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Tip of the Day

Patricia George | April 2017

    One of the most interesting aspects of being editor of Flute Talk is posting the “Tip of the Day” on the Flute Talk Facebook page. To find the tips I peruse the Woodwind Anthology, Volume 1 (with articles from The Instrumentalist, by the same publishers as Flute Talk) and 36 years of Flute Talk magazines. The first article about the flute in the Anthology was on Flute Fingerings and was published in 1946 by Traugott Rohner, founder of The In­strumentalist. Other early articles were written by Robert Cavally, Robert Wil­loughby, Lawrence Taylor, Mary Louise Poor, James J. Pellerite, Donald McGin­nis, George E. Waln, and Emil Eck.
    The 1960s saw articles by Harry Moskovitz, James B. Hosmer, Donald MacDonald, Jervis Underwood, Donald Peck, Alexander Lesueur, Mary Jean Simpson, and Walfrid Kujala, to name just a few. The topics included flute care and repair, doubling, fingering suggestions, ensembles (both literature and rehearsal suggestions), historical research, literature, published music, the flute family of instruments, teaching techniques, sound production, performance guides, interviews, piccolo, plus miscellaneous topics.
    In September 1981, the first Flute Talk magazine was published. The editor of the eight-page magazine was Zart Dombourian-Eby, Editor with Walfrid Kujala as Consulting Editor. In 1984, the magazine expanded to 22 pages and the September issue featured Robert Dick on the cover with an interview of him, music for Flying Lessons with a performance guide plus an article on playing the Quena, an Incan flute. 
The following are 20 Tips of the Day culled from the rich history of articles in The Instrumentalist and Flute Talk that struck a chord with readers. They  share the ideas and wisdom of flutists from the past and present. (
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On Pedagogy
1What do you focus on with students? I believe that you have to look at where the student is and start with the basics, including what the arms, shoulders, neck, and head feel and look like, and whether there is tension in the throat. Other areas include breathing, articulation, fluidity in the fingers, vibrato, and rhythm. I look at phrasing, and whether a student is conscious of style, history, character, and harmonic movement. Most importantly, I determine whether the student is self-motivated and curious about the world.”
– Stephanie Jutt, October 2011

“Rhythm is fundamental to good musicianship. With regular disciplined use, the metronome will teach musicians to be masters of time and play with solid metronomic rhythm. Without a solid feeling of the beat no one can play a phrase artfully. We have to play in tune with ourselves before we can play in tune with others. Although the tuner is a good tool, a good ear is better.”
– Mark Sparks, April 2001

3 “Many flutists have a teardrop on their top lip. To form an appropriate aperture, they should move the aperture slightly to their left. This works well since the flute is played with the flute off to the right side, with the end moved forward away from the right shoulder. A few flutists with teardrops have moved the aperture to their right. This is less successful because the end of the flute has to be held too close to the right shoulder, and the player’s right shoulder will eventually hurt.”
– Patricia George, November 2016

4 “Teachers often see students whose lives were changed as a result of their participation in music programs. The lessons in perseverance, commitment, self-discipline, creative problem solving, critical-thinking, cooperation, and overall appreciation for the creative process and humanity that students learn will serve them well in all aspects of their lives whether they continue in music or not.”
– Cristina Ballatori, July/August 2016

5 “In my opinion the purpose of education, even in music, is to teach students how to learn, not to fill them with a lot of information.”
– Michel Debost, October 2005

6 “Musicians cannot own a work if they first do not have confidence in their basic skills. Develop a technique that allows you to do whatever the composer is asking, from the understanding of the meter, mastery of technical passages through clear and solid rhythm, and the tonal and dynamic range required.”
– Nicole Esposito, December 2015

7 “I generally do not know how a lesson will unfold until I hear a student perform the prepared material. People learn differently and need different things. For the perfectionists, who are tied in knots and may lack expression, my goal is to draw them out. Another student who is musical might lack attention to detail, so I become a taskmaster. As a teacher I can at times feel like an acting coach, a motivational speaker, or a mechanic looking under the hood trying to fix a problem. If one approach does not work, I try something else. By the end of four years, my role should change to be more supportive than formative.”
– Mary Kay Fink, December 2014

“As a teacher in a conservatoire, my job is not only one hour a week of saying the pitch is not good, play louder or softer. Rather, it is to open their minds and encourage them to be curious and organize themselves…The most difficult thing for a teacher is to get the student to become his own teacher.”
– Sophie Cherrier, October 2014
9 “Takahashi always starts beginners without the mouthpiece. Instead, he starts them out by spitting imaginary rice seeds. Because of this technique, few words are necessary to describe the embouchure. Students simply place the tongue between the teeth and pretend to spit out a seed. For the low register, they spit the seed just a few feet away; for the middle register, a little farther; for the high register, across the room. As the student spits the seed farther, the air pressure automatically increases, the aperture between the lips becomes smaller, and the jaw drops.”
– Donna Rose, October 1982
The Instrumentalist

On Practicing and Playing

10 “The repertoire you are learning now includes pieces that will stay with you for life. Your practice is not just for the upcoming auditions; it is for you and your aspirations in your art. Learn each piece with the best habits and concentrated attention. Unlearning something is much harder than learning it properly the first time.”
– Tara Helen O’Connor, October 2016

11“Myth No. 3: If you stop playing for years, you can’t start again. I find that these are often the musicians who are the most enjoyable to play music with. After not playing the flute for many years, they pick it up with a new zeal for music that is contagious and enjoyable to be around. Whether you are a current student who does not plan to pursue a professional music career or an adult returning to the instrument after years away, I encourage you to find a local concert band, orchestra or flute choir to join. There are so many ways to enjoy and share a love of music.”
– Jennifer Oliver, October 2016

12 “When I was a student, fellow flutists talked about players with huge sounds and dreamed of the day when they could play louder than an entire orchestra. However, excluding instances such as playing a concerto with a full orchestra, this is a skill rarely utilized in the professional setting. As an orchestral principal flutist, I find myself playing in the piano to mezzopiano range about 75% of the time. The most stressful part of my job is never when I get to blast a tutti section, but instead when I have to come in on a pianissimo top-octave A or play a two-octave leap at a very soft dynamic, while staying in tune with the other woodwinds.”
– Jake Fridkis, December 2016

13 “Sometimes I really do not have enough practice time. (I have never met a musician who tells me that he or she has enough time to practice!) Don’t despair. There are other ways to practice. Jeffrey Khaner once told me that musicians should think about their pieces at all times, even when they are not physically playing. He is absolutely right. At various times during the day, I find it useful to sing the piece in my head. When I cannot remember how to sing any farther, I consult the score to find out what is happening in the music at that point.”
– Jasmine Choi, February 2016

14 “Subito piano – like a bird flying 60 miles per hour, landing on a wire, and not jarring it.”
– William Kincaid, November 1995

15 “To warm up I sing, and I also do exercises with my body to get my back, legs, and arms limbered up. If I want to be warmed up before a concert or a rehearsal, I usually practice pretty hard the preceding day. I don’t believe that any particular exercise is the answer though. I learned a great deal from going to exercise classes for several years. I don’t go any more, not because I’ve learned everything but because I worked out exercises of my own that I feel work for me. I’ve learned that the better general condition you’re in, then the fewer tight knots you have in your leg or somewhere else, and the better you’ll play.”
– Doriot Anthony Dwyer, June, 1977
The Instrumentalist

16 “The following basic routine takes about 90 minutes, but each arpeggio, interval, and so on, is only a few seconds long. This timing is deliberate–15 seconds of concentration is more profitable that 15 minutes of senseless re­pe­ti­tion . . . Taffanel & Gaubert No. 4 with 60 different articulations and rhythms . . . Reichert Seven Daily Exercises Opus 5, Nos. 2 and 4…Each day I take an interval, say a major third, and work on all major thirds throughout the entire range of the flute, first playing up the scale and then down. Next I practice its inversion (in this case a minor sixth)…I play arpeggios mezzo forte without swells, with an average vibrato, perfect slurs, and free rests in between.
– Michel Debost, January 1986

17 “William Kincaid told me, ‘Now look, I want you to play one note, and I want you to play a cadenza for me on that note,’ meaning that he wanted to hear how many different shades of tone (I) could get on one note . . . It made a tremendous impression on me. I never knew that the flute was capable of all the different colors of the rainbow, so to speak. To get a variety of tone colors on the flute, one must vary one’s embouchure or one’s wind velocity. But I think it all falls under the heading of imagination, concept of style, and understanding.”
– Julius Baker, April 1977

18 “We worry that our fingers don’t move fast enough. The truth is that every time we botch a passage, our fingers have moved too fast. You can easily prove this by using a two-speed tape recorder. Set the tape machine at the fast speed and record your playing with the metronome ticking along. Play back the tape at the slower speed. Everything will be one octave lower and twice a slow. You’ll be amazed as you hear yourself start ahead of the beat and play too fast at every difficult finger combination.”
– William Watson, November 1987

19 “Professional music is a tremendously competitive field. A player just starting out has to figure that he might be a little more talented than a lot of people, but not that much more. If there’s the least little inkling in the back of his mind to become a professional musician–classical or jazz or whatever–he’s going to have to work harder than all his buddies. Ninety-nine percent of the time the difference between who makes it and who doesn’t is who works the hardest.”
– Jimmy Walker, August 1983

Career Advice
20 “As a student, I always worried that if I did not attend the best music festivals, I was shooting myself in the foot. The flute players at those festivals were sure to get better than me, and there was little I could do about it. Your situation is really what you make of it. Summer music festivals are great, but it still takes individual practice and discipline to get the most out of that opportunity. Creating your own summer music festival is not only a way to stay motivated and improve your skills, but it is an exercise in discipline and personal drive with are qualities that the best musicians all seem to share.”
– Michael Hoover, March 2016