Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Spicing up your Flute Teaching

I've been teaching the flute for twenty years, and want to add some spice to my flute student's lives. Between the recitals, competitions, ensemble work, auditions and other preparations that my students take part in, the average lesson still seems to start with:
a) sightread duet
b) tone, scales, technique, etc.
c) etude of the week
d) orchestral excerpt
e) solo repertoire

...and of course, I'm always trying to find new ways to teach embouchure, finger work, musicality and expression, but over the summer I'd like to add some extra ideas to my flute teaching, so I don't become stale. Do other flute teachers want to give input? Thanks. I'm looking forward to a list of ideas to incoperate whenever I get the blahs...

Dear Flute Teacher(s),
It's fun to make lists of what has worked in our teaching to take things in new directions and to morph the lesson into a different rhythm, and with new and exciting avenues of discovery for the student.
In no particular order, here are some of the ideas and methods that I've used that seem to have been very successful at spicing up the hour:

1. Fiona Wilkinson's "The Physical Flute" book.This book is a novel approach to body balancing during the flute warmups and scales/arpeggios. The author starts with a simple warmup melody with simple instructions to focus on the knees, hips, feet, back, throat, head, and bit by bit enlarges the flutist's sense of balance and muscular freedom while they warm up. The melody grows in complexity as you layer up the body's awareness; opening in tone quality and feelings of effortless. The book is inexpensive and valuable for all intermediates/advanced players. Starting the lesson with both teacher and student warming up following the book's steps is a fun new way to begin lessons.

2. Physical stretches and shaking out tension:Patricia George is a list-member who does workshops for flutists (Flute-Spa) that start with circling the arms, shaking the hands, stretching the fingers, tracing numbers in the air etc. These are a great start to any lesson where the student is feeling stiff or tired. The blood gets moving, and the student goes home knowing more each week about pre-practice body-warmups and how to get the body moving and ready to play when stiff/tired/nervous. There are past posts describing her warmup methods and stretches in the archives at FLUTElistserv:
Date of post:
Mon, 23 Aug 2004
Subject: NFA convention "Flute Spa" with Patricia George - Part 1
Message no: 090491

Find using archive subject search using term "Flute Spa" at:

3. Playing Technique Duets:
If you're handy at all with writing simple flute duet styles, you may want to create duets from standard daily exercises that all your students use, and start a scale game where you and the student play these exercises in duet form. I personally get restless when listening to technique standards like No. 4 E.J. from Taffanel-Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises, so took it upon myself to write out harmony parts for myself, so that I can accompany the student either with the metronome, or without; adding dynamics and phrasing, or playing smaller blocks depending on the student's level.
I've also written out duet versions of the major and minor scales in different rhythms as well as second flute parts for Reichert's Daily Exercise No. 1.
This makes technique WAY more fun, and akin to playing duets. It also makes the student play more musically, and actually look forward to playing their E.J. exercises and scales.
Arpeggios are more in tune when played in duet style with the fundmental sounding in the teacher's flute part.
I've posted some samples such as Taff-Gaubert E.J.4 in duet (in PDF) as well as Reichert, major/minor scales, and some tuning arpeggio duets.
These duet Taff/Gaubert exercises are MUCH more expressive and teach more, I believe, than anything the student will likely hear playing the exercise straight as a solo in the lesson.

4. Using Play-Along CDs in the flute lesson:
Music Minus One, professional CDs of flute duos, De Haske playalong books, flute sheetmusic books that come with playalong CDs, Jessica Walsh's "Celtic Music for Flute" and other Renaissance/World music flute and guitar books are all good sources for inspiring flute lessons.
One of the BEST playalong flute duet backing CDs with sheetmusic is by Jack Gale and is called: "22 Jazz Duets for Two Flutes". Good for intermediate/advanced students.

I use a small CD-player in lessons every now and then to play duets with accompaniment. This is a great reward for players needing inspiration of sounding like they're playing with a band, orchestra, or chamber ensemble.
The typical repertiore that works this way are things like:
Suggested in-lesson flute playalongs:---------------------
Music Minus One: Vivaldi Flute Concerti, Pergolesi Concerto, etc.

Pro-Cds: James & Jeanne Galway playing Bach G-Major Trio Sonata with harpsichord

De Haske: There are numerous flute playalong books by this company written for intermediate to advanced featuring jazz/rock/fun music for students. Playalong can be tricky alone at home, but is greatly helped by playing in unison with the teacher at the lesson.

Celtic Music for Flute [Great for younger flutists]: See all the fabulous and simple duets you can play using the CD and two flutists at my page on Creating Duets Using the Walsh Books
There are several books by Walsh in which many of the tunes work as duets with the CD.

And for the jazz effect:
Jazz Duets by Jack Gale are available at among other places.
They really are terrific!
More Playalong recommendations at my favourite repertoire page under Playalongs.
--------------end list playalongs

5. Improvisation during warmups over The Tuning CD's drones:
Since buying The Tuning CD two years ago, I've developed quite a few warmups and technique exercises that help develop the intonational aspect of flute practicing.
These drones (each of the 12 semitones played for 3 minutes on a CD-player; use repeat button as required) are root-fifth-octave, and help train the ear to play intervals and arpeggios in tune.
The drones are PERFECT for warmups that are improvised in class. You can put a track on, announce the key and play with the student freely composed duet warmups in their lesson (improvised melodies and sequences will also arise), as well as use the drones to match intonation during scales, arpeggios, sequences, and extracts from etudes and orchestral excerpts.
Working with the drones on the CD is also fabulous for vibrato width/frequency, dynamics (loud without sharpness, soft without flatness) and almost every other kind of tuning/technique experiments you can think of.
But the CD of pitches is greatest at all for improvising, which is something that isn't often given time for in a regular flute lesson.

The Tuning CD is invaluable. I wouldn't practice without it now, myself.

6. Finally, I have come across quite a few flute-related books lately that have really helped me teach certain concepts better.
Many of these books are listed on my Flute Reading page, with thumbnail sketches, but I'll highlight a few here.

For the intermediate/advanced flute student to buy: These two books are user-friendly for the flute student to buy, own, and read and work out of at home, and bring their work into the lesson. Ideas from these books might inspire the flute student to create their own sense of what to work on in each lesson:

- As mentioned: "The Physical Flute" by Fiona Wilkinson is a great buy for students. It has both text and exercises.

-Michel Debost's "The Simple Flute from A to Z". This is great for flip-through student reference. Topics center on fluteplaying improvements and "how to" chapters that can pique interest in a flute-student fostering further research on their own with new ideas and techniques.

- Angelita Floyd's "The Gilbert Legacy" is also very good for developing the student's interest in generating their own lesson topics.

Some students might also enjoy the CD-demos and clear explanations from Vernon Hill's "The Flute Player's Book".
All three books are great for the flute student's summertime practicing as well.
Sheetmusic: The Altes flute duet version of "Berbiguier's 18 Etudes" is excellent for the intermediate student and teacher to playalong in lessons. Turning etudes into complex and interesting duets makes this particular book very valuable to the teacher.
Book for the Teacher to buy:
- For teaching beginners to intermediate, there's a great British publication that has countless teaching ideas about theory, history, conducting, improvising, composing and all sorts of other "in-lesson" topics worthy of development in a young player.
It's called "The Music Teacher's Companion - A Practical Guide", by Paul Harris and Richard Crozier. Published by ABRSM.
This book is a positive treasure trove of ideas about what can be included in the lesson. No one could ever get to them all. :>)

I hope that there will be many other flute teachers who will offer their ideas too, as this has been alot of typing!
Onward and upward for non-boring lessons, where we're thrilled to expect the unexpected.

Jen Cluff