Flute FAQs – Flute Forum Edition

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!


I am a big fan of the Flute Forum group on Facebook and really like the way that the entire flute community, from beginners to professionals, can come together on this platform to ask all of their flute and performing related questions. I have scrolled through some of the most recently posted questions and have come up with my own answers. Today’s post is a spin on FAQs, featuring some of the questions posted on the Flute Forum group page. I hope they give all of my readers some insight into questions that might have also crossed their minds at one time or another. If you have any of your own questions about the flute that you would like me to answer, please comment below!


Does your flute have a name? If so what do U call him/her?

Unfortunately, no, but it seems like a Kelly.


I have been very interested in performing violin transcriptions recently and am looking for some suggestions that you might program for a recital. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

The two pieces that immediately jump into my mind are the Prokofiev Sonata and the Franck Sonata. I also encourage you to write your own transcription of your favorite violin sonata (such as the Saint-Saens Sonata). The violin and the flute are both C-pitched instruments and are generally scored in similar octave ranges. This makes it super easy to create your own version.


I know “How much should I practice?” Has been asked a million times in this forum. However, I would like to ask from some wisdom from all you great musicians I admire on this forum….

Practice time varies depending on your age, skill level, and lifestyle. For example, for my younger beginners, I often set the bar at 30 minutes a day to sustain focus and energy while they learn the ropes. As they advance to an intermediate level, I typically increase suggested practice times by 15-minute increments. For adult beginning students with full time jobs and families, I suggest 45 minutes per day but know full well that this is quite difficult. Instead, I focus more on setting very specific weekly goals so they can prioritize their practice time effectively. I must state here that the ultimate goal is not clocking the correct amount of minutes but rather making each one of those minutes valuable and building towards very specific objectives. 60 minutes of mindlessly playing Mozart concerti is not nearly as valuable as 60 minutes spent with Taffanel and Gaubert working out every articulation under the sun. Make the most out of all your practice sessions. If you are bored or uninspired, put your flute away and come back with fresh energy later. There are no gold stars for the person who logs in the most minutes. Success is obtained by consistently pushing yourself towards tangible and obtainable goals.


Do you find pre-performance nerves or performance-related anxiety in the lead up to a concert can aggravate other sources of stress, leading to non-performance-related anxiety? Specific, I know…

Yes, yes, and yes. I tend to believe that performance anxiety is not as simple as being afraid to perform in front of a crowd. There is nearly always a self-doubt dialog running in the mind of one suffering from performance anxiety and, as one who has suffered for several years myself, I know that those insecurities actually originate somewhere other than the stage. You may want acceptance from somebody in the audience. You may feel that you owe someone a flawless performance and anything less is a failure. You may have grown up perceiving everything around you as good or bad and just cannot accept a bad performance. The next time you begin to feel anxious about taking the stage, ask yourself why. What are you afraid of and why? Chance are good that you may be connecting your performing ability on stage to something else off stage. If you feel the same stress in non-performance scenarios around the same time, the underlying reasons for your anxiety might be indirectly related to those you feel on stage. Perfectionism is often the culprit as is self-acceptance. Let these fears go. Can you accept your worst-case scenario? What does that look like? Let yourself play to the best of your ability on that specific time and place. No matter what happens, tomorrow is always another day.


COA vs Overhaul

I know a lot about playing the flute but know very little about repair. Is there ever a point where a flute (or piccolo) that receives regular COAs should go in for an overhaul?

I’ve only taken one flute in for a true overhaul but it was a 1950s Haynes in rough shape that I knew needed it. I’m curious about my personal flute that I take in regularly.


COAs should really be scheduled once a year and I encourage students to take their instruments in for an overhaul every 5-7 years at least (depending on how heavily they play their flutes). An overhaul is a bit pricey but a great alternative to purchasing a new instrument if a student is not in the financial position to take the leap.


What’s your routine on your performance day? What about the day before?

If you had asked me this question when I was in graduate school (and I had answered honestly), I might have painted a bleak picture of stressed out cram practicing fed by a whole lot of self-doubt. As an adult, I find much more value in taking it easy in the last moments before a performance. Take out your nerves at the dress rehearsal, but after that, if you do practice, practice in slower chunks with long rests between passages. Focus less on drilling complicated runs and more on foundational aspects of your playing such as sound studies, harmonics, and articulation. Drink water. Eat bananas for extra beta blockers. Meditate. Polish your flute. Above all, trust in the work that you have put into your performance and accept the outcome no matter what happens.


Does anyone know of a short handout on care of your flute, aimed at 8-12 year olds? Ideally with illustrations/graphics to emphasize the point. Last year I made a word doc but it was too wordy! A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.

I really like this simple how-to from Wiki How-To: https://www.wikihow.com/Clean-and-Maintain-Your-Flute Wonderful graphics and very straightforward info. Just do not get too hung up in the comments section.


Hello fellow flutists! I have been working on tuning up my flute & piccolo. I have been using the free App. insTuner. Is this a reliable tuning source? I am noticing that the upper register on my flute is much sharper than the lower 2 registers. I have to pull out my head joint considerably to get the notes in range. My piccolo has been even more difficult to tune as the pitch wavers back & forth. Do I need a better tuner or should I have my instruments checked or both? Any recommendations? Thanks!!

The high range is notoriously sharp on the flute no matter if you are tuning with a free tuning app or a mega expenses Boss Tuner. Try controlling the pitch more from your embouchure rather than constantly adjusting the head joint. This will train your lips and your ears to recognize the tendencies of all pitches. A great exercise to practice intonation is by placing a crescendo-decrescendo on each pitch while watching the needle on the tuner. Can you sustain the pitch through the dynamic changes? If not, what changes can you make in your embouchure to keep the needle from dipping?  I find most tuner apps to be quite accurate and prefer them to the bulky tuners of yesteryear. I do not bother with the not-so-free tuner apps because all they really offer is fun graphics when you are in tune.


Just wondering……. when at home…… Do you all put your flute away in the case or put it on a flute stand after practicing? Of course I do mean AFTER cleaning it.

I always put my flute away in the case. I do not trust my cat, my husband, or mostly my klutzy self to not accidentally knock it over while doing something else. I also live in California and have seen way too many disaster movies. A small earthquake would cost me a pretty penny in repairs if I leave my instrument out unnecessarily.


Do you use oil, vaseline, something else or nothing when you put your flute together?

Nope, nope, and nope. Some of those oils in various lip products can cause a reaction with the metal on a lip plate and result in that notorious black mark on the chin. I’ve had too many people gesturing me to rub my chin after rehearsals over the years to know that no lipstick or chapstick is worth it. You also do not want to transfer products from your hands to the keys. I’m guessing Vaseline and expensive Straubinger pads do not mix well…


Looking for opinions on what the best alto flute is…? I have an Armstrong Heritage alto flute (only one I have ever played) but am looking to upgrade.

I really like Trevor James model altos. Very smooth sound and good quality mechanism. Armstrong is okay and Gemienhardt is standard, but Trevor James really sets the bar. I have really enjoyed all of the Trevor James altos I have ever played.


I’d really like the Gemeinhardt 3SHB (I test played it and I loved it) for my birthday. But it is rather expensive and my mom doesn’t have that kind of money. Does anyone have any suggestions to a flute that has the same features but maybe a bit cheaper? TIA!!!

Do not be afraid to shop for slightly used flutes. Maybe avoid going through Craigslist or Ebay (bad return policies if something goes terribly wrong), but instead try setting up trials through companies such as J.L. Smith and Flute World. I really like the try before you buy method, particularly with used instruments. There is a good chance that you can find a slightly used Gemeinhardt with the same features for far less than a new instrument. This is a really good intermediate model and has been quite standard throughout the decades.


Flutists… I need some recital repertoire recommendations. One of my students who is a senior is giving a recital in May and we want to round out her program with a fun, light closer. Nothing too hard.. She is performing the Overture from the Telemann Suite, Poulenc mvt. 1, and an arrangement of the hymn in the Garden. I was thinking some sort of show tune/polka/jazzy thing
…. What are your recommendations?

The Kuhlau Divertessement No. 5 would be a fun closer as the faster second section of the work sounds a bit carnival-esque, keeping the vibe quite light and fun. You may also consider Flight of the Bumblebee, which is always a crowd pleaser. I also recommend Gossec’s Tambourin and, my personal favorite, the Habanera from Carmen.


What is the recommended tempo for the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt?

I have always practiced this excerpt at quarter note = 84 but all conductors will take different tempos. Practice the excerpt both slower and faster and play along with recordings on YouTube. There are several videos of famous orchestras playing this popular piece. This will help you get an idea of how widely the tempo will vary from group to group.


Hiya! Does anyone know of any pieces where the classical flute imitates pan pipes at all? 😀 Thanks!

I just wrote about this very thing in my Practice Blueprints 101 series on Debussy’s Syrinx, which imitates the pitches of a pan flute using whole tone scales.



Do you have a burning question about the flute that you would like me to answer on an upcoming Flute FAQ’s post? Do you have your own answers to the above questions? What type of FAQ’s would you like me to cover in the future? Please comment below!



Happy fluting!


Top 10 Reasons to Attend the NFA Convention

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday! I hope summer is treating you well so far.

convention 4


I spent my summers in college working retail at a local theme park to save up for books during the upcoming school years. I never felt that I had enough money or extra time to travel to the annual National Flute Association Convention, yet every August I would long to participate in this event. When I returned to campus in the Fall, I listened with envy to the all of the stories about fabulous recitals, wonderful panel discussions, and awesome flute swag that my fellow flutist picked up during The Convention. As I am no longer a poor college student, getting to the annual NFA Convention is not the dauting task it was when I was younger. One of my regrets, however, is that I did not try harder to find a way to attend when I was smack dab in the midst of my flute development. If you are on the fence about whether to attend the NFA Convention this summer (aka. wondering if it is worth the money and time it will take to get there), today’s blog will give you 10 reasons to consider purchasing a ticket. If you are a poor college student like I was, look into conference funding in your college departments. Some schools set aside research funding for students to attend conferences like the NFA. And remember that as a student, you do qualify for discounted membership and convention registration rates! Attending the NFA Convention will likely give you fresh new inspiration to kick off the new academic year with renewed ambition, determination, and of course style.

(Please note: This post is not sponsored.)

convention 2

Top 10 Reason to Attend the National Flute Association (NFA) Convention

  1. The NFA Convention is an opportunity to immerse yourself in everything to do with the flute. Lock out the rest of your worries, cares, and responsibilities and experience all of the new ideas, performances, and innovative techniques that the flute community has to offer.
  2. Networking. It may be scary but try to make some new flute friends! Attend lectures and daily warm-ups. Chat with masterclass performers and ask them about their own flute journeys. You may have more in common with them than you know. Connect with old flute friends. I often run into many of my old colleagues at NFA conventions.
  3. Trying out new flutes. Whether or not you are in the market for a new instrument, it is always good to know the difference between brands, materials, and the usefulness of the bells and whistles. This is a great way to stay hip to current trends in the instrument market.
  4. Learning from the experts. The best of the best often attend the NFA convention and many host convention masterclasses. Attend as many of these as you can and pick up all of the great advice they offer to other flutists. Chances are, these tips will also be useful in your own flute playing. Go to any free open forums and find ways chat with the experts. At a recent convention, I noticed that Jim Walker was on my plane back to California. Despite how nervous I was to speak with him, I eventually introduced myself and asked him for tips on learning to play jazz flute. His advice was wonderful and helped give me the confidence to take the leap into a new genre.
  5. So.Many.Recitals. When do you get the opportunity to see professional artists perform one right after the other in person? The NFA convention makes it possible to listen to the masters of their craft at their best. Enjoy these moments and pick up as much inspiration as you can.
  6. Exploring new repertoire. Are you searching for a new piece to perform at your next recital? Is there a new piece that you are familiar with but are on the fence about adding to your repertoire list? The NFA convention offers a number of opportunities to listen to new repertoire in recitals and masterclass performances. If you find yourself particularly drawn to a piece, it is likely to be available for purchase from Flute World in the exhibition hall.
  7. Picking up some great new flute swag. I once attended a flute convention promising myself that I would not purchase any unnecessary gear only to walk away with a brand-new flute bag, cleaning clothes and swabs, flute gels, and various new etude collections. The flute swag at the NFA convention is abundant and quite fun to explore.
  8. Carefully crafting an individual NFA event schedule that speaks to you and your specific flute interests. There are several lectures, performances, and masterclasses happening during the same time slots. Find the complete schedule here: http://www.nfaonline.org/Annual-Convention/2018/Schedule.aspx Set up your schedule in advance!
  9. Participating in open group playing opportunities. These include flute choir reading sessions, open masterclass forums, and of course playing with all convention attendees during the final gala closing number (Bach’s Air in G).
  10. Location. Location. Location. Uhm, this year’s convention is in Orlando, which houses Disney World, Epcot, and Universal Studios. The NFA usually selects great destination cities that combine opportunities for flute and fun. Take your new flute friends on an outing during your downtime. Remember: “All work and no play makes Jonny a dull boy.” Go hang out at Disney World during the evening hours and catch some fireworks.

convention 3

What is your favorite part about attending the NFA Convention. What are you most looking forward to this year? Please comment below. Hope to see you there!


Happy Fluting!


Greetings and welcome to a very belated Flute Friday! Sorry folks – I was taking my own horoscope advice and enjoying life in Southern California this weekend. Back to the grind today.

Scam 1

Recruiting new students is hard work. You typically need to set up a website, connect with other local teachers, host free masterclasses and/or sectionals at local schools, create and distribute business cards, and get the word out about your studio to anyone and everyone. This usually involves multiple incoming and outgoing emails. In today’s volatile online world, hackers, scammers, and identity thieves are searching for sneaky ways to prey on the vulnerabilities of typical internet users. In the past few years this has also included private music teachers. Scammers on the internet have been known to pose as parents searching for a private music instructor for their hypothetical children, requesting lesson rates, contact information, and lesson locations. Some of these scam emails are more convincing than others and it may be easy to fall into their trap if you are desperately seeking students.

Scam 2

What do these scam emails look like?

Here are a few examples of lesson scam emails that I have found in my own junk mail folder. If you come across similar emails from these senders, do not respond. Simply move these email to your trash folder and move on to genuine lesson inquiry emails.

Example #1

Hello good this is Mike williams i would to know if you offer private music lesson and do you accept credit card as form of payments and are you the owner or manage

Hope to hear from you soon



Example #2

douglas miller <dougman1960@gmail.com>

to bcc: me

Hi, How are you doing today? I want a private lessons for my son

(Matt) at your location.  Matt is 16 year old and is ready to learn.

Please I want to know your policy with regard to fees, cancellations,

and make-up lessons. Also, get back to me with the total fees for 2

months lessons (4-hour lessons in a week) starting this month.


In addition, I want to know your area of specialization(s), the

lessons location and your phone number. Looking forward to hearing

from you.


Thank you,


Example #3

Benny Williams <bennieluvsu@yahoo.com>                          

to bennieluvsu  


     I’m in need of a tutor for my child base on your advert. Julie is 15 year old and easily watch .Although,i understand you are in states i’ve arranged with my cousin living in the states concerning my Daughter staying with him during the whole period of lessons from Russia and he had agreed with me. Below are the following details requested from you for the lesson:

1) Location and Phone Numbers

2) 2 Month Charges of tutoring (1 hour per day /3 days in a week)

3) Teaching Experience.

Mr. Ben Williams


Example #4

Senna Jones <senna231@yahoo.com>

to lenaghan

    Am senna Ballock  by my name,my Daughter will be coming to your area  to spend her holiday with her grandmother, she is 16 years old,i don’t want her to be less busy in the  time of the day that is why am looking to hire a Private Teacher for her she will be attending 2 hours in a day for 2weeks  so i want to know if you can be helping me to  teach  her, i will like you to get back to me with the total charges for 2hours per day for 2weeks  and the address of the tutor, hope to read from you now.



Example #5

leone darwin <leonedarwin@gmail.com>               

to bcc: me

Hello tutor,

  Are you available to tutor my Daughter she is 15yrs,Her name is

Patricia?Get back to me with the details requested so that we can

proceed from there asap.

I’ve arranged with a caregiver in USA that my child is coming to stay

with him for his period of tutoring and he had agreed with me. I want

you to get back to me with following details

1)your present residence address and tel #

2)total cost of tutoring for 1 months (1 hour per day 3 days /week)

3)your years of teaching experience

Payment via cashier’s check,looking forward to hearing from you soonest.

Regards to you and your family


God Bless


 Scam 3

What should you do if you encounter one of these emails?

The above emails are obviously scammers, but sometimes an email can appear as a genuine lesson inquiry. If you recognize the email as a scam, simply trash it, but if you are not sure, direct them back to your website for more information. You could also reply to their email by asking additional questions including how they were referred to you, roughly where they are located, and what level the student is currently playing at. If they do not respond, you will know it is a scammer. Never give out any information that is not already readily available on your website. You may also want to consider having an inquiry form on your website that includes some type CAPTCHA verification. Direct all other email inquiries to this form. This will control the validity of your lesson inquiries.

Scam 4

I would like to put a challenge out to all of my readers today. Check your junk mail folders. Have you received any lesson scam emails? Post them below! Knowledge is power. Let’s create a forum listing the names and wording in all scam emails to take the power away from scammers and empower newbie teachers. Goodbye forever, scammers!

Scam 5

Happy fluting!

Practice Blueprints Repertoire 101 – Siciliano, Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major by J.S. Bach

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday!

bach 1

Today’s blog is a continuation of the Practice Blueprints – Repertoire 101 Series (Are you all still enjoying this series? Please comment below!). The Siciliano movement from Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in Eb major is an excellent introduction to Baroque repertoire and often one of the first pieces I assign to beginners just learning to subdivide sextuplets (they are really not as scary as they look). This piece was requested by one of my readers (thank you!) and I encourage anyone searching for practice blueprints on a particular piece to please comment below or send me a direct message so that I can discuss your piece on an upcoming blog.

There are a number of foundational components to this short movement that, when isolated, not only strengthen your performance of the piece itself but significantly improve your flute playing overall. As the kitten Marie observes in the Disney animated film, The Aristocats, “If you’re smart you’ll learn by heart what every artist knows. You must learn your scales and your arpeggios.” Keep the below guidelines in mind as you work your way through this piece and use them as forever exercises. The music does not end when the performance is over. Use the lessons here to gradually build upon your flute technique over time.

bach 2

Practice your G minor and D minor scales. Much of this work centers around the tonalities of G minor and D minor, so familiarize yourself with all the different versions of these two scales in your daily warm ups (natural, harmonic, melodic minor variations). Your fingers and your ears will get used to hearing and playing familiar note patterns that directly translate to this movement. A good exercise to practice in conjunction with this piece is good, old Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #4 from the 17 Daily Exercises collection. You will learn to work through a number of different types of minor scales and adapt to transpositions in and out of each scale. On the same note…

Also practice your G minor and D minor arpeggios. One of the things to understand about Baroque music is that, in general, what goes up (ascends) typically comes back down (descends) and this is done through the use of scales in conjunction with arpeggios. Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with both during your daily warm ups. A good example of this type of writing can be found at measure 8 where a pattern of ascending broken chords, primarily in F Major, is followed by a melodic g minor descending scale. To save yourself some time and headache, I urge you to simply write the name of the scale or chord above where it appears in your music and devote some of your warm up time to mastering those harmonic patterns. Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10 and #12 are both excellent warm ups to strengthen your skills in these areas. Add these to your practice routine as you learn this movement.

bach 3

Lift the crown of your head slightly up to “reach” higher notes. The melody of this short movement often contains higher notes that seem to jump out of the texture and if you are not prepared, these notes create a sound equivalent to wearing a tube top in church – completely out of place. To give these notes a bit of grace and balance, work that mind/body connection and use the top of your head to lift your neck and head to achieve proper posture. This will enable your air column to open and produce a note with excellent resonance. Try this for the first four measures of the movement to balance out your sound for a much more effective performance

Ask yourself, “Where are these 16th notes leading?” All of the passages written in 16th notes are always trying to lead to a more suspended downbeat or melodic fragment. Picture these phrases as arrows and circle the notes where the arrows lead. Intensify the line as it approaches each landing note. Remember that in this movement the melody is key. Everything else is merely decoration (and lovely notated arrows) that lead us back to the melody.

bach 4

Bring out the leading tones. Bach creates tension in this movement by including a number of suspended leading tones that briefly resolve before moving on to the next musical idea. In a subtle way, he dares his listeners (and performers) to embrace the uncomfortable longing that these notes create in the texture. Therefore, it is very important to emphasize these pitches and, with a sprinkle of strategically placed vibrato, intensify the sound on suspended leading tones. These can be found particularly in measures 17 and 18 and again at measures 27 and 28.

Do not forget to dance. Remember that the Siciliano was a dance movement characterized by lilting dotted figures in a compound meter. March to the larger duple beats as you practice this piece and, if you feel brave enough, even dance around your practice room to these beats to capture the style of the music. Marching and/or dancing will also help iron out any rhythmic difficulties that may arise (such as holding notes a bit too long or resting too long after a sixteenth note rest).

bach 5

Identify opportunities to sneak a breath after a downbeat. Bach does not leave a lot of time to breathe in some of his flute sonatas, but he does hint and places where the melody temporarily resolves enough before the next musical idea, giving us flutists an opportunity to add a Rampal-esque sneak breath. For example, at measure 13 the melody almost always seems to pause on the downbeat of the beginning of a 16th note continuation. These are perfect places to sneak in a very quick breath before moving on. These breaths fit quite well into the natural configuration of the melody and are nearly undetectable to your audience. To ensure that you do not take too long of a breath, shorten the downbeat just enough to inhale a small bit of air. You do want to resolve the cadence, but you also still want to move the music forward.

Keep your volume and tone quality even throughout the dipping and meandering scales. This movement is a very subtle exercise in tone flexibility. Practice retaining volume and sound quality throughout the registers by reviewing Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise No. 10 from the 17 Daily Studies. This exercise will lead you through similar patterns in every major and minor scale under the sun. Focus on keeping your low register resonate while balancing your higher register with a calm yet sparkling sound. This will translate perfectly to the Siciliano and create a much more even and centered sound through the movement.

bach 6

Have you performed this movement before? What were your challenges? Have any of the techniques in today’s blog worked for you? Do you have other techniques that you like to practice in relation to this piece? Please comment below!


Happy Fluting!



What is a Shakuhachi?

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

shakuhachi `

Several years ago when I was working on Fukushima’s Mei, my flute instructor at the time asked me to listen to pieces featuring the Shakuhachi to get a better sense of the overall musical tone of the piece. I thought she had just made up a new name for a fictional instrument played by the aliens on Star Trek or existing on some other strange planet featured in science fiction dramas on television. I had no idea what the Shakuhachi was, where it was played, what it sounded like, how it was performed, or what type of repertoire was written for the instrument. By performing a little bit of research, I came to understand that the Shakuhachi is a beautiful instrument with a haunting, hypnotic sound well suited to solo performance scenarios. In today’s blog, we will be examining the Shakuhachi. I hope to leave you with a new appreciation for this instrument and encourage you to find fresh inspiration buried deep within its sound.

shakuhachi design

What is a Shakuhachi?

A Shakuhachi is a Japanese end-blown bamboo flute that is tuned to a minor pentatonic scale (D-F-G-A-C-D). A simple instrument, the Shakuhachi contains only five finger holes (four in the front and one in the back for the thumb). The term “shakuhachi” translates to “1.8 shaku,” which refers to the size of the instrument. A “shaku” is a unit of length equal to about 30.3 centimeters that is subdivided into 10 subunits. “Hachi” translates to “eight,” and in this case relates to eight subunits of a hachi. Therefore, a typical Shakuhachi measuring at 1.8 shaku is about 54.54 centimeters. It is played by blowing across a block called a “fipple,” similar to blowing across an empty bottle. The sharp edge that the player blows across is called an utaguchi and provides substantial pitch control. When the blowing angle is adjusted, the pitch can be bent easily upward and downward. Combined with embouchure and fingering adjustments, pitches can be altered as much as a whole tone or more (!). This makes it possible for composers to indicate different note names for the same pitch to achieve different tone colors. The Shakuhachi has slightly more than a two octave range, and requires performers to hit the finger holes with a very fast movement to create articulated patters. Due to the skill and time required and the quality of the bamboo materials, Shakuhachis may range from $1,000 to $8,000. Plastic or PVC Shakuhachi are also available on the market, typically for less than $100, however the tone quality of the bamboo model instruments is far superior.

What does a Shakuhachi Look Like?

shakuhachi photo

shakuhachi photo

shakuhachi photo 3

History of the Shakuhachi

The Shakuhachi was transported from Japan to China during the 8th century. Later during the Edo period (approximately 1600-1868), Shakuhachis were most notable for their connection to the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks, known as komuso, who used the instrument as a spiritual tool in meditative practices to relax the mind. They referred to Shukuhachi repertoire at that time as “honkyoku.” These monks often wore wicker baskets while they performed as a symbol of their detachment from the world. Although the honkyoku repertoire was passed down from generation to generation aurally, much has been lost over time. The Shakuhachi has traditionally been played by men in Japan until recently. In 2004, the first-ever concert of international women Shakuhachi masters was held at the Big Apple Shakuhachi Festival in New York City.

shakuhachi history

Shakuhachi Repertoire

The instrument is performed widely in Zen music but has also been featured in folk music and jazz ensembles. The Shakuhachi has been used in film scores such as Karate Kid Parts II and III, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, Jurassic Park, The Last Samurai, and Memoirs of a Geisha. Renowned Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu wrote numerous piece for the Shakuhachi, including his well-known Celeste, Autumn and November Steps. The primary genres of Shakuhachi music are the honkyoku (traditional solo works), sankyoku (ensemble, with koto and shamisen), and the shinkyoku (new music composed for the Shakuhachi and koto – influenced by western music). Sythesized Shakuhachi became all the rage beginning in the 1980s when electronica, pop, and rock groups began to feature the instrument on various album tracks. These recordings include Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” (1982), Dire Straits’ “Ride Across the River” (1985), Rush’s “Tai Shan” (1987), Enigma’s “Sadeness” (1990), Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray,” (1993), and Linkin Park’s “Nobody’s Listening” (2003).

Shakuhachi Performers

Riley Lee – Best known for his performance of Down Mantras (Sydney Opera House at sunrise on January 1,2000 – televised internationally).

Gorō Yamaguchi – Best known for his performance of Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky. This was the first Shakuhachi recording to appear in the United States.

Jim Franklyn – Australian Shakuhachi performer and composer – Composed music for solo Shakuhachi with electronics.

Yoshikazu Iwamoto – Collaborated with British composer John Palmer on Koan (1999), a piece for Shakuhachi and ensemble containing a wide range of extended techniques.

The N.Y.C. Shakuhachi Club (featuring Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes) – This group plays Avant-garde jazz versions of traditional American Folk and Blues songs with Shakuhachi accompaniment.

Clips featuring the Shakuhachi (What does the Shakuhachi sound like?)




Do you own a Shakuhachi? Have you attended a Shakuhachi performance before? What is your favorite piece featuring the Shakuhachi? Can you hear the influence of the Shakuhachi in flute pieces by Fukushima and Takemitsu? Please comment below.



Happy Fluting!





Top 5 Flute Recording Recommendations

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday (one of these days I will get my act together and start posting Flute Friday ON Fridays).

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Summer is just around the corner! This is typically a good time to regroup, reprioritize, and explore new ideas for repertoire. I often find myself getting lost in recordings I find on YouTube or iTunes during the summer months while soaking in the beautiful California Summer sun. I use this time to step outside my own playing and discover something new and inspiring in the playing of another.  Throughout my career there have been a handful of recordings that I have considered staples in my collection. In today’s blog, I will share my top 5 favorite (and highly recommended) flute recordings. If you are searching for new inspiration, spend some time with these masterpieces (and a pair of earbuds). Listen for new ways to approach tried and true repertoire that you may not have considered before, or simply soak in some beautiful flute music under the summer sun.

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  1. 20th Century Flute Masterpieces – Jean-Pierre Rampal

Available on Amazon: 20th Century Flute Masterpieces

Why I love this album:

I was fascinated with complicated yet exciting 20th century works as a graduate student. This CD is full of the best of the best repertoire (Ibert Concerto, Poulenc Sonata, Hindemith Sonata, etc.), many of which have been edited by Jean-Pierre himself at one point or another. I gravitated toward Rampal editions whenever selecting new repertoire, so it was very helpful to have a very good example of how the editor intended the work to be performed. Rampal’s performances are always breathtaking, intricate, technically flawless, and nothing less than inspiring. If you are searching for a 20th century work to program on your next recital, spend some time perusing the tracks on this recording. This will no doubt become a staple in your collection.

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  1. Mozart Concertos for Flute & Harp: Classic Library Series – James Galway

Available on Amazon: Mozart Concertos for Flute & Harp: Classic Library Series

Why I love this album:

This collection has a special place in my heart as one of my very first flute CDs was a similar recording of James Galway performing the Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major. I love how James Galway kicks up the intensity of these very standard flute concerti with a some added vibrato. This gives the works a bit of sparkle that Mozart would have enjoyed if he were alive today. I also really enjoy Galway’s cadenzas on this recording which, like the Rampal recording above, have been transcribed in Galway’s own editions. One of the challenges in performing Mozart Flute Concerti is finding new ways to breathe life into these standard, meat and potatoes, works. Galway’s recordings will help you discover new possibilities to keep your next performance of Mozart fresh and alive.

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  1. The Virtuoso Flute, Volume 1 – Julius Baker

Available on Amazon: The Virtuoso Flute, Vol. 1

Why I love this album:

What can I say besides, “Julius Baker is the man!” Everybody has their own opinion about which flutist is their all-time favorite, and for me it is a very close tie between Rampal and Julius Baker. Baker, however, I feel is much stronger as a Baroque artist than Rampal and this recording shows Baker doing what he does best. The Telemann is a work that does not receive enough airplay, but I think Baker’s performance will inspire you to program it on your next recital. I highly recommend this recording if you are curious as to why Julius Baker is revered as one of the most important flutists of the late 20th century.

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  1. Bach: Complete Flute Sonatas – Emmanuel Pahud

Available on Amazon: Bach: Complete Flute Sonatas

Why I love this album:

I really like when a collection contains a number of works by the same composer and since Bach Sonatas are often sold as a collection in manuscript form, this album is a great way to listen and follow along with each sonata. Bach and the beach is a great combination for summer! I really enjoy Pahud’s interpretation of these works and, like Galway, he adds a bit of sparkle and newness to the tried and true Bach Sonatas. We all have our favorite Bach Sonatas (for example, I am partial to No. 4 in C), but when was the last time that you sat down and listened ALL of them? Is there one that you find interesting that does not often get programed on flute recitals? You might find something new in the recording that you did not know about Bach before.

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  1. Flute Music by French Composers by Ransom Wilson

Available on Amazon: Flute Music by French Composers

Why I love this album:

Like the Pahud album above, I really enjoy recordings that are arranged in the same manner that the manuscript appears in our standard collections. If you know that you would like to program a French Flute School work on your next recital, for example, you may simply pick up one of these recordings, follow along with your manuscripts, and select one of the pieces after you have listened to all of them. This Ransom Wilson recording is a good example of such an album. This is an excellent recording as it is never too over the top. The danger of performing the exciting and emotional music found in the Flute Music by French Composer collection is that it is very easy to overplay literally everything when you are nervous on the stage. Ransom reminds us all to chill – music can be phenomenal while still remaining precise.

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What is on your list of favorite recordings? Do you own any of the above recordings? Which one is your favorite and why? What recordings are on your summer listening list? Please comment below!

Happy Fluting!

On the Cusp

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday.

While I was drafting my June flute horoscopes earlier this week, I began thinking about the cusp phenomenon. There are a number of cuspers in my family (mostly falling in the Cusp of Power) and I know all too well how different their energies are from their standard sun sign placements. Cuspers are those born 3 days before or 3 days after the Sun moves into a new sign. What this means, according to some astrological experts, is that these individuals often exhibit personality traits common to both the surrounding signs. In some cases, the combo of the two signs helps to smooth over any difficult aspects in one sign or the another, but in other cases challenging traits are enhanced with the influence of the adjacent sign. For example, many of my family members who are born on the Cusp of Power (between Aries and Taurus) are quite strong individuals but also some of the most stubborn people on Planet Earth (both Aries and Taurus are known to be very fixed and stubborn signs). Today’s blog will take a look into how the unique characteristics of cuspers manifest in our flute playing lives. Whether you are a cusper or not, I hope to leave you with better understanding of some of your flute playing colleagues who fall within these very special astrological zones.

*Please note: All cusp descriptions are taken from tarot.com https://www.tarot.com/astrology/cusps/born-on-the-zodiac-cusp . How they make their way into flute playing is, of course, my original interpretation.



The Cusp of Power (Aries/Taurus) – April 16-22

Strengths: Strong, energetic, fun, smart, humorous, courageous

You have the energy and determination to climb mountains in both your professional life and your home and family life. You want to be the best and want to lead your team to success! You love to be out and about, and you play even harder than you work — if you can imagine that. You’re your own best friend and are strong enough to know that you’ll always be OK no matter what happens.

Weaknesses: Stubborn, pushy, harsh, selfish, controlling

It’s very hard for you to let things go or let others do things that you know you could do better. You tend to get fired up about an opinion, idea, or project and then you dig in your heels and refuse to drop it. You like things done the best way possible, and you aren’t able to easily trust others to do your bidding. Sharing responsibilities is tough for you — almost as tough as it is to share your feelings and life! Your independence and freedom are important, but try to be sensitive to your friends and family and realize that their desires and opinions matter, too.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers make extremely good section leaders. Their strength, courage, and determination allow them to easily project solo passages high above the orchestra. It is rare for conductors to demand more sound from these flutists as they are literally afraid of nothing. Although they may be abrasive at times, they are great leaders for the rest of the section as they can show musical and non-musical cues very clearly. You will never need to guess what your section leader wants if they are born on the Cusp of Power. They are certainly not warm and fuzzy, so they might want to leave the party planning to the Geminis and Libras of the group. As a musical leader, however, they are the best of the best and this deserves mad respect.


The Cusp of Energy (Taurus/Gemini) – May 17-23

Strengths: Fun, energetic, witty, charming, adaptable, exciting, outgoing

You’re a pleasure-loving individual who’s blessed with endless energy! You live life to its fullest by enjoying all the experiences the world has to offer. You’re the person everyone calls when they want to have fun or have a good talk. You’re adaptable and can get along with a vast variety of personalities. You have a sense of wonder and creativity about you that lights up any room!

Weaknesses: Self-centered, reckless, wild, impatient, indulgent, loud

You’re quite the conversationalist, but sometimes you don’t know when to shut up. Everyone loves having you around because you always have a good story or an interesting anecdote to share, but you often forget to let others get a word in. If your friends and family start to feel overshadowed or second-rate, they could start to put a little distance into your relationship. You’ll have more, better friendships if you remember that conversations are as much about listening as talking. Give everyone a chance to be heard — you never know what you’ll learn!

How this manifests in your flute playing:

This cusper is a masterclasses aficionado! Not only are their masterclasses fun and informative, they really know how to connect to everybody in the room in creative and imaginative ways. This is a rare and beautiful gift. They always have a great story to tell when they teach that both entertains and instructs at the same time. Their energy is amazing and they have no problem teaching 3-4 hour masterclasses without batting an eye. In fact, teaching in front of a large group enhances their natural creative energy. They know how to work the crowd and have great, practical, and approachable ideas.


The Cusp of Magic (Gemini/Cancer) – June 17-23

Strengths: Fun, flirty, curious, intellectual, affectionate, caring, devoted, sensitive and inspirational.

Weaknesses: Moody, overly emotional, scatterbrained, selfish, depressive and self-destructive.

How Gemini-Cancer energy works together: Gemini’s speedy and breezy energy combines with Cancer’s slower and more thoughtful nature to create people who are both light and bright. Gemini’s restlessness is nicely balanced by Cancer’s sensitivity, resulting in a well-rounded soul.

What they love: Great big books about history and philosophy, trying out new recipes, hosting dinner parties and playing with children (after all, they’re kids at heart, too).

What they need: Sensitive and affectionate Gemini-Cancer cuspers need someone to love! Without a special someone to nurture, they can become moody or depressed.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Individuals falling on this cusp are very gifted flute teachers, especially for younger, beginning students. Being kids at heart, these cuspers are very good at explaining complex issues such as embouchure placement and air capacity in simple ways that children can identify with. Their thoughtful nature helps them create 901 ways to explain the same concept to students with widely different personality types. They do not like being stuck in a practice room alone, so it is important for these individuals to be surrounded by musicians that like to rehearse in larger groups.


The Cusp of Oscillation (Cancer/Leo) – July 19-25

Strengths: Loving, devoted, expressive, creative, cheerful, passionate.

Weaknesses: Self-absorbed, insensitive, dramatic, dependent, volatile.

How Cancer and Leo energy work together: Cancer’s sensitivity doesn’t always mix well with Leo’s bold nature. These cuspers need to be careful of oscillating between extreme highs and lows, and of being either too sensitive or completely insensitive. If you can learn to let Cancer’s soft side tone down Leo’s outrageousness, you’ll find more balance and peace.

What they love: Pendulums. Just kidding! These cuspers are in love with love. Because they are so loving and devoted, they develop long lasting relationships and often have big families.

What they need: A purpose greater than themselves! Cancer-Leo cuspers need to find balance, and in order to do so they need to get outside of themselves. Helping others or devoting time to a worthy cause is a great way to find peace and focus on something other than themselves.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Flutists born on this cusp are recital masters! (esp. when performances are for good causes) Their personalities are a perfect fit for the stage and, in true Leo style, they need to be the center of attention. The oscillation between extreme highs and lows help them pump incredible interpretation into solo pieces that demand similar changes in mood and tone color. They love the drama of music and are no doubt known for their brilliantly convincing performances of French Flute School works. The Cancer side of the these cuspers likes to have plenty of friends and family at their performances and also likes to host benefit recitals for local charities, particularly around the holiday season.


The Cusp of Exposure (Leo/Virgo) – August 19-25

Strengths: Hardworking, passionate, discriminating, positive, success-driven and honest.

Weaknesses: Critical, antisocial, manipulative, stubborn, quarrelsome and melodramatic.

How Leo and Virgo energy work together: Leo’s flair for drama and Virgo’s down to earth practicality don’t always mix well. These cuspers need to be careful of living a life of extremes — either bold and loud or silent and secretive. But if they can strike a balance between their extroverted and introverted sides, they will master the rare ability to know exactly when to speak up and when to remain silent.

What they love: Getting behind a good cause. Leo is a loving and natural born leader, while Virgo is hardworking, detail oriented and devoted to helping others. Together this is a persuasive cusp combination that is happiest when rallying a group of people in support of a great cause. And know this: They will succeed!

What they need: Intimacy. It won’t come easy for these cuspers, who value secrets and privacy above all else, but they really need to have people in their lives who know them well and love them for exactly who they are.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

If you need a group leader to talk to the higher ups about funding opportunities or a new rehearsal space, send in one of these cuspers. They are the masters of the boardroom and can very efficiently cut through the thickest of red tape. Not only do they pour their heart and soul into performing with your group, they can also put on a very sharp suit and advocate with convincing facts and figures to any agency or institution. Need a travel grant for your group to perform at a conference? These individuals will get it done. Want to go to Europe and study with a chamber music guru? They will masterfully fill out the grant application and ace any interview to make it happen.


The Cusp of Beauty (Virgo/Libra) – September 19-25

Strengths: Attractive, intellectual, communicative, artistic, social, sensuous.

Weaknesses: Superficial, materialistic, detached, perfectionist, nervous, jaded.

How Virgo-Libra energy works together: Virgo’s analytical skills and attention to detail combine nicely with Libra’s social skills and love of beauty to create balanced individuals who are both intelligent and artistic. Both signs share a love of beauty that meshes nicely.

What they love: Objects of beauty, including people, art, fashion, home décor, nature and anything pretty you can look at, buy or adorn yourself with.

What they need: Virgo-Libra cuspers need to keep their lives in order and everything running smoothly and looking good in order to prevent anxiety.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers are masters at making weird, new, experimental music sound amazing. 12-tone music, for example, speaks to their analytical strengths while the Libra influence helps them to convert the intellectual into something beautiful. Music by Steve Reich or Phillip Glass really speaks to these individuals, who can create beauty even amongst relentless repetition. If you are a composer wanting to experiment with new, off the wall compositional techniques for the flute, find a flutist whose birthday falls within this cusp to discover new, beautiful ways to bring your compositions to life.


The Cusp of Drama (Libra/Scorpio) – October 19-25

Strengths: Powerful, competent, sexy, charming, intellectual, honest.

Weaknesses: Cynical, sarcastic, picky, self-absorbed, blunt.

How Libra-Scorpio energy works together: Libra is ruled by thought and intellect, while Scorpio is about powerful and deep-seated emotions. This can result in a conflict between head and heart, but these individuals are powerful overall – even more so if they can find balance.

What they love: The truth. Libra-Scorpio cuspers aim to get to the bottom of every situation, and won’t stop until they’ve picked at something from every angle to get to the truth.

What they need: To relax! These cuspers will be much happier if they can give their inner critic a day off once in a while and try to have fun without an agenda.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Because these cuspers love a good drama, they naturally make talented opera or ballet pit performers. Battles between the head and the heart are at the center of most opera and ballet libretti. These individual find it easy to connect with the story on stage and exhilarated to be part of the musical fabric that pulls the performance together. Because they have a tendency to criticize themselves too harshly at times, performing as part of a pit orchestra removes the very stressful element of an audience staring at them during the performance. This gives these cuspers a bit more confidence to play out, finding creative ways to meld their parts seamlessly into the music surrounding the story.


The Cusp of Revolution (Scorpio/Sagittarius) – November 18-24

Strengths: Energetic, adventurous, powerful, accomplished, generous, passionate

Your combination of vision and determination gives you a competitive edge that will carry you far in life. The ability to think deeply as well as philosophically gives you a great understanding of who you are and where you fit into the world. The energy and intensity you feel fuels your desire to make positive changes for yourself and those around you. Your bright sense of humor, optimistic outlook, and willingness to interact genuinely with others will gain you fast, loyal friends.

Weaknesses: Secretive, selfish, rebellious, wild, aggressive, blunt, misunderstood

With the fury of Scorpio and the fire of Sagittarius, your demeanor might seem aggressive or overwhelming to those around you. And since you always need to be on the move, you can get impatient if others get in your way or slow you down — be gentle with them, they could use your spunk! Your desire to fight for your beliefs is admired, but it can manifest as a rebellious and unfocused frenzy if your energy isn’t channeled properly.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

The relentless focus, energy, and competitive edge to these cuspers make them very talented auditioners. They are not afraid of a battle. They come prepared to every audition and, unlike some of their water sign colleagues, are not afraid of the screen in a blind audition. They laugh in the face of stage fright. If, for any reason, they do not win the audition (which is a rarity), they do not fall apart. Instead, they learn everything they need to learn from past mistakes and show up to the next audition 110% prepared and essentially unstoppable. They don’t really like to stay in the same place for a long time so you will frequently see them cruising the audition circuit for bigger and better opportunities throughout the world. Learn from their tenacity.


The Cusp of Prophecy (Sagittarius/Capricorn) – December 18-24

Strengths: Responsible, outgoing, friendly, fair, loyal, humorous, successful

Your desire to expand your mind and experience all life has to offer — coupled with your determination and drive — can have you making a big, positive impact in your life and the lives of others. You’re able to see and understand the issues at large, then be organized enough to take the slow and steady steps needed to reach your goals. You know how to problem solve strategically, without losing your optimistic attitude — the makings of an incredible leader!

Weaknesses: Moody, closed, intense, impatient, uncooperative, selfish

You can come across as quite isolated and intense when you’re in the zone. You’re influenced by that fiery Sagittarius energy, but your Capricorn side prefers to turn into ambition and success. With all this passion going into your work world, there’s not a lot of time left for the people in your life. Though you’re outgoing and loyal to those who make it into your circle, you might not offer them the emotional balance that a true friendship or romance deserves.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

An organized individual with determination and drive who can see the larger picture and takes steady, strategic steps to achieve their goals suggests the core traits of a very gifted conductor. Individuals born within this cusp are very good at examining all of the details in a score and can also motivate an entire orchestra to achieve all of their performance goals. These conductors are wonderfully knowledgeable leaders and easily earn the respect of all musicians that perform in their ensembles.


The Cusp of Mystery (Capricorn/Aquarius) – January 16-23

Strengths: Determined, creative, entertaining, idealistic, witty, empathetic

Born on the Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, you are blessed with the drive for success and the gift of creativity. Normally these two traits might clash, but for you these traits allow you to dream big and envision positive change. You can easily put yourself in others’ shoes and see the world from different perspectives. This also makes you a kind and generous friend — when you take the time to listen.

Weaknesses: Detached, chaotic, selfish, aloof, critical, judgmental

Because you have your amazing imagination and creativity to keep you entertained, you may close yourself off in your own world and feel like you don’t need others to keep you company. You enjoy being alone with your thoughts, but this can make your loved ones feel unwanted — which is a shame because they are your greatest supporters! Remember that teamwork makes the dream work and if you don’t put a little effort into your relationships every now and then, they may not be there anymore when you need them.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Flutists falling under this cusp love to spend most of their time in the practice room. They are highly creative and love trying new ideas in the safety of their own practice space. You may find these cuspers auditing masterclasses near and far, taking vigorous notes, and absorbing all of the new tips, tricks, and ideas in their own practice sesssions. These individuals are very skilled at organizing their practice time to their best advantage and know how to prepare for a performance well in advance. We all wish that we could use our practice time as well as these cuspers!


The Cusp of Sensitivity (Aquarius/Pisces) – February 15-21

Strengths: Understanding, empathetic, generous, intuitive, idealistic, creative

Your innate sensitivity and love for humanity make you a very kind, caring, and generous individual. Others are attracted to your selflessness and ability to see the world with all- encompassing compassion and understanding. You’re strongly appreciated amongst your friends and family because you’re such a great listener and confidant.

Weaknesses: Detached, depressed, isolated, unfocused, insecure

Your mind is in the clouds and your eyes are on the future, which disconnects you from what’s happening in the present moment. It can be hard for you to engage in casual, everyday conversation with friends, family, or coworkers, because you’d rather escape into your imagination. Dreams will enrich you, but you’ll need to pull yourself back down to earth every once in a while in order to live your fullest, most balanced life.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

Although their heads may be up in the clouds sometimes, these cuspers are the best chamber musicians in the zodiac. They are musical chameleons and very gifted at blending their sound into the sounds around them. They often do not like to be the leaders (they would rather leave that to their Aries counterparts) but are very good at following the lead of a talented section leader or conductor. Their sensitivity to changes in dynamics and tone color is unparalleled. If you are looking for solid members of your ensemble, look no further!


The Cusp of Rebirth (Pisces/Aries) – March 17-23

Strengths: Intuitive, smart, empathetic, driven, fun, quirky, creative

Your ability to churn out ideas, solutions, and plans makes you an exceptional leader. Life is never dull when you’re around! You know how to solve problems creatively and have the energy to act and make concrete decisions. You have a strong empathy and compassion for your loved ones, and you’re eager to listen and advise them with your intuitive senses.

Weaknesses: Stubborn, loud, impulsive, direct, selfish, uncompromising

Your different way of looking at the world and willingness to share with others can sometimes be off-putting in social settings. You love to dive into deep subjects quickly with anyone who is willing to listen, and while this can make fast friends for those willing to engage, it can also make other people quite uncomfortable. You tend to latch on to your beliefs and can be very stubborn when someone challenges you. Enjoy the debate! Try to relax and have a fun, diverse conversation with those who disagree with you.

How this manifests in your flute playing:

These cuspers are well suited to be very talented and popular college professors. They are full of amazingly creative ideas and opinions and are quite in-tune with the current state of political and social issues that surround them. These cuspers are not afraid to dive incredibly deep in a topic within a classroom environment and truly respect the perspectives that their students offer. They are not afraid of a heated debate. Their energy and valuable advice make the beloved members of the faculty and often strong leaders for higher administrative roles. They are often the glue that keeps the music department together.


Are you a cusper? Do you exhibit the personality traits mentioned above? How do they make their way into your flute playing? Please comment below!



Happy Fluting!




Practice Blueprints: Repertoire 101 – Menuet by Bizet

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

Bizet 1

Today’s blog is the second installment in the Practice Blueprints: Repertoire 101 Series (hope you are enjoying these – please let me know in the comments!). Bizet’s Menuet from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 is perhaps a little more advanced than the Gavotte discussed last week, but it is nevertheless chalk-full of important lessons in endurance, pacing of air, dynamics, embouchure flexibility, and finding the ebbs and flows in each phrase using strategic variations in tone color. Working on these elements is a great place to start if you are a beginner just learning the basics of this work. If you are a teacher, today’s blog will also help you identify some of the musical priorities to discuss with your beginners. You may even add your own creative exercises to address any of the below musical elements. Grace and beauty is the name of the game for this work. Never let the technique distract from the beauty buried within the manuscript.

Bizet 2

Endurance. For many beginners, a 2-pager is a bit longer of a piece than normally assigned and the slower, Andantino quasi allegretto tempo indicates that the road ahead is not a quick one (it’s more of a garden trail than a freeway). Therefore, it is necessary for students to build performance endurance. Much like the Gavotte, there are natural pauses in the standard ABA form that serve as benchmarks, breaking the piece down into smaller components. I encourage students to learn the piece one section at a time, building endurance gradually. For example, a student may begin their study by mastering measures 1-18 before adding measures 19-30. When they feel confident playing from measures 1-30, they can add measures 31-42, and so on until playing from beginning to end is not such a chore. The natural sections in this piece are arranged in the following sequence:

Section 1         mm. 1-18

Section 2         mm. 19-30

Section 3         mm. 31-42

Section 4         mm. 43-58

Section 5         mm. 59-66

Section 6         mm. 67-78

Section 7         mm. 79-end

Master one before moving to next and, once the piece is performance ready, go back and memorize the work in the same sequence. This step-by-step method will simplify the learning process and solidify the piece both within the fingers and within the mind.


Phrasing. Another defining feature of this work is the elongated phrase structure. This may prove a bit difficult for beginners as they make their way through the challenges of pacing their air. A great place to start is by creating a phrase map with clear breaks between phrases. Not only will this help newbies take appropriately placed breaths, but it will also outline where each phrase begins, where it ends, and how the melody ebbs and flows within each starting and ending point. Such an outline will show your more visual learners how each of the smaller parts relate to the work as a whole which, in turn, influences the way they interpret the piece. Going a step further, putting together a phrase map will also uncover opportunities for a sneaky, emergency breaths (which may come in handy under the pressure of the stage). Hint: Good, hidden breaths can typically be placed after longer notes in the phrase by ending the note a sixteenth note early, leaving that space to take a short breath.

And with your phrase map in hand, you may also start to design a tone color plan:

Tone Color. In one of my very first blog postings, I discussed creating a tone color plan in your music by selecting a color to represent each type of sound and literally coloring in your music to reflect those tone color changes (of course, make a copy of your music before doing this – no colored pencils on original manuscripts). For beginners, this can also be achieved by first understanding how the phrases fit together and how dynamics and rhythmic motion influence sound. Help your students find their own interpretations of colors in warm up exercises (for example, ask them to play what they think purple sounds like, what red sounds like, and so forth). Help them to define what characteristics create that sound (vibrato, dynamics, intensity). Once they have developed their own personal tone color legend, ask them to apply that to their interpretation of the piece. This is a great roadmap for the stage!

Bizet 5

Embouchure flexibility. This piece is a great way to introduce harmonics to your beginners. The opening phrase in measures 2-3 reoccurs throughout the work and contains a number of notated harmonics. Harmonics require a flexible embouchure to move quickly from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. A great warm-up to use in conjunction with this work is the harmonic exercises found on page 6 of Trevor Wye’s Practice Book on Tone. These studies begin simply by building harmonics on a low C. Using your embouchure, the natural harmonic series will sound by move your lips gradually forward and increasing the pressure of your air stream. The same manipulations of the embouchure will help achieve the notated pitches in the Menuet. For an added challenge, try playing these notated pitches using only harmonic fingerings! An Eb fingering, for example, will produce all of the harmonics indicated in measure 3.

Bizet 6

Dynamics. Are you ready to learn how to play quietly yet still project? This piece is a study in dynamic control at the extremes. A majority of the work remains in a pp-p range. It is important to remain quiet and graceful, but still project as the soloist, AND stay in tune. That’s a tall order! But it can be done with a bit of practice (and a reliable tuning app). Beginning in measure 39, however, the dynamic, seemingly out of nowhere, increases to forte. What the heck?! Out of a graceful, beautiful, yet simple and quiet melody, we are suddenly transported to the land of boisterous trumpets and the entrance of the king and queen. This is your opportunity to show the audience the difference in tone color between a piano dynamic and a forte. Use these measures to unleash the flute diva within! Belt it out, Beyoncé style. Of course, the grace and simplicity return in measure 59 with another piano dynamic. The overall dynamic fades to a “ppp” by the end of the work. Control is the name of the game. Remember to keep a supported center to the tone and project while remaining mindful of the fading dynamic and intonation. Ham up that fade out at the end of the piece (it does indicate “(long)” below the fermata on this last note, after all).


What do you think are the most challenging components of this piece? How do you like to approach this work as a performer? As a teacher? What exercises do you use in conjunction with this piece? Please comment below!


Happy Fluting!

Practice Blueprints: Repertoire 101 – Gavotte by F.J. Gossec

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.

Gossec 4.jpg

I have not posted a new blog in my Practice Blueprints series in quite a while and thought today would be a good day to add a new sub-category covering some of the fundamental pieces that are often assigned to beginners. If you are relatively new to the flute and motivated to start learning repertoire or if you are a teacher searching for creative ways to introduce repertoire to your beginners, today’s blog will help point you in the right direction. We all need a good place to start and can accomplish amazing things with a well-outlined plan.

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The Repertoire 101 series begins with the very first piece I ever learned to play and often the first piece that I assign to beginning flute students. Gavotte by François-Joseph Gossec is a wonderfully elegant dance in a standard ABA ternary form. The possibilities to address basic concepts such as articulation, ornamentation, fast finger technique, embouchure flexibility, and dynamics are quite prevalent in this short, one-page work. This is also an easy piece to memorize once the fundamentals are in place and a perfect starting point to test budding memorization skills. Finally, the balanced phrasing and period structure creates a natural practice progression, urging students to master one section before moving on to the next. Start by learning this piece in moderate 4/4 tempo and slowly increase speed until you are comfortable with a smooth allegretto tempo in cut time.

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Articulation – The entire “A” section of this piece (measures 1-18) is ripe for working on different articulations. This is particularly useful if you are just learning about double tonguing and looking for a good exercise to practice your new “coo” syllables. Use these measures in your daily articulation warm ups on standard single tonguing syllables such as “too,” “tut,” “ta,” “toe,” “pu,” and my personal favorite, syllable-less chirps. Next, practice using a few back of the tongue syllables such as “coo,” “gu,” “key,” and “ka.” Finally, use this section to practice crazy new articulations that you may run across (my personal favorite is “duck-key.”) In performance, a crisp “tut” articulation will help keep your staccatos super short while the ending “t” syllable prepares your tongue properly for the next note.

Ornamentation – This is a great piece to learn about grace notes. For many beginners, grace notes are often introduced gradually in new repertoire and may be a bit intimidating at first (you want me to play that note HOW fast???). In this work, the grace notes are only on the pitches C# and G# and fit nicely at the endings of phrases on longer notes. Remember that grace notes are considered ornaments so think of them like beautiful pieces of jewelry on top of foundational notes. Play them as fast as your fingers will allow but make sure that they sound as light as air. I like to think of grace notes as glitter that falls gently and gracefully onto the paper below.

Fast Finger Technique – Hold the phone! There are 16th notes? Don’t panic. By this point you have learned how to play 16th notes, understood how they fit into the beat, and have worked very hard on your basic D-Major scale. Now it’s time to put what you have learned to the test. The best way to accomplish this is to play with what some flutists call “snappy fingers.” Slow down the passages located particularly at measure 20 and beyond and move your fingers very quickly and deliberately between pitches. I often refer to this as “robot” fingers (but try not to play the flute like a robot – continue to use beautiful expression, creatively placed vibrato, and clear, boisterous tone). This technique helps train your fingers to move quickly and efficiently between fast moving notes.

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Embouchure Flexibility – At this point in your flute playing development, you may not yet have been exposed to Trevor Wye-style flexibility studies but have probably learned to play octaves. The section from measure 21 to the D.C. al Fine is a good test in embouchure flexibility that makes use of great octave displacements. Remember to practice this section by letting your embouchure do the heavy lifting. Lips forward for higher pitches, back for lower tones. Try not to squeeze the lower pitches out using only your air as this will likely make the note crack. If necessary, a light tap with your left-hand ring finger on the G key at the same time you finger the low D will help make the note speak in the final measure before the D.C. al Fine.

Accents – Measures 17 and 19 include a series of accents that are not found anywhere else in the piece. Use these measures to practice making effective accents that really project above harmonic texture of the piece. Use a strong “t” syllable on the front of each pitch to really attack the note with a sharp articulation.

Dynamics – This is a wonderful piece to practice dynamics. The opening remains in a piano dynamic but you will still need to project the melody. Beginning in measure 12, the volume increases, building gradually to the forte in measure 17. Practice this section with a tuner. It is very easy to veer sharp when the dynamic increases, so make sure to avoid any unnecessary use of air that adversely effects your pitch. Practice keeping air in your cheek as you ascend into the higher registers to properly regulate air pressure. Use less air in louder dynamics than you think you need. Finally, when the dynamic returns to piano in the repeat of the A section, remember not to conversely go flat. Support your sound and do not try too hard to play softly. You are still the soloist.

Memorize – The final step to mastering this piece is to memorize it. Gavotte is arranged in an ABA form meaning you really only need to memorize the A and B sections of the work as the A section repeats. The A section is broken into 2 sections, divided by a repeat sign at the end of measure 8. Begin by memorizing only the first 8 measures. Once you have this under your belt, memorize measures 9 through 13. Continue on to section B, which is also broken into 2 sections marked by a repeat sign at the end of measure 24, memorizing measures 17 through 14 first, followed by measures 25-32. Pacing yourself is the key to memorizing this work. Sometimes it helps to play along to a recording (many of which can be found on YouTube). Accompaniment for Gavotte is also available on SmartMusic. This is a great way to practice at home by helping you fit your solo part correctly into the piano accompaniment.

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Have you played this piece? What do you think are the most important elements required to master Gavotte? Do you assign this piece to your students? What types of exercises do you use to address these and other fundamental elements in the music? Please comment below!



Happy fluting!

Top 20 Dos and Don’ts of Recital Prep

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday. Happy Earth Day weekend!

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I used to schedule my Spring semester recitals during this time of year when I was in college. I really liked having the 4 months or so after the Christmas break to strategically plan out my recital preparations and budget my personal practice time as well as rehearsal time with my accompanist. Fall always seemed a bit more frantic and filled with distractions (there are so many holidays and celebrations in the Fall months). Hosting a recital at the end of the Spring semester was almost like a reward for a year’s worth of hard work. Many of you reading this may also be preparing for your Spring semester recitals and searching for a few words of wisdom to help you get to the finish line. Today’s blog features my top 20 Dos and Don’ts of recital preparation. Number 19 is probably the most important tip and I urge all of you to enjoy the process. No matter what happens, have fun! If making music is not fun then we are going about it all wrong.

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  1. DO plan out your practice schedule well in advance. That’s right – Make yourself a weekly schedule detailing exactly which pieces you plan to target and in what order. This can be done on a simple Excel spreadsheet or on your Google Calendar.


  1. DON’T cram practice. Sunday evenings are ripe for opportunities to cram practice for the upcoming week. This will eventually lead to burnout and delayed progress. Instead…


  1. DO make sure you are practicing for about the same amount of time each day. Practicing is a lot like exercise; Daily progress will build up muscle more efficiently than spending every Sunday at the gym. Likewise, daily practice will help develop stronger performances than periodic marathon practice sessions.


  1. DON’T wait until the last minute to rehearse with your accompanist. Start early with weekly rehearsals if possible. If this isn’t possible either due to crazy schedules or financial constraints…


  1. DO invest in SmartMusic or a similar music accompaniment program. This will really help you practice fitting your solo part into the piano accompaniment outside of rehearsals with your accompanist. Listen for piano cues and try to distinguish between your role as a soloist and moments when you are accompaniment.


  1. DON’T always begin rehearsing at the beginning of a piece. Isolate weaker sections of your music and try to devote more time to breaking those parts down, practicing slowly with a metronome, and putting them back together gradually. If you always start at the beginning, you will have a strong opening but your piece may crumble when the going gets tough in the middle of work.


  1. DO combine flute and piano works with smaller chamber group performances, if possible. A strict flute and piano recital may be predictable and mono-tone. Chamber music adds a bit of variety with the addition of other instruments.


  1. DON’T forget to add a flute solo piece between longer flute and piano works. The weirder, the better. I love to slip in a contemporary work between a Bach Sonata and an explosive French Flute School piece. This keeps the program interesting for your audience and helps display the variety of repertoire available for the flute.


  1. DO add a piece featuring the piccolo, alto, or bass flute, if possible. This also promotes variety in your program by showcasing the entire flute family.


  1. DON’T forget about intonation. Bracket any selections in your music that contain long sustained tones and integrate intonation practice on these tones (using a tuner) into your daily practice. Practice making crescendos and decrescendos on these tone while sustaining the pitch. It is easy to forget about intonation in the midst of stressful recital preparation.


  1. DO select a recital outfit that is both professional and comfortable. Despite popular opinion, you do not need to be red carpet ready to perform a recital. The difference between a flutist performing a recital and an actor attending an award ceremony is that flutists are performing a physical activity onstage for roughly an hour. You wouldn’t expect to see a football player playing in the Super Bowl wearing a suit, would you? Make sure that your outfit allows you to breathe comfortably, stand with good posture, and allows for easy arm movement. Add a pop of color with a beautiful scarf or accessory.


  1. DON’T wear heels, ladies. This is not only painful after an hour of standing, but it will also mess with your posture and equilibrium. Pick a pair of simple black flats that will help center your posture and connect your feet closer to the ground. I always like to tell the story of how I fell down a flight of stairs at a middle school band concert because I was wearing impractical, but very cute, black heels. I ended up damaging my instrument and butchering an exposed flute solo due to a bent rod on my instrument. If I had just wore different shoes that night…


  1. DO schedule time to rehearse in your performance space at least 1 week prior to your recital. I know in many instances this may not be possible, but it is very important to prepare yourself in advance for balance issues in the room and potential distractions from the stage (including lighting difficulties). This is also a good time to make sure the piano on stage is tuned properly.


  1. DON’T ignore performance anxiety. Even if you feel confident and relaxed in the days prior to your performance, you cannot predict the anxiety that may arise backstage or even onstage. Practice breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and positive self-talk as the recital date draws near. Use a breathing bag backstage to combat rising anxiety quickly. Most importantly….


  1. DO schedule a session with an Alexander Technique instructor prior to your performance. You may be tensing up and not realize it! Your Alexander Technique practitioner will help you identify where you are misusing your muscles and how to effectively let go of tension.


  1. DON’T stress about the after party. There is often a reception that follows a recital. Delegate reception set up to your friends, family, or even another flutist whose reception could be your future trade off. Panic over the number of mini muffins should not interfere with your presentation. Save the drama for Obama.


  1. DO make sure you have enough music stands and that they are placed exactly where you need them on stage. There will typically be an usher backstage that will work with you to make sure these logistics are perfect. Communicate with them but let them take care of everything. No need to micromanage.


  1. DON’T schedule anything else on the day of your recital, if possible. This is your day and you do not need extra distractions or potential stressors to get in the way of your success. Everything can wait until tomorrow.


  1. DO enjoy the process. Remember that no matter what happens or how well or poorly your performance is, tomorrow is another day. You are not defined by one performance. In that case, simply enjoy whatever happens. Live in the moment. Enjoy the success and hard work that got you to this point. Good job!


  1. DON’T dwell on mistakes. Use mistakes as a way to improve your next performance. Everybody makes mistakes! You can either choose to let them destroy you or use them to make your next performance stronger.


What helps you prepare for a recital? What obstacles do you typically face and what do you do to address these issues? What are your own Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to recital prep? Please comment below.

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Happy fluting!