Month: August 2015

Flute Blisters

Welcome to this week’s edition of Flute Friday!

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Today’s topic is one that is near and dear to many a flute player’s heart: The famous (or infamous) flute blister.

I have had several horrifying nightmares throughout my career as a flutist that the 20+ year old permanent bump at the bottom of my left hand index finger would one day collapse  (or worse, POP…ewww) leaving a large crater on the side of my hand and that I would have to join the Circus. I know….. gross, right? Fortunately that has not happened. This friendly bunion, however, has caused some unfriendly levels of pain over the years (namely at the conclusion of long practice sessions) and I have discovered a few different ways to help cope, ease pain and discomfort and reverse the size of this flute blister using the below products. I know there are many other flutists like myself out there that just deal with the pain using ice or frozen peas, but I hope that this blog will provide some alternative suggestions for combating their own flute blister of terror. Don’t worry – we won’t have to join the circus!

First of all, let’s have a look at what this blister is:

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The flute blister develops over time as we rest the flute against the side of our left index finger to create a pressure point for balance and control of the instrument. The more pressure we put on this area the larger and more painful the blister (ouch). The worse the blister, the worse the nightmares…

How do we deal with this phenomenon when it is a natural consequence of playing the flute? Answer: adapt.

  1. Flute Gels (Available on Amazon.comFluteGels Finger Supports for Flute (Flute Gels)) .  I will begin with my newly discovered and absolutely favorite product. These attach to your flute using an easily removable, mild adhesive backing and have a texture similar to one of those gel wrist pads we used to use before the days of ipads. These come in clear and silver and feel like pillows for your blister. I highly recommend the silver color as the clear Flute Gels show imperfections and dirt over time whereas the silver seems to hold up longer and blends into the color of the metal. I love them and I have noticed that my blister has dramatically improved since I started using them. photo 1
  2. Corn Cushions (Available on Amazon.com: Dr. Scholl’s Corn Cushions Regular 9 count (Pack of 6)). You know you have come across these in Grandma’s medicine cabinet but did you know you could use them on your flute??? Like the Flute Gels, these cushions use a mild adhesive to stick to your flute and provide a comfortable distance between your blister and the metal. These are not as soft as the gels but are extremely affordable (a pack of 18 will run you around $2.00), easily replaceable and the empty space in the center of the pad aligns perfectly with the blister meaning that stabilizing pressure will not be placed against your flute blister (whether that pressure is contracted from the metal or the cushion). Word of advice – make sure to polish the area before applying the cushion or the adhesive will not properly stick to the metal. These are perfect if you prefer a clean surface to use once a week rather than a more longer lasting gel. photo 3 (2)
  3. Mounting Squares (Available on Amazon.com: 3M Scotch 311DC Heavy Duty 1-Inch Mounting Squares, 48-Squares). These are traditionally used by college students to hang posters in their dorm rooms (I myself kept a stockpile of these during my college days) but they can also be used to create a cushion for your flute blister. Mounting squares use a much stronger adhesive than both the Flute Gels and the Corn Cushions but when stacked together allow the user to customize the amount and thickness of the cushion to the size of their hand. The downside is that the outside of the cushion, or the part that contacts the blister, will be sticky when you first start using it therefore you must wear off the adhesive before extended use (you can do this by tapping the adhesive a few times with the pads of your fingers). These are also an affordable option and are appropriate for flutists with larger hands or those of us that, despite our better judgment, tend to apply too much pressure between our index finger and the side of the flute. photo 2 (1)
  4. Good, Old Petroleum Jelly (Available on Amazon.com: Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, Original 1.75 oz). This one is not necessarily a product that can be placed on the instrument (don’t… just don’t) but one that when applied to your blister before bed each night will soften the skin and provide daily relief.

Do you have a product that you use for your flute blister? Have you used any of the above products? Do you have any of your own pain relief tips? Please comment below!

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Flute Favorites – Books

Happy Friday! Those of you who have been following my blog may have noticed that new posts are typically added once or twice per month. Beginning with the below post, I will be coming out with new blogs once a week on Fridays. FLUTE FRIDAYS! Some will be longer, some will be short and sweet but all will be informative, entertaining and fun.

Inspired by “favorites” videos on YouTube, I have put together my own list of favorites beginning with some of my favorite books about flute, performing and understanding what it means to be a musician. Please leave a comment below with your own favorite books and lets inspire the greater flute community to flip through thousands of pages of new ideas.

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 1.  Indirect Procedures; A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique by Pedro De Alcantara.  This is by far the best book I have come across dealing with the Alexander Technique, complete with sample exercises, graphics depicting proper use in musical and non musical circumstances and a straight forward explanation regarding the history and theory behind the practice. If you suffer from performance anxiety and wish to change your approach to the stage, and lets face it, life in general, this is a must read. “Stage fright is but a reaction to a stimulus. The stimulus may be universal to all performers, but the reaction to it varies from person to person.” -page 262

Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks)

2.  The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical and Artistic Aspects by Theobald Boehm. This book has a special place in my heart as it was the first book about the flute given to me from a very supportive middle school band director. The Flute and Flute Playing features a detailed description of the Boehm flute, complete with graphics of historical Boehm style flutes and the additions made to older models that led to the development of the modern flute we know today. What I love most about this book is Part II which deals with historically grounded approaches to flute playing (long tones, finger exercises, practicing, etc.) and developing musical interpretation. “The interpretation of a piece of music should evidently give to the hearer what the composer has endeavored to express in notes.” -page 145

The Flute and Flute-Playing in Acoustical, Technical, and Artistic Aspects (Classic Reprint)

3.  The Art of Practicing; A Guide to Making Music From the Heart by Madeline Bruser. This book is great for those of you looking for ideas on how to spice up your practice routine or to make daily exercises meaningful and less automatic pilot. What I love the most about this book is that it encourages the readers to be conscious of their practice environment (and not just the notes on the page) but also dares us to be spontaneous in our practice sessions. Play from the heart. Improvise! Stop thinking about right and wrong and simply make music. “Practicing is a chance to be with the music you love. You can bring your best to it or you can cheat yourself of the opportunity to discover the depths of the music and of your own gifts.” -page 30

The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart

4. The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green. While Indirect Procedures deals more with retraining your mind to improve your performance (a reprogramming, if you will), the Inner Game of Music approaches stage fright by addressing the inner dialog that plays in a musician’s mind as they perform. I have used this book for several years now and always refer to it before an audition to silence the “oh my god what if I mess up” voice that seems to scream at me for several hours before I hit the stage. The greatest lesson I received from this book is that you must give yourself permission to fail. What is the worst thing that could happen? Most of the time the worst thing really isn’t as big of a tragedy as the voice in your head wants you to believe. “Many musicians find there is a big difference between the way they play when they are trying and when they are simply being aware. The awareness mode encourages the conscious mind to listen to what’s happening, and this increases the amount of feedback we receive, which allows positive changes to occur almost without effort.” -page 47

The Inner Game of Music

5.  Psychology for Musicians; Understanding and Acquiring the Skills by Andreas C. Lehmann, John A. Sloboda and Robert H. Woody. This book was a huge eye opener for me and came at a time when I was really trying to understand why my playing changed so drastically in different group settings, surrounded by different performers and in front of different conductors. I was searching for answers that explained how I related to music making, how I got this way and how I can understand the music profession in terms of psychological causes and effects. I find this book to be similar to a psychic personality reading where answers about how you are the way you are and what influences your attitudes and approaches to life seem to pop out of nowhere and present you with light bulb, AHA! moments that you didn’t really see coming. “Are contemporary audiences less prepared to buy the “unadulterated” classical model? They may not want to sit motionless in a concert hall all evening. We may have to change the concert experience to make it more attuned to their different ways of engaging with music.” -page 240

Psychology for Musicians: Understanding and Acquiring the Skills

 

Have you read any or all of the above books? Do you have your own life changing quotes from these pages? Has any of the content listed here change your flute playing for the better? Please comment below.