Month: November 2016

Flute Meme Friday (Part II)

Welcome to the holiday season! I hope all of you in the United States are enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday. About a year ago I posted a blog called, “Flute Meme Friday,” with a list of my top 10 flute memes. Today I give you 10 more memes! We could all probably use a chuckle or two after enduring such a tumultuous Fall 2016. Always remember that out of great turmoil comes great art. Keep searching for that silver lining. Laugh on and enjoy!

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Do you have a favorite meme? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

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Practice Blueprints – Serenade by Howard Hanson

Welcome a new Flute Friday (actually posting on a Friday this time!).

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Today’s blog is the 4th installment of the Practice Blueprints Series, addressing the wonderfully passionate, sometimes creepy, and always scale-happy Serenade by Howard Hanson. I find in my old age that I need a few cups of coffee and a Red Bull to perform this piece with the same vigor and energy that I had at 18. Hanson demands intensity and persistence. Anything less and this piece plays like a Taffanel and Gaubert style concerto of scale exercises (*yawn*). To quote Kid President, “Anyone can be boring, but you’re gooder than that.” The sparkle in this work can be found in moments of melodic simplicity (they do exist!). Contrast these sections with the volcanic scale explosions found in climactic phrases using variations in vibrato speed and tone color to give this piece the extra bit of drama it deserves. Do not be fooled by the innocent 3-page format. Hanson certainly packs a ton of notes in the little ditty. Buckle your safety belts. Stretch your wrists. Loosen your fingers. Let’s get ready to rumble!

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Beware! The opening entrance is disorienting. “But, why?” you ask, “It’s just a bunch of 8th notes.” Looks can be deceiving, my friends. The piece opens in A minor and the pick-up note to beat 2 of the opening measure actually begins on a tonic A played in octaves in the piano part, resolving on beat 2 to a C, the third of the scale. This is significant because what appears to be a pick-up in the score in fact sounds like a solid downbeat. This is a compositional trick to disorient the listener. Not only is it awkward to feature an opening pick up note on the tonic of the scale but to begin the introduction on beat 2 rather than beat 1 is a bit jarring. The flute entrance in measure 3 of this work is also quite strange as it begins at the conclusion of the third repetition of the piano’s opening phrase. Okay, you’ve been warned! Be ready. A good way to prepare for this opening weirdness is to play both parts along with a recording to train your ear to listen to the melody rather than count the beats. Better yet, find a friend to play the piano melody and practice entering on the final high G natural in the third phrase with your entrance on the A in bar 3. Finally, as good practice and really one of the best investments you can make for your own practice on this and future pieces, sign up for a Smart Music subscription. Smart Music includes a piano part to this piece that you can practice over, and over, and over, and over again. I cannot tell you how many times I have started and stopped this very track to train my brain to listen to the melody rather than search in the dark for the “true” downbeat.

Learn Your Scales. Yes, I know this is obvious advice for anyone just glancing at the score, but it is imperative that you have your scales under your fingers, particularly in the high register, because they will fly like the wind in this piece! Practice slowly with a metronome to avoid rushing. A handy trick to save some time and brain power is to write the name of each scale in your score. For example, beginning with the pick-up to 4 measures after Rehearsal 3, instead of squinting at the notes in each run, simply write “E major” above the entire phrase. All 3 runs in this passage are in the key of E major. The virtuosic scales at Rehearsal 5 appear terrifying but look a bit closer. The scales stay in A major for 3 lines!! Simply write “A major” above this section and half of your work is already done. Analyze any passages written in scales for these and other shortcuts and you will come to find that the work is not as difficult as it appears.

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Trill Fingerings are your Friends. Another great shortcut in this piece is to find places to substitute trill fingerings in place of standard, clunky, high register fingerings. For example, 2 measures before Rehearsal 3 can be simplified by using the trill finger for higher the G# to A rather than standard fingerings. The same concept can be applied 2 measures before Rehearsal 10 where trill fingerings can be used on the high E natural, D#, C#, F, E, D, C, G, F#, E, and D. The notes in this work often move so quickly that substituting a trill fingering will not adversely affect the quality of sound. Save your fingers.

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Use Breath Kicks to Keep Track of the Beat. A major concern in pieces such as the Hanson Serenade, which features long strings of technical passages, is that it is very easy for a performer to lose the beat in an effort to play all of the notes on the page. You may find yourself slowing down during the easier scales and rushing the more complicated bits while your accompanist listens very carefully to place their downbeats somewhere in the general vicinity of your spinning scales. Help yourself and your accompanist by adding breath kicks, or slight accents or elongations, to only the notes falling on the downbeat. Practice this, for example, 1 measure before Rehearsal 9. This passage is very repetitive and packed with notes. Place breath kicks on each of the Bb’s falling on the downbeats in this measure. You may do this simply by adding vibrato to these notes or holding out the note slightly longer than the notes surrounding them. Used in this passage, breath kicks will help you retain a steady beat while adding the necessary bravura to the fast-moving passage.

Use Rubato with Caution. Unlike some of the works we have looked at from the French Flute School, this piece is draws it’s intensity not from artificial rubato added by the performer but from persistent undercurrents of rhythmic motion. If you wish to add bits of rubato for dramatic effect, apply them sparingly. Longer melodic phrases, such as those found at the beginning of the work, are good places to experiment with rubato, but do so without disturbing the rolling motion of the accompaniment.

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Have you performed this piece and if so, what helped you tackle some of the most challenging phrases? Have any of the above tips helped you streamline technical elements in this piece? What do you find most challenging about the Hanson Serenade and how do you think we can simplify the work? Please comment below.

 

Happy Fluting!

Perceptual Filters: The 7 Learning Styles

Welcome to another Flute Friday/Monday.

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This week I will be taking a break from the Practice Blueprints series to discuss learning styles and how flute teachers and students may approach learning to play the flute from a better understanding of our unique perceptual brain processes. We are all very different and experience life through different filters. You may work well in a group to develop grand ideas and insightful plans but freeze under pressure when the time comes to put your group’s finding into words. In terms of music, you may be a terrific soloist but find yourself lost in an orchestral setting. You may also be able to understand what you hear but be confused by the notes you see on the page. The key to understanding how we relate to music is by looking at how we process information. How do you understand what you are playing? How do you learn new pieces? Under what circumstances does the lightbulb in your head light up? Below are the 7 different learning styles as they are generally understood by educators. Where do you fall under these distinctions? Where do your students fall? I hope this list helps you devise new ways to explain concepts to different types of learners and better understand old concepts yourself.

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Visual Learners. Visual learners learn new ideas using pictures, diagrams, and colors. These learners also use words associated with pictures to make connections between different concepts. In terms of flute playing, a good exercise to practice with your visual learners is connecting tone colors to sounds. These students essentially need to see it before they believe it. A green sound, for example, could be related to a relaxed vibrato and mp-mf dynamic levels, while a red could indicate climatic moments to be played with generous amounts of vibrato and sound. Encourage your students to color in their scores with colored pencils indicating their color scheme in visual form. Get creative with other visual diagrams on your music. Bracket the form of the piece and any time the music repeats or transitions, include a visual reminder in the score to tie the music to the surrounding material. Place symbols above notes to indicate unique subdivisions of the notes. Remember, if a visual learner can see it, they will play it!

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Auditory/Musical Learners. These learners have been gifted with an ability to understand music in its most natural form. Auditory learners process information using sounds, rhymes, and music. These are the students that easily memorize mnemonic devices, create songs or poems to help them remember critical lessons, and require some type of background music to facilitate the learning process. Truly musical learners will respond well to a demonstration teaching model. Play a phrase for your student and ask them to replicate what they hear. This will be an interesting challenge for the auditory learner to use natural skills to learn something new. You may also ask them to sing their part. Singing the melody will create a deeper mental and emotion connection for the auditory learner rather than simply playing the notes on the page.

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Verbal Learners. Bloggers like myself often fall under this umbrella. Verbal learners use the written and spoken word to study and share ideas far and wide. We love our scripts and often practice speeches in front of our mirrors, writing out every word, thought, idea, and any moments of creative inspiration. The simplest word can provide a very powerful intuitive connection to a sound or idea. Last week I spoke about how the phrase “pulling taffy” helped me understand how to add vibrato to the opening of Bach’s Sonata No. 4 in C Major. While this phrase makes perfect sense to me on an interpretive level, I know that for a visual learner it may not hold the same meaning. If you or your students are visual learners, reserve some time to listen to your music with a recording and add your own creative interpretive words to the score. If the music makes you think of waves swirling around the entrance to Voldemort’s cave, write “Voldemort’s Cave,” or “waves” above the score to trigger the connection to this interpretation. Journaling is also a very good practice for the verbal learner. Ask your students to keep a practice journal with daily entries addressing strengths and weaknesses in their practice sessions and music goals for the immediately and distant future. A journal will help the verbal learners process what they’ve learned and develop new strategies for tackling future problems.

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Physical/Kinesthetic Learners. Physical learners are those who best understand what the mind-body connection is and how it relates to music. Those who learn through sensations, or through physical feelings associated with objects, are considered physical learners. These are our athletes, our physicians, our construction workers, and many other professionals that work primarily with their hands. Music provides a number of stimuli for physical learners to connect with the sensation of creating music. Posture and movement are very important for these learners. Marching to the beat comes naturally for physical musicians. Ask any students falling under this category to march to the beat to correct any rhythmic inconsistencies. Physical learners will also connect well to the Alexander Technique and other postural exercises. Select these students for in-class postural demonstrations to inspire other learners to explore the ways they can better use their physiology to improve performance ability.

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Solitary/Intrapersonal Learners. Some may refer to these individuals as “loners,” however the solitary learner possesses a unique natural ability to become their own lifelong teachers. These learners prefer to learn about themselves by themselves and do their best work behind closed doors. Work is often aligned with personal beliefs and made significant through powerful emotional connections. Guess where you may find musicians falling under the solitary learner umbrella? That’s right! Logging countless hours in the practice room. The practice room is a sanctuary for these musicians. They must learn to learn from themselves and apply lessons to their own understanding of the world. It is important that solitary learners have very specific homework assignments that push them to challenge themselves. As long as the task is something that speaks to their souls (music, for example) they will always surpass expectations. I find myself, most of the time, falling under this category and one of my strengths is my ability to memorize music. Memorizing takes an incredible amount of time in the practice room but it is a well-defined challenge that drives a solitary learner toward a personally significant goal. The music becomes not just a simple text placed in front of them but a part of their mind and a reflection of their emotions.

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Social/Interpersonal Learners. I always envy these types of musicians because they make performing in an orchestra (which is often a solitary learner’s worst nightmare) look like a simple walk in the park. Social learners process the world through their interactions with others. These individuals seek out groups and form their understanding of a subject by exploring it with others. The best chamber musicians are social learners. These students learn best by playing in ensembles big and small. Ask your social learner students to join or, better yet, organize a flute choir. Play duets with these students, asking them to explore new concepts within the context of a shared part. Give them new approaches to sound and articulation that can be practiced in their weekly orchestral rehearsals. Social learners love to learn about effective approaches to correct intonation issues between different instruments. To these musicians, music is something to be shared with others using a unique form of non-verbal communication.

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Logical/Mathematical Learners. Calling all theorists! The logical learner is one who understands new ideas through logic, reasoning, facts, rules, and systems. Obviously, mathematicians fall under this category, but other examples of logical learners may include computer engineers, scientists, and accountants. Musicians who are logical learners often develop special powers as analytical super geniuses. They understand better than anyone how the micro-pieces of a score fit together to form a logical plan. For these learners, the crescendo to the climax is not what makes a phrase significant but rather the underlying cadential pattern to a non-standard chord is what makes us illicit an emotional reaction. If you suspect your student is a logical learner, ask them to analyze their music before they begin practicing from the score. This includes completing a harmonic and melodic analysis of both the piano and flute parts for any major works. This will help them make sense out of the music they play by, quite literally, decoding the score. Logical learners may also understand scales and arpeggios better than your average student. Assign these students exercises from that scary Vade Mecum book that the other students avoid. They will enjoy it and will use their natural sense of logic to strengthen their natural performance abilities.

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What kind of learner are you? Do you find yourself fitting into more than one category? How can you approach new lessons using your own natural learning abilities? What types of students are in your flute studio? How can you better relate to them in terms of their unique learning styles? Please comment below!

 

Happy fluting!

Practice Blueprints – Bach Sonata No. 4

Welcome to a new Flute Friday/Monday. I am very happy to announce that I have relocated my flute studio to Waldport, Oregon and am currently accepting new students. Please contact me if you are in the Newport/Waldport/Yachats area and are searching for a flute instructor. I also offer Skype lessons for those of you residing outside of the area. Please contact me for scheduling and availability.

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Today’s blog is the 3rd installment in the Practice Blueprints Series and, as promised, I will be covering a piece written outside of France. Bach’s Flute Sonata No. 4 in C Major is a work embraced by baroque flutists and performed by classical flutists young and old. Revered for its melodic simplicity and relentlessly spinning 16th notes, this sonata provides an interpretive blank canvas for a performer to experiment with different combinations of dynamics and articulations. As we have discussed in other works in this series, the Bach Flute Sonata in C Major is another great piece to practice various double-tonguing articulations, chunking, and experiments in tone color contouring. The following is a series of practice suggestions to help you get started on this sonata, refine elements that you may already be struggling with in your daily practice, or find new ways to use what you already know to further strengthen fundamental of technique. I often tell my students that Bach is like the Beyoncé of classical composers and I hope that by the end of this post you will understand why.

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Pulling Taffy. When I was learning to play this sonata in my youth, my flute teacher at the time told me to approach the opening Andante as if I were “pulling taffy.” I understood what this meant on an interpretive level, but when the time came for me to articulate the same concept to my students, I wanted to make sure I had a way to explain the idea of “pulling taffy” to a left brain dominant learner. How do I approach this interpretation from a logical rather than sensory position? The answer was in the slurs. The slurs in the opening Andante outline the individual lines of taffy that you must stretch and, as on a traditional taffy pulling machine, the true stretch occurs in the middle of the line formed by the end rollers. Using rubato as our musical taffy puller, begin each slurred grouping at tempo, slowing the tempo slightly in the center of the slur, and gradually returning to the starting tempo by the end of the slur. Not every slur needs to follow this pattern so you may pick and choose which taffies you will stretch and which will simply serve as pick up figures to the next taffy grouping.

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Trills. The traditional, tried and true approach to baroque trills still applies to this sonata. (And you thought you could escape!) Begin all cadential trills from the note above, trilling slowly at first and gradually speeding up as you approach the resolution of the trill. You may have more time on certain trills than others, therefore it is important that you time your accelerando appropriately. For example, you have more time to trill the E to F trill in measure 4 of the opening Andante than you do before the concluding D to E trill in measure 10 leading into the Presto. Stretch the trill in measure 4 to create a slower accelerating and more profound trill with the time you are given. Bach also provides us periodic clues regarding where to emphasize the stretch of a trill. For example, in the Adagio movement, eighth note grace notes are placed on the note above a longer trill in measures 2, 5, 11, 12, and 13 indicating that a longer, natural stretch is to be placed on this initiating note.

Tongue stops. Word of warning: The Presto mid-way through the opening movement of this sonata always seems to come out of nowhere. It is the Bach “Surprise,” gotcha moment of the piece. It is sometimes difficult to switch so quickly between the tranquillo mood of the opening to the frantic tone of the Presto, but a good way to prepare yourself is to set up a light, staccato articulation using tongue stops. A tongue stop is literally adding a consonant to the end of your articulation to stop the note and prepare the tongue for the next note in the sequence. This technique comes is quite handy when playing extensive staccato passages written in speedy tempos (I’m looking at you, Saint-Saens). The easiest way to practice this is by using the syllable “tut” or, if double tonguing, “tut-kut.” Using these syllables as tongue stops throughout the Presto will lighten up the entire line, making it much easier to play at faster speeds.

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2nd Movement Fun! Egg Shakers. Some of you may remember my post on how to use an egg shaker to iron out longer passages of moving notes. The 2nd movement of this Bach Sonata is the best exercise to practice your egg shaker technique. It is very easy to rush these running 16th as the entire movement is built on the concept of perpetual motion. You may find yourself rushing the opening measures but dragging when the going gets tough in the B section beginning in measure 21. Practice your 16th note technique away from the instrument by practicing 16th notes on an egg shaker with your metronome. Using a back-forward-back-forward shaking motion from the wrist, practice graceful yet decisive movements between notes rather than tensing your wrist between shakes. You will find that practicing this technique away from the instrument will help you translate the same grace and consistency to your flute playing.

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2nd Movement Fun (Continued)! Coos. In each of the pieces we have already discussed in the Practice Blueprints series, there has always been a section of music that can be used to practice various articulations. This is the Mac Daddy of all movements to practice double tonguing. I use the second movement of the Bach on a daily basis to practice “coos” and “uka-tuka”s. Memorize this movement! Change up the articulation each day and add it to your collection of warm-ups. Practice “duc-ky”s, “doo-goo”s, and, if you want a challenge, “tuk-ka-dug-ga-rug-ga-yug-ga.” (Good luck on that one!) In the end, you will have the movement permanently stapled in your brain and your double tonguing will be effortless.

2nd Movement Fun (Continued)! Chunking. Are you sick of this movement yet? Don’t be! This is one of the most versatile movements in all of flute literature and can be used to practice some of the most basic fundamentals. Chunking is another easy thing to tackle in this movement. Chunking is essentially the art of breaking longer stretches of rhythm into smaller, bite-sized pieces that the brain can process one at a time. Determine your “chunks,” place pauses between each chunk, practice the chunks individually, and finally, when you are ready, put the phrases back together as written. The below is an example of how you may start to break up your chunks. You may choose to place your chunks on different notes but as long as you keep your chunks short (3-4) you will be able to achieve the same effect. Chunking keeps longer stretches of music exciting and consistently moving forward.

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Get Creative with Dynamics. You may notice that Bach seldom indicates dynamics in his works that are not what we refer to as “terraced” dynamics. Terraced dynamics, in a nut shell, are when entire sections of music are marked in piano dynamics, juxtaposed against sections marked forte (sort of like seeing the world only in black and white terms). It is often up to the performer to add their own dynamics based on their interpretation of the music. Listen to the score with a recording and mark any natural places where you might crescendo into a climatic point of a phrase or diminuendo toward a resolution. You may also be on the lookout for phrases that repeat or present themselves in sequences. These are ideal times to add your own terraced dynamics between the two phrases to differentiate melodic ideas. For example, you may add a forte in measure 27 of the opening movement followed by a piano in measure 28. Measure 28 is a sequence of measure 27 therefore using dynamics to separate these two similar, but different, musical ideas keeps the melody interesting and the music moving forward. Where else can you experiment with dynamics? There are no right or wrong answers if your choices reflect your interpretation of the score.

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Be Brave and Add Ornamentation to a Straightforward Melody. Minuets I and II at the conclusion of this Sonata present ideal opportunities to add your own baroque sparkle to an otherwise static melody. A good practice is to perform the melodies as written the first time through and on the repeat sprinkle a few trills, turns, or short scale-wise runs on longer notes. As with adding dynamics, adding ornamentation is essentially up to the interpretation of the performer. You may want to listen to other recordings of Baroque pieces written for other instruments (harpsichord, violin, cello, etc.) or research Baroque styles of ornamentation before selecting the types of special effects that you wish to insert. I, myself, prefer trills and turns as they can easily be added to most notes to emphasize their importance in the line. Whatever ornamentation you chose, ensure that the figures conform to your interpretation of the melody and are selected with purpose (improvisation can be tricky in Baroque music and may take time, practice, and patience to formulate).

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There are numerous approaches to this work and countless articles written by Baroque scholars on how to properly perform Bach Sonatas per traditional performance practice. I am not unfortunately not a Baroque scholar but I hope that the above suggestions at least give you a starting point as you begin your foray into Baroque music.

How do you approach Bach Sonatas? Have any of the above tips helped you to improve your performance? What other suggestions do you have to approach this flute sonata or similar flute sonatas written by Baroque composers? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting!