Why Practice Music?

Why should we practice? Does it really make any difference? Is it important to carve out time for daily music ‘workouts’? How should we practice?

The brain is comparable to a muscle, which develops and strengthens with workout. As we practice — review and seek to improve our mastery of specific music — neurons (brain cells) become more efficient, fire more quickly, and have stronger connections. 

Because our neural pathways can be strengthened, we can have a ‘growth-mindset’ (a new term by educator Carol Dweck). So rather than thinking with a fixed mindset: we can’t play that piece of music any better, it’s as good as it’s going to get, so there’s not much point in practicing … instead realize that we actually can increase our musical capabilities, even our very intelligence. We can approach the piece with various creative strategies to conquer its challenges. Then daily music workouts will show measurable improvement and success.

This kind of practicing is mindful and purposeful. In fact, when we find ourselves daydreaming, playing carelessly without focusing, it’s time for a break. After all, it’s not that practice makes perfect, but…perfect practice makes perfect.

Flute Projection versus Volume

What is the difference between playing the flute loudly and projecting? This came up in discussion with a flute student today. We should be able to project our flute sound at any dynamic. The key is to maintain a steady air speed, spinning the air and focusing the tone without tightening up.

Cleveland principal Joshua Smith notes that “sound goes the wrong direction if it has an edge or is forced, because when you start forcing air, you’re not actually supporting it; rather than channeling the air column so that it’s coming out of you quickly and steadily, you’re anchoring something in your body so that the column tightens. Yelling might sound loud, but it doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight underneath it that speaking resonantly can….I know that a sound that is focused and round is what carries.”

So play to the back of the hall, the practice room or wherever you’re sharing music, and listen for beautiful round tone. Tabuteau, the French father of oboe-playing in the United States, put it best: “The sound that carries is the amplification of a dolce tone.”

Flute Etudes in Progressive Order

So many Etudes, so little time! Here’s some help choosing the best for each level. The word ‘etude’, meaning ‘exercise’ or ‘study ‘, is from the French verb ‘etudier’, meaning ‘to study’. It is this concentrated daily study that hones technique, tone and rhythm. Play with a metronome until the beat is unchanging, and begin under tempo, even half speed.

Even beginners can master short etudes in easy keys, found in the Rubank Elementary or the larger Wagner method books. This segues well into the Rubank Intermediate level book, at which point players can begin practice sessions with chromatic long tones and one octave major scales. By the time they master scales in all keys they are ready for etudes of the level found in the subsequent Rubank Advanced book, that will include double tonguing.

At this point the late intermediate flutist can move to a book specifically devoted to etudes, such as Melodious Studies by Cavally, or the etudes by Altes, a bit longer and more challenging. The early advanced student should learn the 18 Studies by Berbiguier, lovely etudes that lie well, introduced to me at a music camp in the Poconos by first editor John Wummer, principal of the New York Philharmonic. Orchestral excerpts mesh well here.

The advanced flutist enters the rarified realm of Taffanel and Gaubert, particularly 17 Grands Exercises, of which 1, 4-6, and 12 should be memorized. Karg-Elert’s 30 Caprices and Anderson opus 63 etudes should be learned as well. The artist level player will benefit from the Paganini Caprices and further Marcel Moyse studes, especially 20 Exercises and ‘de la Sonorite’. Etudier!

Flute Belts!

Incentive Program for Flute Students

Deerland Studio has developed an enjoyable belt system similar to Taekwondo and Karate, in which students progress at their own levels and attain mastery as total musicians. 6 areas are stressed: Tone, Scales, Playing by Ear, Etudes, Musicianship, and Repertoire. Students love the belts because they know where they are and what will be mastered next. For instance, when they earn their orange belt (after white and then yellow), their capabilities will include: slurred harmonics, 1 octave scales to 3 b/#, 3 folksongs by ear in several keys, as well as intermediate etudes, sightreading, memory pieces, and duets. Prized paracord survival bracelets are created for the belts.

How to Care for Your Flute

Here are some tips to maintain your lovely flute:

PUT IT TOGETHER without touching the keys. Gently ease the pieces together, and keep the joints wiped clean.

HOLD IT in your lap or in playing position, or set it on a table (never a chair — someone might sit on it!), otherwise put it in its case. Keys should be facing up so the pads stay dry.

CLEAN YOUR MOUTH before playing by rinsing with water or brushing your teeth, so nothing sticky gets on the pads.

CLEAN THE INSIDE of your flute immediately after playing, so moisture doesn’t make the pads swell. Many cleaning cloths are available; my preference is to buy a yard of white flannel at the fabric store, cut it into 12″ by 8″ sections, use fray-guard on the edges, then wash before using. Cover the cleaning rod with the cloth to avoid scratching the flute.

CLEAN THE OUTSIDE only with rubbing alcohol, never silver polish, which can damage the pads and clog the rods.

Enjoy your flute!

Ten Benefits of Playing Piano and Flute

This super information (for super people!) is adapted from

  1. SHARPENS THE INTELLECT – activates similar parts of the brain used for math and science: watch those SAT scores go up!
  2. DEVELOPS PASSION AND DILIGENCE – through dedication and goal-setting processes: our new piano belts and flute belts set reachable goals.
  3. MAINTAINS AN AGING BRAIN’S HEALTH – gives us increased levels of Human Growth Hormone 🙂
  4. EXERCISES THE BODY – improves fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  5. ENCOURAGES CREATIVITY – enhanced brain activity inspires new solutions.
  6. STRENGTHENS MEMORY – particularly proven with language.
  7. ELEVATES MOODS – the release of serotonin and dopamine promote positive emotions.
  8. CALMS THE MIND – less anxiety, loneliness, depression, and ADD.
  9. FOSTERS COMMUNITY – brings together families, friends, and communities.
  10. BOOSTS CONFIDENCE – opportunities to boost our self-esteem.

And special additional bonuses for FLUTISTS: Singing daily (reread as ‘fluting daily’) for at least ten minutes reduces stress, clears sinuses, improves posture and can even help you live longer! (from Organic Health Universe)

Beethoven’s Hair

Just read this intriguing book by Russell Martin (ISBN 0-7679-0350-1). Back in the days before cameras it was customary, when someone died, to clip a lock of their hair as a memento. In this case 15-year-old composer Ferdinand Hiller snipped some of Beethoven’s hair. It was passed down in the Hiller family for over a century, surprisingly ending up at San Jose State University. Since young Hiller had enthusiastically pulled Beethoven’s hair when cutting it, DNA studies could be done on the follicles. It turns out that Beethoven’s lead content was 42 times the normal amount, accounting for his deafness and other maladies. Amazingly he persisted through his veil of silence to give us masterpieces like his 9th Symphony with the “Ode to Joy”.

Piano Belts!

Calling all piano students!…introducing an exciting long-term incentive program similar to the belt progression in Taekwondo and Karate. Enjoy progressing at your own pace, with belts presented at quarterly recitals! Each level includes chords, scales, musicianship, playing by ear, and repertoire:

white     ~   innocence, where it all begins

yellow   ~   building the foundation, Early Beginner

orange  ~   Beginner

green    ~   Early Intermediate

blue      ~    Intermediate

purple   ~   Late Intermediate

brown   ~   Early Advanced

red         ~   Advanced

black     ~   Collegiate