This week we'll be discussing the first etude in Andersen's Op. 33 book of technical studies. When I first started working on these, I knew that they were useful and necessary if I wanted to get better at the flute, but I wasn't really sure how to go about working with them other than to play them over and over. While this type of practicing will yield a certain amount of progress, it's not the most efficient way to use etudes.
I've winnowed out four different ways to break down this particular study. Click on each title to download a mini-etude that works on that concept.
Mini-Study No. 1: What happens on the big beats (1, 2, 3, 4).
This is always a good starting point, regardless of the type of etude you're studying. The most important things tend to happen on the downbeat, so start your analysis there. In this etude, singling out the pitches that happen on the downbeats reveals some patterns, but the resulting melody doesn't quite stand alone. It's missing something.
Mini-Study No. 2: Simplifying the neighbor notes.
Neighbor notes tend to be ornamental in nature, and they will look something like the E-F-E configuration below.
The pitch you start on and return to (in this case, E) is usually the more important one in the figure. When you remove the neighbor notes in Etude No. 1, some standard scales and arpeggios come to light. This analysis could stand on its own as an etude, and would be a good introduction for students who are beginners to technical work.
Mini-Study No. 3: Simplifying the repeated notes.
This is similar to simplifying the neighbor notes, but on a larger scale. If you notice that the same pitch happens on two downbeats in a row, that's probably the most important thing happening. When you remove the repeated notes in this etude, you can see how long the phrases are and that there is a melodic line beneath all the sixteenth note chaos. The melody is rather disjunct (contains large leaps) though.
Mini-Study No. 4: Clarifying the melodic line through octave displacement.
Sometimes shifting pitches up or down an octave can reveal a simpler line. Using octave displacement on select notes creates a flowing melody that should be kept in mind when playing the etude in its original form. In this case, octave displacement is used to smooth out the large leaps found in the melody created in Mini-Study No. 3.
So what do we learn from deconstructing this etude? We find that while the original page is an overwhelming mass of 16th notes, it is based on scale patterns and arpeggios. We also know now that there is a lovely melodic line that flows through the etude; this knowledge will help with phrasing and planning out breaths.
Contact me with any questions you have, and come back next Wednesday for another dose of Deconstructing Andersen!
I have a new project in the works! It focuses on Joachim Andersen's 24 Etudes for Flute, Op. 33, an etude collection used pretty universally at the high school and college level.
I remember when I first started working on Op. 33 back in high school; I struggled to learn the studies and hated practicing them because I had no idea what I was doing or what I was supposed to be gaining from the process. The book I'm working on currently, titled Deconstructing Andersen, is meant for people who are going through a similar period of confusion.
The book will contain each etude in its full, original form, as well as several mini-studies based on each etude that are meant to help you see what Andersen was trying to get you to work on in your playing. My own personal study copy of each etude will also be part of the book, as well as any tips or tricks you should be aware of.
The anticipated publication date is June 2014; I will be making it available for purchase as a digital copy and as a 3-ring binder bound physical edition through this site. Check back for samples and updates!
There are going to be times in your career when the musicians surrounding you are either much better or much less skilled than you. How you conduct yourself around both types of peers says a lot about you as a person.
Feeling like you're constantly struggling to keep up with the skill level of the people around you can be emotionally taxing if you allow it to be. Instead, watch your peers closely and notice with they do differently than you. Who do they study with, and what's their practice routine like? Be humble enough to ask them for advice if you're stuck with something you know they can do well. Most importantly, don't try to trip them up or bring them down. That kind of behavior only reflects poorly on you.
On the other hand, it's easy to get cocky or patronizing when you're the principal of your section, but there's no call to be that kind of person. Be kind to the people you lead and assist them whenever you can. Show them tips or tricks as the opportunities present themselves; you helping your peers improve only makes the ensemble sound better. Don't try to keep others down so that you can kick back and stop working hard to be the best. Be generous with your knowledge.
Whether you're at the top, the bottom, or somewhere in the middle, it all comes down to being a good human being.
I have a confession to make: I suffer from Gig Guilt.
I got both of my degrees in performance, so most of my peers are performers. As a teaching specialist, I am in the minority among the musicians I know. I look at their websites with their calendars of upcoming gigs and I feel like I'm not as advanced in my career as they are. I sometimes feel like my worth is measured in the amount of time I spend playing recitals and that any other pursuit just isn't quite as valid.
But this is far from the truth. The music community deserves to have teachers who are as passionate about education as performers are about their solo careers. If teaching is viewed as nothing more than a resume filler for aspiring performers, or as something to do here and there between concert tours, then the quality of performers will suffer in generations to come because they never had a truly invested mentor. Students can tell if their teachers don't care.
We are raised to believe that choice brings power, and this is absolutely true. However, dabbling in many careers for fear of choosing one is a disservice to everyone involved. An unwilling teacher can do years of lasting damage. An uninterested and uninformed performer does no justice to the music they play.
It's OK not to know what your specialty is before or during music school. Helping you figure out your niche is part of what higher education is all about. It might not even become obvious to you what your calling is within the first few years after graduation. The typhoon of student loan debt, life change, and frantic job hunting is quite efficient at drowning out the small voice inside you that tells you what you should be doing with your life. You'll find yourself pacing back and forth in front of the different doors you can walk through: performer, teacher, composer, writer, abandoning music for something else entirely. Each of your interests pulls you in a different direction, so choosing something to focus on can be paralyzing.
It can take years after graduating from music school, but there will come a time when you have to choose a door to walk through. If you want to be truly great at something, you'll have to decide which skill holds the most value in your mind and make that your specialty. This doesn't mean you let go of all the other parts of you; if you decide to make composition your focus, you can still perform and teach and write, but composing gets the lion's share of your energy. This is the only way you get really, really good at something.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether you have passion for what you do. There's nothing wrong with having a multifaceted career; in fact, it's becoming more necessary than ever. But doing poor quality work benefits no one.
So don't let the guilt of what you "should" be doing get you down. Assuming you're taking care of your responsibilities and you aren't hurting anyone, go ahead and do what you believe in.
Part two of the "Finding Your Style" series focuses on how to be an engaging teacher while still remaining true to your personality. No matter what teaching style you ascribe to, students will only respond to you if you feel comfortable in your actions.
Step 1: Think back.
Who was your favorite teacher? This doesn't have to be limited to music; it could be someone who taught you to read when you were young or the driver's ed instructor who helped you finally figure out parallel parking. Think about what it was you responded to. Was it their knowledge level, their demeanor, their teaching studio/classroom, or something else? How did they make you feel about yourself? Did they motivate you through fear, anger, love, encouragement, or a simple expectation that you could do better? Which of these qualities do you see in yourself already, and which ones do you wish you had? These are clues as to the type of teacher you should be.
Step 2: Take a look at yourself.
What's your personality type? Are you outgoing and personable, or do you take a little while to warm up to new people? While it's fine to be more of an introvert, you must at least be able to take the lead during a lesson. Students look to you for cues about how to behave, and they need a certain amount of structure and leadership even if you aren't the dominant type.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? As much as you're able, schedule lessons for your most alert time of day. A sleepy or disengaged student will be more willing to suck it up and pay attention if you're bringing the energy. The simple act of being excited to be there is a major part of being a good teacher.
Step 3: Have a plan.
When I first started teaching privately, I planned out every lesson ahead of time. I made a list of topics I wanted to cover and made sure I had more than enough material to fill the time slot. At least in the beginning, it's easier to guide your student through the lesson if you have a safety net.
However, flexibility is key. There will be times when the activities you plan aren't workable for one reason or another and you need to move on to something different. Eventually, you will get to a point where you don't need to plan out your lessons because you know your students well and you have a wide variety of ways to troubleshoot any problems they might face, be it in articulation, tone, or body position.
Step 4: Watch the game tape.
Take a few notes as your student is packing up their instrument. Write down which activities went well and which ones were confusing or unhelpful. With the less successful teaching techniques, see if you can figure out what went wrong. Was there something you wish you had done differently? Did the student have any feedback that they shared with you as they were struggling?
File away the techniques that don't work the first time, but don't toss them entirely. They probably just need a couple tweaks to turn them into productive teaching tools. Ask your peers or your own teachers for ideas; improving as a teacher is a collaborative effort.
Step 5: Can it be simpler?
The hardest part about teaching is trying to communicate new knowledge to someone who has never encountered it before. You can't use industry jargon or slang because they don't know what that means. You have to break the concept down into its smallest, least challenging pieces of information in order to build the knowledge base your student needs.
For example, let's say you wanted to talk about major triads. The breakdown would go something like this:
As you can see, this breakdown process could take you all the way through known music theory, and each bullet point above could easily be expanded further into a full lesson. No matter what type of teaching personality you have, this skill must be a part of it.
Step 6: Teach!
The best way to figure out your personal teaching style is to teach as much as you can. Teach private students when you can get them, but don't stop there. The simple act of breaking an activity down into its most basic parts so that it can be understood by a novice is something that comes with repetition. Enlist the help of the people around you when you're trying to get some practice in this regard. Teach your friends how to assemble your instrument. Teach your coworkers the fine art of using the copy machine. Teach your roommate how to fix the leaky faucet. The more opportunities you take to communicate new knowledge to someone, the more comfortable you will be doing it.
Figuring out your personal style is a big part of the transition from student life to professional work, whether you perform, teach, or do something else entirely. Having a unique, authentic approach that feels comfortable to you is what makes you a marketable and appealing hire. "Personal style" seems like an abstract thing at first glance, but there are a series of steps you can take to figure out your brand. Today's post will focus on performance; teaching will be covered on Wednesday, 1/15.
Step 1: Be a Big Fat Copycat
It seems counterintuitive, but start by copying performers you like to listen to. There's a reason you gravitate toward some players over others. Try playing as closely to their sound as possible; this includes dynamics, articulation, tempo, timing, vibrato, and timbre. Do this with several performers you like. See if you can play the same piece in the style of three or four different musicians. The trick is to adhere EXACTLY to what they do.
This kind of practice is an excellent opportunity to build both your aural skills and your vocabulary of sound. The only way you can mimic something is to listen to it closely, so you will have plenty of opportunity to refine your ear. By imitating different performers, you learn how many ways there are to play a staccato note or shape a phrase. At first, everything might sound similar; take notes or mark up a copy of the score as you listen. One thing I like to do is make a photocopy of a piece and use a different colored pen for the notes I take about each different performer I listen to.
At a certain point, you will start to feel something change. The guidance of the recordings you listen to will gradually shift from helpful to stifling. Playing exactly like your favorite performer will start to feel like a box you have to fit into that crowds and limits you. Listen to this feeling, because it leads you into the next step: making your own choices.
Step 2: Make Like a Tree and Branch Out
Let's say you like the overall approach a certain player has to tempo, but you notice they hold notes at the ends of phrases for just a touch too long. Assuming that your rhythmic accuracy is high and that they really are holding those notes too long, you might feel a pull to cut off those ending notes a little sooner than they would.
Or perhaps you notice that one of the performers you listen to tends to use primarily straight sound, with little vibrato. You feel, however, that adding vibrato judiciously could help shape phrases and bring different tone colors to your performance. These are examples of where you can start to make educated deviations from your style mentors.
Now that you've spent some time listening to all the different ways music can be played, you have many tools at your disposal. It's the difference between being able to say you're happy versus being able to differentiate between excited, anticipatory, elated, overjoyed, or thrilled. You have more colors on your palette.
So start slowly, be patient with yourself and keep your ears open for new ideas. Your performance style can (and will) evolve as you get older, so if there's something you don't like about how you play, it's never too late to change it. Good luck and get listening!
This post originally appeared as a guest contribution to My Town Tutors.
Flute is a very popular instrument, so the competition during any audition is tough. When you play an instrument with so many individuals jockeying for so few available spaces, simply playing the audition music well isn't enough. Bearing this in mind, how do you help your private flute students stand out from the crowd and achieve their goals? You help them bring something extra to the table.
Always prepare your students for the next level. When they're in middle school, lay the foundation for high-school level skills. Explain to them the value of memorizing scales and practicing etudes as a way to learn the patterns and building blocks of music so that mastering pieces can happen quickly and efficiently.
When they're in high school, teach them how to think about music in a deep and analytical way instead of just playing it note-to-note. Talk about style with your students; help them see how the way music was played during different periods of history varies greatly from one era to the next, and what that means for the particular pieces your students are learning. Any high schooler can handle the basics of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic style; challenge your students to create the biggest contrast possible between these different idioms!
Encourage responsible, mature behavior. If you have a student auditioning for college, make sure they send a polite, concise email to their potential teacher requesting a meeting or trial lesson. This helps the student establish a connection and gives their potential teacher some context during the audition. If the student willingly accepts and applies suggestions made during their trial lesson, it shows commitment and makes them a more appealing candidate for admission.
Always make sure your students send a thank-you note to whoever took the time to hear their audition. Help your students see that what comes before and after audition day is just as important as how they perform their music; often, these connections are what tip the scales in favor of one student over another.
Don't let the audition environment come as a surprise to your students! Do mock auditions. The key here is in the plural; do as many mock auditions as your student needs to feel at ease in the situation. Practice how to walk into the audition room and how to make a graceful exit. Talk about the value of verbally thanking the jury before you leave the room. The jury will pick up on this level of confidence and ease, and it will show in your student's audition score.
If you have a flute student preparing for college, consider adding The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook to their weekly practice regimen. This self-guided audition companion is suitable for any instrumentalist looking to stand out from the rest and get into their school of choice. It is available for purchase here.
I recently received an excellent question from a reader that I'd like to share with everyone.
When & how do you start teaching students a structured practice schedule that includes the 'professional patterns' of spending lots of time on scales/tone and then smaller time on etudes & repertoire? Do you have any tips for visual organizers for this practice time?
The key to making the shift into the "professional patterns" that you mention is in the maturity level of your student. Whatever age they are, they have to be able to understand why scales and tone are important or they won't have much desire to work on them. I touched on this in my recent guest blog post for My Town Tutors; if you can help your students understand that learning scales is a shortcut to learning pieces quickly, they will be more willing to devote time to practicing them. Most of the time, this ability to understand that most pieces are made up of scales and scale patterns develops during middle school. Take a piece your student is working on and point out all the stepwise motion in it; explain that those passages are smaller chunks of scales, and that once you know a particular scale, any piece that uses it will be much easier right off the bat. I tell my younger students who are just learning about this concept that it's like a "cheat code" for their music.
When it comes to tone, I find that it depends less on the age of the student than on the number of years they have been playing their instrument. I work with a 7th grader who has been playing for nearly five years who has an amazing grasp of timbre, but someone older with less experience might not have that same command because they haven't spent as much time building that level of control over the instrument. In the case of flute in particular, it depends on how developed the student's awareness of their facial muscles is; the adjustments needed to change the tone color happen in the muscles surrounding the lips, cheeks, and jaw, and the movements needed are incredibly small.
The ability to do detailed work on tone is also affected by the quality of a student's instrument. If they are struggling to get a good sound on a beginner model that is built to survive rather than to sound beautiful, your students will always chafe against tone work because they won't be able to hear any progress.
I start tone development simply; we ease into it by gaining a good spectrum of dynamics first. This helps the student understand that there is more than one way to play a particular pitch, but it's still fairly basic and easy to comprehend. Only when a student has a good command of dynamics would I move on to examine tone, because most of the time if someone cannot control how loud or soft they play, their ear will not be developed enough to notice what is happening with timbre and intonation anyway.
Once your student understands the value of scales and tone work in their practice, keeping a written log is a good way to make sure the distribution of time is appropriate. I would encourage both daily and weekly practice note-taking in your students. You can find a printable daily practice log here, and the sample chapter of my workbook includes a weekly practice sheet example. Daily notes are good for recording the specific ideas and areas your students practice, while weekly logs are more suited for making sure they cover everything on their to-do list over the course of the week.
Thanks for your question, Rebecca!
Lots of the skills that I gained from music have nothing to do with music. Being a part of band programs and taking private lessons shaped me into a considerate human being in ways that extend far beyond the rehearsal room.
I learned that you show up on time at the very latest. Arriving late shows your colleagues that you don't respect their time and that you didn't plan ahead well enough to get there when you said you would.
I learned to be prepared. If you review ahead of time what things you have to bring to school/work/rehearsal, you will always have what you need. You will never be caught unprepared.
I learned to take good care of my stuff. Instruments and sheet music are expensive and sometimes impossible to replace, so I quickly learned to keep track of my things and treat them with care.
I learned to show leaders respect, even if I don't always agree with them. Conductors have a specific vision for the pieces they program for their ensembles, and a band or orchestra can only function if everyone cedes to the conductor's ideas. You're allowed to think whatever you want to think, but unless you're in charge, you won't always get your way.
...but I also learned to choose carefully who I follow. If someone with authority over you, whether it's a boss, teacher, or conductor, asks you to do something you see as morally or fundamentally wrong, it's time to get out of that situation. If you have a choice, choose to follow compassionate leaders.
I learned that it's important to have something in your life that you control. If you chafe against large ensembles, start a chamber group or a solo project. If you don't like your office job, find a different one or work from home. Pick up a hobby that you enjoy, join a gym, or take a class in something you want to learn. You need to have something in your life that you have ownership of; this makes the times when you have to follow the leader more tolerable.
Share what music has taught you in the comments!