Sunday, October 14, 2012

Are we flute players all tied in knots?

Are we flute players all tied in knots?
Well un-knot today!
Karen Lonsdale has just published a brilliant thesis with up to date information on avoiding flute-related aches, pains and injuries.
Flute teachers will want to download it and save it for future reference (pdf 20 mb.)
This thesis opens the door for tons and tons of more fascinating research on our twisty instrument.
Go to:

Karen anne Lonsdale. Griffith University, Queensland Conservatorium, 2011. Understanding Contributing Factors and Optimizing Prevention and Management of Flute Playing-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders.

Readers: Scroll down past the abstract, and click on:
Main Content
Lonsdale_2011_02Thesis.pdf( 19494.66 KB)

This is the direct link:

This thesis is so well-written and interests me greatly.
I too was injured from too much of the twisty.

And, as guru of flutey questions, I often get email questions such as this one below.

(And thankyou to "M" for a terrific question, and so sorry it can't easily be solved without a live, well-informed and experienced teacher to guide you):

Hello Jen. I'm an adult amateur flutist hoping to achieve a performance level playing in church and performing at weddings but it seems I have reached a plateau.
 When I initially began the flute, my teacher commented how quickly I was learning and how musical I was.
Since then, I purchased an expensive flute, ($11k).  Now extremely disappointed, it seems I cannot reach my intended goals.
 I struggle with good technique as I cannot progress beyond 60 beats per quarter on the Reichert exercise #1 in B flat major, B flat minor, B major and B minor.
I try to keep my fingers light but the flute rolls in and my hands tighten up to keep the flute in balance.
This is ridiculous as I should be more advanced.
This exercise should be played between 80 and 100 beats but surely I shouldn't need to set the metronome under 60 beats?
 I do have trouble with the upper register and it is slowing my progress.
I do have my chromatics up to 80 beats per quarter played evenly, but for some reason I'm stuck on the Reichert exercise.
How fast are most of your advanced flutists able to play chromatic scales?
What is the normal progression rate on the Reichert and should it be practiced each and every day?
I don't understand how someone like myself starts out talented but cannot progress into the advanced stage.
I'm very frustrated but I don't want to throw in the towel just yet. I probably haven't mastered the technique in balancing the flute. I try to practice every day but I may miss only one day a week--should that make a difference to my progress. 
My most recent teacher commented that I have not reached my performance goal due to the problem with lack of control of fingers (playing fast and even).
She never mentioned nor noticed that I was improperly balancing the flute plus she is a principal flutist for an orchestra. I live about an hour from a major city center and cannot find another flute teacher who would be willing to teach adults.
I'm in great need of a teacher. Perhaps you know of someone who could help me.

I greatly appreciate your input. Sincerely, M.

Dear M.
I wouldn't worry about finger speed just yet. Honestly.

The more we try to play faster than we easily can, the tighter and more tense the body tends to get. Especially in the hands/arms/neck etc.

All this tension and self-demanding and expectation can really start to become a problem. I've written on the topic of excess tension and flute students pushing themselves to do too much in too little time on many occasions.

When you try to force speed, the fingers actually start to grip the flute quite hard, and fly up too high, quite haphazardly. We actually lose our delicate balance of the flute, in our efforts to go quickly.

Also: Speeds represented by miscellaneous metronome marks can be so deceiving.

Often they are marked ten times faster than any real flutist practicer will ever play them.
And we'll never know if Reichert himself wrote those markings, or whether a later editor did. (unless a reader knows the answer to this; and if so, do comment.)

And because we don't have recordings of Reichert, we actually don't know if even HE could play at those speeds.
Maybe he wrote those markings to confound his competitors. :>)

Playing well at high speeds takes about five to eight years of well-paced, incrementally challenging, and balanced, sensibly s-l-o-w  and easy practicing with much focus on the best of the good skills in flute balancing.

It's an art to discover how to play with fast fingers. There are so many factors.
(the position of the headjoint, Rockstro, or Modified-Rockstro, the position of the wrists, the contact of the two thumbs, the right hand position, with the thumb on the back, rather than under the flute,  the use of thumb-ports or left hand cushions on the body of the flute, the amount of chin-skin contact, the amount of pressure on the chin, etc. etc.)

And speediness shouldn't be pushed by a self-teaching flutist, as that can lead to real problems with muscles and tension, let alone mental frustration from self-setting your expectations to go with some possibly erroneous metronome marking from the 19th century. :>)

Flute balance in the hands and posture and ease are gradually built up over time, integrating the skills quite slowly, and without pressure-to-achieve.
The best learning comes from a good teacher, followed by focussed self-observation, mirror observation, video observation, more good teaching and the balancing of many factors and levels of awareness.

What's more likely is that you've developed pad leaks as your new flute settles in, and that these minute pad leaks have gone unnoticed as you gradually press harder and harder to make the notes sound, and now you've become heavy fingered. This is extremely common.
It only takes six months of daily playing to create leaks in pads, even of a brand new flute.
You need to have your flute checked for pad leaks first and foremost.
Take it to repair; to a really good repair shop; they'll find the leaks.
When you get it back, play it with the lightest possible touch.
I have many articles on my website about balancing the flute.
Have you found them all yet?
Start with: Lining up the headjoint:

And to do with lining up too, there are also videos where I quickly go through some of the main pointers for teachers:

You definitely need to inquire far and wide for a good quality flute teacher.
If you haven't already tried all the possible ways of finding an experienced flute teacher in your area see:

Usually you will find someone good to teach you once you know how to look them up.
Failing that, you might be able to skype with a flute holding expert
like Lea Pearson of  the book "Body Mapping for Flutists".

Let me know what turns out.

The flute is an incredible piece of ergonomics. (see links above to Karen Lonsdale's Thesis of flutist's injuries, and read about flute posture and how it's so hard to describe that hardly anyone has been able to in 300 years of writing flute books! Eeek!).
A good flute teacher is definitely the way to go, as well as not permaturely demanding speed from yourself.

There is no prize for playing fast; only for moving the listener with incredible beauty and a sense of effortlessness. This takes "Time, Patience, and Intelligent Work" as Moyse says.
Trust yourself to move more slowly and with more beauty of sound.
That's my advice. Speed comes with ease and balance and time.
Hope this helps.

Best, Jen

Comments (5)
Blogger LĂșcio said...

It's amazing how much information there is these days that helps us new flutists start with a right foot from the beginning. I'm starting at a rather belated age, 29, and intend to become a professional performer one day, and am very happy to have so much great guidance in this information era. Thank you Jen, and Karen, and all who make an effort to teach us to take care of our own precious bodies while pursuing beautiful sounds from the flute.

Monday, October 15, 2012 6:56:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Lucio,
Thankyou SO much for your kind words.
We flute players just want to spread the joy, and as flute teachers we want to help avoid physical problems by teaching the right way the FIRST time.
So glad to hear from you.
Keep spreading the joy!
Best, Jen

Monday, October 15, 2012 6:59:00 PM

Blogger Sheila said...

Haven't read the expansion of the thesis, but good premise, I know it certainly wasn't the flute that hurt me! :-) Yay for Jen and your de-twisting of your lovely students (and blog readers).

Miss you.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012 1:25:00 PM

Anonymous Lauren said...

Jen, I have been playing the flute for about two years and have already gotten first chair twice in my school band! =D However, I have recently had some trouble with my flute. My B and C notes are identical! I have checked all of my pads, springs, corks, etc. and I have no idea what is wrong. I readjusted my headjoint cork because it was a little off but it still won't play correctly. I informed my band instructor about this situation and he told me that I just needed better breath support? I was just wondering if it really was me or if it was my flute...I had several fellow flautists examine my flute to be sure that I am not over-looking anything, but nothing has come up wrong with the appearance of any of the mechanisms, etc. If you could provide ANY information I would appreciate it very much! (I am a bit desperate at this point.) Thank you so much for your time!
Sincerely, Lauren; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 7:19:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Lauren,

It sounds as if the springs that are located under the thumb keys are out of place, or not working correctly.
The two springs that open the thumb key after you let go of it look like 2 inch long flat metal bars that lie along the tube to the right and under the thumb key, and open the keys again. If they are not working, the thumb pad remains closed even though you're not touching it. Sometimes the thumb springs are only half working, and the thumb pad rises lazily or slowly. This is something that requires a visit to the repair shop. It's not likely to be an expensive repair ($20 at most). But what really surprises me is that you're expected to fix it yourself. You shouldn't have to fix it yourself. Your band teacher should give you the contact information for the flute repair person in your town. I'm always surprised when students think that they have to repair their own instruments. Absolutely not something an amateur should attempt to do. A flute repair shop has to be within 40 miles of where you are, if you ask your band teacher, or phone a flute teacher or flute professional (member of local orchestra) in your town. A repair technician could have this fixed in less than 30 minutes.

Flutes need to visit repair shops once a year. Seriously. People forget this, and play on broken instruments....sigh....
So GO for it, find the flute technician nearest you, and let me know how it turns out.
Best, Jen

Wednesday, March 06, 2013 8:16:00 AM


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