Proper Posture for Playing Flute

Posture is something that could be looked at from nearly any situation. From exercising to typing, each proper placement of the body has visual, functional, and health benefits. This post will dive into the nitty-gritty of proper posture for flute playing and some of the benefits from it.

We’ll start with a standing posture from the bottom of the body and up. First, your lower body should turned about 45-degrees to the right of your music stand, with your feet flat on the floor and shoulder width apart. Remember to keep your knees bent slightly to avoid blood circulation problems or passing out. Next, shift your hips so that your shoulders are nearly parallel to your music stand. Do NOT twist your waist, for that is not only uncomfortable, but hinders your breathing as well. Your arms should be bent at about 90-degree angles, kind of like some toy dolls, and when you lift up your flute, your arms should neither be tucked in, nor parallel to the ground like your getting ready to flap wings. Instead, your arms should be in a position somewhere in between with close to a straight wrist (especially in the right hand). Place the mouthpiece in the crevice of above your chin so that it is below your lower lip. The angle of your flute can be parallel to the ground or slanted slightly downward, no more than about 25-degrees. Stand tall with your chin slightly up, and there you have it; a good standing posture.

Having a proper standing position not only provides solid footing and good hand placement, it opens up and supports your air stream. That way, you can take deep, controlling breaths. It also prevents health hazards too, like poor circulation, and tendinitis.

A proper sitting position is very similar to standing; except the lower half of your body. Your upper body should still be straight and tall, with your chin slightly up and your flute parallel or angled slightly. When sitting, you should sit at the edge of the chair with your feet flat on the floor; another way to look at it is that your legs form a 90-degree angle. You can sit with your feet facing directly toward the stand or off to the side, much like when your standing. Now you have a good sitting posture. The flat feet support the posture, and the tall torso opens your airway.

There you have it, a proper way to stand or sit while playing the flute. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give a like. If there was one thing you took away from this or future posts you’d like me to share, leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks.

Practice Smart, Not Hard

There is a saying I’ve heard among musicians, “you only need to practice as many days as you eat.” While this is a good guide to live by, it misses two very important things. One, how long should I practice? And two, how should I practice? As a youth, I would play through my songs and pieces at speed anywhere between fifteen minutes and six hours a day (the latter was high school). But, there is a difference between playing through and methodically practicing, in other words, if you practice efficiently you can accomplish more in less time than just playing through several times. You’ll need your instrument, music, a metronome, and self-discipline. Here are the steps I take:

1. Start Slow

You are probably familiar with the saying “slow and steady wins the race.” The same couldn’t be more true when learning a new piece of music. Start as slow as you need to go to play the pitches and rhythms accurately. If you have a certain passage giving you more trouble than the rest of the piece, work out that passage, then slowly add the rest of the piece. If you are unsure of a passage or having too much difficulty figuring it out on your own, do not be afraid to ask for help.

2. Aim for Accuracy

Staying at a slow pace, you should work to play the whole piece accurately (pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc.). It can be grueling, but I say you should be able to play the piece five times IN A ROW without making mistakes. Once you are able to do that, than you can go on to the next step.

3. Steadily Increase Tempo

Once you can play accurately those five times in a row, than you can increase the tempo or speed by two or three bpm’s (beats per minute). Once you’ve done this, then aim for the goal in step two of playing five times in a row accurately. After you’ve done that, increase the tempo again by 2 or 3 bpm’s. Keep repeating this process until you’ve reach the recommended performance tempo.

That’s basically it. It might seem like a painfully slow process, but once you get through the first step, the rest usually comes pretty quick. Not only do you learn the piece more quickly, you also learn it more accurately because you’re not retraining your brain to unlearn your mistakes.

As a bonus, here are a few other ideas you can incorporate with your first step:

Sight-read the first time. Not only does it work on your ability to read on the spot without stopping or starting over, it also helps you discover the passages you have the most trouble with.

Mark your part. If you have made the same mistake more than once, than make some sort of mark that you can easily read while playing (i.e. mark a natural next to that note you keep playing flat).

Work from the end to the beginning. Most people remember the beginning and end of a piece, but sometimes you practice the beginning so much, that it is flawless and the rest of the piece is jumbled. With this exercise, you start with the last measure, add the previous measure and play them both accurately together, and keep repeating the process until you get to the first measure.

That’s all I have. If you liked this post, be sure to give a like and share with others. If you liked a certain idea or have one of your own, leave your thoughts in the comments.

Concert Etiquette: The Performer

A previous post written addressed how the audience should behave during a concert. This one will dive into how the performer or musician should behave when they show respect for the audience.

1. Arrive On Time!

There is a saying that was ingrained into me by music teachers, “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” As a musician, you want to arrive early enough so that you’re dressed, warmed up, set up, and ready to go with at least ten minutes to spare. That way you can take a moment to breathe and start the performance on time. We don’t want to keep the audience waiting.

2. Dress Appropriately

Unless you perform in a rock band, you almost never would dress in something like jeans and a t-shirt. You want to dress professionally. If you are a solo performer, you are the limelight and have more flexibility for a dress code. This could be a colored dress or suit, or exposing your arms and legs. Just make sure that your skirt is not so short that the people in the front row can not see up it. If you’re in an ensemble, particularly a classical ensemble, everyone usually wears black. You also want to make sure that your legs are fully covered, as well as your shoulders. This creates uniformity within the group.

3. Address the Audience

When people applaud, they are essentially thanking your for performing for them or acknowledging how much they enjoyed your performance. So, you should acknowledge back. Some people wave to their audience, some people open their arms to address the audiences importance. But the one gesture that works for any group, and pretty much the only accepted move for classical performers is the bow. We’re not talking about the head bob or the awkward bow where you’re still keeping eye contact with the audience. We are talking about the bow where you take a second to bend almost perpendicular to stare at the floor, then come back up. This not only addresses the audience, but tends to put everyone at ease. One side note, is if the audience is not clapping, don’t bother bowing, it just makes things uncomfortable.

4. Acknowledge the Accompanist

If there is someone performing with you, whether it’s another ensemble member or someone backing you up on your solo performance. This could be a simple hand gesture towards them and then bowing together. They likely worked just as hard as you did, so give them some recognition.

5. Enjoy the Show

I still get nervous when I perform, but if you are dreading your performance, the audience will feel that, which in turn makes you more nervous and starts causing unnecessary mistakes. You likely worked hard on your music, so go out there and have fun making music. Before your last piece, be sure to thank the audience for their time and then end with a big finale.

To summarize a performers etiquettecy, they should be professional, be timely, acknowledge everyone there, and have fun. If you liked these tips, feel free to give a like and leave your comments below.

5 Steps to Making a Sound on Flute

This post is the predecessor to the “5 Tips to Improve Sound Quality on Flute” post that was published in July. These tips are ones that I have developed after working with students who are first starting to play flute. So here are my top five tips to get a sound on flute:

1. Learning How to Breathe
The first thing I do with new flutists is have them practice breathing while standing against a wall or lying on the floor (the latter is the better option). This is so the student can feel how their stomach moves out and in while their shoulders stay in place; many realize that they’ve been subconsciously chest breathing, which causes the shoulders to lift when trying to take a full breath.

2. Breathing Exercises
The next step is to have them practice controlling their breath (I do this the first two years of their playing at every lesson). Have them practice breathing in for four counts and out for eight, then in for two and out for eight, then out for ten and then twelve, then I have them repeat the process but only breathing in one count. This builds their lungs and breath control.

3. Embouchure or “The Pout”/And Tonguing
The next step is the embouchure. Flutists have probably the most relaxed embouchure or mouth shape of all the wind instruments, which can make it easy or difficult to play. I start by having them with their resting face or “the pout,” and say “two” while in that pout. Then I have them add their index finger to their chin with their lower lip resting on the finger; switch from vocalizing “two,” to blowing a “tu” with your air touching part of your index finger. The next step is plastic bottles.

4. Plastic Bottles
Yes, you read that right. Plastic bottles. I try to start students off on an empty 2-liter soda bottle. I have them take what they learned from blowing across their finger to the bottle (sometimes I lead by example). Usually, a sound comes out almost right away, but sometimes the student might need to experiment where they’re aiming their airstream. Once they get a strong sound, I add a little water. This not only raises the pitch, but adds a little resistance for them to build their embouchure. Keep adding water to at least half way, you can expand on this exercise by adding more water or switching to a regular plastic water bottle.

5. Headjoint and Putting it All Together
We finally get to touch the flute. I first have them start with the headjoint, the piece with hole you blow into. I usually lead by example, but I do sometimes tell them to rest their lip on the fat part of the lip plate surrounding the tone hole, or the hole they blow into. Then, have them blow the same way they did with the plastic bottles. When they get a sound, have them tongue a few times with the “tu” blowing they had practiced. You can add some fun by covering and uncovering the hole at the end of the headjoint. Finally, add the rest of the flute and get started with their first note.

I hope you enjoyed these tips that I use for new flutists. Please feel free to give a like and leave your thoughts in the comments.

How to Have An Entertaining Performance: Beyond the Music

Have you ever noticed the difference between a compelling performance and an inhibited one? Putting on a performance can be exciting and very intimidating, but these three subtle things should help make a captivating performance:

1. Presentation

How you present yourself is more than how you dress, it is how you walk, talk, stand, bow, even hold your instrument. There is another word for this, confidence. Your presence begins from the moment you walk on stage; if you shuffle on stage with your head down, maybe arms crossed, and no eye contact with the audience, you show that your either not confident in your playing ability or what you are wearing or you don’t want to be here performing for the people that came to watch you. When you walk on stage with a strong stride, your head held up, feet planted on the ground you show that your confident and excited for your performance, and when you glance at the audience, that makes them feel included in the excitement. Keep your feet planted while performing, but allow your body to move with the music. It looks unnatural when you’re stiff as a statue, and putting all your weight on one foot could imply unsteadiness. Finally, make a nice bow with your face and torso parallel to the floor, then exit the same way you came in. The thing to remember is that “the whole performance is an act, and when you act confident, the audience feels confident in your ability.”

2. Engagement

Engaging in the music, ensemble members, and the audience makes a performance that much more entertaining. It can be as simple as eye contact. Now, some people get extremely nervous when they see the faces of audience members, but if you come out on stage and just look in the audiences direction (let’s say the back wall), it makes them feel included in this event. Also, taking a little time before the last piece to tell the audience how much you appreciate them being there gives them a positive experience for taking the time to see you perform. Also, when you move your body to the music you’re playing, you show that you are engaged with the music you are playing. Finally, when you engage with your accompanist or other ensemble members through eye contact, it not only shows that you’re engaged with the music, but making sure your on the same page and acknowledging their participation in the performance.

3. Have fun!

It is perfectly normal to be at least a little nervous for a performance. Just make sure that you are having fun. Some of my best performances were when I got so into the music and playing with my friends and colleagues, that it almost seemed like the audience was not even there. I’m not saying that you should ignore the audience, but when you are having fun, it eliminates some of your anxiety and manifests a happy, engaging, and entertaining performance that captivates everyone in the room. You worked hard, so have fun with it!

So just remember to present yourself confidently the whole time you are on stage, engage with the music and everyone in the hall, and have fun with the music you worked so hard on. This will spawn an entertaining performance.

This is what I have observed, feel free to leave your comments below.

Concert Etiquette: The Audience

Concert etiquette is basically the protocol that you follow for that style of music. For example, rock concert customs are completely different than an orchestra concert. I feel that most people have a sense of how to behave at a casual concert, therefore, we will focus on a more formal or classical setting.

1. Sit back and enjoy the show

Classical concerts that you see in the U.S. are ones where the audience sits to watch. This could be anything from a symphony to a child’s school concert. However, say you need to use the restroom. What you do is wait until a piece is over, leave your seat and the hall as swiftly and quietly as possible; make sure the doors close quietly behind you. Before entering, wait outside the hall doors until you hear the end of a piece or beginning of applause through the doors. Then you would enter the same way as you left. This is particularly important for recital halls or gyms, for it is much easier to hear exterior noise than for a larger concert hall when doors are opened. What’s even worse is at the school setting when younger siblings are given a ball or something to play with at the back of the gym. The objective is to be settled before the concert and intently listen and watch the performance until the end.

2. Avoid noise and other distractions

Despite what I said in the previous paragraph, if there is a young child in the audience being disruptive, for example a crying baby, leave the hall as soon as possible. It is only courteous to the performers and other audience members. Please turn your cell phones off; you never know when your phone will ring, and camera flashes can be really distracting. In recent years, I have noticed people talking or texting to each other in the middle of a performance. Not only are these things off-putting to other audience members, but it is completely disrespectful to the performers. Even at rock concerts, you’d probably hear screaming, but the audience has their full attention on the band. If you’d rather socialize or play, why even be there. Also, screaming and shouting is not appropriate for a classical or formal concert.

So really, there are just two things for audience members to remember at a classical style concert. One, avoid too much movement, and two, be as noiseless as possible. The performers worked hard for their concert, it is only courteous that the audience respects that effort.

5 Steps to Improve Your Sound Quality on Flute

Last year, I wrote “How to Make a Sound on Flute Before Picking Up the Instrument.” In that post, I talked about the fundamentals of making a sound, embouchure, placement, and resistance. At this point, you might be able to make a sound, but it might sound either stifled or a loud, airy horn of some kind. Here are five things to improve your sound quality on flute:

1. Posture

Playing a wind instrument starts from the bottom of the lungs, not from the mouth piece. One of the fundamentals to producing quality sound on flute is your posture. If you are slouching or your right arm is slacking and causing your head to tilt a lot, you are closing off airways that would support your sound. When playing, you should stand with your feet flat, shoulder width apart, and about forty-five degrees to the right of your stand. Your torso and head should face the stand. Your right arm should support your flute so that it is almost, if not parallel, to the floor; that will prevent closing your throat and neck problems, but it will also mean that you might have to build up some endurance in that arm. Sitting is very similar to standing, make sure your legs are at an angle to the stand with your feet flat on the floor and your torso straight and facing the stand. If you are next to other players, angle yourself so that your flute falls behind them, but not bopping them.

2. Air Support

With air support, there are two things to remember: proper breath and steady air stream. Think of your lungs like a balloon. If you fill it up with partial air and release it, the air is short and wimpy. If you fill it up to the point where it feels tense and might pop, that is not good either because it will make your tense and in return, your sound tense. Fill your lungs (balloon) up nice and full, then release with your aperture controlling how much air is coming out (in the balloons’ case, the aperture is two of your fingers controlling how large or small the opening is of the balloon). If you don’t use your aperture, the air is unsteady and all over the place (aka the spitting sound a balloon makes when air releases and your fingers are not controlling it).

Using air support while practicing two exercises will help center your tone and produce the same quality sound on each pitch. The first exercise is long tones; practicing a specific range (low, middle, high) of slow long tones while methodically listening and matching the same quality tone on all notes throughout the range of the instrument and you will gradually improve your sound over time. Harmonics is the second exercise. Starting on a fundamental, like low C, with a lot of air support and the slight movement of your lips moving forward you could produce new notes while still fingering the fundamental. For example, finger low C, then with your air and lips you should get this sequence: low C, middle C, middle G, high E, high G, and high Bb. After doing this exercise and learning to control each note, go back to their original fingerings, and you will notice a fuller, rounded, and more resonate sound.

3. Aperture

Embouchure is the general formation of the mouth and its alignment with the tone hole or mouth piece. Aperture is the hole formed between your lips that allow your air stream to escape. Remember the balloon? A larger aperture creates an airy, unsteady tone that is difficult to control. Practice creating different sized apertures, that are not too big or small, by practicing long tones and harmonics. Pairing your aperture with air support will produce a strong, steady, and clear sound.

4. Tone Hole Coverage

Because you do not blow directly into a flute, about 1/3 of your air goes into the flute, that is, if you have the right coverage of your tone hole (the hole of the flute that you blow into). If your tone hole is angled too far away from you, you get an airy sound. If the tone hole is rolled in too close to your aperture, you get a muffled or pinched, flat sound. Also, make sure that your aperture is center of your lips and that it is aligned center with your tone hole. Some people I know struggled with sound quality because of missing this alignment. Practice in front of a mirror to make sure you have the correct coverage and your tone will improve.

5. Open the Throat – “duh”

The first channel leading your air from your lungs to your instrument is the throat. If it is tight or flexed, your sound will be tense, pinched, or small. I remember a master class from middle school when a former symphony player gave us some analogies for opening/relaxing our throats. One was imagining a mandarin or golf ball sized pocket of air in the middle of our throat. The second analogy (my favorite), was saying “duh,” (your voice drops low) like when your respond to someone saying something obvious. If you notice, your throat seems to drop when you say it. That is the openness you should feel when playing. By the way, if you start noticing that you’re yawning a whole lot, you’re doing it right.

For similar and different ideas, check out Rachel Taylor Geier’s post.