Buying a new flute is exciting, but the sheer number of flutemakers and features available can be overwhelming. Here's a breakdown of the flute features that are essential for each ability level.
Beginner Instruments: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Nickel Flute
Beginner flutes are made to survive beginning students. The body (the tube of the flute) and the mechanism (all the moving parts) are typically made of silver-plated nickel, which makes them durable. The trade-off is that they don't produce as good of a sound as higher-level flutes do, but for the purposes of young flutists, they work just fine.
Beginner models will have what is called a C-footjoint. (The footjoint is the end part of the flute. The keys on the footjoint are controlled by the pinky finger of the right hand.) It is called a C-footjoint because the lowest note that type of flute can produce is a C. They will also have closed-hole keys; in this type of model, the keys that you place your fingers on will be solid, with no hole in the middle for your finger to cover. This makes life easier for students still trying to learn proper hand position.
Intermediate Instruments: Not a Beginner, Not Yet a Professional
Generally speaking, flute students will need to graduate up to an intermediate-level flute within one to two years of starting to learn the instrument. An intermediate flute has a few added features that make it a better overall instrument than a beginner model, but it's still priced to be practical for students who enjoy the instrument but might not want to study at the college level.
There are three important features to look for in a good-quality intermediate flute. The first is a solid silver headjoint. (The headjoint is the part of the flute you blow across to make the sound.) The rest of the flute can be silver-plated nickel like a beginner model, but the solid silver headjoint will dramatically improve the sound quality of the instrument. This is really encouraging for students who have been studying for a couple years and need a fresh boost of motivation to continue their practice regimen.
When stepping up to an intermediate flute, you should also look for one with a B-footjoint and open-hole keys. Just like the C-footjoint allows the flute to play down to a C, the B-footjoint includes an extra key on the end of the footjoint that brings the flute's lowest note down to a B. This extra key also improves the overall balance of the instrument, making the weight distribution between the right and left hands more even.
Open-hole keys, as the name implies, are keys with holes in the middle. On an open-hole flute, the keys that you place your fingers on (as opposed to keys that are moved by other keys) will have a hole that you must cover with your finger. Often, students who switch from a closed-hole model to an open-hole model will feel like they can't get a good sound on their new flute at first. This is because learning to cover these holes fully takes some getting used to, and if the holes aren't fully sealed, air escapes through the space between the finger and the key and creates a fuzzy, unclear sound. If you're struggling with a new open-hole flute, remember that there's an adjustment period and that you need to be patient with yourself.
There are a few benefits of having an open-hole flute. One is that it forces you to have great hand position; your fingertips must be right over the keys in order to seal the holes properly. Another perk is that you can play ultramodern contemporary music that uses fingerings requiring an open-hole flute.
Professional Instruments: Heading For the Big Time
If you decide to pursue musical study at the college level, you should invest in an advanced or professional model flute. A professional flute will be all silver; this includes the headjoint as well as the rest of the body of the flute. You will find professional models that have solid silver mechanisms as well as ones that have silver-plated mechanisms; the only time a solid silver mechanism is necessary is if you have an allergy to nickel. In my opinion, it doesn't make the flute sound any better, so don't spend the money if you don't have to.
An advanced-model flute should have the B-footjoint and open-hole keys discussed in the intermediate section, but it should also have French-arm keys. In a French-arm mechanism, the small piece of metal that attaches the key to the rest of the mechanism extends all the way to the center of the key, rather than stopping at the edge of the key. This allows the key to be pressed down more evenly, which covers the hole better and leaves less room for air leakage from the key.
A note about in-line and offset G:
This is an important feature available on all levels of flute that often gets overlooked. Much like the name suggests, on an in-line model the key that is depressed to play G is lined up with the keys on either side of it, and on an offset model, that key is shifted slightly out of line from the rest.
Offset G is better for musicians with smaller hands; shifting that key out of line allows the keys to align better with the fingers. In-line G forces people with small hands to reach their left-hand ring finger farther than is comfortable in order to press down the G key, which can create tension and overuse injuries.
In-line G, however, is great for people with larger hands or long fingers. The extra distance allows them to maintain good hand position without feeling like they have to create an extreme curve in their fingers in order to have the tips of their fingers resting on the keys.
So What Does This All Mean?
The features discussed in this article are what I recommend to my students. They're the ones I think are the most important, although there are lots of extra bells and whistles you can find on professional models that are more a matter of personal preference than anything else.
At the end of the day, it comes down to how a flute feels and sounds when you play it. Each flute you try will be a little different, and each person who plays a particular flute will sound different on it. So if at all possible, go to a music shop and try a bunch of flutes. Hold them in your hands. Play them. Get to know them and see which one speaks to you.
Do you have questions about how or where to purchase your new flute? Send me an email and I'll help you out!
How you relate to your students is a big part of who you are as a teacher and it's what sets you apart from your colleagues. I've found that there's an inverse relationship between how much you need to be liked by your students and how much progress they make as musicians.
You should absolutely be kind and empathetic to your students; this is just part of being a good human being. It's great to recognize and celebrate their successes and create an environment where they can be inquisitive without fearing judgment. However, you do your students a disservice if you let substandard progress slide because you want to avoid a confrontation.
As someone entrusted to teach others, you have an incredible and humbling chance to be a role model to people who are trying to figure out what being an adult means. Your influence extends beyond the music studio; your students will remember what kind of example you set regarding timeliness, preparation, and how you interact with others.
Don't take this responsibility and privilege lightly.
Push your students. Demand their best, and make sure they know that their best is a daily expectation, not a special event. This might mean telling them that they aren't practicing enough. This might mean telling them they need to arrive on time, not five minutes late. They might resent you a little. And that's ok. They'll know that you do it because you care and you want the best for them.
At the end of the day, a friend is there to support someone no matter what they choose to do, but a teacher's role is to show someone the right path. When you're in the studio, remember which thing you're there to be.
Adding a student to your roster, especially when you're new to teaching, is intimidating. Once you get into the groove with someone, it's easy, but laying the foundation can be tricky. Here are some things I've learned over the years about starting off with a new student:
Be clear about your expectations.
I like to sit down with each new student and their parents during the first lesson and go over the rules for payment, attendance, practicing, and required materials. I also make sure to ask them if they have any questions about me, my studio, or anything else. This first-lesson interview helps new students decide if the level of commitment I require is one they can match. Clear communication saves you time and trouble down the road; a good deal of teacher-parent conflict arises from expectations on either end not being laid out openly at the start. I have never had an issue with attendance or payments with any of my students, and I firmly believe it's because I state my requirements clearly.
Be firm with your studio policies.
This is always important, but especially so in the first couple months of working with a student. If they show up late, don't submit payments on time, or forget to bring required materials, make sure you address it. You don't have to be mean about it, but you do have to make sure they know they need to do better. You teach your students, and also the parents of your students, how to treat you.
Know that it takes a while to establish a routine.
By and large, people mean well. If a parent forgets to send a check along with their child one week or they show up a few minutes late due to traffic, don't write that student off. Give your student a chance to adjust to the new demands on their time; they have a lesson once a week, a commute to and from that lesson, as well as daily practicing to fit into their schedule. Most of the time, students want to do well, but it will take a little while for them to get into the swing of things, especially if they are just starting out on their instrument. As mentioned above, let them know if they need to step it up, but then give them a chance to do so.
How you handle adding a new student to your studio roster is part of your personal teaching style. With each new addition to your studio, you learn more about your own expectations for your students and for yourself as a teacher.
What has your experience been in starting new students? Share in the comments below!
It's time for another chapter of Deconstructing Andersen! Working right along through Op. 33, we come to Etude No. 2 in A Minor, seen below:
The basis of Etude No. 2 is that it's a duet for solo flute. There are two big clues that this etude is meant to mimic a piece for two flutes:
Click any image below to download a mini-study about Etude No. 2!
Valentine's Day is coming up, and I wanted to show you all some love by doing a book giveaway!
Everyone who completes the survey below will be entered for a chance to win a digital copy of The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook! Two people will win copies of the stand-alone workbook, and one lucky winner will receive the Deluxe Interactive Edition.
The drawing will take place on Sunday and the winners will receive their downloads via email. Thanks in advance for your feedback!
This is a tough time to be a musician; the days when school music programs were well funded and orchestra jobs were easily obtained are gone. Fellowships, grants, subsidies and paid internships are tenuous situations at best. It sounds pretty bleak, right?
So assuming you aren't independently wealthy, what are you supposed to do if you want to pursue your dream of working in music? You find a way to subsidize yourself. You get yourself a side gig.
Listen very carefully to what I'm about to say:
There's no shame in working outside your field to support yourself.
I used to think there was. The truth is, I've worked at a restaurant full time for the last three years to subsidize my musical pursuits. Life isn't cheap, and it's important to me to be a responsible, independent adult. I didn't want to move back home to Vermont after graduating from my master's program; as much as I love the place where I grew up, moving back there seemed like it would be a waste of all the time and effort I had spent building a studio in the Boston area.
So I looked around for a side job that would still allow me to grow and pursue my ambitions. Since I work at the restaurant at night, I have all day to plan lessons, write and edit blog posts, and work on my long-term projects, such as The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook and Deconstructing Andersen. I found a job that pays the bills and provides health insurance without stifling my musical needs.
But it took me a long time to get over the shame of being a flutist who graduated and went on to wait tables. Even though I have a lot going on musically, I thought that a waitress was all that I really was.
I've had conversations with lots of my music-school friends in which they admit a similar sense of shame or a need to keep their non-musical job a secret for fear of being judged. I feel that this secretive guilt is not necessary, so I'm taking the first step by coming out as a full-time worker in a job outside of my field. I will not be ashamed of supporting myself and I don't want anyone else reading this to feel that way either. Responsibility is never a fault.
This week's edition of Deconstructing Andersen brings you another way to look at Etude No. 1 in C Major. Below you will find a free nine-page booklet featuring all four of the studies from last week's post. The side-by-side comparison format will help you see where each study came from. There is also space for you to write your own study!
You might notice that no dynamics or articulations are included in this edition of the etude. I did this intentionally; when you work with any music, practicing it in many different ways is the key to ingraining it. However, we tend to imprint on the markings in the music and they can distract us when trying to change things up in our practicing.
Lightly pencil in the type of dynamics and articulations you want to use in your experimentation with this etude, or better yet, put the printed music in page protectors and use fine-point dry-erase markers to make changing the markings easier.
Click the images below to download.
Contact me with any questions, and happy practicing!
Maybe you just got rejected by your dream school. The job interview inexplicably didn't pan out. The audition committee told you that you just aren't the right fit. Whatever form it takes, rejection stings.
Unfortunately, it's also a part of any career. I've been turned away from opportunities I thought I was perfect for, and so has everyone else I know. But if you really want to end up somewhere, you'll find a way. I was rejected from Boston University during my undergraduate audition process, and instead of letting that deter me from musical study, I went to an equally great school in another area. This school gave me the preparation I needed to get into a wonderful graduate program in Boston, so I ended up here even though it took a few extra years. It's easy to see those events unfolding in hindsight, but at the time, I had no idea how everything would turn out.
Rejections weed out the insincere. The people who hold long careers in a certain field have to be not only good at what they do, but also tenacious enough to keep trying to move forward when they meet resistance. Being amazing at what you do only helps if you keep on doing it.
So what are you supposed to do when the thing you wanted so badly doesn't work out? Use it as a cheat sheet for the next thing that comes along. You're allowed to be disappointed for a little while, but then you have to step back and examine what happened. What do you wish you had done differently? Perhaps a follow-up phone call about that job interview you were so excited about would have helped you snag the position. Maybe choosing your audition repertoire sooner would have made that orchestra job yours. Now you know for next time.
Ultimately, all you can do is make the next smart decision that comes your way.