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?

Hello! I’m Emma Piedilato, thank you for taking an interest in my blog. In this introductory post I will be giving an overview of what my current flute set-up as a graduate Master of Flute Performance student. This is my current set-up as of July 2020 which I’ve maintained since the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree several years ago.

I currently play on a Haynes, Weissman model flute. It is a handmade, custom flute that I bought pre-owned from the Flute Center of New York during my 1st year of undergrad in 2015. I’ve kept the original head joint which has a large squoval-cut hole, is made of silver, and has a 14K gold riser. The body is also silver, with Straubinger pads, a C# trill key, D# roller and B foot.

Getting a new flute (and making the jump from student to professional) meant that I had gone from a latch-style case to a french-style case. The different being that I now needed a case cover to properly carry my flute around. During my undergrad, the university would hold a Woodwind Day where vendors would come with limited stock for the students (usually at a discounted price). It was at one of these events that I bought my Jean Cavallaro case cover.

In 2017, I made the decision to add a LeFreque to my flute set-up. I made this choice after trialing several colleagues’ LeFreques of different materials and seeing (1) which metal I preferred and (2) if I really thought it would improve my sound quality. I eventually decided on the rose-gold plated, solid silver sound bridge. My recommendation is to try any flute product before buying it (especially if the price tag is expensive), and despite the varying opinions on LeFreques: I have used mine since 2017 to present day. Originally, I was struggling to adapt from a student Yamaha flute with a small oval lip hole to the Haynes Weissman flute with the large squoval lip hole. Getting low notes, overall control, and stability had been a challenge for about a year and a half since purchasing the flute. I do believe, in my case, the LeFreque was a tool in helping me bridge the physical gap between the two flutes – it is not a necessary tool for everyone, but is certainly is cheaper than buying an entirely new head joint.

The original Haynes case my flute came in was not sturdy enough to support my flute. I found this out one long day during my undergrad when my flute (in the case) was knocked off a chair, no more than 2 feet of the ground, and resulted in a bent key. Over the following summer, I saved up my money to invest in a sturdy case recommended by my repair tech to decrease the amount of movement of the flute while in the case (it can’t be seen well in the attached photo, but my repair tech glued additional black felt inside the case to make the fit custom to my flute). The case I ended up getting was the Valentino B-foot Wood Case.

Over time, I began to accumulate all of the gadgets inside of my case… I made the transition from a flute rod and cloth to a Valentino flute flag the same time I bought the case. Quickly, the flute flag has become my favorite method for cleaning my flute – it is washable, and doesn’t fray like the interior cloths tend to do.

The pad paper has been part of my set up from day 1 – especially in New Jersey with our ridiculously high humidity, pad paper is essential!!!

The mini screw diver was studio gift from my undergraduate flute professor, although I never use it on the body, I do use it for the screw holding the D# roller on the foot joint does which I occasionally need to adjust; I always keep it with me for that emergency.

The coffee straw may seem like an odd thing to keep in my case, but I always keep one on me for when I am teaching. The validity of teaching students the approximate apperture size with a coffee straw is vital… also sometimes if I’m having a subpar playing day I use it to retrain myself.

Finally, I have an abundance of Beaumount cloths. I use one to rest my flute when I’m taking a short break from playing or taking a quick note to prevent dirt or dust from getting on the flute body or pads. And the other one I use for exterior cleaning.

What is your flute (or other instrument) set up? Let me know what you’re using.