Now that we are past the winter holidays, everyone is gearing up for contest season, both large ensemble contests and individual solo & ensemble contests. There is nothing like having your students standup in front of a judge to perform a solo that shows the individual strengths and weaknesses of our students as clearly. Here are some pointers to keep in mind so your students can have the best experience ever with their solo contests this year.
- Make sure your students are well grounded in the fundamentals of playing the flute at every level. This means embouchure skills, breath management and control, articulation, scales and arpeggios, rhythm and note reading, and effective practice skills.
- Pick repertoire that is appropriate for the student’s skill level rather than a hypothetical ability based on the student’s age or years of playing. There is nothing more discouraging for students than being asked to practice and perform a piece that is beyond their ability.
- Monitor the student’s progress with their solo as much as possible.
- Have them practice their solo with SmartMusic at different tempos, especially slower tempos
- Help students find recordings of their pieces by advanced players for the student to listen to
- Review practice strategy including how to learn passages correctly by chunking it down, practicing slowly, using a metronome, planning correct breathing, etc.
In general, most students don’t do nearly enough slow practice on their own, whether it is in passage work or in more expressive music. You model out good practicing habits every day by how you run your rehearsals, though I am sure there is never enough time for as much slow work, detail work as you would like. There is just too much material to cover. It is really important that you stress the importance of slow practice when your students are preparing for solo contest.
There are lots of collections of solos at the beginner and intermediate levels. The main criteria for picking appropriate solos is that it is within the range of the flute the student already knows and that they understand all the rhythms. Some of the well known ones include the Rubank Book of Flute Solos – Easy and Intermediate, Standard of Excellence Festival Solos books 1 and 2, Rubank Concert & Contest Collection, Solos for Flute ed. Donald Peck, 24 Short Concert Pieces, Selected Flute Solos (Everybody’s Favorite Series) and many others. Beyond these, there is the whole range of the flute literature including Bach Sonatas, Handel Sonatas, Mozart Concerti, French Conservatory pieces, modern sonatas and unaccompanied works.
Finally, I would like to say one of the nicest experiences I have when I judge solo & ensemble contests is when the student plays well for their level of ability and their piece challenges them without overwhelming them. The benefits for the kids are enormous, especially their feeling of accomplishment. I feel terrible for the students when they have obviously been pushed into doing a piece beyond their ability or desire to practice. And I feel exasperated with their teachers that they are putting their students onto pieces the kids clearly haven’t got the skills for, especially tonal and technical skills, yet. It is better to play an easier piece with good tone, technique, rhythm and articulation than to play the Chaminade Concertino because “you should be able to play that piece when you are 14 or 15 years old”. I think you can do some real damage to kid’s self-esteem and desire to continue playing by pushing them into repertoire for which they are not ready yet.
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