Coming up with something meaningful to share twice a week for over six months has been a challenge. You can only write so many how-to posts and explanations of the basics before you start to run dry.
In order to keep the blog alive, I turned to my daily life for inspiration; every once in a while, something interesting (and not always music-related) will happen that sparks the idea for a blog entry. A conversation with a friend about our respective reasons for going to music school inspired this post, while a general feeling of non-productivity earlier this month led me to take greater note of how I spend my time.
I also pay attention to the things that I'm struggling with. I've found that whatever it is you're trying to do better at, other people are usually working to improve within themselves too. It's rare to have a challenge that no one else has ever faced. Take Pride In Your Side Job was a surprisingly hard post to write and share, because it showed me that I hadn't been very kind to myself. But I shared it because I know lots of other people feel the same way I felt and crave the same validation that I needed.
Most of the time, though, it's less emotional than that. I draw a lot of inspiration from my own students; if one of them is working to understand a concept, I'll use that concept as the basis for a post.
The short version is, this blog comes from everywhere. If I've interacted with you in any way, you've probably influenced it. So thank you!
I've listed up to high D, but the flute can actually play higher notes than this. I decided to stop at the range used most often in flute music; while you might find higher notes than D in contemporary music, they aren't used as commonly.
You might notice that some of the notes are red; these red notes are called enharmonic notes or enharmonic equivalents. When notes are enharmonic, it means they are written differently but sound the same.
Let's use F# (F sharp) and Gb (G flat) as an example.
F and G are a whole step apart.
The note in between them can be called F# if you are traveling upward one half step from F.
it can be called Gb if you are traveling downward one half step from G.
In either case, you land on the note in between F and G.
Feel free to download the handout above and use it in your practice or your classroom. As always, if you have any thoughts or comments, please share!
This week, the Woburn Flute Studio Facebook page reached (and exceeded) 1000 likes. I want to extend the sincerest and most heartfelt thanks to all of you who read, share, and comment on what I do.
When I launched this site back in August of 2013, I wasn't sure if anyone would care about what I wrote or if anyone but me believed in what I was trying to do. But the response has been far greater than I could have hoped for; every comment or email I get from a reader makes me incredibly happy, because it means I reached someone.
So thank you, everyone, for being a part of this blog adventure with me. I appreciate each and every one of you. I hope you'll continue to read and share your views, and as always, if you have an idea for a post or just want some advice, please let me know.
I knew music would be a big part of my life pretty much as soon as I started learning an instrument. When I was in fourth grade, I started out on the oboe in my school band program, and I spent a year learning it before switching to the flute. This actually helped me excel in flute early on; I already knew how to read music, so it was simply a matter of learning the instrument itself.
Band always felt like home to me. It was where I made friends who understood me and respected me, and where I felt like I could shine. Being principal of my section taught me how to be a kind, empathetic leader and it showed me the value of helping others be their best rather than trying to keep them down to make yourself look better. I don't use a lot of the things I learned in school, but I do use the interpersonal skills that band taught me on a daily basis.
School band and private lessons continued to provide me a nourishing safe haven throughout middle and high school, and I couldn't imagine giving that up once I went to college. In my junior year of high school, I realized I wanted to make music my life and that I had to at least give it a shot. I really couldn't think of a single other thing I could major in that would provide the same level of fulfillment. I could have chosen a more lucrative field that I didn't care as much about, but that just seemed like a cop-out.
I auditioned for undergrad music programs because I had to. I just had to. I had no idea where it would lead, and I was fully aware that it wasn't a field that would lead to a ton of money, but I didn't care. I had to do it, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be me anymore.
So if you're considering music school, ask yourself if you want it that badly. Because it has to be something you absolutely need. This career path is incredibly difficult and sometimes feels impossible, so if music doesn't nourish you on a deep level, it's not the right call.
Your high school student comes to you and tells you they want to go to music school. You like the kid well enough, but you aren't convinced they have what it takes to study music at the college level. It's a delicate situation; you don't want to scar them for life, but you also don't want to set them up for humiliation but letting them think they're prepared for auditions when they aren't. What do you do?
Don't crush their dream. Instead, present to them the reality of what getting into music school will require of them. Show them standard audition pieces, etudes, and orchestral excerpts, and spend time in lessons going over how picky your student will have to be about performance quality in order to be a competitive auditioner.
Make sure your student knows what the audition scene is like. Especially in smaller towns like the one I grew up in, even the best musician in the school band program might not be good enough to compete at the college level. Encourage your student to audition for music festivals and camps so they can be around students from other schools and get a better sense of what their competition is capable of.
The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook is another tool you can use to help your student see what a college music program would demand. It's written to help potential music majors who know they love to play music but aren't sure how to pursue further study in college. If your student can get through the 12-week regimen of Conservatory Boot Camp, they'll be much better prepared for the college audition process.
So don't write your student off, even if you're not sure they're cut out for music school. Some of the most talented, conservatory-bound people I know burned out in high school or early college and wound up abandoning music altogether. Natural ability only gets you so far before you have to start working to get good at your instrument. If your student wants it badly enough and is willing to put in the time and effort, they can make music school happen.
It's time for more Deconstructing Andersen! This time we'll talk about Etude No. 3 in G Major, seen below (click to download):
This etude is all about turns. A turn is an ornamental figure that looks like this:
You see turns a lot in Baroque music, which includes Bach, Handel, and Telemann, so proficiency in this type of ornament is key to being able to play a good deal of the music written for flute.
The trick with turns is that they have to lead somewhere. If they don't feel like they're moving toward the next beat, there's no point to having them in the music at all. They're in there to create energy, so use them to move the etude forward into the beat that follows, like so:
When you get comfortable with the idea that a turn belongs to what comes after it, rather than to the beat it lives in, you'll find a new vitality and excitement in the pieces you play. That sense of forward motion isn't exclusive to turns, either; it should be everywhere in the music that you play. A musician who performs with direction and purpose is compelling to watch and appealing to hire, so inject some energy into what you play and watch the gigs come rolling in.
Any questions? Feel free to contact me!
If you play free gigs, you'll certainly get your name out there. But you'll become known as someone who doesn't need payment for their services.
I'm not talking about playing a fundraiser for a cause or donating your time to a charity event. In these cases, you're the initiator choosing to donate your time and skill. I'm referring instead to being asked to play gigs like weddings or pit orchestras where your time should be compensated just like the other support crew that makes the event happen.
If you aren't sure if you should be playing a gig for free, take a look around. Is the caterer getting paid? Is the cleaning crew being told that while there's no budget to pay them, this will really help them get their names out there? The point of going to music school, or any other higher education program for that matter, is to gain specialized skills. You can do things that not everyone can do, and when you're hired to do those things, you should be paid because it's a job.
Some organizations have a small budget, and this makes it hard for them to pay everyone what they deserve. But even a token stipend, coupled with the admission that more would be given if possible, is better than asking someone to work for free.
Something I really feel strongly about is the concept of unpaid internships. Unless you're going to receive valuable training that you can only get by working there, don't do it. It's just not reasonable to expect someone to put in a full-time workweek and receive no pay; the bottom line is that it's financially impossible unless you're independently wealthy.
When I was working toward my master's, I briefly interned in the box office at a Boston-based musical organization. The internship was unpaid, but I figured it would be worth it because I would get to learn ticketing software and how a nonprofit works, and maybe make some contacts in the musical community.
I ended up only staying for two weeks. They brought me on shortly before a big concert, and things were simply too busy at that point to train a new person on how to use the ticketing software. Instead, I was put to task alphabetizing old files.
Alphabetizing. For free. With an hour-and-a-half commute. While going to school full time.
They did have me help out the day of the concert by working the will-call desk, but this only consisted of sifting through a small box of tickets that were set aside for people to pick up the day of the concert and checking patrons' IDs to make sure they were who they said they were when they claimed their tickets.
Once I realized I already knew the alphabet and its various usages, I let them know I wouldn't be continuing the internship.
I recognize that not everyone's experience is the same; some people work unpaid internships or play free gigs that turn into great careers. But I think the concept of asking for something in return for nothing is something that needs to change.
Mondays are a pretty even mix of musician life and restaurant life. Here's what went down on Monday, March 3rd.
10:00am: Wake up and have some coffee and cereal. I do a little work on Deconstructing Andersen as I eat; I tend to work better in the mornings right after I wake up even though I'm usually a little groggy. I think it's because my mind is a little more open to free association and generating new ideas when I'm still coming online for the day. I've been stuck for a week or so on what to talk about with the etude I'm currently analyzing, but I have a sudden realization about it that gives me some good material to work with.
11:00am: Shower and get ready for the first part of my double shift at the restaurant. Mondays are a split shift for me; I go in at noon, help with the lunch rush until about 2:30pm, then head home to relax until the dinner shift. Lately we've been working to boost our social media presence and the managers have been taking a lot of pictures of us (both posed and candid) for our Facebook and Twitter accounts, so I put a little extra care into my hair and makeup.
11:45am: Head to work. I live just a short walk away from the restaurant, which makes my commute really easy and keeps my overhead low. The walk is a little more enjoyable when it's not freezing cold and windy like it is today, but it's still better than having to navigate city traffic in a car.
12:00pm: Arrive at work to find the restaurant pretty much empty. This isn't unusual for a Monday so I start working on some cleaning projects with my fellow day server while I wait for people to come in. Day shifts are a good chance to catch up with my work buddies and see how their lives are going.
1:00pm: I still haven't gotten any customers, so my manager lets me go home until the dinner shift. It's a bummer not to make any money during part one of my shift, but the extra-long afternoon break is welcome since it's the end of my workweek and I'm a little tired. (Weekends for service industry workers are usually Tuesday and Wednesday.)
I run into Inky, my neighbor's very affectionate cat, on the way home and he walks with me back to my apartment. Having a sweet, vocal little cat winding around my ankles as I walk along the old brick sidewalks of my neighborhood is a nice moment.
1:30pm: Work on some blog posts, including this one. I like to have a few drafts going at once so I can write about whatever's on my mind instead of being confined to one topic. At any given time, I'm usually polishing one post, in the middle of composing another, and brainstorming ideas for future writing. It's nice to have a couple posts in the pipeline in case I have a busy week and don't have much time to compose a post with good content. It means a lot to me to be able to produce something for people to read every Wednesday and Sunday, and I take my deadlines seriously even though they're self-imposed. Sometimes I have company when I write.
2:30pm: Start to get restless from sitting at the computer for too long, so I take a break from writing, put on some music, and clean up my apartment. Lately I've been listening to Lord Huron and Bastille.
3:30pm: Sneak in a quick nap and another cup of coffee to get energized for part two of my double. Serving isn't the kind of job where you can take a little break if you're feeling tired, so it's important to have some good energy available before your shift starts even if you don't think it'll be busy that night. Whether you get it from sleep, caffeine, or food, this job requires some serious fuel.
4:15pm: Head to work for the dinner shift. There isn't really much of a rush tonight, but people are pretty friendly. Monday customers tend to be regulars, so it's a relaxed crowd, and a slower night means a chance to goof around with my coworkers behind the scenes. We have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.
10:00pm: Finish up my shift and head home for the night. I spend a little more time composing blog posts and answering some emails that cropped up over the course of the day, then finish out the night relaxing with a book and some cat cuddles. All in all, it was a pretty good day.
I teach individual flute lessons on Saturday mornings, and each week I like to ask my students how they thought their practicing went. I have one student--an extremely gifted 7th grader--who almost always says she thinks her practice quality could have been better. When I ask her to elaborate, she says she didn't get in enough time or she didn't make enough progress. Her responses got me thinking about how hard it can be to be pleased with yourself as a musician.
The competition in the music world is so tough that it's tempting to try to get out ahead of any critics by bringing up your own faults yourself. After all, it's pretty hurtful when you're excited about something you've accomplished and someone tells you that it's not good enough.
Honestly, though, it's exhausting to be around this sort of negativity, and it makes you unbearable, not untouchable. Go play a gig at a wedding, nursing home, or elementary school, and you'll be reminded of how skilled you are and how much people admire your ability to pull sound and beauty from the air. People who don't get to experience live music all the time are blown away by a heartfelt performance, regardless of a missed note or two.
So enjoy what you play. Of course, don't rest on your laurels; continue to strive every day to take your musicianship to the next level. But don't call everything you play crap either.