Getting braces is a rite of passage that most of my middle schoolers go through, and it can be a frustrating time for musicians who are just starting to listen to themselves and self-analyze their playing.
Having had braces myself, I can sympathize with the feelings of frustration that come with trying to play flute with a whole bunch of metal in your mouth. Here's my best advice for flutists who are staring down the barrel of a shiny new set of orthodontia:
1.) Buy braces wax! This non-toxic, minty wax is available at most drugstores and grocery stores in the dental aisle, and putting it over your braces will protect the insides of your lips and cheeks from chafing while you play.
2.) Be prepared to adjust your embouchure. The extra bulk between your lower teeth and lip will shift the direction of your air stream, so you might find that you need to roll the headjoint more toward or away from you to get the air stream to hit the edge of the embouchure hole just right. You may also have to place the flute higher or lower on your bottom lip.
3.) Be prepared to sound fuzzy. While you're figuring out your new headjoint-lip relationship, your sound will likely be unfocused since the air stream isn't being aimed properly. This is not a failing on your part, nor are you getting worse at the flute. It's simply a byproduct of your mouth adjusting to a new embouchure.
4.) Be patient! This is a huge transition. There will be days, especially after your orthodontic appointments, when your mouth is simply too sore to make it through a practice session. If this happens, use that day to study scores, listen to recordings, and research the historical significance of the pieces you're studying.
The good news is that once you get used to having braces, your sound will return to normal. It's a temporary challenge, but the results are worth it.
It's been a couple weeks since I posted my New Year's resolutions for the studio (you can read the original post here) so I thought I'd write a quick update about how they're going.
Resolution #1: Go for quality, not quantity.
How it's going: I've taken a step back from posting so much; my goal was to write something every Sunday, but it seems more appropriate to wait until I have something really worth sharing rather than to try to come up with filler if I have writer's block. I still try to get something new on here once a week, but the schedule has relaxed somewhat.
Speaking of relaxing, that leads me to the other goal I tackled in the last couple weeks:
Resolution #3: Take some time to unwind.
How it's going: I've been doing nice things for myself, like cooking delicious meals and spending time with people I enjoy. I've also made it a point to keep a little time set aside to sit and do nothing but relax. Between bartending full time, teaching on the weekends, and walking/biking everywhere I go, my body is grateful for the rest.
Change is tough. It's hard to upset your routine, even if it's for your own good. I'm going to keep posting about how these resolutions are going, and I'd love to hear about your own!
I take extensive notes while I teach, which I then email to my students for their reference throughout the week. (Unpaid endorsement: I use GoodNotes and it's awesome!) Because of this, I don't bother coming up with lesson plans each week for my students. When I first started teaching, I planned out my lessons religiously because I was new and nervous. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to come up with enough activities to fill a whole lesson. This was useful at first because it made me think deeply about what would help my students to improve in their various weak areas.
But over the years, I discovered that it's best to be able to move in any direction needed while teaching one-on-one. If you have an amazing lesson about dynamics planned, but your student asks you for help with articulation, do you bulldoze their needs that week so you can follow the plan? Of course not. The point of private lessons is to meet individual needs, not to follow a set-in-stone curriculum. This being said, it's essential to include all the basics that every musician needs to be able to do: scales, dynamics, basic music theory, healthy posture, knowledge of the instrument's repertoire, and how to take care of the instrument.
So what I like to do now is to follow my students when they show me a specific need, and when they don't have any pressing issues to address, I take that week to work on one of the aforementioned basics. In this way, they feel heard and helped, and I'm able to give them a well-rounded education so they can go forth and be great musicians.
It's 2015! In the spirit of new year's resolutions, I'm making some goals for my studio for the coming year.
1.) Go for quality, not quantity.
I'm going to scale back the blog posts to Sundays only so I can put more time and thought into each post.
2.) Take it back to basics.
I'm going to bring scales, arpeggios, and other basic elements back into every lesson I teach, and help my students see why those things are important.
3.) Take some time to unwind.
I work about 50 hours a week, and it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and forget to do things that are fun and relaxing.
4.) Decorate my studio.
I have a few things here and there, but I'd like to make my studio more visually interesting with posters and maybe a potted plant or two.
I think all four of these resolutions are reasonable, beneficial, and most importantly, doable. I'll check in periodically with you all to let you know how they're coming!