions? Share them in the comments below!