Month: December 2016

Flute on a Budget

Welcome to another Flute Friday/Sunday!!! I hope everybody’s holiday season is off to a great start.

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Today we will be taking a break from the Practice Blueprints series to discuss ways to develop your flute playing on a budget. Being a musician is expensive! My family did not have a lot of money when I was younger, so when I decided at age 12 that I wanted to learn the flute, instead of dropping money they did not have on a shiny new instrument, my parents purchased a used flute from the local Pawn Shop for $100. We found ways to limit purchases on accessories and invest in music and recordings on an at-needed basis. I used the limited tools that were available to me to create learning and performance opportunities and, using new advancements in technology, found low-cost and free resources to help support my ongoing growth as a musician. In today’s blog, I will be sharing some of these resources with those of you who may also be on a budget. Learning does not always have to come with a price tag. Just remember that the most important part about being a musician will always be free and that is the power that exists in our own minds.


Create a Music Swap with your Friends or Collogues.     This is a great way to learn new pieces or sharpen your sight-reading skills without having to shell out an enormous amount of money on brand new scores that you may or may not like. Agree on a fixed price with your friends when purchasing new music and set up an exchange schedule. For example, each person may be limited to a $30 budget to purchase new music and may have 2 weeks to practice each score. You may choose to perform any of the pieces and when you are done, pass the score on to another who may want to perform the same piece later. This turns a $30 investment into a $60, $90, or $120 learning opportunity (depending on how many other flutists are in your swap group). You may also swap scores already in your collection. Keep an excel spreadsheet listing all the pieces you already own and compare lists with other flutists in your group. Maybe you are interested in learning the Liebermann Sonata and somebody else in your group would really like to borrow your copy of the Copland Duo. Swapping music helps keep music costs low, builds constructive relationships with fellow flutists, and increases your access to new and exciting music.


Invest in SmartMusic.    An important performance expense that can add up very quickly is regular rehearsals with your accompanist. Just like your flute teacher, an accompanist typically charges an hourly rate for rehearsals and performances. If your accompanist charges $40/hour, you may find yourself shelling out at least $200 to put on a single, 1-hour recital. Ouch… A yearly SmartMusic subscription costs $40 and will help you cut down on necessary rehearsals with your accompanist. SmartMusic is a piano accompanying program that allows you to play along with the piano part to numerous solo works in the standard flute canon. Using a microphone, the program listens to your tempi and follows you based on your own predetermined settings. Let’s be honest: How much of the time spent with your accompanist is simply figuring out how your part meshes with the piano part? SmartMusic helps you learn much of this long before you meet with your accompanist. For more information about SmartMusic, see .


Peruse YouTube for Recordings.               Done are the days when excellent performances are only available on CD (for a price). YouTube is filled with clips from performances of nearly any piece by all levels of performers. If you are searching for a recording of a piece that you are working on, peruse YouTube for multiple recordings of the same piece. Explore different approaches and interpretations to the same music by numerous professionals with the simple, and free, click of a mouse. You may also find clips taken from masterclasses held by top flute professionals. YouTube truly opens the doors to music that was only available to the few in the past.


Simply Google the word “Flute.”              The World Wide Web is truly an amazing resource! For a fun exercise, simply google the word “flute.” You will be inundated with resources, videos, blogs, newsletters, tips, tricks, instruments, etc. Everything you ever wanted to know about the flute can be found on the web. Start researching! Make a list of your most important and useful links and find something new to try in your flute study on each site.


Make Use of Free Software and Apps.                   To keep you on track with your practice time, check out a free timer website on the internet or a timer app on your smart phone. Instead of investing in an expensive metronome or tuner, keep costs down by using a free metronome or tuner app available in iTunes. Use an Excel spreadsheet to create charts and graphs of your practice time. Technology has made portable programs available to us for free that used to require specialized, bulky, and costly, equipment.


Gig Time Sundays.           Who says you need to join an orchestra to play in a group! Create your own. Set up Gig Time Sundays to invite other flutists to read flute choir music in your garage. This will help you develop relationships with fellow flutists, sight-read new music with friends, play through piccolo, alto, and bass parts you may otherwise not have much exposure to, and develop important ensemble skills that translate to other groups you may be performing with now or in the future.  Plus, it is just a fun, and refreshing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Perform at Retirement Homes and Churches.     A good way to practice performing in front of an audience is to host free recitals at retirement homes and churches. These groups really appreciate classical musicians and truly understand the hard work that we put into our craft. And the best part….it is free. You gain experience and earn a bit of good karma by entertaining those that may not have opportunities to experience classical works of music in other settings. It is truly a win-win opportunity.


Audit a Masterclass.       Although performing in a masterclass is tremendously valuable, it can also be tremendously expensive. To cut costs but still gain useful tips and new approaches to try out in your own practice, attend a local masterclass as an auditor. Save on lodging by commuting to the class as a day auditor. Take a pen and paper and take notes on all the lessons presented to performers at the class. This is also a good opportunity to create your own TRY THIS list! You may not get hands-on experience at these classes, but you will absorb a wealth of information for a fraction of the cost.


Apply to Summer Music Programs that Offer Scholarships.          Scholarships were my way of life throughout high school and college. You would be amazed at how many elite programs offer financial assistance to talented musicians. Scholarships are very competitive, often requiring interviews or additional auditions, but open very important doors to those willing to put in the work that may otherwise be closed due to financial constraints. The Interlochen Summer Arts Camp and the Summer Program at Aspen offer scholarship opportunities sometimes covering the entire cost of the camp (!). I was very proud to receive the Emerson Scholarship to attend the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp for the state of Idaho as a high school junior and consider the summer I spent there one of the most important learning opportunities of my career.


Attend Free Family Concerts Hosted by your Local Symphony.   Symphony orchestras periodically offer free family concerts, or free concerts in the park, to support the surrounding community or preview their upcoming concert seasons. These are common during the summer months and around the holidays. Search online for your local symphony’s events calendar. If you are traveling, attending a free symphony concert is a culturally rich, and inexpensive, addition to your getaway. These concerts are excellent ways to experience world class music for a rock bottom price!


What other ways can you improve your flute playing for a low price? What free resources do you use on a regular basis? Are there low cost approaches to flute study that you use in your own practice? Please comment below.


Happy Fluting!


Practice Blueprints – Griffes Poem

Welcome to another Flute Friday/Monday and the 5th installment of the Practice Blueprints series. Are you getting sick of these yet? I hope not!


Today’s blog will deal with Poem by Charles T. Griffes, a piece that tugs on the heart strings of anyone that meets it. At first glance, the form of the piece seems to be a lovely, straight-forward A, long B, A form or even an A, B, C, D, E, A configuration (what????), but if you think about the work in relation to the written word (it is titled “Poem,” after all…), it makes more sense as a plot summary; Exposition, Development, Climax, Resolution. The connection to poetry and storytelling in this work is what makes the Griffes Poem unique and not just another pretty-sounding piece. It is as if Griffes gave us the emotional interpretation of his poem without the words. Find the words! Find the story buried within the music and the piece will sing on its own. Keep this in mind as you chisel away at the various technical and musical challenges. The Griffes Poem is, after all, a single, cohesive idea tied together with changing transitions and textures.


Intonation.         The opening and concluding key of C# minor is obviously not our favorite. The problem with this pesky key is that it exposes some of our most difficult notes to tune with a piano (or most other instruments, for that matter); C#, F#, G#, and my personal favorite, E natural. Tuner time!! Practice the opening 48 measures in slow motion with your tuner, examining the tendencies of each pitch. Are your G#s naturally on the sharp side? Are your E naturals flat? If you are a visual learner, or just need some additional reminders here and there, draw arrows up or down above important sustained pitches in your score. For example, in my score I have up arrows above the middle register E’s in measures 13 and 31, and down arrows above the C#’s in measures 18 and 23. There are also one or two trick fingerings that you may use as tuning shortcuts in this opening passage. For any sustained high or middle C#’s or C’s, which tend to be sharp, place all three fingers down on your right hand to bring down the pitch. If you find that this flattens the pitch too far, you may experiment by instead only adding one or two fingers on the right hand. Let your tuner, and your ears, decide how low you may go. Finally, for E naturals in the middle register, lightly vent the 2nd trill key with the right-hand ring finger to bring up and stabilize this otherwise flat note. Do not press the trill key all the way down or the pitch may go too far in the other direction. Practice this fingering with a tuner to get it just right. Finally, make sure that you are practicing this section with vibrato if you are using a tuner. Adding vibrato to a pitch often raises the pitch more than the straight tone pitch.


Breath Kicks.      There are many sections in this piece that can run off the rails quite quickly. An intense and captivating work, it is very tempting to rush the tempo by sheer force of adrenaline. One of the ways to prevent this from happening is by placing breath kicks on notes falling on downbeats (to review: breath kicks are simply accents, added vibrato, or elongations placed on notes falling on key downbeats or subdivisions). The most critical section of the piece to add breath kicks is in the short, explosive cadenza from measures 108-115. Okay, okay – I realize this is a cadenza and you do have a bit of freedom to play the notes as fast or slowly as you want, BUT if you lose all indication of beat in this passage, you will likely confuse your audience and yourself. This cadenza is virtuosic, yes, but is not intended to simply play as a tornado of notes. There is still rhythm, collections of pitches, and, if you listen closely, an underlying melody. If Griffes had intended this cadenza to be simply virtuosic in nature, he would not have written a tremolo in measure 114: He would have indicated a trill. Make sure your audience can hear the difference between a trill and a tremolo (it is subtle but significant). Another great place to add breath kicks at the Piu Mosso in measure 183 through the Vivace at Rehearsal M. The music is spinning, getting faster and more intense with every passing measure. You will want to rush because it is exciting! Breath kicks here will prevent the allure of rushing, and anchor repetitive patterns such as those found in measures 202 and 208. They will also add a sparkle of drama to the craziness. After all, the climax of a story usually involves both craziness and loads of drama, otherwise you have a very boring tale.


Conduct and Play.           The tempo is constantly changing in this piece. Don’t get too comfortable at quarter note = 120. You will need to plan out several accelerandos and ritardanos with your accompanist, making sure you are both consistently in agreement. A good way to keep your place as the beat changes is to conduct the beat pattern with the end of your flute as you play. In rehearsals, you may use larger beat patterns to help communicate with your pianist but on stage you will need to be less obvious, limiting patterns to a smaller circle detectable only to yourself and your accompanist. Practice conducting and playing particularly at Rehearsal M where a Vivace tempo quickly morphs into an accelerando at Rehearsal N, continuing through some very clunky fingerings in the high register that begin as slurred triplet figures and move into articulated 16th notes at measure 242. To prevent this passage from becoming completely unglued, practice conducting and playing slowly with your metronome. There are several technical and musical elements working together in this passage to create intensity. Do not let changes in tempo lead you into a panic.


That final C# tho….         When they go low, we go high. No. I am not talking about American Politics. I am referring to the final note of the piece – That sinister low C#. The work concludes on a terribly flat note in a terribly flat register with a terribly flat pianissimo dynamic. This note will most likely be flat. Rats! To counteract this natural flatness, push your headjoint all the way into the body of your instrument some time during the 3 measures of rest preceding the final entrance at measure 284. Make sure to also keep the dynamic soft yet centered and supported to prevent lowering the pitch as your air supply dwindles. Although it is one pitch out of many, it is the most important of the piece. It is the conclusion of the poem. The final kiss at the end of the story and the sun setting over the water. Make it a good one!


What are your tricks for tackling the Griffes Poem? Do you use alternate fingerings for some of the more problematic notes? Do you conduct and play? How do you keep yourself from rushing the tempo during intense, climatic moments? Please comment below.


Happy fluting!