Saturday, February 7, 2015

How to (Safely) Disinfect Your Flute

Whew!  What a busy past few months!  After lots of travel, I am happy to be back at home with my flute students and writing a new post!

Cold season has hit my studio hard...5 lesson cancellations this week alone!  I went into full prevention mode disinfecting the music stands, doorknobs, and other heavily trafficked surfaces in my studio.  I've also been chugging AirBorne like a maniac.  After so much decontamination, I realized I am actually not 100% sure how to safely sanitize a flute.  Flute disinfection can be a precarious task, especially if you do not know what you're doing.

I googled "flute disinfection" and came up with a few methods that seem a little....ummmmm...dangerous.  Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, I emailed my good friend and flute guru, Carolyn Nussbaum.  Here are Carolyn's approved ways of how to safely disinfect your flute.  You should take these steps if you recently have had a cold or illness or have been around others that might be contagious. 

Always wash your hands with hot water and soap before playing.

Keep your cleaning swab (the one that goes in the inside of your flute) clean .  I throw my in the wash once every 2 weeks or so with my white towels.  Hot water, detergent, and a little bleach if your swab is white.

When you put your flute back in the case, gently wipe down the headjoint, body, and
mechanism with a clean cloth.  You can also wash these cloths in the washing machine.  If you have a treated anti-tarnish cloth like the one pictured, you can wash it but the anti-tarnish chemicals will be washed out.

If you have recently been sick or been around others who are sick, follow these steps to safely disinfect your flute.

DO NOT run water through your headjoint.  There is a cork at the top of your headjoint underneath the crown.  Corks are porous and can easily absorb water.  Even if you avoid the cork, there's always a chance you could have an 'oopsie.'

Simply use small alcohol swabs to wipe down the lip plate and riser.  After using alcohol swabs, I always use a clean, soft cloth to remove any excess alcohol.

Run a clean dry cloth attached to your cleaning rod through the inside of your headjoint.

If you have a really contagious disease, it is possible germs could get inside of your headjoint cork and grow.  If this is the case, you may want to have the cork replaced.

Body and Footjoint
DO NOT use alcohol on the mechanism (keys) of your flute.  This can dry the mechanism out and cause binding.

Use a clean soft cloth to gently wipe down the body and keys.

Thoroughly run a clean dry cloth attached to your cleaning rod through the inside of the tube.  The cloth should not be so thick that it could potentially get stuck inside of your flute. 

Hard Case
If your hard case is made out of hard plastic, use a Clorox wipe to wipe down the exterior of the case.

If your hard case has a leather or wooden exterior, wipe it down with a damp soft cloth then immediately dry with a clean, dry cloth.  If your leather case is in bad shape, you can treat it with a small amount of leather cleaner.

Inside of Hard Case
Take your flute out of the case and VERY lightly spray the headjoint area with Lysol.  Just a
few squirts.  Let the case dry out over night before putting your flute back in.

Outside Soft Case
Most soft cases have a tag on them with washing instructions.  In general, it's safer to wash in cold water or hand wash and to line dry.  Hot water and drying machines can cause them to shrink and not fit over your hard case.

If you have a very contagious cold or serious illness, you may need to take your flute to a flute technician who can give your flute a super deep clean.

What About Sticky Pads?
Having sticky pads does not necessarily mean that your keys are loaded with germs.  Moisture and minerals from your mouth and dirt and oil from your hands are absorbed into the pads on the underside of the keys.  This can sometimes lead to the sticking sound.  The best way to stop the sticking sound is  prevention.  Wash your hands before you play, and make sure to swab out the inside of your flute and wipe down the outside before you put your flute away each day.  If the sticking sound is still there, use thin cigarette paper (ungummed) to absorb the stickiness.  Put the cigarette paper between the pad and the body of the flute and gently press down.  The moisture, dirt, and oil should transfer to the paper.

Other small microfiber pad dryers (like the one pictured above) are inexpensive solutions that last longer than disposable cigarette paper.  You can purchase one here.

When in doubt, ask your teacher!  Stay healthy, everyone!

Thanks to Carolyn Nussbaum of Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company for providing her expertise on this subject.  Visit Carolyn's website for more awesome cleaning products!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Potent Practicing - Handout from the Seattle Flute Society's Flute Celebration Day

Hello everyone!

Thanks to everyone who came to my presentation at the Seattle Flute Society's Flute Celebration Day.

In case you missed it, here's the handout about the topics I presented.

Happy practicing!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Flute Student's Guide to Collaboration: 7 Rules for Peaceful Piano Partnership

 Learning to play with piano accompaniment is a vital skill for all musicians.  Flute composers generally write solo sonatas for flute AND piano.  The piano part provides harmonic and melodic structure that supports the flute part.  It brings a depth to the music not necessarily achieved by the flute itself.  As a student, learning to collaborate with a pianist is an essential skill.  By playing with another instrument, you learn teamwork, leadership, listening skills, and the essential elements of music are deepened (tone, rhythm, dynamic contrast, musicality). 

When working with pianists, it's important to understand their role as well as your own.  Here are a few easy guidelines to follow to make sure you're being the best soloist possible.  After all, you definitely want the pianist to be excited about working with you in the future instead of running away from you!


 1. Initial Contact

When you first either email or call a pianist you're interested in playing with, it's important to include the following information:
  • Who you are
  • How you received their contact information
  • Date, time, and location of the performance
  • The piece(s) you're playing.  Ask if they already have a copy of the piano part or if they would like you to bring or send your copy before the first rehearsal
  • Desired number of rehearsals
  • The day and time of your regular lesson and if they are generally available then
  • Ask about the hourly fee and cancellation policy if not already known
  • The best way to contact you
  • How excited you are about working with them!


2. Scheduling

Collaborative pianists are working professionals, and their schedules constantly change.  The sooner you can get rehearsals and lessons booked, the better off you'll be.  Just because one time is open in a pianist's schedule one day does not mean that time will be open the next day.  There is no such thing as scheduling rehearsals too soon!

Either ask pianists for their current availability or suggest the days and times that work best for you.  As a general courtesy, please do not list all the reasons why you cannot come at a particular time (ballet, swimming, little brother's baseball practice, class).  Try to work together to find a comparable time that fits both of your schedules.


How many rehearsals do I need?

Definitely schedule one rehearsal one to two days before the performance.  Working backwards, try to book at least one rehearsal each week for the 3 weeks leading up to the performance.  Always bring your pianist to at least 2 private lessons depending on your level and the number of pieces you're playing.  If the pianist is not able to come to your normal lesson time, ask your private teacher about any other times they might be able to accommodate you.

Do not wait until the last minute to schedule rehearsals and lessons!  Pianists, private teachers, and you all have very busy schedules.  The more in advance you can book rehearsals and lessons, the better!

3. Cancelling

Most pianists have a cancellation policy of one to two days before the rehearsal.  This means that if you have to cancel and you do so the day of or the day before the scheduled rehearsal, you will still need to pay the pianist for their time.  The pianist has reserved that time for you.  When you have to cancel close to the rehearsal time, they cannot fill that time with any other rehearsals.  Make sure you are understanding and appreciative of their time!

If you need to make a change to your rehearsal schedule, make sure you contact the pianist ASAP.

4. General Courtesies

  •  Before your first rehearsal, make sure you have the correct address and have already looked up directions.  Leave earlier than you think you need to in case you run into traffic or get lost.
  • When you arrive for your rehearsal, make sure you are on time or early.  If you are early, wait until a few minutes before the scheduled time to meet the pianist.  Pianists often come from other rehearsals, concerts, or events, or could be working with another musician before your scheduled time.  Coming in very early can disrupt the rehearsal before you.
  • If you know that you will be late, call the pianist to let them know.  If they do not answer, they are probably en route to the rehearsal site or working with someone else.  Leave a message.  If you are running late, do not expect the pianist to add time to the end of your rehearsal.  You've scheduled only that specific time to work with them. 
  • When you're in rehearsal, turn off your cell phone.  If you have a friend or family member sitting in the rehearsal with you, it's okay for them to quietly use their phone, laptop, or tablet.
  • Have a check prepared before you go into the rehearsal.  Do not wait until when the rehearsal is over to write a check.  Having to wait on a check can make the pianist late to their next rehearsal.
  • Make sure you include the concert fee in the last rehearsal's check.
  • Always thank the pianist for their time.  They're your music-making partner and half of your team!


5. When am I ready for my first rehearsal?

Answer the following questions before going to your first rehearsal.  If most of the answers are "yes," you're ready to meet with the pianist!
  •  Have I listened to the recording while looking at the piano part?
  • Am I familiar with what the piano plays during rests or interludes?
  • Have I practiced playing along with the recording so I am comfortable hearing another instrument play while I am playing?
  • Can I play the whole piece without stopping?
  • Have I recorded myself playing the whole piece without stopping including counting, singing, hearing the piano part during rests?
  • Does my teacher think I'm ready to rehearse with the pianist?
  • Do I know how to tune with the piano?
  • Do I know the tempo that I want to play the piece?
  • Am I confident in how I want the piece to sound (phrasing, dynamics, musicality)? 
  • Have I practiced cues, cutoffs, and how I am going to handle ritardandos or accelerandos?


6. Rehearsals

It's important to make the most out each and every rehearsal.  Follow these tips to help stay organized before, during, and after rehearsals.
  • Before heading to rehearsals, make sure you spend plenty of time warming up.  You should never go into a lesson or rehearsal "cold."
  • Make sure you bring your music, your instrument, and a pencil.
  • Tune with the piano before beginning to play.
  • Talk about your general goals for the piece.  If there's a section that's not up to tempo, it's okay to play it slower.
  • Sing the melody in your head to make sure you know which tempo you will take before beginning to play.
  • Be a leader!  Do not follow the piano.  You have the melody line most of the time.  Don't wait on the piano (even though it sounds really cool)!  
  • Don't be intimidated by how loud the piano is.  Play out!
  • If the tempo is too fast or too slow, say something!
  • Work together with the pianist to make the music sound the best it can.  It's okay to ask the pianist for advice or for help.  Make sure you're confident in your own playing so that the pianist does not have to give you a lesson on your own piece. 
  • Work section by section until you are comfortable playing together.  Then put the piece back together.  Try to play the entire piece through at the end of each rehearsal.
  • If there's a place where you continually mess up, mark it in your music.  Go home and listen to the recording a thousand times where that spot is, and make it a priority to make sure you get it right at the next rehearsal.
  • If the pianist tells you you're out of tune on a note, you're slowing down without realizing it, etc., also mark it in your music so you can work on it at home.
  • Thank the pianist for their time at the end of rehearsal, and confirm the next rehearsal day and time.
  • If you want to be a super star collaborator, RECORD your rehearsal, go home and listen intently.  Take notes on what you and your pianist talked about and places you can make better on your own.


 7. Concert

  • Before playing your piece, make sure you tune very carefully with the pianist.  If you don't know if you're in tune or not, look at the pianist with a concerned face and they will help you! 
  • When you are finished playing your piece, be sure to acknowledge your pianist.  
  • It's always a nice gesture to give your pianist a card, nice chocolate bar, or some other small gift to thank them for playing with you.
  • Get a picture with your pianist!  They're the other half of your team!
 That's all, folks!  Follow these rules and your rehearsals will be a breeze.  Pianists spend many years in school to not only learn their instrument but also how to collaborate with instrumentalists.  Appreciate your pianist's talents, and enjoy making beautiful music together!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Audition Interviews!

A few weekends ago, several of our studio's students competed in the annual Horsfall Flute Competition sponsored by the Seattle Flute Society.  For both students, this was their first competition audition EVER.  They have kindly taken the time to answer a few interview questions about their experience to help YOU understand what's it's like to take auditions.  Thank you Michelle and Kevin for your time!

1.    How was the general experience?

I think that it was a good experience to have as early as possible. When under no pressure to win, it can be very fun and educational.

2.    Tell us about the warm up room and how you warmed up.   At home, at the competition venue?  Was it scary playing in front of other competitors?

I found that there were always multiple people in each warm-up room. Because I didn’t know that before, I felt glad I warmed up at home first. It was kind of nerve-wracking to play in front of other competitors, but after one person starts playing, everyone does. At the competition venue, I mostly practiced the hard spots, beginning, and ending. At home, I ran through the whole thing several times from beginning to end, including the introduction. I practiced bowing without hitting my stand and playing with a dress on.

3.    How did you prepare for being nervous?

I did not really prepare for being nervous, but rather told myself that being nervous would not help me in any way. I practiced the hard spots A LOT before the actual competition, so I would have less trouble with them and be less nervous.

4.    What was the audition room like?  Anything unexpected?

The audition room was a big lecture hall. I expected it to be like our recital room, and it was pretty close. Nothing really unexpected, except maybe that there were desks instead of the usual rows of cushioned seats. Also, the lights are kept on during the audition, unlike the recital.

5.    What was going through your mind while playing?

I always try to clear my mind before playing. I focused entirely on the music and let my mind control me. I was not thinking of how hard a spot was before playing it, but making sure the music was flowing smoothly and I was making the piece interesting.

6.    How did you like receiving comments from the judge? 

The judge’s comments were very useful to me, especially since this was my first competition. I learned about cueing the pianist, starting the piece and making my notes crisper. The first two, I felt, would help me a lot in future competitions.

7.    Was it as scary as you thought it would be?

It was definitely scary, but not as much as I thought it would be. There were only 4 people in the room other than me and Kristine: Katherine, the judge, my mom, and the cue person. 

8.    What will you do next time to prepare for such an audition?

I would practice even more with the pianist on cueing and with my performance clothing on.

9.    Do you feel like your preparation was sufficient, or are there things you'd do differently?  Describe.

I feel that my preparation was sufficient, but mostly because this piece was really easy. I would have to do more if the piece was on my current level.

10.    What advice do you have for other students who will be taking their first audition soon?

My advice would be to not worry. While it would be great to win, I usually set my expectations low so I will be pleasantly surprised later. Always over prepare so there are no “surprises” on the day of auditions. Practice in performance clothes and with the pianist to make sure you are in sync with each other (does brain-melding work? I haven’t tried it.) Warm-up extensively at home and leave small touchups for the audition venue. Since there are usually a lot of people in the practice rooms, you won’t be able to hear yourself very well. Don’t worry too much – the outcome does not matter as much as the experience; “What we discover is more important than what we win.” - FLL


1.    How was the general experience?

It was, overall, a great experience to have and I really enjoyed my time there. It’s always helpful to take comments from a person whose musical experience is above average (a judge) to make for improvements and become a better musician even though it’s slightly nerve-wracking.

2.    Tell us about the warm up room and how you warmed up.   At home, at the competition venue?  Was it scary playing in front of other competitors?

The warm up room was a little empty classroom filled with empty chairs with individual table tops. A piano in the front for tuning as well. I warmed up by playing a few excerpts from my piece that exercised things needed for the piece to sound good (i.e. tone, articulation, etc.). It was extremely scary to play in front of other competitors, especially when the 1st place winner was playing in the same room as I.

3.    How did you prepare for being nervous?

I tried to prepare for being nervous, but there’s no nervous like the nervousness experienced while playing for an audience of over a dozen as well as a judge.

4.    What was the audition room like?  Anything unexpected?

The audition room was roomy and had lots of space. Nothing I unexpected from what I thought it was going to be like.

5.    What was going through your mind while playing?

What was going on in my head: “Don’t mess up…Don’t mess up…Don’t mess up…” Also irrational thoughts regarding nerves shaking my embouchure.

6.    How did you like receiving comments from the judge?

I really liked getting comments from the judge and I thought her comments were helpful and truthful. It wasn’t too bad and I appreciate someone who offers constructive criticism.

7.    Was it as scary as you thought it would be?

It was actually less scary than I thought it would be. I over thought the competition and resolved to believe that it was going to be extremely scary. It was much less scarier than I had anticipated.

8.    What will you do next time to prepare for such an audition?

Try different ways to prepare for the nervousness and make sure that I have confidence in whatever piece I’m playing.

9.    Do you feel like your preparation was sufficient, or are there things you'd do differently?  Describe.

I think my preparation was sufficient, but I could’ve done more things and be even further prepared for the performance. I would practice and develop confidence in my piece and practice performance (moving would be one thing) as well.

10.    What advice do you have for other students who will be taking their first audition soon?

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make it in or win. Give your audition your best try and convince the judges that you’re worthy of participating in the competition.

Thanks, Kevin and Michelle for your thoughtful answers!  You inspire us all to do our best and try things that may seem scary at first!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fight or Flight

We've all had that feeling before...

The moment before we go on stage, our hearts start pounding, palms get sweaty, and we might even feel sick.  It makes us feel helpless like being a grandma about to be attacked a lion!  Performance anxiety or "stage fright" is common for many people no matter how old or how much experience they already have.  One of the key elements to dealing with performance anxiety is understanding why we feel the way we feel.  This blog post will outline the underlying reasons why we freak out and ways all of us can tame the performance anxiety beast.

The Basics

It's important to understand what happens in our bodies that causes such significant physical reactions to performing in front of others.  The truth is, this physical response has been hard wired into our system from the time of cave men.  Back then, humans had to fight to survive.  This included fighting off predators and competing with other stronger people or tribes for food.  We've all heard of the 80 year old grandma who suddenly found the strength to lift a car to rescue her grandchild.  This is an example of the same physical process that happens to us when we're about to go on stage.  Some people call this reaction "fight or flight."  Our body releases a chemical called adrenaline into our system which gives us the extra energy to stick around and "fight" or to give us enough speed to take "flight" and run away.  This reaction comes in handy when you're being attacked by a bear but does not make performing Mozart easy.   

Why, then, do we have the same reaction when performing?
Our brains do not know the difference between a bear attack and getting on a stage in front of people.  Whenever we get excited or nervous, our body reacts the same way.  When performing, we want to do our best.  We are scared of being judged or of messing up.  To humans, self image and how we are perceived by others is at the top of our worry list.  While on stage, our body is flooded with intense emotional feelings and passion for what we do.  Failure is not an option and we are scared our reputation we've built for ourselves will be shattered.  Our body tenses up and our brain gets cut off from reality.  Instead of using our mind to focus on the task at hand, our mind gets focused on the crazy physical reaction our body is having.  All of that brain space is no longer focusing on musicality but on hanging onto ourselves so we don't fall off the stage from jittering. 

Every Body is different

Some people react more strongly to stage fright than others based on their genes.  Some people's DNA is structured so they're more anxious in all situations.  As a kid, I was too nervous and shy to buy a candy bar by myself at the store even if my mom was standing right behind me.  My sister had no problem with talking to adults, performing in talent shows, and giving school speeches.  I, on the other hand, was crippled at just the thought of doing any of those things. In fact, I purposely misspelled the last word of the final round at the school 3rd grade spelling bee JUST so I wouldn't have to stand up in front of a huge audience at the next round.

Common "symptoms" of performance anxiety include:
• Trembling hands
• Dry mouth
• Sweating
• Cold hands
• Feeling sick
• Increased heart rate

For some folks, performance anxiety doesn't kick in until a mistake is made in a performance.  Right when that mistake is made, their minds shut off and dwell on the tiny mistake or out of tune note and then never recover for the remainder of the performance.  Other folks are nervous from 7 days before the performance (this is the category I fall into).  Others have waves of nervous feelings that eventually go away 30 seconds before walking on the stage.  Whatever type of anxiety you have, it's important to recognize that the reason why performers have these responses is because we care so much about what we do.  We want to make it great and do not accept failure as an option.  We blow the whole situation out of proportion and put too much pressure on our fragile minds. 

Here are some specific thoughts that can trigger a performance anxiety reaction:
• Worrying about failure on stage
• Comparing self with others
• Worrying about forgetting music, page turn, where to breathe
• Worrying about the audience's reaction
• Not being happy with how you look
• Not being prepared enough
• Negative self talk ("You can't do this.  You'll fail.")

How to Overcome Stage Fright

It takes a lot of courage to perform.  Following this advice can you help overcome feelings of stage fright but these ideas will not cure your stage fright.  It takes you believing in yourself and knowing that one performance will not define you as a person, musician, or human.  Performing should be fun!

1. Know your stuff

This is probably the #1 tip of how to get rid of stage fright.  Before you go on the stage, you should have confidence knowing that you prepared as much as possibly could have weeks before the performance.  If you cram in 20 hours of practice the week of the concert, you're probably not going to be as successful as if you had practiced consistently months leading to the event.  A lot of fear comes from wondering if you'll make a mistake.  You can eliminate this fear by really KNOWING you've done everything you can to be prepared.  Think positively and recognize that you've put in loads of time for this performance and be excited that you finally get to show off what you can do.

2. Practice getting nervous

Perform your piece for your parents, your friends, your dog, the tree in your backyard, your karate teacher, in front of a class at school, on the sidewalk.  The more you get nervous, the better you will become at dealing with it. 
• Run up and down the stairs 10 times to simulate the shortness of breath you experience when nervous.  Then pick up your flute and play your piece.
• Put your hands in the refrigerator for three minutes then play your piece.
• Ask a friend or parent to distract you while playing your piece.  This can include silly string, talking on a cell phone, quacking a rubber chicken, flashing the lights.  Anything to practice your mental focus.

3. Practice breathing

One of the most successful ways of getting a grip when you're nervous is to take a few deep breathes.  Deep breathing relaxes our bodies and allows our mind to focus on something other than freaking out.  When we get anxious, our breathing quickens and we take short, fast breaths.  By practicing breathing as part of your practice routine, you'll be able to reduce tension on the concert day.

4. Control negative self talk

Instead of thinking about the spot that's coming up in two lines that gives you trouble, instead get excited that you're going to nail it and look forward to it.  Think about the music and sing what you're playing in your head as your playing it.  Make yourself stay focused on the music instead of letting your mind wander.  It doesn't matter what you're having for dinner after the concert or how much homework you have to do later.  Focus on the music and only the music.

5. Practice smiling

When you get on stage, you should trick yourself into having a good time even if you are scared to death.  When you are practicing your piece at home, practice smiling and introducing yourself.  (That's why I have you tell jokes before you play).  You should be having fun performing and even if you're not, smiling can help convince yourself that you are having fun.

6. Be ok with mistakes

You're going to make a mistake.  Most likely, it will be a mistake you will have never made before.  The world is not going to end if you make a mistake.  The audience will not love you less if you have an oopsy.  Great performers are not those who do not make any mistakes they are the ones who can recover and keep going.  Make a deal with yourself.  Say if you get 80% of the piece right, you'll be happy with your performance.  Super stars like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Selena Gomez make mistakes at each of their performances too.  Just YouTube it!

7. Take care of yourself

On the day of a performance, make sure you get enough rest, drink water, eat something healthy, have a good warm up, have your outfit picked out, and your music and instrument ready to go.  Definitely make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the concert hall so you're not rushed and have time to chill before performing. 

8. Understand that most people in the audience would be more scared than you to be in your shoes

If takes a lot of courage to get on a stage and perform.  Most likely, the people in the audience would rather walk over coals or eat frog legs rather than perform.  What you're doing is not easy and if you can do it gracefully and with confidence, you're doing a lot better than the majority of the Earth's population.

9. Start strong and end strong

Before you begin playing, tell yourself that you can do it and you ARE ready for this.  Practice the beginning and end of your piece a lot so that even if you mess up in the middle, you'll know there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  When you are finished, make sure you look happy and proud even if you feel like it was the worse performance ever.  Just how your face looks can change your audience's opinion of the performance. 

10. Give up trying to be perfect

Accept that you are human and you will make mistakes.  You are not perfect.  Understand that you will be nervous and accept the feeling instead of trying to fight against it.  It is how we deal with the nerves and power through a performance that counts.  Invite the nerves to come in and join you at this performance.  Tell them that you know they're there but you are in the spotlight.  (Yes, actually talk to your nerves.  It helps some people to name them.)  By putting pressure on yourself to be perfect, you are actually inviting negative thoughts into your brain.  Accept that you are not perfect and are only going to try your best and the nerves you feel will be far less.  You are your own worst critic.  Give yourself a break!  Everyone in the audience is cheering for you.  Even if you mess up, they'll still love you.

To sum up, we have to stop being so mean to ourselves!  It is up to us to be proud of ourselves, happy with our efforts, and excited to share our love, dreams, and art with others.

There are several books and websites I consulted while writing this post and would recommend for further reading on the subject:


The Mastery of Music by Barry Green
Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov
The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green

"Conquering Stage Fright" by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Practicing Predicament

The walk of shame:  you know, the walk between the door to your spot in the music studio.  You know you haven't practiced "enough" for the lesson you're about to have and you're worried what your music teacher will think. 

"Maybe I can ask a lot of questions to fill up the time.  Will they be disappointed in me?  Surely they'll understand that I just couldn't get to practice this week because of school and I was just so tired and..."

You get to your spot, open your case, catch up with your teacher about the week and your teacher asks THE question: "so, how was practicing this week?"

Shameful, your eyes turn towards the floor and any you say, "I wish I could have practiced more than I did.  I'll do better next week."
or "I was just so busy this week with school and projects and I couldn't find the time."
or "I had chores."
or "I had a sleepover."
or "I had to go shopping."
or "I went out of town over the weekend."
or "My pet got sick."
or "Relatives came to town."
or "I was so busy I could choose to practice or sleep and I chose sleep."

Now, you may be thinking that these excuses seem a little far fetched and these are just me trying to get you to laugh.  Truth is, I hear these excuses quite often!  Everyone has very busy lives with school, music, sports, clubs, family, and chores and it's often hard to understand how to schedule practice time in.  Many students come to lessons each week feeling like they've let me or their parents down because they didn't practice enough.  It's important to understand why we create these excuses and get down to the root of the "practicing predicament."

1.  Time - "I just didn't have enough time for flute this week because..."

Really?  There are 168 hours in each week.  Often, students feel like practicing means putting in the 30 minutes, 1.5 hours, or 4 hours of daily practice your teacher recommends for your age and level.  These numbers can be very intimidating and if we feel we cannot put in the ENTIRE amount of time, we shouldn't even bother practicing.  WRONG!  Even 5 minutes of focused daily practice is better than nothing at all.  You would be surprised how much work you can get done in a short period of time if you practice correctly. 

Some students leave their lessons feeling motivated and ready to practice a lot and really show off what they can do at their next lesson.   Even with the best intentions, the next lesson day rolls around and the student realizes they haven't practiced AT ALL!

Here are some tips to get organized and make time for flute in your busy schedule:
  • Try practicing at a different time of day. How about practicing BEFORE school?  That way, you get it done first thing in the morning and have the rest of the day to devote to school, sports, and friends.
  • Have a specific time and place to practice.  Choose a place where nothing (like the tv or computer) is there to distract you.  Carve out a time each day that will be dedicated to flute no matter how much homework you have, how tired you feel, or how many friends want to hang out. 
  • Assign yourself practice triggers.  For example, whenever you hear the phone ring, that's your cue to play your flute for 5 minutes or when the sun starts setting you sit down and practice your flute until it's totally dark.
  • Keep your flute out of the case in a safe place.  Having your flute out will encourage you to pick it up and play.  This playing could turn into an entire practice session.


2. Boring/Lack of Motivation/Not in the Mood - "Practicing is so boring.  I don't know what to do."

Even Albert Einstein practiced!

Well, of course it is if you don't know HOW to practice!  Who likes to repeat the same thing over and over just to pass the time?  Anyone would be bored by that!  If you're a student in my studio, you should be well versed in how to practice.  If you need a refresher, just ask!

  • Never practice just to practice!  Always have a goal in mind for that day.  Even if it is playing one measure correctly with a good tone, that's enough!  Write down your goal or say it out loud.  Have a plan for your practice session.  And don't just practice the stuff you're good at already.  This music is fun to bring out at the end of your practice session but you won't get any better at the harder stuff by practicing the easy stuff.
  • Use your practice session as your daily alone time.  Use this time to get away from homework, school pressure, parents, and do something for yourself.  Nothing bad will come out of playing your instrument, only good.  Each time you play your instrument, you're improving and accomplishing something for yourself. 
  • Be committed to how much practice you want to do and have high expectations for yourself.  Write out a practice commitment with your teacher and hold yourself to it!  If you say you will practice 30 minutes every day for a month, do it!  You wouldn't turn in an incomplete assignment to your math teacher because you forgot, were bored, your dog was sick, went to a sleepover, or just didn't want to do it?  You have to take your music practice just as seriously as your school work.  (Plus, practicing is more fun than math homework, right?)
  • Make yourself a practice chart.  This can be as simple as printing out a calendar and putting a check mark on each day you practiced.  (Could be 5 minutes or 1.5 hours of practice.)
  • Play practice games.  Take out 3 pennies and put them on your music stand.  Practice a passage you're having trouble with.  If you play it correctly, put a penny on the other side of the music stand.  If you play it right again, put a second penny on the other side of the stand.  If you mess up the third time, all three pennies go back to their starting position.

3. Parents - "My parents always force me to practice because they wish they would have practiced more when they were young."

Your parents love and support your music making.  Sometimes, we feel like our parents are forcing us to practice as a punishment.  Really, they're helping to remind you that YOU want to do this and are helping you stay focused.  If you are really bothered by your parents reminders to practice, make yourself practice before they even have the opportunity to remind you to practice.

4. "It sounded better at home."

We hear this one a lot as music teachers and suffer from it ourselves.  The reason why our music seems to sound better at home is for a variety of reasons:
  • We get nervous at our lesson and we choke up on breathing correctly or our mind is wandering or thinking about other things than the music.  Sometimes we feel we're worthless unless it's PERFECT.  Remember, your music teacher is there to HELP you, not to judge you.  We always want the best for you and for you to succeed and feel comfortable performing.  It's a good thing you make mistakes.  Otherwise, you wouldn't need lessons!
  • We practice correctly at home by taking the music apart but we never put it back together and play it all the way through like we do at lessons.  It's important to put it back together after taking it apart.  You could perform your assignments for your family at least 6 times before playing at your lesson to get comfortable playing all the way through without stopping. 


5. Natural Talent - "All those good kids probably don't even have to practice.  They are probably naturally talented."

As Thomas Edison (the inventor of the light bulb) said:

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (sweat)."

Those kids that are really good at their instrument were not blessed with special music genes allowing them to pick up an instrument and play it perfectly from the age of 3.  Sure, there are some kids out there that have a special attraction to music or have an easier time learning than others. But the truth is that the majority of those kids that are good at their instrument simply have a good daily practice routine.  And not 6 hours a day of practice.  They practice the normal amount and probably have parents that remind them to practice every day and even supervise practice sessions.

You'd be surprised at how great you can get at your instrument if you put in a lot of practice.  Pretty soon, you'll start noticing how cool it is to be great at your instrument and that's enough motivation to WANT to practice.

There's no mystery to getting really good at an instrument.  The more you practice (good, correct practice), the better you'll be!

"Help you, I can."

6. The Wrath of the Music Teacher - "I don't know if I want to keep taking lessons because I'm always scared of lessons because I know I didn't practice enough and don't want to let my music teacher down."

Your music teacher is your biggest cheerleader.  We are here to help you navigate through the challenges of learning an instrument.  We always want you to do your best and be proud of your achievements in music.  Of course, we want to push you to be your absolute best and encouraging you to practice is one way we hope to motivate you.  As former young music students ourselves, we know that the most fun part of music is being able to play cool music and getting really good at an instrument.  Taking lessons is a big part of achieving that goal but most of the effort comes from YOU putting in your own time and practicing what you learned at lessons. 

If you feel like you should reevaluate your interest in taking lessons and learning music because of practicing demands, talk to your music teacher!  You can work together to set new goals and come up with a plan for you both to be happy and successful.

Hopefully, this will help you understand the importance of daily practice and send you on your way to successful flute playing.  If you have any questions or insight, leave a comment below!

Here are a few links for parents concerning helping your child practice:
NPR - Getting Kids to Practice without Tears or Tantrums
NPR - Crazed Music Parents
How to get your child to practice

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to School (and daily flute practicing)!

Well, it’s that time again...back to school!  While many of us (including myself) associate the beginning of a new school year with being deprived of our precious “staying up late and getting up REALLY late” schedule, back to school is a great time to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, and set new goals for the year, especially for flute, including getting back on a regular daily practice schedule.

Unlike this unfortunate fellow pictured above, those of you who know me know how strongly I feel about being ORGANIZED!  Start the school year and your “flute year” off right by making sure you have all of your supplies, your instrument is in good working order, and you have an idea of which goals you would like to accomplish for the year, or at least the next few months. 

This week in lessons, we will be setting goals for flute playing over the next few months.  It’s important to take these goals seriously and really use them to motivate you.  Make a list of events you want to play at (school band concerts, ensembles, studio recitals, competitions, auditions) and post them with their deadlines or concert dates next to where you practice.  When you come for your lesson this week, look by my computer monitor and you’ll see a piece of paper on the wall that lists all of my goals for the year.  This is a great motivator because you are constantly reminded of why and what you are practicing for. 

Set deadlines for yourself or have your teacher (me) set deadlines for you.  Having a deadline will motivate you to prepare for a specific date.  Without a deadline, sometimes it is hard to practice diligently because you’re not feeling pressure to improve by a certain time. 

These ideas sound great but they won’t work if you just read them over and over on the computer screen!  Put them into action!  It’s just like practicing...there’s no use in practicing unless you’re practicing correctly! 

Now, for some more reading.  This is Professor David Zerkel (professor of tuba at the University of Georgia and friend)’s yearly encouragement and motivational list of things to do for the upcoming year.  It is intended for music majors in college but I think it applies to all music students, especially the students in our studio.  Pick 1-2 things from this list you want to do this year with flute and tell me your plan on how you’re going to do them next week in lessons.

Some Suggestions on Being an Effective Music Student - 2012 Edition
By David Zerkel

The first day of school always brings the opportunity to share some encouragement to the brass area right out of the chute! Here's the 2012 edition! Have a great year!
1. Take your classes seriously. Theory, Ear-training and Music History provide you with the tools to understand the language of music and your mastery of these subjects WILL help you play your instrument better. If you have had a math course beyond algebra, music theory should present no problems, as it is structured in a very systematic way. Ear-training will help you learn what you need to hear, whether you are playing your instrument or standing in front of a band. Music History will equip you with the tools to approach your interpretations from informed perspective and will give you the insight needed to play with style.
2. Listen to as much music as you can! Naxos online music library is a great resource, Spotify is fantastic, as is our incredibly complete music library. A hard, but not impossible, goal is to spend the same amount of hours listening that you spend practicing. Listening to music and familiarizing yourself with a broad spectrum of music is where your REAL musical education will take place.
3. Learn and know your scales and arpeggios, as they are the building blocks of western music. Realizing that virtually everything that you play is constructed with scales and arpeggios will make mastering your instrument exponentially easier.
4. Schedule your practice time as though it were a class and make yourself a tough attendance policy. Success in music, like anything else in life, is dependent upon disciplined and persistent effort. Hard work will trump talent any day of the week. The world is filled with incredibly talented people who never reached their potential because they were lazy.  Each of you has the power to positively affect the climate of music at the School of Music, simply by doing what needs to be done in the practice room. It is really cool to not suck… daily practice will help you to appreciate your potential and your ability to improve.
5. Go to concerts! There is no substitution for listening to live music—every performance you hear provides you with the opportunity to learn something about your own performances. Whether you will teach or perform, you will spend the rest of your life evaluating performances and diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of what you hear. You will develop this skill much more quickly if you are going to concerts.
6. Embrace what technology has to offer us in developing as musicians. Rhythm and Pitch are the two empirical truths in music--- either they are right or they are wrong. Don’t look as your metronome and tuner as though they are nagging you that you are not good enough—learn to make chamber music with your Dr. Beat and to look at your tuner as the teller of truth. If you really want to use technology to improve your performance skills, purchase a digital recorder such as a Zoom 2 (or use Quicktime, Audacity or Garage Band on your computer) to record your practice. This will help you to become your own teacher. The greatest period of growth that I have ever had as a developing musician happened when I was recording and evaluating my practice on a daily basis. Also, for $36 you can purchase SmartMusic for your computer and never be alone or unchallenged in the practice room again.
7. Be curious! Strive to know the repertoire for your instrument. Practice something everyday that is NOT part of your lesson assignment for the week. Read ahead in an etude book or check out some music from the library. This will help your sight-reading skills immeasurably. I've never met a great musician who was not a greta sight reader! Strive to be a comprehensive musician, not just a jock on your horn!
8. Play with your peers! Form a chamber music group or play duets with a peer as much as you can. Chamber music empowers each of us to make musical decisions without the input of a director, which is a critical skill. Playing chamber music will also help grow your ears in a dramatic way.
9. Be serious about your pursuit of excellence. Set the bar high and work hard to be the best that you can be. Music is an extraordinarily competitive field—remember that there is always someone somewhere that is working harder than you are and someday you will meet them at the audition or the interview. You owe it to yourself to be the best musician that you can be. You will only be a great band director if you are first a great musician.
10. Know that every great musician in the world still considers himself or herself a student of music. Wynton Marsalis is a music student. Joe Alessi is a music student, as is Yo Yo Ma, Simon Rattle and Emmanuel Ax . Make lifelong improvement and lifelong learning your goal. I am not as good as I think I am and neither are you. The older I get, the more I realize that I have only begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know. Use this blessing of an opportunity that you have as a full-time music student to your advantage. Your hard work will pay off in the end!

So...after having this new motivation and positive outlook on starting the new school year, I encourage you to value your music education and flute practicing just as you do your homework and other extra curricular activities.  Use flute as an escape from your homework and as your special time of the day when you can “chillax” and do something especially for yourself. 

Good luck with the first day of school!  I can’t wait to hear everyone's stories!