New video series: What's On My Stand

Hi, everyone! I wanted to give you all a heads-up that I’ve started a new weekly series about what I’m practicing called What’s On My Stand. It’s just short videos explaining what I’m currently working on (it’s not always bombastic or amazing, sometimes we just plod along in our practice rooms…). The most recent one, above, is about practicing the flute solo from Brahms' Symphony no. 1.

I’ll always have more detailed information in the video’s description, too. For example, here is the text from the description of the video above:

Brahms wrote beautiful solos for the flute and horn in the last movement of his first symphony - but it's really quite a blow and requires projection and beauty of sound so the flute can match the horn in intensity.

I practice quite a bit with a tuner, both via long tones and individual notes in context, and practicing this excerpt with my tuner showed that I needed to lift the pinky finger on the high E natural every time except the last statement. The high F# on my flute is stable, so I used the regular fingering (with the third finger on the right hand). If the F# is in tune, you will have more power and projection with this fingering than you would if you used different ones.

Vibrato is tricky with this solo - it's all about individual taste, and not everyone agrees. To me, it's easy for things to get overwrought, and I'm not particularly in love with every note that I recorded in this practice session. I like keeping my vibrato inside the tone, not letting it get too wide or too slow. Don't wait to find great vibrato until you suddenly have to work on an excerpt that needs it. Practice finding Brahmsian vibrato every day - or Debussy vibrato, or Mozart vibrato, etc. - they should all have different qualities!

I hope you will subscribe to the channel and also let me know what YOU’RE practicing! Maybe we’re actually practicing the same things sometimes and I can make a video that relates to what you’re doing, too. See you on YouTube…

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Junior High music (9-10)

These two short excerpts for the ETSBOA All-East Tennessee Honor Band are a delight to play. Both are in compound meter, emphasizing the need for young musicians to master meters outside of 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4. Both excerpts stay within a conservative range (they don’t go too high or too low) while demanding a variety of articulations and dynamics.

Examining the lyrical excerpt, the first big hurdle for many students will be the key signature. Mark Db’s and Gb’s where it will help you but try to not mark every single one. Read your articulation accurately - be sure to tongue and slur exactly where it is written. Exaggerate the crescendos and diminuendos in measures 2-5. The first beat of measures 5 and 6 are marked forte followed quickly by piano. The one note marked forte also has an accent, so really make this come out of the texture. Follow the breath mark as suggested before measure 9. Feel free to really blow and let loose in bar 9 through 11, where it’s marked forte. Enjoy your sound and open up. The piece doesn’t end where we expect it, but make it beautiful anyway and create a tasteful ritardando.

The technical passage, in 12/8, should feel light and buoyant. In addition to staying in time, you will have to switch quickly between forte and piano several times. Dynamic shifts are good to practice slowly, too. Practice exactly where you change the dynamic - for instance, in measure 16, the last G of the first beat and the first G of the second beat are two totally different dynamics. Practice your soft G first and then practice a very loud G. Practice playing them in quick succession, and then make sure you are able to make as good of a contrast in the context of the piece.

Good luck preparing, and don’t forget to practicing sightreading!

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Senior High music (11-12)

The short pieces required to audition for ETSBOA’s All East Tennessee Honor Band are divided into a lyrical selection and a technical selection. Examining the lyrical piece first, it is essential to practice this with a slow metronome, either counting by eighth note or counting by quarter note. Depending on the student, it might be better to learn this music by counting eighth notes first and then transitioning to larger quarter beats. Keeping an accurate, steady tempo through all these rhythmic changes is challenging but essential.

Even though there is a lot of black ink on the page (32nd notes, 16th note triplets), it’s important to keep the lyrical quality throughout the piece. Play these licks accurately but do not rush. In the 32nd notes leading into measure 4, play the crescendo to the fortissimo dynamic marking but try not to sound shrill or strident. Strive for a warm and inviting sound, even in extreme registers or dynamics.

Listen for the intonation of the perfect 4th interval in the first measure, and similarly check the open fifths in measures 6 and 8. Play these intervals on a piano or keyboard to get the appropriate spacing. Playing intervals with a tuner does not always tell the whole story.

There are many opportunities to breathe in this short piece but it was difficult for me to find satisfying places that go with harmonic motion and phrasing. The above recording shows where I ended up deciding to breathe. Instead of focusing so much on where to breathe, focus instead on being convincing with the breaths that you take, taking care that breaths don’t interrupt the music or become distracting.

A challenging aspect of this selection is the fortissimo marking from measure 10 to the end. There is no diminuendo marked, so be sure that you do not make one accidentally. This takes a lot of air -- and some planning with respect to breathing.

The technical selection, marked Giocoso, is fun to play as it moves through so many key changes in such a short time. Mark these carefully so you don’t make any key-related mistakes. The articulation marking in m. 16 is a little confusing - I experimented at first with making the first two notes of each beat a single tongue legato with the second two notes of each beat a double tongue staccato. In the end, it seemed so odd that I opted for a more straightforward slur two/tongue two approach for those two beats. It’s not technically what is written, but doing it the other way seemed unmusical.

Keep your sixteenth notes even and light, and space your sixteenth note triplets well so that they don’t rush. The last note, the flute’s notorious Db, can be very sharp, so take care with pitch in that spot and use a tuner. Sometimes thinking of a darker tone on the middle Db can help with the intonation.

Good luck! Don't forget to practice sightreading.

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 WTSBOA All West Flute Senior High 11-12

The audition excerpts for WTSBOA’s All West honor band are particularly wicked for 11th-12th grades. Let’s begin with the Allegro selection.

Allegro selection

This page of music in 3/8 with four flats is a lesson in dynamic contrast, rhythmic integrity, and articulation. Be sure to start with a strong sound at the very start: to change to p in m. 8, you will need to make room for contrast. Note the accents that are in the first line of the piece - the accents are on the quarter notes. It is easy to accidentally accent the eighth notes at the end of each bar; be sure to place the emphasis on the down beats. The Db in m. 13 is commonly mistaken for a D-natural.

As we move into m. 17, it’s important to have a plan for the Bb thumb -- the plan being when exactly to use it. The high Gb will not speak if you have your thumb on the Bb side of the key - so starting after the C in m. 16, be sure to have the thumb on the natural side. You may transition back to the Bb side after the Dbs in m. 18, however, and continue to use that key until the B-natural in m. 24.

The grace notes are quite tricky here; either place them directly on the down beat or very close the down beat. Either way, they must be played quickly in order to not lose time. For the grace notes that are also large leaps, like m. 24 or m. 29, keep a very open throat and give plenty of air support for these leaps to speak cleanly. Additionally, imprecise fingerings will render these leaps non-functional. Be sure to change all the fingers at exactly the same time. This seems obvious, but imprecise fingers lead to a lot of issues here.

Continue to remember every Db dictated by the key signature.

One last note: there is no ritardando marked in this ending. If you feel you absolutely must play one, make it very subtle and in good taste.

Use a metronome to help you get up to speed, but start learning this piece very slowly and have patience. It's thorny.

Bach selection

Please note that there are two wrong notes printed in the WTSBOA-issued parts! Hopefully they will eventually release a corrected part, but in case they do not, please correct these in your music:

Measure 29: the first C should actually be a D. The measure should read G#-A-B-D-F-E.

Measure 32: the first note of the measure should be a C, not a D.

It’s important to note that Bach did not write most of the articulations, slurs, or dynamics that are printed here. Someone else has written these in as a guide for you. Traditionally, the flute player chooses how to articulate the piece and develops his or her own dynamic concept. You should endeavor to follow these printed markings for the audition, but you will see that I break a few of these rules in order to breathe with the phrase.

I suggest that you listen to my video and write down my breathing spots - they are fairly conventional, although by no means are they the absolute rule.

The little squiggle markings over the E in bar 6 and over the D in bar 8 are commonly interpreted as mordents. A mordent is one single trill. I play them as mordents in my video performance.

As far as tempo goes, I like to have a balance between a strict slow tempo and music that breathes and wanders. This is a mature concept that won’t work for every student - first you must be sure that you can play the entire movement in one steady tempo. Then you could work on finding a little bit of freedom, usually around breaths that are at the ends of phrases. A good example of a place where one could take more freedom is at the end of m. 34.

I break a few written slurs in this edition in order to breathe. The first place is in m. 10 before the sixteenths. This is a common place to breathe for phrasing and should not be slurred together. Another place is in m. 15 after the first E - I breathe here because it is unusual for me to be able to make it all the way to after the C. (It’s interesting to note here that WTSBOA has transcribed this measure as a C half note with a quarter rest when in Bach’s hand it’s actually a dotted half note without a rest.) I choose to break the slur over the E in m. 15 because I do not want to break the phrase with a breath in m. 14.

The articulations marked with staccato after m. 21 should simply be articulated - playing extra-short notes in slow movements in Bach’s time period is not stylistic. I would encourage students and teachers to throw out the slurs-into-staccato notes in m. 24 and replace these articulations with all-single tongue, medium length.

Finally, a note about vibrato: it’s conventionally agreed upon that Baroque flute music, particularly Bach, should be performed with either no vibrato or very minimal vibrato. In my video, I have used some, but that was distinctly my own choice. Consider your vibrato while you practice this piece. Be sure that it is not too heavy or wide, or too fast. If you want to use vibrato, make sure it is subtle and does not distract from the musical line.

It is with frustration that I provide a practice guide for this excerpt. This Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita in a minor for solo flute is one of the most important pieces in our literature. While it may just look like simple, straight-forward, pretty music, it takes years of study to play this piece well. I am not convinced that this is a good selection for high school students, but you all may prove me wrong! Consider having a few flute lessons with an experienced teacher on this piece. It will help.

Audition prep guide: WTSBOA All-West Tennessee 9-10 flute music

A warm, rich tone is the key to the opening excerpt in A major. Make sure you articulate exactly as written in the music - do not add extra slurs. The first breath should come after measure 4, between the E half note and the first F# of measure 5. The next breath should be after the fermata. The turn, which is the squiggly symbol above the A in measure 8, is an ornament that should be played this way: A-B-A-G#-A, with a longer emphasis on the first A in the sequence. Be sure to tongue the B after the turn.

In the second short piece, marked quarter note = 112, be sure again to articulate exactly as marked. The mf marking indicates that you can play out. Count the rests in this section carefully, and practice with a metronome.

The third piece, in 6/8 time, shows off the high range. Do not be shy about giving plenty of air support to these upper register notes - if they are supported properly, they will speak with a lot of sound! That is okay as long as you support all the other mid-range pitches in the melody. Follow the dynamics exactly. For measures 36-37, crescendo to a mf or f and then drop down to mp at measure 38. Be careful to not go flat on the last note in measure 42.

The last small piece has some deliberate tricks with the articulation. Be sure to articulate the eighth notes in measure 45 but slur into the one eighth note in measure 47. Check with your metronome to make sure that your eighth notes in measure 50 relate exactly with the sixteenth notes in measures 51-53. Do not rush the eighth notes in m. 50 or you might end up in real trouble with sixteenth notes that are too fast at the end. 

Always keep a beautiful tone throughout the entire page, and endeavor to keep a consistent tempo through each piece.

Good luck! If you have specific questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.