Private flute lessons are an investment, and you should take the time to make sure your teacher is a good match for your needs. There are lots of factors that make each teacher different and can make one teacher a better choice for you. When you look for a flute teacher, consider the following:
A degree is not a guarantee of skill at private teaching, although it is generally preferable to have a private teacher who has a college-level music education. Just be aware that there is no degree program designed specifically for teaching private lessons; even a degree specifically in music education is only meant to prepare someone to teach general music classes in a school, and doesn't focus on any one instrument. Ask your potential teacher if they have studied flute pedagogy, which is how to teach the flute in particular. I was lucky enough that both my undergraduate and graduate programs offered pedagogy classes, which helped me refine my own teaching skills and increased my confidence as a teacher.
A teacher who never went to music school can still be a good teacher, but it will take them longer to accumulate all the knowledge one would be exposed to in music school. Also, if you're looking to audition for music school in the future, it's best to study with someone who has done so themselves. My first private teacher did not have a degree, but she was an excellent teacher; however, when I told her in my junior year of high school that I wanted to go to music school, she told me that I needed to go study with someone who had been there. This was a generous move on her part that I remember gratefully to this day.
How many years has your potential mentor been teaching? Have they been doing it consistently or off and on? You want a teacher with at least a few years of teaching under their belt, unless you're looking to reduce cost; a beginning teacher is less expensive than a more established one. If you live near a music school, ask if they have a pedagogy program that needs students for their budding teachers to teach; you can often receive a month or two of lessons at little to no cost, which is good for children who are just starting out on their instruments. The trade-off, of course, is that a less experienced teacher has had less time to refine their technique and gather resources. The ideal teacher has many different ways to explain the same concept, and finding those ways takes a few years of trial and error.
Some teachers like to focus on one age or ability level. With the huge number of flute teachers available, you can absolutely find one who specializes in your skill level. Ask your potential teacher what ages they teach most often and what ability level they prefer to teach. Make sure that your needs will be met.
You will find that each teacher you meet has a different teaching style. Pay attention when you first sit down to speak with a potential teacher; their demeanor will be a good indicator of how they teach. If you are an experiential learner (someone who learns by doing), find a teacher who demonstrates but then invites you to try a new technique. If you need a new idea explained to you verbally for you to understand, find someone who is good at talking things through in a clear way. If you need tough love, there are plenty of teachers who take no excuses during lessons. You might not find the right fit right away, and that's ok. It's worth it to keep looking until you do find it, because the progress you will see is amazing.
Private lessons are an investment. Compare pricing for a few different studios to get a sense of what the norm is in your area of the country. For example, in the Boston area a half-hour lesson tends to cost somewhere between $20-35. As mentioned above, a teacher with less education or experience will charge you less than someone who has been teaching for decades, but choosing to pay more can mean a better, more productive private lesson experience.
How close is the studio to your home? Is is convenient enough that you will go to lessons consistently, or will it become unmanageable? Figure out how much of a commute you're willing to make; lessons are only beneficial when they happen regularly, so make sure the trip to get to the flute studio is one you can do weekly. Also, consider the neighborhood where the teacher's studio is located; make sure it's one where you feel safe and comfortable. Some teachers also offer in-home lessons; this is another option for extremely busy people who don't have the time to travel to a music studio.
Whether you're looking for a new teacher for yourself or for your child, don't be afraid to be inquisitive when you interview potential teachers. The more you know, the better of a match you can find between their teaching style and your learning style.
Your orchestra or band conductor is handing out parts for a new piece, and there are first and second parts for the flutes. First flute usually plays a higher, more technical and exposed part. Second flute tends to be lower in register and less complex. Let's use Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 as an example (click image to enlarge):
The first flute part, on the left, plays twice as much and has lots of 16th notes. Second flute, on the right, spends a great deal of time resting or playing sustained notes.
So first flute's the more important one, right?
Yes, in younger ensembles the less skilled flutists tend to play the second part, because the notes are usually a little easier. But once you move beyond learning notes and fingerings, each part reveals its own challenges and helps you to develop a different set of skills.
First flute requires confidence, especially if you are the section leader, which is also known as the principal flute. Your part is usually exposed and technically difficult, and sometimes includes a solo. The ideal first flutist will be responsible enough to practice their technically difficult part on their own time so that rehearsal can run smoothly. First flute is about being a role model.
First flute also requires the ability to be a chamber musician no matter how large your ensemble is. Even if you're in a group of 100 members, the principal flute needs to be aware of what their fellow principals (oboe, clarinet, violin, etc.) are doing. Are you all using the same articulation? Are you aware of when you have the same melody and are you lining up well when that happens?
In a similar vein, the first flute needs to be aware enough to know when other instruments have the same melody as them but at a different point in the music. For example, in the Beethoven symphony seen above, the melody that happens in the first flute starting 11 measures before rehearsal letter B also occurs at different points in the violin and oboe parts. It happens first in the oboe, and is then handed off to the violin before the flutes play it. The first flutes should be listening intently while this is happening to make sure that their own instance of the melody matches the articulation and expression established by the oboe and violin. This sensitivity, while necessary in a competent first flute, is a skill we also associate with the ideal second flutist.
Second flute requires adaptability. You have to become a chameleon who can match any tuning, tone color, or vibrato that the first flute throws your way even if it's not what you yourself would choose to do. Second flute is about matching your sound to what you hear.
Let's use the Beethoven symphony that we looked at earlier as an example of why adaptability matters. 12 measures after rehearsal letter A, the first and second flutes are playing mostly the same notes. This is usually referred to as playing in unison; you could also say that the second flute is doubling the first flute part. Regardless of the term you prefer to use, the second flute needs to be vigilant to follow the first flute's lead on tuning when playing passages like this one. Shaky intonation is most obvious when two instruments are playing the same pitch.
It's also important to realize that while the principal flute is responsible for the overall tuning of the flutes in an ensemble, it's the second flute section's responsibility not to drag the tuning down if they're playing something in the extreme low register. Be aware of the flute's tendency to go flat when playing low notes and compensate accordingly.
In addition to having a tendency to go flat, low notes are hard to hear on the flute, so the ideal second flutist will have a strong, clear tone in the low register. If you usually play first flute and are assigned second flute for a piece, take it as a compliment to your low sound.
At its core, the role of second flute is about being humble and flexible enough to follow someone else's lead.
If you want to be a well-rounded musician and collaborator, don't just focus on solos, fast fingers and racking up the most practice hours. Add the skills of the second flute to your toolbox and allow them to enrich your solo and ensemble playing experiences.
Etudes. Technical exercises. Few enjoy them, but everyone benefits from practicing them. Understanding why we work on technique can make it a more engaging and productive experience.
Approach technical work as something that makes you a stronger musician, rather than as something to slog through so you can say you did it! Etudes tend to zero in on one or two aspects of musicianship, such as large intervals or staccato, and this allows you to get in a large amount of work in a short amount of time. Instead of encountering one large-interval leap in your music, you have a whole page of them to work on. Rather than one long slurred phrase that is challenging to get through in one breath, you have a whole etude full of them.
It's extra-concentrated practice.
When we have a good command of the skills of musicianship, we can use those tools to make our playing more expressive. Strive to be the player who can effortlessly transition from incredibly soft to very loud, who can create the cleanest attacks and most flowing legatos, all with a beautiful tone. This doesn't have to be a massive undertaking; it takes only a small amount of daily work if you practice technique in a mindful way.
One approach I like to use when working on etudes is to make a list of all the skills that the etude will help me improve. The one rule with this method is that musicality must always on that list. Let's see an example using the first etude from Andersen Op. 33 (click image for PDF download):
If I had to make a list of musical skills this etude would strengthen, I would start by sight-reading it and noting where it was difficult. (I have added some annotations in the image as examples.) If all the sections that are challenging have something in common, that's most likely one of the things that should be on your list.
After that, take a minute to see if there are any things that are repeated many times. That's usually another aspect to put on the list. (Work in pencil! You'll study the same etudes more than once in your career, but the things you strive to improve through working on them will change as you mature.)
My list for this particular etude would look like this:
Once you have your list, use it in your practice! Spend one day working on making your tone color just as beautiful in the middle register as it is in the high register, and spend another day focusing on getting dramatic dynamic contrast. Don't feel as though you have to work on everything all at once, or even in the same day. Spread out your work over the course of the week.
Above all, make etudes your tools! Don't be afraid to dig in and take ownership. Write in words, use colored pencils to define phrases, make it your own in every way you can think of.
A pristine, unused etude book is nearly useless.
I make photocopies of the etudes I'm working on so that I can write on them as much as I want. The image to the left is a marked-up version of the same etude we just analyzed above. (Click the image for a PDF download.)
I call this a study copy, and while I don't actually use it in performance, it's a useful starting point for figuring out what's going on in each etude. Once I get some insight from my study copy, I'll pencil an abridged version of those findings into my performance copy. For example, instead of the long pink lines representing phrases, I would write in breath marks at the ends of those phrases. (Breaths are usually indicated by either an apostrophe or small check mark.)
You can download the entire Andersen Op. 33 collection of etudes on imslp.org for free, since they are in the public domain. This particular set of etudes works well with this method of learning and is essential knowledge for anyone looking to study music in a college or conservatory setting. No matter what technical studies you decide to devote your efforts toward, take the time to examine them for all that they can offer you and strive to make them your own.
If you have any questions, comments, or requests for future posts, let me know!
Starting private flute study is an important step in your musical career! Each teacher has a different approach, and choosing the right teacher for your learning style can be challenging due to the high number of qualified flute teachers in practice. Here's a general overview of how I conduct my lessons:
Regardless of a new student's ability level or experience, I spend part of the first lesson explaining studio policies like attendance and payment. If the student is a child, I like a parent or guardian (whoever will be responsible for paying for lessons and transporting the child there) to be present for this part. We also talk about how long the student has been playing and what kind of material they have worked on in the past. I like to take a look at the student's flute to make sure it's in good shape and appropriate for their skill level; for example, a college-aspiring high school student should not still be playing on a beginner model, while a complete novice does not need a professional-level flute. We also address what goals the student has for their playing and any physical challenges they might be dealing with, like carpal tunnel syndrome or scoliosis.
We will also decide on a lesson schedule during this first meeting. As a general rule, I like to start beginners with 30-minute lessons, intermediate students with 45-minute lessons, and advanced students with hour-long time slots. Anyone enrolling in College Audition Boot Camp automatically gets a one-hour lesson time.
After we've discussed all this, I like to hear the student play something so I can assess their skill level. I usually ask the student ahead of time to bring some music for me to hear, but there will also be a small amount of sight-reading. If the student is a novice, we skip these steps and instead talk about how to assemble, clean, and take apart the flute, as well as what good playing position looks like and what the different parts of the instrument are called.
At the end of our first meeting, I'll give the student an assignment to work on for the week to come; for a beginner, that might be buying a method book and working on a page or two, while more experienced students might get assigned scales, etudes, and pieces. We'll also talk about how much practice time is expected given their skill level.
I try to make private lessons a productive, enriching, and comfortable experience for my students. If you're interested in signing up or learning more, contact me via my sign up page!
The more ways the brain can approach a subject, the better it will grasp that subject. You can use this to your advantage when you work on pieces by doing what I call opposite practice, in which you take an aspect of your music and do the exact opposite of whatever is notated on the page. This will usually bring to light something you didn't notice before, either about what you're doing when you play or about the piece itself. Try it for yourself:
Here's a chart version of all these ideas (click the image for a downloadable version):
Come up with your own opposites! Don't limit yourself to just what's on the page when you practice your music. The most interesting musicians to listen to are the ones who innovate. Give your brain many chances and many ways to learn, and the payoff will be comfort and confidence onstage.
One of my favorite warmup books has nothing to do with the flute.
It's written in bass clef for the tenor trombone. But the ideas it promotes are universal and translate just as well to flute as they do to trombone. The author, David Vining, emphasizes the importance of body mapping as a means to improve your musicianship. If not for the bass clef notation and occasional mention of the trombone, it would not be apparent exactly which instrument this book is intended for. And this is a good thing.
You should absolutely seek out flute-specific guidance if you want to be a good musician. This could be through private lessons, online sources, or a combination of the two. But if you want to be a great musician, you should also look at other instruments and what you can gain from them.
For example, you can learn all you'll ever need to know about phrasing from listening to a well-training singer. They have the advantage (and challenge) of having to sing lyrics, so it becomes readily apparent when they should breathe and how they should shape each phrase because the most meaningful word will get the emphasis. Our music, not having any lyrics, can be a little mysterious in this regard. Listen to vocalists and notice how they don't breathe in the middle of words. See how they pick a high point in a phrase and give it a little extra attention, perhaps through a change in vibrato or tone color. Add these skills to your own personal toolbox.
The idea that we need to keep our air flowing as we move from note to note is easy to see in string players. A violinist draws his bow across the strings, and while his left hand is changing the notes, the right hand keeps a steady bow speed and thus allows for a steady, supported sound. Just in the same way, flutists have to keep a steady speed of air even as we change notes. A cellist wouldn't stop moving his bow in between each note (unless the music specifically called for that), and neither should we as flutists stop our air. An external representation of a process that's mostly internal for us is a great thing to have.
You can learn from any good musician, regardless of what instrument they play. The fundamentals of phrasing and musicality remain the same. Take a look around you the next time you're in band or orchestra, and see what skills your colleagues have to offer you.
Studying music at the university level is an amazing experience, but many potential students are taken by surprise by the admission process. If you're considering music school, there are some realities you should be aware of when making the choice to audition.
Most music schools will charge an audition fee of $25-100 and will not schedule your audition until they receive it. Also, walking into an audition with photocopies of your music is considered bad form, so plan on buying originals of everything you intend to play. Travel will add to your total cost as well; depending on how far away you're looking, you might have plane tickets, hotel reservations, and rental cars to add to your list of expenses.
The audition season lasts from December through March, so audition prep should ideally start no later than the summer before you intend to apply for college. I tell my college prep students that they should be practicing 2-3 hours a day minimum. Your audition music should be completely ingrained, as the audition experience is nerve-wracking enough even if you're fully prepared. This might (and probably will) mean that other activities take a backseat during audition prep.
Available Studio Spaces
Due to the popularity of the flute, there are usually many more applicants than spaces on a teacher's roster. At particularly elite music schools or conservatories, even students who are qualified for admission might not get in simply due to lack of space. A great way to set yourself apart from the pack is to contact the teacher you want to study with and ask for a trial lesson. Do this before audition season gets underway, ideally in September or October. Tell them you're auditioning for admission and that you'd like to get to know them if they have time in their schedule.
Streamline your repertoire list as much as possible. Most schools will have similar audition rep requirements, so try to pick pieces that you can use for more than one of your potential schools. For example, if all your schools require a Bach sonata, but only one specifically requires the B minor sonata, use the B minor for all your auditions. Make sure you read each school's requirements carefully. There's nothing worse than being asked to play something you haven't prepared, especially if the school gave a specific list of required pieces.
Most schools will require music theory, ear training (sometimes called aural theory or aural skills), and history entrance exams. For some schools, these are simply to place you in the correct level of class once you're admitted, but for others, admission is contingent on passing the exams. Either way, include some basic theory and history in your audition prep plan. Teoria is a great online resource for learning theory and ear training. Teach Me About Music has basic overviews and self-tests for each period in Western music history.
If you take these things into account and make getting into music school your top priority, you will greatly increase your chances of getting into your school of choice.
How much time should you spend practicing? You'll receive a different answer from every musician you ask.
I believe that you should only practice for as long as you can maintain mental focus on what you are doing. For a beginner, this might mean 15 minutes at a time, or maybe even less. As you grow as a musician, your teacher will help you develop the practice techniques needed to work for longer periods of time.
In an ideal world, you would be able to practice every day of the week. With the exception of a conservatory setting, however, this is usually not a possibility. So you have to ask yourself how often and how much you are going to be able to practice during the week.
How many days of the week do you have time available for practice? The answer might be more than you think. I've found that planning out my week of practice in advance makes for a much more efficient use of my time. Here are two sheets I use (click the image for a downloadable version):
First, fill in a sheet with your normal week as you usually spend it. Include things like work, meals, downtime, and other activities. Afterward, take a look to see where things could be shuffled around to allow for adequate practice time and fill out another sheet with your revised schedule for the coming week.
The first sheet helps you lay out a game plan for the week, and the second one shows you how much time you intend to spend per day. Having a plan for the week can help avoid the "where do I even start" feeling that can sometimes lead us to skip a day when we could have otherwise made progress.
This being said, it's important to build an off-day into your schedule. Take one day per week off from practicing to allow your muscles to rest.
Your ability level is the biggest determining factor when figuring out how much time to spend playing your flute each day. Beginners need time to learn the proper playing position and breath control required to play for long periods of time, and as these skills develop, practice time can increase. Here's an outline of total daily practice amounts that I recommend for my students:
Beginner: 20-30 minutes
Intermediate: 45-60 minutes
Advanced: 1.5-2 hours
College Prep: 2-3 hours minimum
Whatever the amount of time you decide to work, you don't have to do it all at once. Dividing up your time into smaller chunks helps keep your mind fresh and helps you to retain the progress you've made. I like to split my practice time into two or three shorter sessions throughout the day. This helps stave off the mental check-out that can happen when you do the same activity for an extended period of time.
You get out of your practice what you put into it. Even if you aren't able to get in as much playing time in a week as you'd like, a shorter amount of creative, inquisitive practice is always more beneficial than hours of uninterested repetition. As Trevor Wye says, "It is almost useless to spend your allocated practice time wishing that you weren't practicing." Try giving yourself a structure to work within and see how it changes your practice.
Pain can be a huge obstacle to getting in the practice time you need in order to grow as a musician. However, playing the flute is not inherently painful; the bad habits we develop over time are what can lead to discomfort and injury.
Let me tell you the story of my struggle with practice pain.
I have scoliosis which, although mild, causes my spine to curve away from my left shoulder. As we know, in order to put the flute in playing position we have to bring the left arm across our body toward our right. Due to my scoliosis, this action places extra strain on the muscles in my left shoulder region.
When I was a young student, I believed that "good posture" meant having the head facing forward and the flute parallel to the body, which cranked my left arm really far over to the right and also pulled my right arm way back, with my elbow behind me. This is best seen by looking at it from above:
Ouch! Obviously, this is an unhealthy posture, but I had never thought to stop and evaluate what I was doing when I played. I just did it. And for a while, that was fine.
Until it wasn't.
When I decided halfway through high school that I wanted to study music in college, I increased my practice time, and this habit of pulling my left arm tightly across my body began to cause strain in my left shoulder due to overuse of the muscles. I wound up with pain so intense that I found myself in physical therapy. Therapy decreased my discomfort enough to get me through college, but the pain remained. I began to question whether playing flute was a wise choice, given the health issues it was causing.
It wasn't until I started my graduate work that I found a surprisingly simple solution: awareness.
My teacher, Vanessa Mulvey, taught me about body mapping, which essentially means making sure that the way you think you're using your body matches up with the way you're actually using it. When the two are out of sync, painful and inefficient movement is usually the result. In my head, I thought that the twisted-up posture you saw above looked more like this:
Let's look at those two pictures side by side:
Big difference, right? A healthy, natural playing position should allow the flute to be at an angle to the body, with the head turning slightly to the left.
Vanessa taught me how the bones and musculature of the body work together and helped me to see how they move within my own body. This process took almost a year, but I went from the painful posture in the left image to a more open position that actually takes into account how the skeleton is put together. Taking pictures and video of myself helped me to be more aware of what I was doing as I played, and helped me figure out what needed to be adjusted. Eventually I arrived at the posture you see in the right image, which allows for space between the arms and the body and doesn't require unnatural twisting of the spine.
Although it took a year to achieve a complete body map (being able to picture correctly what your entire skeleton and musculature are doing as you play), my shoulder pain was gone after only two months of studying how my own body works. After years of suffering, this was astonishing.
Had I continued blindly, seeking ever more physical therapy--and possibly surgery--to alleviate the pain without stopping to look at how I was using my muscles, I might have had to stop playing flute entirely.
But now, thanks to mindfulness, I play pain-free.
NOTE: You should seek the advice of your physician if you are experiencing pain when you play.
Early intervention is key in preventing permanent injury.