Thursday, December 28, 2006

Question about teaching a 12 yr. old beginner flutist

I need help with a flute student who is 12, and has been playing for two years.
Her flute it second hand, the brand is 'Sky' I believe. Everybody in my area learns from Standard of Excellence, but her twin sister, who plays clarinet, is nearly finished the Blue book and she's still on the red one. Today was only my second lesson with her, but, to be honest, when she plays, I just think, why is she so far through the book? (she's up to the part where you learn C above the stave) She can't recognise the notes, most of the time, she's still looking at her hands to check she's got the note, she can't even play a clear G or Bb on the stave, and her rhythym is terrible. I feel bad for her, because she really does try, and her mother says she practises everyday, and today, I was impressed, because she played a song that she couldn't last week reasonably well, but she's obviously practising...wrong. I spent about twenty minutes going through one rythym she was having trouble with today, and she still couldn't play it properly (it was a dotted quarter followed by a eigth). Her mother wants her to have progressed through the book by the end of the xmas holidays, but, I dont know. I think the most important thing is that she's getting the basics right.

So, my questions are:
Are there any exercises I could tell her to improve her tone quality?

Are there any exercises to help her learn her notes?

Are there any exercises to help her with rhythm?

Thanks. K.

Dear K,
Here are some videos to help you learn to teach specific skills:
Video One & Video Two.
The Yamaha band books are particularly bad for teaching private lessons to an individual flute student.
There's a whole article on this very topic in the NFA guide to studies and flute repertoire. A quote from The NFA Guide states:

" For many reasons...many band method books contain fewer than 30 pages of actual exercises. All too often these books contain a limited number of instructional pages and move very quickly through very complex rhythms, including dotted note rhythms and syncopation, before a student has had adequate time to process the basic beat-oriented rhythms. For students with prior musical experience, this may not pose a problem, but beginning students often simply learn pieces containing these rhythms by rote instead of actually learning to read the rhythms. Younger children, or those with processing disorders will find many of the books hard to read because of the small print.

Conspicuously missing from many method books are preparatory exercises using just the head joint in order to establish excellent embouchure placement from the beginning. Providing the beginning flutist with some instruction using only the head joint, before tackling the fully assembled instrument, helps assure the balance necessary to establish a strong and flexible embouchure.

The problem with using these (band) methods for individual instruction seems to lie primarily in three areas: they nearly always begin with notes in the second register on the flute, rather than on low G or in the low register; they nearly always omit use of the sharp keys, and perhaps, most importantly, they move forward too quickly to enable the young student to master the basics of tone centering, breathing and blowing, and fundamental rhythm." ---Cynthia Stevens/Kathryn Blocki

If you want to have a list of good quality flute books for your students, you may wish to order the two $5 study guides from the NFA Store and read about all the flute teaching methods and books available that are much more highly recommended.
The NFA Guide was compiled by some very knowlegable and experienced flute teachers, and recomends the following tutor/method titles:
Levels ABC: (complete beginner)

1. Blocki-Blocki Flute Method, Book 1
2. Eisenhauer- Learn to Play the Flute, Book 1
3. Goodwin- The Fife Book
4. Herfurth- A Tune a Day, Book 1
5. Smithson- Playing the Flute! Vol. 1
6. Winn- AMA Flute 2000, Vol. 1
7. Wye- Flute Class Book
8. Wye- A Beginner's Practice Book, Vol. 1
NOTES: [Jen] For complete beginners I have used the
above books, 3, 5, and 8. All are excellent in my
opinion. I supplement them with simple warmups,
scale-sheets, easy etudes and solos/duets. Solo books
with CD are also very popular.
NFA Guide
Levels BCD: (beginner 1-2 years)

9. Smithson-Playing the Flute, Vol. 2
10. Winn- AMA Flute 2000: Getting On With It, Vol. 2
11. Wye-A Beginner's Practice Book, Vol. 2
NOTES: [Jen] I have used books 9 and 11 above. Much
supplementation with other solos/CDs and books are
likely needed to sustain interest and build musicality.
More choice supplemental flute solos and etude books
for beginners are listed at:

NFA Guide
Levels CDE: (novice)

12. Blocki/Hovan- Blocki Flute Method, Book 2.
13. Eisenhauer- Learn to Play the Flute, Book 2.
14. McCaskill/Gilliam- The Flutist's Companion
15. McCaskill/Gilliam- The Flutist's Handbook
16. Wye-The Adult Flute Student
NOTES: [Jen] I have used 14 and 15 above and they are
good, but move into some more difficult leaping rhythms
quite quickly. Supplemental material is often be
required to ease the transition into fast tempi.
I recommend some additional adult flute student books
as well:
NFA Guide
Levels DEF: (highschool student who has played in band
2-4 years)

17. Smithson- Playing the Flute! Volume 3
18. Voxman/Gower- Rubank Advanced Method for Flute
NOTES: [Jen] I have used book 17 above, by Smithson, and I almost never use Rubank as it moves ahead far too quickly, and into the high register too quickly.
There are also some newer method books that I would
recommend be added to the above NFA list(see bottom of this post)
Hope this information helps. The NFA guides are really
great because they narrow down the core method books
(and etudes too!) as well as create a grading system
that's pedagogically well thought out.

Of the NEW method books that are coming out in 2006, I
am most interested in testing the ABRSM exam
compilations with playalong CDs for flute grades 1
through 8 U.K. ABRSM system.


Students who have as many difficulties such as the student you are describing need extensive private teaching, and better books, possibly also playalong CDs, and lots of encouragement.
A compilation teaching ideas, lists of books and teaching methods is on my website:

You'd probably better suggest to the parent that either different, more remedial and helpful flute books be used (as found at the above link or links below as well) or that the child go to a professional flute teacher who will know more about how to remedy specific problems.
What the parent is asking of you is fairly unrealistic.
Also, if the child happens to have any music learning dis-abilties a pro-teacher will be better equipped to handle them.

Finally, in the absence of learning disabilities, I usually find that kids such as you describe are not really practicing correctly, but are just noodling around on the flute and reinforcing bad habits.
You may wish to extensively teach the parent and child HOW TO PRACTICE.
Lots of advice on this also in the flute teaching articles I particularly recommend a complete review, restarting at headjoint-only work, then "right hand on the barrel" without the footjoint, and then extensive music reading work, as well as lessons that are devoted to fun music, using playalong CDs etc.
All the above topics are covered in the articles on that site.

Selected Flute Studies Guide from NFA committee:
Gives titles of best flute studies and grades them by difficulty level, as well as detailed chart of flute skills in order of development.

Graded Flute Tutors (books available for flute beginners to use.

Graded Flute Sheetmusic and Books from UK Exams.

Online reading about the first three levels of flute learning.

A new book about technical levels of young flutists:
Technique Standards for Flute: Levels A, B, and C
by Dr. Christine Potter
This book gives students and teachers concise and clearly defined goals for the technical development of their flute playing. There is a logical progression of key signatures, ranges, tempos, and articulations that prepare the student for the music they are about to play. $6.95 Buy in U.S.
Two untried titles:

A band book for flute that comes with DVD and playalongs:

Flute Beginner Book with rhythm exercises and playalong CD:

Best Buy for a serious young flute student:

CD-rom (inexpensive) that gives the student several flute method books (old-style), studies and duets:

Sample of the above (old-style) Wagner Method:
Rhythmic Training books:

The following rhythmic training books are recommended in the NFA guide:
[Graded A to K]:

Harris - Improve your Sight-Reading Grades 1-3 [ABC]
Hudahoff - Rhythm-A-Day (Belwin) [ABCDE]
Ayola - Winning Rhythms (Kjos West) [ABCD]
Starer - Rhythmic Training (Universal) [ABCDEFGH]
Harris - Improve Your Sight-Reading Grades 4 and 5 (Faber) [BCD]
Erickson - Rhythms & Rests (Alfred) [BCDEFG]

Also see:

You've Got Rhythm, Sample pages:

Encyclopedia of Reading Rhythms:

Online samples of more complex flute rhythms for sightreading:

Links to flute teaching book lists:

Pedagogic flute bibliography:
Short List of Flute Methods:
Complete bibliography of flute methods:
ABRSM Flute Basics Tutors:

ABRSM NEW Flute methods:

ABRSM Exam flute solos at a glance:

or try this list as above.

Trinity/Guildhall Exams for flute:

London College of Music publications for flute

Basic Flute books currently available:
In the U.S.

Blocki Flute Method for beginners (pneumo-pro device
used for students having trouble with air angle and air speed)):

Jen Cluff's flute beginners articles.

Robert Ford's Online Basic flute method:

Finally, there are some newer flute tutors available.

under "Editor's Choice". Gives idea for latest
publications to come out.

Denley: Flute Time 1 and 2 + CD
Publisher: Oxford
Category: Tutors
It being September I thought it appropriate to include
this new tutor even though you might think that the
market is already overcrowded in this area. This one is
very clearly presented with plenty of pictures and the
first section is entirely on the headjoint. I like the
fact that there are some stages that do not introduce
new notes thereby enabling other aspects of music to be
explored and there are constant opportunities to check
over your work. The first volume takes the student
through to about a grade 2 standard and volume 2 is
really advanced. As ever, feedback please.

September 2002
Sally Adams - Flute Basics
Sally Adams - Flute Basics Teachers Book
Category: Tutors
Pub: Faber
New tutors are always welcome and although there is
nothing new in these books they do look interesting. I
particularly like the Fact File (theory) at the start
of each of the 20 stages and the Hot Tip (technique).
The pupil's book is very user-friendly with each page
looking busy and fun while still incorporating the
usual mix of scales, tunes, duets etc. There are plenty
of opportunities to write your own tunes, although
improvisation makes only a brief appearance near the
end. In this respect the approach is very traditional
but non-the-worse for that. The teacher's book contains
duet parts and accompaniments plus a section on how and
what to teach. I haven't tried these books in anger yet
so if you have please let me know how you fared.

Taggart - Play-it-again
Taggart - Play-it-again accompaniment
Publisher: Hunt Edition
Category: Tutors
This is a really good tutor with a very traditional
approach to starting the flute. At the beginning there
are some drawings showing how to blow, assemble and
hold the flute and all the information throughout the
book is clearly presented. It is not laid out in stages
and only one new concept is introduced at a time so
there is no pressure to progress at a certain rate.
There is plenty of variety in the material with duets
and accompaniments in the supplementary book and the
whole thing moves along at a good pace. Do give it a
try and let me know how you find it.
Bennett N: A New Tune a Day for Flute GBP7.00
Publisher: Music Sales
Category: Tutors
This is for all those of you who are still devoted to C
Paul Herfurth's classic tutor. Almost entirely
re-written and complete with a CD the format is
reassuringly familiar but much more contemporary. The
layout and presentation is good with informative
photographs and diagrams. Each lesson has clearly
stated goals with both exercises and pieces to achieve
them. The excellent accompanying CD recorded by Alison
Hayhurst complements the book very well. The overall
package here is very good so give it a try.

Hope this helps you to understand the scope of the topic when seen by a professional flute teacher. It will take some time and patience to re-teach the concepts in a slower and more informative manner, including "how to practice" with very specific exercises given.
I hope this info. is helpful. :>)
Jen Cluff
Comments (2)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this. I really appreciate it.


Monday, January 01, 2007 5:12:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

You're very welcome Katy.
There's a video as well.
If you're still watching for the next video, it's going to help by continuing to answer your question about teaching rhythms etc.

Monday, January 01, 2007 10:54:00 AM


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