Dan Locklair’s “The Playful Rainbow”

What a wonderful experience it is to perform on the stage of the Stevens Center to a packed house and even better as a solo flutist performing alongside a choir. One of my favorite performance opportunities is playing the flute part written to enhance a choral piece. To hear many voices come together to create such magic in music and to be standing right next to these voices playing a flute part that was written to enhance the harmonies…. words can’t describe!

Two weekends ago I had this very privilege, I was asked to perform the flute parts for the Winston-Salem youth chorus’s 20th anniversary performance at the Stevens Center, directed by Barbara C. Beattie, and the place was packed! One of the pieces I was asked to play, was for a premier performance of the piece “The Playful Rainbow” composed by Dan Locklair. The piece was written to text by poet Fred Chappell and if words were meant to have harmonies, Dan captured the essence of these harmonies. I remember thinking, after playing the first run through of this piece in rehearsal, that this was a well written piece. The words and harmonies alone was enough to give you chills but I must add that he really knew how to write for the flute! Better yet, if I had a list of composers that have ever written a perfect flute part, he is now on that list. I have to say well done Dan Locklair, what a privilege this was! And of course I must mention how impressed I was with the young singers of the Winston-Salem youth chorus, under the direction of Barbara C. Beattie and of course their wonderful accompanist Lauren Winkelman.

Dan Locklair is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His website is www.locklair.com

Fred Chappell is an acclaimed poet and novelist his bio can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/fred-chappell

The music for “The Playful Rainbow” is available at JWPepper. http://www.jwpepper.com/sheet-music/search.jsp?keywords=the+playful+rainbow

 

Learning how to Read Music

As a private flute teacher for 15 years, I have come to a great understanding of how the brain learns new subjects. First, it helps to have an interest in the new subject. We all have a natural desire to learn, we might not realize it because we tend to often be forced to learn so much about subjects we’re not interested in, but think about how many new talents you pick up from day to day on your own, like learning to ride a bike, learning how to swim, learning a new video game. When you’re interested in the subject something magical happens… you are capable of really focusing for long periods of time on that one subject. If you lack this desire in music then the following will be very difficult for you because it is a tedious breakdown on how to learn to read music. It’s like learning how to read a new language, there is no short cut, yet a lot of music teachers try to take short cuts, but if you want to become a great reader of music then here is how.

When you read music, you are reading several components of music all at the same time and trying to keep a steady beat…. now that’s multitasking to the extreme! Your brain will not be able to do everything at once, to begin with, so the easiest thing to do is to separate each component of music and work on them individually. First you should work on reading rhythm. Please understand that music happens under a controlled measurement of time and this time is measured by a steady beat that a musician has to learn to feel naturally. In order to do this you will have to be able to tap your foot to a machine that keeps the beat (a metronome) and play the notes written within the value of time that is given to each note. Understanding the value of each note written in the music and how to play that note for the time equal to the note value is, in my opinion,  the most important component of reading music. It’s equal to a carpenter using a measuring tape or a cook using cups and tablespoons and teaspoons to measure. This is why reading note values is where I put the emphasis the most for my beginner students. If you want to learn how to read music properly then start by reading a lot of rhythm sheets. Rhythm sheets can usually be found at the back of some band books. A rhythm sheet is music that has been written all in unison so you play the same note (usually a Bb) and you can focus on just the rhythm.

Here is the step by step process I give my students when they first learn to read music…

First, in order to get your foot used to tapping a steady beat while you play at the same time, I ask my students to use arrows to write bellow the note what your foot is doing at the time you play that note, so there should be a down arrow when your foot is going down and an up arrow when your foot goes up. For quarter notes you should have a down and an up, for half notes a down up down up, an eighth note gets either a down or an up, etc. You can double check your work by making sure each measure starts with a down beat and that there are enough beats in each measure (4/4 time gets 4 beats, 3/4 time gets 3 beats and 2/4 time gets 2 beats per measure (one beat = a down and an up arrow)). Once this is done then start playing the rhythm and make sure your foot matches what the arrows are telling it to do. It is important that your foot hits the up beat like it hits the down beat even though your foot has a floor to actually hit for the downbeat and none for the up beat. Also at this time you shouldn’t be worried about your foot keeping a steady beat…. that comes later.

Once you’ve matched the note values to what your foot has done, repeat this step about 4 times until you really have the hang of the proper lengths of the notes based on your foot tapping. Make sure to be starting each note with a proper articulation (with a “T” sound). Also make sure to articulate notes even if they are slurred because slurred notes still have rhythm and this exercise allows you to hear what the rhythm will sound like. The only notes you don’t articulate will be the notes that are tied. Notes are considered tied together when it is the same pitch that has a slur. Notes are usually tied because the pitch is extended across a bar line. Now you should be ready to repeat this exercise but now using a metronome. Start on a slow speed and then gradually increase the speed on the metronome until you are close to the speed at which the piece will be played.

The next step will be to become familiar with the fingerings of the actually pitches by playing one note at a time. This part of the exercise does not need to be in tempo and you don’t have to worry about the rhythm. You might find that after playing just the rhythm so many times you tend to play the notes in rhythm, but it’s not until you can play the notes along with your foot tapping to a metronome, that it will be considered accurate.

This brings me to the final step which is what I just mentioned at the end of my last paragraph. Now you should be ready to tap your foot to a metronome while playing the correct pitches and the correct time based on the motion of your foot. Again, start slow and gradually increase the speed of the metronome.

Now that you know what the piece sounds like, you can now add slurs. My advice would be to put a “T” above the notes that get tongued and an “S” above the ones that get slurred. You can also add the dynamics….

Good Luck with this!

 

Getting the most out of a lesson

A lot of my students don’t have to foot the bill for flute lessons, their parents usually pay. Sometimes this can lead to kids getting into the routine of showing up for a lesson just to get through it. Another problem is that, at school, kids get accustomed to being force fed information and so they get in the habit of listening but maybe not truly paying attention. I believe flute lessons should, most importantly, be desired by the student taking the lesson. If the desire is there, then perhaps what I’m getting ready to say will be achievable by the student.

Think of every minute with your private instructor as valuable because when you consider the price per minute, it truly is valuable! Also consider how much time per week you spend with this instructor, (most of my students are on 1 hour per week lessons), so realistically you’re going to have to do most of your learning at home on your own. Here are my suggestions on how to get the most out of this precious time…

1. Never take your eyes or ears off your instructor!

I’m sure almost every flute instructor will have their own flute ready to go in order to demonstrate at times. As soon as your instructor picks up their instrument, you should be watching their every move. Pay attention to how they stand and hold the flute. Watch how close they keep their fingers to the keys (even when they are not pressing them). Watch their embouchure, see how it adjusts to every note. Pay attention to how there are only curves in their joints and no 90% angles.

There is so much detail to get used to that sometimes it’s quicker to learn by example and not to wait for your instructor to say anything to you.

2. Try not to make your instructor repeat themselves!

If I ask a student to fix a problem then I mean it, it needs to get fixed. Sometimes I can offer suggestions on how to fix it but ultimately, once the student is aware of the problem, they need to get it fixed ASAP….  No Excuses! It can be a hand position, a headjoint position, how they stand, etc.

Sometimes I find I have to repeat myself when it comes to how to practice. For instance, I have a 4 step method on how to learn a new piece. I teach rhythm and subdividing based on foot tapping and I require students to pencil in arrows below the notes to indicate the movement of the foot based on the length of the note. I find this method to be a solid way to teach sight reading. If my students trust my method then they should immediately have foot marks for all the music they are learning, whether or not I have asked them to.

3. Devote the same time everyday to preparing for your lesson as what the length of the lesson is.

In order to be able to get through all that you are working on in a lesson, you need to be able to zip through your warm ups, scales, etudes, solos and duets. Don’t allow the lesson to be the time you learn these. Once you have been taught how to learn a new piece, then you should be able to learn your music at home. The instructor needs to hear how well you improve on your own and then they can coach you as to what to work on next. They can  continue to assign more difficult scales and etudes and coach you on phrasing, they shouldn’t have to repeat what you work on in a lesson every week.

Finally…

4. Come to a lesson ready to learn.

This includes being properly nourished and well rested as well as keeping an open mind that you might actually learn something new. You should know ahead of time when your lesson is each week, including what day and time, take advantage of knowing this ahead of time so you can plan your meals, make sure you get plenty of water and do what you can to make sure you are well rested. Also, prepare your mind to learn. A lesson is not the time to show off everything you already know and also, if you have too many reasons to reject your instructor’s methods of teaching then you are wasting your time and money as well as your teachers time, in other words make sure you are taking lessons from someone you are willing to learn from!

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The Fire Pink Trio @ SECCA

I heard this local Trio perform at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Three great instruments that work so well together along with three great personalities. I really enjoyed the concert, they put on a very entertaining performance. I’m sure their performance at SECCA June 6th will be well worth it. Not only will you be spoiled by their wonderful music, but the museum for contemporary Arts is a must see in Winston-Salem.

A not-to-be-missed performance by the Fire Pink Trio with guest artist, soprano Elizabeth Pacheco Rose. The concert will feature Ice Counterpoint, views the Earth’s Polar Regions through the artistic collaboration of music, art, environmental soundscapes, film, and photography. Composed for soprano, flute, viola, and harp by Terry Mizesko; photography, film and soundscapes by Brooks deWetter Smith. Also on the program is Adrienne Albert’s, Doppler Effect, and the electrifying Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle by Lyle Mays for flute, viola, harp, and CD.

 

Fire Pink Trio

Performance @ SECCA

Thursday, June 6 @ 7pm

$15 general admission / $10 Students/SECCA Supporters

McChesney Scott Dunn Auditorium

Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art

750 Marguerite Dr  Winston-Salem, NC 27106
(336) 725-1904

Amazing students at UNCSA

 While I was writing yesterday’s post I came across an article about the flute students at UNCSA. They wanted to take advantage of the fact that Sir James Galway would be in town to play a concert with the Winston-Salem Symphony and hire him to teach a master class at the University of NC School of the Arts. The students were told there was no money in the budget for another guest artist at the school. What really struck me was how professionally the students handled this dilemma (there being no money left in the budget is a very common occurrence these days). I’m often asked what I think about musicians being asked to play for free or a reduced rate. Musicians are usually asked this because there are not enough funds left for the event when it comes around to hiring the musicians. The students obviously knew the value of the master class and so they owned the problem and solved it by raising the money. There is a huge lesson to be learned from these students. Before I hire anyone, I ask them their rate or I research what their rate should be and I always figure out how to get the money or, if that person is out of my budget, I go with someone who might be cheaper for various reasons. There are some musicians who are free or cheaper for reasons, but then there are some who are more expensive and usually for good reasons. Always be a professional when hiring a musician or any artist, do your research about a musician’s rates and then do the right thing, don’t pass your money problem onto the person you want to hire, be a professional and own your own problem and figure out a way to solve it. You wouldn’t offer a top chef the same rate a fast food company would pay it’s cooks. Here’s the article… I think it’s great!

The James Galway Master Class

Sir James Galway was in town just a few weeks ago and the flute students at the University of NC School of the Arts raised the funds to have him teach a master class at the school. This master class took place in Watson Chamber Music Hall on the UNCSA campus and was open to the public. Of course I went! It’s amazing how much I learned in just 3 hours of him instructing others. I remember watching an interview of him once and what really stood out was how gracefully he played the flute, his fingers hardly moved and he made flute playing look so easy. In the master class he went into great detail as to how he got to that point. The information he shared was so valuable and he was especially helpful in clarifying what path every flutist should take if they want to achieve a professional standard. His main topic was about choosing the right methods, then breath control, then hand positions, body movement and finally phrasing. This blog is meant to try to get his point across to the beginner student, should they have a dream of one day becoming a professional, but then to also point out that to start on these methods from the beginning would be overwhelming. The beginner student should be introduced to the music theory and technique step by step, similar to how math is taught. In math, the student must first have a clear understanding of addition before they can understand multiplication, if they begin to memorize their multiplication tables before understanding addition, then it’s just memorization with no understanding. This type of teaching happens all the time with flutists and is very tragic.

So lets talk about the topic on which he placed a lot of emphasis, choosing the right method. His method of choice is Daily Exercises for the flute, by Marcel Moyse. The methods that were most used by Philip Dunigan at The North Carolina School of the Arts, when I was a student there, were 17 Grands Exercices Journaliers De Mecanisme Pour Flute by Taffanel and Gaubert for technique, and Mathilda Marchesi Vocal Exercises for phrasing. The Marcel Moyse, and the Taffanel and Gaubert are exercises that target pretty much the same type of scales, intervals and articulations. I like how Marcel Moyse has organized his scales and intervals. I really like how both the books have you practice your scales using the full range of the flute. Some exercises have you practice scales within 2 octaves and as a result the third octave might remain weak. These books also cover articulation patterns which is very important. If you’re a beginner student and you are taking lessons, please keep in mind that learning and understanding all your scales: Chromatic, major and all it’s modes, minor and all it’s modes, whole tones, arpegios, etc is very important. If you are asked to practice the scales and yet you don’t quit understand them, then speak up. Understanding music theory is a big part of my method of teaching, it’s a slightly slower process to begin with but my students go a lot further in the long run when they understand them. I believe that was one point Sir James Galway was trying to make, that if you practice the Marcel Moyse book consistently then you get to the point that you can play anything, but I believe that this only happens if you truly understand the scales and can recognize the patterns in the music. Long story short… when finding a private flute instructor, make sure they’re goal is to one day have you practicing and understanding a good flute method.

The Chromatic Scale

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Learning your chromatic scale is very important. The chromatic scale consists of all half steps and once you’ve learned the chromatic scale you have learned every note on the flute. In order not to overwhelm my students, I have them learn 4 notes at a time (remember there is a link to a flute fingering chart on my post “Bettering your sound on the flute”). In one octave (not including the actual octave note which will be the same note name to which you started) of the chromatic scale there are 12 different notes, so that means there will be 3 groups of 4. I have my students start on the low F and learn F,F#,G and G# first. Once they have those four notes (it doesn’t matter how long it takes them to learn them) I have them learn the next four (A,A#,B,C), then the next four (C#,D,D#,E). Remember these notes are in the lower octave, but once they are use to the fingerings of those 12 notes I point out that the next 12 notes are almost identical fingerings, except for D,D# and E. It won’t take long before you know 2 octaves. Once you’re pretty comfortable with the chromatic then start practicing playing one octave at a time. Start with playing low F to middle F and back down. Then start the next octave on low F#, go to middle F# and back down again. Then start the next octave on low G, go to middle G and back down again. Continue with this pattern and try to cover all the octaves possible. When you get to an octave that goes to a note you don’t know yet, try learning that note and practice playing up to it from the note right below it. When you’re ready, then try playing the octave chromatic scale that goes up to that note. Make sure to take it slow and don’t ever rush, try to avoid mistakes when you practice otherwise you are practicing mistakes. Just keep challenging yourself and strive to learn more notes high and low. The chromatic scale is the foundation to music. It’s very important to learn it.

Learning the recorder

A recorder is a great instrument to start with, especially if the student is more interested in wind instruments than strings. It’s a very easy instrument to learn, though be aware of the most common mistake people make starting off on a recorder without instruction, getting the hand position correct. The left hand must be the hand on the top and the right hand on the bottom! People have often asked me if it was a left handed vs right handed issue and the answer is that it is not. Both hands work equally on the instrument. If you or your child is teaching themselves how to play a recorder and they start off with the right hand on top, it will begin to feel right to them and it will be a very difficult habit to change. You might think this is harmless because on a recorder it works both ways, but your child will have a lot of difficulty switching to any other wind instrument because, unless you spend thousands on a hand made instrument, all wind instruments are made to accommodate the “left hand on top, right on the bottom” position. Here’s a great website for recorder tips. This is a book I use to get my students started, there is a CD you can buy with it separately I highly recommend! Good Luck!

 

 

Bettering your sound on the flute

After you  have worked on getting a sound out of your headjoint, you will need to work on making that sound with ease. Once my student has been able to get a sound out of the headjoint I challenge them with being able to make high sounds and low sounds.

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Once they are comfortable with this, I have them put the entire flute together.

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Knowing how to hold the flute and where your fingers go is next.

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Once you are comfortable with holding the flute, I recommend you buy a flute fingering chart as a guide to my next lesson.  There are at least 37 different notes on the flute and your embouchure will be changing slightly with each note. This is why I start my students off with overtone exercises. A lot of teachers start a student off with one note at a time, but I feel like this creates stronger notes and weaker notes in the long run. I have heard flutists refer to the middle octave as the “easy” octave and the third octave the “hard” octave and they would avoid that octave. The way I teach, I like for them to think of every note as equally easy or difficult. I do the same when teaching major and minor scales I teach the patterns of a major scale then cover all 12 majors then start them on all the modes. The 6th mode is the natural minor scale and so this is how I introduce minor, but all of this I will go into more detail in another blog. The overtone exercises I like to use is on pg. 15 in the book “Tone Development through Extended Technique” by Robert Dick. This is a very challenging book but I find some of the exercises in his book are great for starting a student off on the right foot for producing a beautiful sound. There might be only a few pages I use for their first few years but the book is full of challenges that will prove valuable even to a professional flutist.

Our Christmas performances

As a flute teacher for younger students I try to take advantage of the excitement that the children are filled with this time of year and load them up with Christmas Carols to learn. They make great exercises for kids because Christmas carols are made up of a lot of scale and arpeggio patterns. For my more advanced students, I have them memorize the melody based on modes and triads and then have them transpose them in their head using these patterns. I then set them up with a lot of performance opportunity, like home tours and open houses. This helps them get rid of their performance jitters. It’s a lot of fun and it reminds them of why they wanted to learn the flute in the first place (to perform, entertain and have fun). It’s not always about the competitions! I’ve recorded three of my students (beginner, intermediate and advanced) using some of the pieces we perform. I hope you Enjoy. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! Carol of the Bells, arranged by James Christensen (performed on a Jupiter flute); The First Nowell, arranged by James Power (performed on a Jupiter flute); We Three Kings , from Recorder Express by Artie Almeida.

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