Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just one flute lesson?

Dear Flutists,

What happens when you try and comply with a visiting adult flutist who wants "just one lesson"? I know that many flute teachers don't feel they can do much at all in one lesson (for zillions of reasons I'd be happy to share), but every now and then you get a terrifically motivated adult student who's been working away by themselves for year, who wants to get the most information is an hour as they possibly can.
Well, needless to say it's a HUGE challenge for sure for the teacher, especially if there's only an hour and no follow up, to:
a) assess what the student needs now
b) explain clearly how to accomplish practicing on the most needed areas
c) be relaxed and yet focused enough to teach alot and yet have an enjoyable hour with a student who's en route and may be tired, and a little scared of criticism
d) impart enough information that the lesson can truly make a difference when the student gets home to practise.

For those of our readers who are not yet teachers, it is indeed a TALL ORDER, which is why relying on one hour lessons spread over a year is not usually advisable. :>)

So, for your comment/perusal, here's a sample of the follow-up notes I sent to an adult intermediate student after a one hour, one-time-only lesson, where I tried to help as much as I could in sixty-minutes. Enjoy. Jen

Dear Student.....

Thankyou so much for a wonderful flute lesson today.
I thought it would be helpful if I summarised the points made while they are still fresh in my mind.

1. Low register tone work is the foundation of any new embouchure.
Why? Because you can hear the changes and improvements much more quickly and because the muscles and poise that you improve during low register are the foundation of the muscles/poise that you will use in the middle and high registers. So always spend a good warmup period on low longtones starting on middle-of-the-staff B1. *(Moyse's De La Sonorite or Trevor Wye's "Tone-Bk.1 Practice Book for Flute".)

2. During low register longtones, use the softest possible finger motion to close each key. Sense exactly the split second when the key's pad closes the tone hole of each note. Play with this deliberately, don't rush through. Sense each key's spring action and even smear into each note to discover a tactile sense of when the pad is closing exactly (like a clarinetist feels their finger pad close a hole in the clarinet.) This allows you to do two things at once; finger low and close to the keys (no thumping from a height) and work on low longtones at the same time.

3. Once you have found a good low register note (the first B can be played many times with many minute changes made until it sounds full, rich and fabulously colourful before moving on to other notes.) that exact air-speed and embouchure will likely work for many low longtones in a row. See if you can put your embouchure "on pause" and not move it at all, and then glide your fingers down chromatically to see just how many notes in a row can use that same embouchure. This allows you to simplify the embouchure for the whole range of notes, and not work it too hard.

4. Go to a piece that has lots of low register in it to play with your new and improved tone (Faure Pavane). You will find that low, soft fingers and a rich, full low register tone will have paid off, plus you will get a break and be playing something lovely.

5. Move on to working on your middle register once low register is secure.
To go up an octave from B1 to B2 there are two thing that must happen:
a) the air speed will go from approx. 40 mph to 80 mph. (numbers are made up by the flutist as they discover air-speed perceptions)
This is a crescendo-like air speed increase.
b) the lip corners can come forward like a "half-kiss".
Play with both these parameters one at a time, and then put them together so that you crescendo on the low B (adding air-speed) first, and then slowly and gently moving the lip corners forward to rise an octave. You can also do it the other way around: move the lip corners forward to hear just when the upper octave suddenly smears upward by itself, and then crescendo. Finding a perfect balance between these two actions will give you a one-ledger line B that has a full, rich ringing, colourful tone. Take the time to do this many times before proceeding. Release excess embouchure tension always.

6. Once you have that rich tone on the upper B2, memorize the feel of it exactly and put the mouth "on pause" while you glide down each chromatic note. Find out just how many notes in a row use that exact mouth and air speed. You will find that once you have one ringing note, that all the neighbouring notes sound good for the same reason the first one does. If you lose the tone, just find the low B1 again, and then repeat #5 above to find the high B2 again. I do this everyday for several minutes. You can always find it again if you always take time to find it each day. Don't skip this step in a rush to do something else...this *is* the most important foundational exercise to embouchure and tone.

7. Proceed with chromatics down from B2 all the way to the original B1 you started with. Experiment, and take time. When you have a rich, full, clear tone in the middle register, for variety, go to a piece you're working on and take just two notes from it, and then gradually add one note from either side, keeping the rich colourful tone while you slowly re-expand the piece from just those few notes.

8. Changing your embouchure from too tight, to too lose, to "just right."
One of the main things to watch out for is jaw pain, jaw tension, or jaw tightness of any kind. The jaw hinges work best if they are doing what comes naturally: talking or eating.
Eating is too much open and closing the teeth, and we want the back molars apart like you have a finger or a carrot stick between your back molars. The jaw should just loosely hang open in this position.
Now, take talking as our example of easy jaw use. You can talk forever without jaw tension or tiring your face or mouth, so find your natural talking position for the jaw as follows:

a) place the flute on your chin in normal playing position and talk "Abcdefg" or any sentence you like. Feel how the jaw is in a natural position, and lightely open at the hinges.
b) Then say "ooop" to pull your upper lip down onto your lower lip. (previously you might have been pushing the flute upward vertically on your face, instead of pulling down on the skin between the nose and the upper lip to lengthen it. "ooops" said with an embarrased lowering and pulling of the upper lip downward might just be the right word to use to learn to lengthen the distance from nose to lip).
c) Say "peu" to allow a small aperture to appear in the lip center.
d) say "peu" to start a flute low note.

Five minutes a day spent repeating the above steps may just work to find an easy, untiring natural placement of the embouchure that directs the air effortlessly at a 45 degree angle downward. Experiment with this every time you pick up the flute. The time is not wasted, it is invaluable at creating a clear tone with minimal extraneous face motion.

9. Spend more time in the low and middle register with this new easy embouchure, using the mirror to distinguish whether the air is flapping the lips or the cheeks too much. If it is, you can lightly place your fingers where the flapping is in order to locate the muscles you may need to have more poised and still.

10. Finally, for future work on high register (I would stay on the low and middle for at least three weeks or so, until you have a really great focused sound with your new embouchure) you will be bringing the lip corners slightly more forward and increasing the air-speed slightly more (70 mph to 120 mph.)
This is done the same way you began leaping from B1 to B2 by using both crescendo and "half-kiss". So always start high register by "walking up" from B2 after first blowing up the octave to find a good basic starting point.

We can work on this the next time I see you.

Other minor points from the lesson:

i) Thin lipped people may need more air-space between upper lip and teeth because they need a longer "run-way" for the air to travel before leaving the lips. Thick lipped people may actually have to spread their lips sideways to reduce their inner lip's already very long lip 'run-way". Lip thickness can play a role in teaching methods, so be sure that the teacher understands the two extremes before quoting their method as the "only method".

ii) Bb played with one-and-one is the first Bb fingering learned because it is the "default fingering"; the one that will have to be used when no other easier Bb is possible, so it's good to be very handy with it. However if the whole piece/study is in a key with Bbs throughout, thumb Bb is easy, available, simpler, and smoother. Usually flutists mark their music for thumb-off or thumb-on using "o" or "+" for when to change from Bb thumb to Bb-1&1. Good notes to change thumb position are notes that have no thumb like C or C# or high G.
Bb thumb makes it impossible to get a good high F# or good high B-natural. Thumb must not be on Bb thumb for these notes.
Side-key Bb (side lever above F key) is great for a variety of uses, but more rarely used. I use it for longtones because it stabilizes the balance of the flute during left-hand-only notes and can stay down for A, Ab and G. Very useful in some pieces too for super-smooth note changes (less clunky and better tone because less keys go down.)

iii) To tune a flute while playing, you need to be able to point your "half-kiss" shaped lips up and down. From 45 degree angle downward to 45 degree angle upward. (for very soft 'pppppp' for example.) If you used your wrists to roll in and roll out, you'd have these problems:
a) wrists get sore from overuse
b) flute tone quality different on every note you bent with the wrists because lower lip covering and uncovering various amounts will make tone colour different, and our first goal is an EVEN tone colour throughout the range of the flute (read the text of Moyse's Sonorite)
c) can't use wrist motion in fast music; so when COULD you use it???? Only in slow music? It's too unstable; the motions are too large.

Instead, use the much faster and easier methods of playing in tune:

Use these methods first:
1. Increased air-speed (add 10-20% faster air than you think you need is a good rule of thumb, especially for flat low notes, or fuzzy high notes.)
2. Aim upward or downward using lips only (the kissy shape gives you more lip "run-way" to aim the air specifically with. Don't overdo it though. Find the easiest way to aim up and down, and do it very very slowly at first.
3. Sing the note (throat-singing) while playing, to increase resonance and to tune the note with the body.

Hope this helps, and sorry the mini-disc ran out of batteries, or there would be an mp3 sent along so you can hear the changes you made during the lesson.
It was a great lesson and you're a terrifically musical player.
So great to meet you.

Have fun on your holiday.

Jen Cluff
Comments (16)
Blogger Chris said...

Hi Jen,

This is brilliant - I'm going to print it out straight away.

When's that book coming out???


Sunday, November 15, 2009 5:18:00 AM

Blogger Aubrie said...

Wow, you got a lot done in that one lesson!

I try to write it all down for them because I know it's hard to remember everything a teacher says in one lesson, especially if it's the only one!

Taping the lesson is a great idea!

Sunday, November 15, 2009 5:23:00 AM

Blogger Nina Perlove said...

I call these type of lessons "coachings" rather than lessons, because there is a different goal when it is just a one time event. In a coaching I tend to focus on sharing with the student my interpretation of the particular piece of music and getting him or her to explore new approaches musically and expressively. On the technical side, I usually try to pinpoint ONE major area that needs the most developement and give the student one or two at most concepts to try in the practice room to address that issue. If the student walks away from the coaching with just one "Aha!" moment, then I think the time was well spent.

Sunday, November 15, 2009 8:45:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Nina,

This was an exceptional case, as the student needed to completely re-vamp their embouchure, and I wanted to help with a set program of long tones in three octaves.
Normally I would have "coached" a piece or two of music, but in this case new practise habits had to be established.
Thanks, though.
In a regular lesson, one "aHA" is enough!

Sunday, November 15, 2009 9:37:00 AM

Blogger Nina Perlove said...

I think it is GREAT that you were able to give so much feedback to the student from one lesson, she is really lucky and did indeed get her money's worth! Giving her the notes is smart way to let her take the ideas home to work on and digest over time, rather than trying to cram it all into one lesson and hope she just remembers it all after walking out the door, which can be overwhelming. I agree that it is harder to give a one-time lesson or coaching to less advanced students, it is easier to work on musical issues (masterclass styles) in that kind of setting with the advanced players. Thanks for starting this discussion!

Sunday, November 15, 2009 9:41:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the idea of sending a feedback letter after a one-time lesson! I have take quite a few one-time lessons and found it difficult to retain all the wonderful information I learned. I wish every one I had taken a lesson from would provide the feedback the way you do!

Monday, November 16, 2009 9:00:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Anonymous,
Well that's exactly why music students need to record their lessons with an audio recorder; to save hours and hours of writing! :>)

It stuns me that music students don't carry around a recorder and then make their own notes from actually listening to the sounds and experimenting at home.
In the old days serious students all took notes during their lesson.

But now, with inexpensive recording gadgets, they can not only take notes afterward, saving writing time during the lesson, but actually HEAR the changes they made during the lesson.

Best, Jen

Monday, November 16, 2009 9:54:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Also, if intermediate students all practised the information in this one-time-lesson, they could work on other things besides longtones when they take a live lesson, because they'd have this written out method to work from. :>) J.

Monday, November 16, 2009 9:55:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! That was really thoughtful of you to send the feedback letter. A lot of teachers would simply teach the lesson and never think twice about it. It was really considerate of you try to maximize the amount of information the flutist got out of the lesson. That's something I never thought of doing. Very inspirational!

Sunday, November 22, 2009 5:58:00 PM

Blogger Aslak said...

You're amazing Jen!
Wish I lived in Canada.. I'd come by for "just one flute lesson" every week!

Monday, November 23, 2009 7:07:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks so much you nice duderoos. J. :>)

Monday, November 23, 2009 8:45:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jen,
I am interested in what you mentioned about thin lips and thick lips. I have the latter and recently had a lesson with a teacher at a grad school to which i am applying. In the lesson he happened to remark about my crooked embouchure and also about my thick lips being a good thing in my case. I'm curious. Future Post?!?! :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 8:15:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

On google books there is a text by the 1800s flutist Tulou who firmly states that thick lips are a disadvantage, and I don't personally know why (I have thin).
So I'd love it if YOU would report back what your teacher's ideas on this are. Then *I* can learn something useful. I think Tulou might be a little too closed-minded.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:34:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

You wrote:

After reading this, I think my notion of getting 'just one lesson'
might need to be rethought, if for no other reason than to not annoy
some unsuspecting flute teacher.
Not to mention that I've no idea how to read music, or how to play
scales... I've learned from playing tunes that I like, and then, as of
late, sticking an Ipod in my ears, and playing along to it. Virtually
all the comments I get from people out on the street are good ones. I
guess I've just gotten lucky... Still, I'd love to have a teacher look
at what I do, and give me a list of 'do's' and 'dont's' on what I'm
doing... Fear not though, I'm way out in Calif, so theres no chance
I'll ever be calling to make an appointment for "Just One Lesson" :-)
Dear R,
Thanks for your comment on my blog.

The way I look at it: flute playing is like an Olympic event if you're
in the Olympic-levels of training for a high-accuracy effect, or like
a shepherd playing to a mountain, if you're at the "folk" level of
being at one with it.
There are thousands of levels in between.

Everyone should make music.

So if you're trying to improve, just listen to flute players you
admire and try and figure out what they're doing that you like the
sound of.

If you want to train to compete at the world-class level of high-wire
flute music juggling, then listen to those people.
That route takes weekly flute lessons from someone who knows how to
teach at that level.
However if you want to make music from the soul, just observe those
who do, and keep on truckin'.

All the best,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:50:00 AM

Anonymous Jessica Peltz said...

Wow, I love this! I recently had a student that could only afford one lesson because of financial situations.

I really like the approach you took to helping the student out with only one lesson. I also think taping the lesson is a great idea!

Friday, June 11, 2010 11:01:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Jessica,
Great to have positive feedback.
Best, Jen

Friday, June 11, 2010 3:04:00 PM


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