Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to stand using a music stand

Questions about how far to stand from the music stand, and how "twisted" is too twisted for a flute player? Read some of these tips.

Dear flutists,

Questions about positioning yourself at a music stand.

Question 1: How high?
Dear Jen,
When practicing at home, should the music stand be high or low? Thanks. D
Dear D.,
The only time the music stand is placed low is when the piece is being performed almost by memory, in public, in performance. The stand is put low just in case the music is needed afterall.
The stand is put low so the audience does not have a blocked view.

Every other time the stand is used at home, it should be at eye-level.
You should also stand at least one-flute's-length away from it (use your flute to measure.)
Let your eyeballs move, not your chin ducking down, when reading low on the page.
Readjust the stand if reading continuously low.

In general: The stand should be as high as possible to allow the person who's using it not to become tired or cricked in the neck. The neck must remain free and open.

When to use a low stand
When you're about four weeks away from a performance where you will use a low music stand, you begin to practice with the stand low, but you play mostly from memory, and you don't bend your head down.

When working with a conductor, lower your stand slightly, and play mostly by memory when possible, so that your face is fully visible to the audience and to the conductor.

Practice orchestral solos seated at home, in preparation, to assure yourself of the amount of air you'll need, and how to move that amount  of air  from a seated posture.

Unlocking your muscles
Of course, the whole game is to keep your muscles supple and flexible.
You never want to become "locked" when you're practising your instrument.
Here is the best way to avoid the locked postures of standing too long at a music stand:

1. Realize that moving the eyeballs themselves allows you to read at different heights

2. Walk away from the stand often. There's no reason to stand in front of it, when you are trying to get your balance back. Get your balance back by striding around the room, standing looking out a window, doing yoga stretches, changing your stance so knees are more flexy etc. Avoiding locking in the body is a great way to change it up every few minutes.

3. If the music gets low on the page, raise it to eye level so that you don't feel you have to move your head out of its comfort zone for reading. (this can be complicated by eye-glasses, but improved by very
very tall music stands; or putting stand on phone book thicknesses or similar platform.)
Question 2: 
Feeling Twisted?

Dear Jen

I'm not sure if you'll get this since this is an old posting but I am really struggling with something lately.
I am self teaching right now until I get a teacher(I used to play years ago, )and when I used to play I was always taught to play sitting.
Right now, I feel so much more comfortable standing, and from what I have read on your site and other articles, it's actually better to stand.
Anyway, I read all your articles on posture, and I even looked on other sites but I can't seem to find anything that tells you how far away you should stand from the music stand, all I have come across is to stand at "45 degrees" which is the same as sitting but it doesn't say how far away to be, and I'm not exactly the best with angles..
Also for some reason I always feel "twisted" when I am playing, I look in the mirror and angle myself correctly but as soon as I get in front of the music stand I feel like I'm twisting & I can't quite get the right angle and distance and then I lose my focus and can't play!
I have looked at numerous videos of flute players to see their angle and where they are in relation to the music stand and every player is somewhat different, some are really close, and some are very far away..others are so straight some are very angled out... do you have any tips on how to know that you are standing correctly in relation to the music stand? What if you are not in front of a mirror?
I'm sure it varies from person to person, but when you play how do you know your not twisting?
Sorry for rambling on and on..
Thanks for your time! -From
"Feeling Twisted"

Dear Twisted,

Here's the deal; a flute teacher will really help in these basic questions, so do pursue finding one to help with posture and holding. Or, feel free to kindle your interest in lessons, if for no other reason than to put you together in the same room with someone who shares your passion for flute music. :>)

Meanwhile, here are some links on some of the topics you mentioned in your email:

Photos of the easy ways/difficult ways ways to be comfortable playing a flute.

Drawings of music stand and foot placement (make sure stand is at eye-level too.)

Article by Whone on "feeling awareness and freeing tension" for instrumentalists.

And you might want to purchase the book "The Illustrated FlutePlayer" by Soldan and Mellersh. Very good drawings of "dos and don'ts."

Here's the most important thing:

The height of music stand should be eye-level.

click on picture to enlarge

Use your eyes, not your chin to go up and down on the page of music.

Now to your specific questions, I'll list them here so you can have a bit of a flute-posture checklist.

1. How far to stand from the music stand should you stand?

The easiest way to measure the optimal distance is to use the flute's length as your measuring stick. Stand ONE flute length away from the stand, unless your eyesight is not up to standard, in which case you can book an optical check. (I'm not kidding; after teaching many youngsters, the peering too closely at the music stand is a sure sign of the need for new glasses.)

This advice is from U.K. flute teacher Geoffrey Gilbert.

2. How twisted is too twisted?

If you hold the flute up in front of you, like a clarinet, and pretend you are actually playing a clarinet (the flute is longer, so you'll want to rest the lip plate somewhere near your left cheek), with all your fingers curved on the keys, and the arms comfortable, then all you have to do is gently turn your head to the left, make some gentle minor adjustments to comfortably bring the embouchure plate to your under-lip, all the while leaving your arms and the flute simply held in front of your torso.

If your neck feels too turned to the left, gently drift an inch or two back again, and adjust your flute/arms slightly to accomodate.

When you finally comfortably settle into a position, you will note that the music stand would obviously have to be where your eye-sight is finally ending up; so move the stand to that position.
Note where your feet are, hips are, shoulders are, all in relation to the music stand. This is the natural approach. Repeat it often to find your position whenever you lose it.

Alternately, set the stand where you KNOW you want to have it, and turn your whole body to face 45 degrees to the right of that point, and then repeat the clarinet holding image from there, eventually finding that you will face the stand after readjustments have been made.

The advice about clarinet "front of body" posture is from Sheryl Cohen's studies with Marion and Rampal. I demonstrate it in the blog post video: Easy Posture.

3. How to check these flutey-posture features in a mirror?
Place the music stand in front of a full length mirror and repeat #2 above. Alternately, purchase a $30 mirror from an inexpensive household department store, and put it in front of your music stand when you practise. (you can use books to steady it.)

4. How to feel untwisted in general:

- your feet need to be under your hip bones (at least one foot apart, perhaps more depending on height of student.) Many students try to stand with feet together, or legs in a pretzel. Nope; doesn't work. You have to be standing with feet apart, and flexing at the knees "like standing up in a row boat" (quote: Fiona Wilkinson.)

- your feet can be parallel to each other, or toes pointed out slightly, but you must feel that you are actually using your feet as a stable base. Roll your weight from the ball to the heel very slowly, and be sure you're actually 'standing into your feet'. This can be repeated every few minutes until you do it unconsciously.

- your arms can drop from the shoulder.

- your shoulders should stay low

- you should create length between your hips and shoulders (elongate your torso; make yourself "tall" between your hips and shoulders, without raising your shoulders.).

- if your neck or spine feel extraordinarily twisted, untwist it one degree at a time until it feels comfortable. The only way to know what is comfortable is to swing in gradually reducing slow-motion half-circles from left to right and back again, until you find the comfort zone by feel.

- basic instructions on how to hold the flute are here. but all other details are up to the individual according to their flexibility, balance, personal co-ordination, and ease with which they hold the flute. For some people, even the way that the flute is put together can be holding them back (poorly adjusted segments not ergonomically lined up.)

Improving all these variables takes time and experimentataion. Comfort usually comes with "time, patience and intelligent work".

This work is MUCH easier with a teacher to guide you. I'm not kidding. Working without a flute player showing you all the variables is like trying to teach yourself olympic gymnastics without a coach. :>)

Hope you find some useful pointers here....

Good luck,
and try to untwist,

Comments (11)
Blogger fidlerflute said...

Thanks for this post! I was taught many similar concepts, and one thing I found helpful was how I positioned myself in relation to the music stand. If you stand at a 45 degree angle with your left foot pivoting from the left side of the stand, bring your flute up as if you are going to play and then turn your head to the left until your flute is parallel to the stand, this is a good place to start. Your feet should be about hip-width apart, and you should feel balanced on both feet equally.

I agree, though, a lot of this has to do with your own comfort levels and listening to what your body is telling you. For example, if your right pinky feels strained, try turning the foot joint a little. Does that then help? I find it easiest to make one or very few adjustments at a time and try playing with that for a while to see how it works for you in the long term. Sometimes, when you are used to a specific, and possibly "wrong" or "bad" posture, it begins to feel "right" so when someone shows you a better way to play, that new way feels "wrong." You need to give yourself time to adjust and see if it makes any improvements to your technique and sound quality. A good flute teacher is invaluable in this regard. Hope that helps!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 9:28:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Fidlerflute, some excellent points!! Yes indeed. When your posture is corrected, it sometimes feels very awkward at first (because your muscles have grown used to the imbalances.)
For older re-beginners, I also recommend a course of massage while learning a new instrument, as the imbalances they may already have can make holding a cross-body instrument feel much more awkward than it should. (ie: lf their body's muscles are shortened from a work-related-posture they've developed over time, they won't feel balanced no matter what posture they adopt.)

Also, when RH pinky is a problem, not only does moving the footjoint closer help, but so does altering the placement of the right thumb! Many variables indeed.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Jen :>)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:18:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are making something very simple way too complicated. If you are standing correctly and comfortably then the direction your eyes are looking is going to tell you exactly where the music needs to go

Friday, September 12, 2008 7:43:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A follow-up to my previous comment: your line of vision is going to show you the direction the music needs to be. The distance is going to be dictated by the size of the notation and the quality of your vision.

Friday, September 12, 2008 7:58:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Piper,
When you say "You are making this too complicated" are you speaking to the person who asked the question or the person who answered? ;>)
Also, yes, the size of printed notation plays a role. Best, Jen

Friday, September 12, 2008 8:26:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jen: I was referring to both of you. But I must admit my comment was a bit too hasty - I thought the question was only about music stand positioning. After rereading it I now see she/he also has a general problem with posture - so I suppose a complete discussion of posture was justified.

Friday, September 12, 2008 12:44:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jen,
Just wanted to say thank you so much for your reply to my original post!
I greatly appreciate it and I am going to print everything out right now and give it all a try.

I am going to invest in private lessons as soon as I can financially and stop re-teaching myself.. but for now I really do appreciate you taking the time out to give such a detailed response to my posting!

Thank you very much =D
"Feeling Twisted" ( hopefully not anymore!

Friday, September 12, 2008 4:03:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Twisty,
Good luck with your untwisting, and with finding a good flute teacher.

Pied-Piper, thanks for re-reading and re-commenting.
Much appreciated!! :>)

Great to hear from you all.
Jen :>)

Friday, September 12, 2008 7:29:00 PM

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