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 http://www.smartmusic.com/ .


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!


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