When I was a kid, we moved around a lot because of my dad’s work. I think I went to schools in seven different towns growing up. Consequently, there wasn’t much in the way of consistency with my musical training until I went to college. A band teacher got me started for a few months in third grade, but we moved to another town over the summer. The new school didn’t have any music program at all, just a closet full of band instruments that were not being used. I had lessons one summer from a college music ed major somewhere between fourth and fifth grade who turned me on to the Rubank Method books, but otherwise was on my own for most of those two years. In sixth grade, I again had a band teacher and remember using the old Master Method books. In junior high, there was a teacher that came once a week to our school, but it was such a weak program, I gave up on it. My dad found me a community orchestra to play with. The director was a saxophone doubler who had a teaching studio nearby. I took flute lessons from the doubler for maybe a year and a half. In high school, my musical instruction was solely from my band teachers.
It was when I got to college that I began to learn very quickly that most of what I had learned from my band directors and the sax doubler about playing the flute was, at the least, inaccurate and in many cases, just flat out wrong. It took many years to overcome the playing deficiencies I acquired because of my own ignorance and a lack of exposure to solid pedagogy. Some of the stories I was told by my band teachers and have heard over the years include:
- Smiling or stretching your lips to form an embouchure
- Playing with firm corners of the mouth
- Using the “kiss and roll method” to teach kids to place the flute on their bottom lip
- Rolling in and out to correct intonation problems
- Being careless about using correct fingerings – 1st finger up on middle D and Eb, using 4th finger for F#, using correct third octave fingerings
I diligently practiced many of these mistakes before I got proper training. Consequently, when I did finally get the correct information, I had to practice ten times as much to overcome those old habits and create new habits. My own students, and many other kids, still tell me either, “My band director said to do it that way,” or “My band director never corrected me.” It puts me in a delicate position with kids, and their parents, when I have to find a way to offer them better information about playing the flute without undermining the authority of their band teacher.
For me, it always comes back to the kids. If you, their teacher, have good information about flute pedagogy, the kids who want to pursue the flute seriously have a better chance of succeeding if they don’t have unintended obstacles in their playing to overcome. And your flute section is going to sound better. That’s a given.
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