Music Stand Shopping

In my years of playing, I have accumulated many music stands, just to hold my music. Some may wonder themselves, especially for those who are new to playing music, what kind of music stand should I or my child have? In my mind, each music stand has its purpose; so here is a list of three music stands, and there purpose for having them:

  1. Metal Fold-Up Music Stand – This stand is often bought for a young beginner because it is the cheapest. It is pretty simple to fold up and is easy for a child to carry one. They usually can hold a beginners music on the stand. However, they can not hold weight very well, so more advanced players, with heavier music, tend to switch to a more durable stand. If you make a switch, don’t just throw the fold-up stand away, you can give it to a new beginner, donate it to a nearby school that may want it, or keep it, in case you have a ensemble that gets together and someone forgot their stand.
  2. Collapsible Music Stand – Stands, like the Peak Music Stand SMS-20, are perfect for the musician, who is rehearsing and traveling to different places. The Peak Music Stand SMS-20 is much durable than our previous instrument, yet it is still able to collapse into a size that can be put into a bag and carried on your shoulder. They also come in black, so they can even pass off as a concert stand at some venues. It is a little bulkier, which is why you do not often see children carrying them.
  3. Concert Stands – These stands are the most professional of music stands. They come in a standard black and don’t have the knobs and bolts that you see with collapsible and fold-up stands. You see these stands at symphonies, recitals, and other concert venues. They are nice to have as a professional for concerts or to just have one to keep at home for when you practice.

As you grow as a musician, you may choose to to “upgrade” your stand or grow a collection of them. Just know that music stands, as well as other items that hold music, all have their own purpose.


Practicing: The Three Things You Need to Know

There is a saying amongst musicians, “practice as many days as you eat.” This can be true for anything; tie-ing your shoes, addition, driving, and many other things require practice to get better at it. However, did you know that there is a right and wrong way to practice? Time, quality, and your body all play into account when it comes to practicing.

When students first start instruments, they are often told that the more you practice, the better you will get. This is true, but there is a little more to it. You should play for no more than 20 to 25 minutes straight. You can play longer, but only after 5 minutes of stretching, wiggling, and relaxing your hands and face. As a student learning an instrument, I would start with fifteen minutes and work up to an hour of practice time per day. Any serious musician should practice at least three hours a day. Some musicians I know practice eight hours a day, but it is not always about quantity.

What does it mean to have quality practice time? When you receive a new piece of music, you start by playing it through once. This should show where your problematic areas are. Then you work slowly on those areas giving you trouble; you should be able to play them five times in a row without mistakes, then try adding a little more before and after the troublesome passages. Once you have those spots down, bring them up to a speed where you can play the whole piece at speed, it might not be at tempo just yet. Once you have the whole piece down (down means play through a few times accurately, I like five) at a comfortable tempo, move your metronome up three clicks. Yes, you should be practicing with a metronome to ensure that you are playing at a steady beat and the correct rhythms. Once you are able to play the piece accurately five times in a row, move your metronome up another three clicks. This process continues until you reach the tempo the piece should be played at. Sometimes you might need to backtrack, and that is okay; in fact, you should move the metronome back a few clicks if you are starting a new practice session and you are trying to pick up where you left off. If you start getting frustrated with a piece you are practicing and feel like throwing your instrument across the room, move to another piece and come back to it later. This all might seem very tedious, but it is actually going to help you learn music faster and more accurately than if you just practice playing through at performance speed.  I like to take the saying from The Tortise and the Hare, “slow and steady win the race.”

The body is often the last thing considered when practicing. First thing with your body is to make sure that you are holding and playing your instrument correctly; if you do not have proper support, you may hurt yourself. Next, if any part of your body is in pain, maybe your wrists or shoulders, stop practicing immediately to avoid hurting yourself. If you come to the point where you hurt after a short time of practicing, let’s say 5 minutes, or even before you start practicing, seek medical attention, you have likely hurt yourself. This is why I suggested 5 minute breaks after every 20 to 25 minutes of practicing; it allows time for the muscles to relax or be stretched out. I started this regiment with my wrists after they started hurting when I started driving, but I have had friends who could not play their instruments for months because they ignored their body and developed more severe injuries like tendonitous. So, listen to your body when practicing.

Time, quality, and the body are the three things you need to remember when practicing. If you follow through with this method, you will learn music more quickly and become a better musician.

Properly Assemble and Handle Your Flute (and Take Care of Your Hands)!

All to often I see young flute students with improper hand positions when assembling or playing the flute. Some examples may be that left pinky hanging below that G# key or that students are gripping the key mechanism to put their flutes together. These things are not only bad habits, but they may lead to injury of the flute or (more importantly) yourself.

When putting together a flute, it is important to realize that the mechanism is the most delicate part of the flute; gripping it may cause it to bend and force keys out of alignment. So, just how do you do it? Pick up your head joint (mouth end) and the neck of the body joint. The neck of the body joint has a nice open spot for you to grip in your hand. Slowly put the head joint into the body joint and gently turn it in back and forth until the head joint is securely in the body joint. Most players should align the far side of the hole of the mouthpiece to the center of the keys of the body joint, but some may play better with the middle of the mouthpiece hole aligned with the center of the keys. Next pick up the foot joint by its very end, it has a little space between the last key and the hole opening. Still holding onto the neck of the body and the end of the foot, turn the foot joint back and forth into the body; the bar of the foot joint mechanism should align with the center of the body joint keys. You have now properly assembled the flute. Follow the same process when cleaning and putting it away.

Since gripping the flute by the mechanism can be very damaging and very expensive to realign there is one other thing to keep in mind. When you are just holding your assembled flute, maybe in between playing, hold it by the neck of the body. This allows enough space to avoid gripping the mechanism while also having little risk of joints disconnecting.

Flute can be a difficult instrument to handle when playing; it includes three points where the flute rests or balances on your body, your right thumb, the base of your left index finger, and your chin. If the flute is nicely balanced, it should not move or roll around, even when you lift your fingers up to play a C#. Some people choose to have the flute rest on their right thumb, others choose to slightly push with the right thumb so that the head joint presses more into the chin. Whatever choice you make, it should free up the fingers on your right hand so they can quickly press and release their keys. The base knuckle of your left index finger should be the resting point of your left hand near the neck of the body. Both hands should form a “c-shape” when resting on or slightly above the keys, however, your left “c” should face toward you and your right “c” should face away from you. If you experience any discomfort in your fingers, hand, or wrist, make minor adjustments to your resting points on the flute until you feel the most comfort. The pads of your fingers (the fleshy part) should land on the center of the keys when pressing down; however, some have a hard time reaching the G key in their left hand. That is okay, but if you have an open hole flute, you need to have a plug for the holes you have a hard time covering. The left pinky that plays the G# key on flute and should never fall below the key when you are not playing. Try thinking of holding a cup or glass with your pinky raised; keeping your pinky raised for the G# key has a similar feeling. Finally, the lip plate of the head joint should rest on your chin with your lower lip resting on the lip plate.

On a final note, playing your instrument until your fingers, hands, wrists, or shoulders hurt is very harmful to your body (I am speaking from experience). I would suggest that you practice at twenty minute intervals with five minutes in between, where you stretch and relax your hands.

Wind Instruments Leave You Breathless

Do you ever feel tired or dizzy after playing your wind instrument? Chances are it is because of all that air you use and your body is not used to how you are using that air. A lot of beginning wind players you see, will raise their shoulders when breathing in. This is a sign that they are taking shallow breaths and therefore, breathing incorrectly. Yes, there is a right and wrong way to breath and it pertains to all wind instruments. There are two main things to focus on when breathing to play a wind instrument, breath support and focus of the air-stream.

The first tip to breathing correctly is to try to make yourself yawn. That’s right, yawn! When you start yawning, notice how the air gets sucked down to the bottom of your stomach, passes your belly-button. When you do this, your stomach naturally expands outward and your throat feels open. When you release your yawn, there is a steadily fast air-stream that comes out of your mouth. This is basically the kind of air you use when playing a wind instrument, only you have your embouchure set when releasing the air. As you practice breathing this way, you will start to feel how to make yourself take a full breath without yawning. Another exercise you could try, is seeing how long you can keep a small piece of paper pinned to the wall using only your air-stream. This exercise can be connected to another, take four second breath and see how long you can blow without stopping, then take a two second breath and see if you can blow just as long as you did when you took the four second breath. Not only do these exercises require a full breath, they require a lot of air focus.

There are many analogies you could use to help with breath support and focus of air. One analogy you could use, is to pretend that you are a blowup lawn decoration, that you see during the holidays, full of air. Imagine that the hole you make for your embouchure  is someone who has poked a small hole in that decoration and very fast, very focused air is seeping out of a tiny hole, from the whole decoration to the open air. Another analogy is picture a lit candle an arms length away from you; try to blow out that candle. Next, imagine that your air stream is an arrow flying to a target. Finally, imagine that that your air is a dart being thrown and hitting a bulls-eye. A simple analogy for a full breath is to breath in down to your feet. There are countless of other analogies that could be used to describe breathing correctly.

Breathing correctly pertains to all instruments, and it will help with other things like pitch, tone, and intonation. However, some wind instruments require more air than others, like flute and tuba; tubas use the most air because of how big the instrument is, but why flute? If you look around, you will notice that flute is the only wind instrument you will find that does not blow directly into the instrument itself. Most of the air is blown across the opening rather than into the instrument. So as you can see, when it comes to taking a breath to play a wind instrument, it is not as simple as breathing in and releasing the air; it takes focus and breath support.

How to make a sound on flute before picking up the instrument

Many people I know who have tried playing flute would say that the hardest thing about learning flute, is getting a sound to come out in the first place. Some have asked me, “hey Kayla, how do you get a sound to come out? How did you first start?” The answer to that second question, is that I had practiced long before I started on flute; the answer is…bottles. Any bottle with a hole of about two centimeters (i.e. plastic water bottles, soda bottles, sparkling cider bottles, etc.) is the perfect tool for getting started on flute.

The first thing to know is embouchure. Embouchure is a term musicians use to describe the formation of your mouth when playing an instrument. To create an embouchure for bottle playing, rest your lips on the edge of the hole. Your lips should feel relaxed in a pout like position. Now blow a gentle breeze, as if you were blowing on a lit candle without blowing it out or blowing the seeds off a dandelion. You should notice that your lips still feel relaxed, the corners of your lips are still sealed, and there is a small opening in the center of your lips. This is the embouchure you need.

Now take that bottle you have lying around. I would suggest starting with an empty two liter bottle, as that has the least resistance, but whatever bottle with a two centimeter opening is fine. Rest your lips on the edge of the opening (hole) of the bottle, as stated in the previous paragraph and blow across the hole. You should aim your air stream toward the back edge of the opening. You may need to use more air, but be sure to keep those lips feeling pretty relaxed. Still not working? Try playing with the positioning of your air stream. Aim further down into the bottle or near the very edge of the opening. Once you have created a resonate sound on the bottle, than voila, you can play a bottle and are well on your way to playing flute.

The only difference I have seen between bottle and flute is you have to focus your air stream more on flute because the opening you play into is smaller.

Here is a bonus. Once you have perfected getting a resonate sound on your bottle, you may have a little fun experimenting by grabbing a smaller bottle or filling it up. Both scenarios raise the pitch and create resistance. This is a great way to build up your embouchure for playing flute while having some fun.

I hope you had fun reading about this tip on playing flute. Keep following on more tips in the future. If you would like to suggest a tip, feel free to contact me.