Now that your students aren’t beginners anymore, what do they need to keep developing their flute and musical skills? The flute police! I’m joking, of course, but in a way I’m not. The interactions with and interventions by their teachers, both their band directors and private instructors (if they have one), during their first two or three years of playing are really critical for determining how long they continue playing and the level of competency they achieve. In order to keep my own students on track, here’s what I have to be constantly vigilant about for them:
- Embouchure, embouchure, embouchure – make sure they are shaping the right size aperture, know where the flute is placed on their bottom lip, and that they understand how to change the direction of the air without changing the size of the aperture.
- Blowing – as important as embouchure. You can have a great embouchure, but it’s not of much value if you’re not putting air into the instrument. Likewise, a student can have great technique, but it is of little use if you can’t hear them due to insufficient air. Be sure to teach kids to drive the air with their abdominal muscles (often referred to as “support”).
- Balancing the flute and hand positions – turn the headjoint back and turn the mechanism more forward just a little so the weight of the mechanism is more on top, rather than dragging the flute back. Left hand and wrist under the flute to support the weight, right hand behind the flute with fingers extended. Right thumb under and more on the back side of the instrument.
- Posture – align shoulders over hips, whether sitting or standing. Turn head left about 45 degrees and bring the flute up into playing position. The plane of the body and plane of the flute intersect near the left shoulder. The end of the flute should be in line with your nose rather than in line with your right ear (you will be amazed at the difference in the sound with just this one simple adjustment).
- Technique – teach the kids the patterns of music including scales and arpeggios in all major keys. Teach your flute students to play in sharp keys. I get it! Band repertoire puts the flute parts into flat keys in order to accommodate the transposing instruments. However, you severely limit the playing options available to your flute students if they never play in any other keys besides F, Bb and Eb until they get to high school. And teach them the correct fingerings in the third octave.
- Counting and rhythm – be sure to teach kids to count for themselves rather than learning rhythm by rote. In more than 30 years of teaching lessons in schools, I have seen band teachers whose students have excellent counting skills and those whose students couldn’t count their way out of a paper bag until someone “shows them how it goes”. The student who understands rhythm and can figure out music they are learning on their own is much more likely to stick with playing long term. They will be able to benefit from your instruction about ensemble skills more readily because they will be more flexible and adaptable.
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