How to learn really difficult music

How to learn really difficult musicWhen I was in high school, I thought the most difficult piece of flute music in the world was Chant de Linos by Jolivet. I played snippets of it here and there, but had not learnt, nor even dared try to play, the whole thing.

By the time I started university, I still believed Chant de Linos to be the most difficult piece of flute music ever written. By then I had already decided I would perform it for my final piece in my final recital in my final year. Can you tell I was a little obsessed by this piece?

Gradually over the years I played more and more snippets of this really difficult music, and finally it was time to learn the whole thing properly.

At some point while learning this piece, I had a breakthrough.  [Read more…]

Learning new music: Do you start with notes or musical expression?

Learning new music: Notes or expression first?When you are learning a new piece of music, most logical people start by learning the notes first. This is what you’ll do first off when you sight-read the music, but what do you think is the best way to process from there?

Personally I like to learn both the notes and expression at the same time.

The problem with focusing on the notes first, is if your music is technically challenging, it could be weeks or even months of perfecting the notes and getting them up to a standard where you feel you can relax with them before moving on to adding expression and emotion.  [Read more…]

How to play vibrato on flute

how to play vibrato on the fluteThis is an excerpt from my book, Essential Advice From A Pro: For The Beginner And Intermediate Flute Player, which basically contains years of lessons with me condensed into one book with great easy-to-implement tips on playing:

Vibrato can be fast, it can be slow, it can be wide, and it can be narrow. We need to be able to produce a combination of all these variables to make our music wonderfully expressive.

What is vibrato?

Ask five different flute teachers this and you will get five different answers. Some say it is produce by the diaphragm, some say it is produced by the abdominal muscles, some say it is produced in the throat, some say it is simply the pitch wavering up and down, and some say it is the volume going from loud to soft very quickly.  [Read more…]

How playing an instrument makes you smarter

How playing an instrument makes us smarterA few months ago I had an article published on Lifehack on How Learning A Musical Instrument Makes You A Well Rounded Person.

My main line of thinking was that the complexities of playing an instrument involves both left and right hemispheres of our brains. This makes us smarter, and we can transfer these skills to all areas of our lives.  [Read more…]

Musical Expression

musical expressionMusic is such a subjective thing to assess. The technical ability to play the instrument, the right notes, and get a decent sound are all objective, but when it comes to music performance, musical expression is subjective. It is personal preference whether people will enjoy what you do or not.

I don’t know why this is, but for some reason, musical expression seems to be the hardest thing to teach. It is easy to teach someone how to get a sound out of an instrument, how to play the notes, and how to play them in the right order at the right time to get a tune. But to get a tune to sound like music is another thing altogether.

What is musical expression?

[Read more…]

My Flute Teaching Methodology and Philosophy

My Flute Teaching Methodology and PhilosophyI thought it might be interesting, and maybe even useful for potential students and future teachers, if I gave a brief on my flute teaching methodology and my philosophy as a flute teacher.

As a flute student, I was often told how to play: Where to play loudly, where to play softly, when to add vibrato or remove it, which pieces to play for exams and so on. It wasn’t until towards the end of my high school playing years that I started to think for myself about how I liked the music I played to sound, and it wasn’t until university that I finally understood how to add genuine expression into the music.

I find most flute students who come to me after learning from other teachers are like how I was – they find it easier to play technically well than to play with musicianship and expression.

I think it is very important for people to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and have their own ideas and preferences when listening and playing music (and in any aspect of life, really). Based on my own experiences, and my philosophy of independent thinking, I like to instil a sense of ownership in my students.  [Read more…]

How Today’s Technology Can Improve Your Musicianship

How today's technology can improve your musicianshipI’ve been teaching since the year 2000, and obviously started learning way before that… in the early 1980s. Looking back, and while teaching now, I can see just how great modern technology is for musicians.  [Read more…]

How To Practise Fast Music For Smooth Even Playing

How to practise fast music for smooth even playingI find that when faced with technically challenging fast music, most students will attempt to learn it simply by playing it over and over again. Unfortunately this is not the most efficient method if your fumbling fingers are making a mess of things.

Today I’d like to share with you my secret weapon on how to practise fast music for smooth even playing.

This method was taught to me by my first flute teacher, and whenever I have been stuck with technically challenging passages, this technique 100% guarantees improvement!  [Read more…]

Mobility For Musicians

stretches for musiciansEveryone knows that before you start your flute practise, you need to warm up your chops for a good tone.

If you spend a few minutes preparing your embouchure for a good tone, why not spend a few minutes preparing your body for good playing?

If you spend many hours seated while practising or in rehearsals, then your hip flexors and your back will probably get quite tight. And of course if you play the flute, your shoulders and thoracic spine are going to be under stress the whole time.

Musicians need to stretch their muscles. They also need to improve mobility.

This is a simple mobility sequence that helps combat poor posture and strained muscles from hours of practise.

[Read more…]

Stretches for Flute Players and Wind Musicians

When I was studying flute at university, so many students had to take time off due to injury. I also had to take several months off playing once I had finished my final exams. This could have easily been avoided if we all knew how to look after our bodies better.

Musicians need to learn a few simple stretches so they can survive hours of practise, hours of rehearsals, and hours of performances.

I put together this short video with my super simple stretches for flute players and wind musicians. [Read more…]