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Make the Most of Fall Lessons

Patricia George | October 2016

    Each fall private lesson teachers face a dilemma of what to do when students arrive unprepared for lessons. I don’t think students intend for this to happen, but they are often caught in the middle of numerous commitments with the start of the new school year from marching band to homework. For those students preparing for upcoming college auditions, the use of time is even more critical. Some advance planning by teachers and students can keep these lessons from being a waste of time.

College-Bound Flutists
    Knowing that fall is a time when students have less time for individual practice, start college exploration as early as the beginning of the junior year. Discuss career plans with students. If a music major is top on the list, help students make a list of interesting and appropriate schools and organize information about audition dates and requirements using a program such as Excel. Select interesting repertoire that will apply to the most number of applications and present a few challenges to the student. Do not select music that is too difficult. It is better to play simpler music well, than difficult music poorly. Teachers are looking for potential, not necessarily a finished product.
    Audition requirements often include several of the following: the first movement of the Mozart Concerto in G, K.313, two movements of a J.S. Bach sonata, a contrasting piece (many require one of the Paris Conservatory examination pieces), a contemporary sonata, a concerto such as the Ibert or Nielsen, and several orchestral excerpts.
    Have students purchase an urtext edition (an edition in which the publisher strives to reproduce the composer’s original intention based on a manuscript or the earliest known copy in existence) or a performer’s edition for the Mozart Concerto and the Bach Sonatas. Be careful in purchasing a performer’s edition as there is a chance that it may be edited in a Romantic tradition rather than in the appropriate style for the period.
    For several reasons the best choices for Bach are the first two movements of the E Minor, BWV 1034 or E Major, BWV 1035. The first three Bach sonatas (B minor, Eb major, A major) are titled Sonatas for cembalo obligato and flauto transverso, and the last three (C major, E minor, E major) are titled Sonatas for traverso and continuo. In the first set Bach wrote out the keyboard part, while in the second set he only indicated the figured bass. Through the years, various keyboard scholars have realized the figured bass of these three sonatas and published versions. Often when auditioning there is limited time with the accompanist (unless you bring your own), so putting the E minor or E major together with an unknown accompanist is much easier in a limited time frame because the keyboard parts are less difficult. (Interesting side note: recent scholarship suggests that the B minor, A major, E minor and E major are by J.S. Bach, and his son K.P.E. Bach wrote the Eb major and C major sonatas.)
    For the contrasting piece (or Paris Conservatory examination piece) do not select the Chaminade Concertino, Op. 107. While it is a lovely piece and cherished by all, most flute professors have judged too many bad renditions of the Chaminade in competitions and are tired of hearing it played poorly and inaccurately. It would be better to select the Enesco Cantabile et Presto or the Gaubert Fantaisie. These are beautiful pieces that have not been played to death at competitions.
    If you are free to select your own contrasting work look at the sonatas by Hindemith, Martinu, Poulenc, or Prokofiev or an unaccompanied piece by Bozza, Ibert, Hindemith, Ferroud, or a grouping of the 30 Caprices by Karg-Elert. Be sure the student’s level of performance is high enough to play these pieces well.
     It used to be that flutists learned the Ibert and Nielsen concertos in college studies, however, today most advanced high school flutists have memorized and performed the Ibert and Nielsen. If these works are too difficult, then students should apply to schools where the requirements better match their current level of advancement.
    A few music schools request an etude of the flutist’s choice. I like etudes that could be played in a concert. Some possibilities include: Altes, No. 9 in C minor, Andersen, Op. 15, No. 3 in G Major, Furstenau, Op. 107  (any with the accompanying prelude), Kohler Op. 33 Book 3 (No. 1, 2, 3, 4, or 7), or one of the Paganini 24 Caprices. When learning etudes, be sure to chunk in a variety of chunk-lengths from two notes to many notes. Follow the composers’ markings carefully especially observing the dynamic markings. Too often etudes are played moderato and mf.
    The last requirement from conservatories and many universities is orchestral excerpts. Some schools will have a list of selections, while others ask for three or four of the applicant’s choice. Make a careful assessment of the student’s level before making these selections. Some easier excerpts include the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in Eb major (Eroica), Bizet’s Menuet from L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2; the fourth movement of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8, Mendelssohn’s Scherzo, and Volière from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. The more difficult ones include Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3; the fourth movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Peter and the Wolf, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, and works by Stravinsky. Teachers should create a strong musical foundation for students and teach the complete work rather than the excerpt. Complete parts for the list above may be downloaded from If possible, do not assign excerpts that are more difficult than what is appropriate for the student’s current level of advancement. On several occasions I have taught the Stravinsky Firebird variation to a student who did not have an understanding of compound meter. Better to teach the basics to build a foundation than to teach an excerpt by rote.

Preparing the Repertoire
    Begin learning the repertoire at the end of marching season during students’ junior year with a goal of presenting the material in a recital in late spring or early summer. Record the recital hoping to get a good-quality performance that might be used for pre-screening auditions the next fall. Pre-screening recordings are often due by December 1, if not earlier. It is wise to schedule a recording session after the recital to re-record anything that did not go well. Then put the music away and start new repertoire during the summer.

Summer Suggestions
    Repertoire for the summer before senior year should complement the audition repertoire. For example, if the Mozart Concerto in G, K. 313, first movement is required in the audition, explore the Friedrich Schwindl Flute Concerto in D Major, the Mercadante Concerto in E Minor, or concertos and sonatas by Devienne. These works are less sophisticated than the Mozart, but are charming in nature and certainly the joy of playing them will add a spark to a Mozart performance.
    During the summer have students listen to various recordings of both Mozart concertos and analyze whether the artist is playing in 44 or alla breve. Listen for the hierarchy of the strength of the beat, use of articulatory silence, and the player’s ideas on vibrato. Notice how trills are executed and resolved. Franz Vester’s book W.A. Mozart: On the Performance of the Works for Wind Instruments (Broekmans en Van Poppel B. V. 1670) offers a thorough discussion on performing early music. Vester discusses topics such as tone, meter and stress, articulation, phrasing, tempo, rhythmic questions, ornaments, vibrato, dynamics, cadenzas and fermatas plus an extended discussion on both the Mozart concertos and the Andante in C. Vester’s book also provides an in depth discussion of all the woodwind concertos and chamber works. This book is essential material for all serious flutists.
    For alternative repertoire to the Bach, explore sonatas by Handel, Marcello, Telemann, Quantz, or Sammartini. The Telemann 12 Fantasias for solo flute offer a wealth of musical teaching points that will easily transfer over to the study of the Bach sonatas.
    Works by Faure, Busser, Perihlou, Taffanel, Gaubert, and Casella offer interesting repertoire choices for the Paris Conservatory requirement. If a student is not ready for the standard sonata repertoire, look at Bernard Heiden’s Sonatina, Burton’s Sonatina, or Muczynsky’s Sonata or Three Preludes.
    For summer excerpt study, have students learn the entire composition rather than just the excerpt. A good goal would be for students to play the entire piece with three different CD recordings.
    If possible, have a recital at the end of summer study to put a good finish on the last weeks of preparation. Once marching band begins spend lesson time reviewing audition material learned the previous spring. The summer repertoire should have enriched students’ thinking about the audition material. Make a chart so that each selection is reviewed several times in the fall lessons. Once marching band season is over, then full attention can be directed on the audition material. Try to select later audition dates, so there is ample time to prepare.

Younger Students
    For students who do not intend to pursue music after high school or who are below junior year, they often do not face the deadline of an upcoming audition or other event. Do encourage them to continue lessons during marching season (or fall sports season) even if there is little time to practice. Spend lesson time working on fundamentals such as tone, tone color, slow intervals for smoothness and perfect intonation, reviewing the stance and balance of the flute in the hands, and theoretical material such as scales, arpeggios, scales in thirds, and seventh chords plus etudes. If a student has no time to prepare etudes, then sightread simpler etudes at each lesson for phrasing and to develop a singing style. Chunk more difficult etudes with the teacher playing one chunk and the student playing the next, matching quality of tone and note lengths. Etudes from the complete methods by Popp, Gariboldi, and Soussmann are an excellent choice. These may be downloaded from You can also use lesson time for rhythmic reading and sightsinging to improve skills. Teach students basic conducting patterns. One of the most enjoyable things to do is to play duets switching parts as you go from one duet to the next. Start with canons such as the Six Canonic Sonatas by Telemann or Thom Ritter George. Move on to the Kuhlau Duos Op. 10, 80, 81, 102, 39 followed by one of my all-time favorites the Koechlin Sonatine ( or the challenging Hindemith Canonic Sonate. Ask the next student to come a few minutes early, and the two students can play a trio with you. Students learn more about playing musically from chamber music than anything else. Since the marching band stance is so different from artistic flute-playing stance, review the differences reminding students to relax and breathe.
    Students often feel overwhelmed in the fall with new, harder classes, marching band, and other extracurricular activities. Making lessons unstressful but still productive, where learning occurs without a lot of preparation, will be less frustrating to both teachers and students.