How to Learn a Piece of Music

As a semi pro musician, I have to learn a lot of music in not much time. I have a day job; I have this website to maintain. So I don’t have hours upon hours to learn new pieces. I have to know how to learn a piece quickly and efficiently.

Hannah B Flute | How to Learn a Piece of Music

Over the past few months of being out of school, I have figured out my process for learning a piece of music. I have a full system, from reading a piece for the first time to maintaining a piece you have already learned.

Without further ado, here is how I learn a piece of music.

Stage 1: Sight Reading

The first thing I do when I start working on a new piece is sight read it. I usually try to do this without hearing the piece first. When I was still new to the flute, hearing either a recording or my teacher helped me figure out how the piece should sound.

Now that I am more advanced, I am able to use my sight reading skills to determine how a pieces sounds. I use my knowledge of music notation (rhythms and notes) to read the piece down. Sight reading without hearing the piece also allows me to form my own interpretation of the piece

When I sight read a piece, I try to get through it with as few stops as possible. I like to save stops and starts for when I am actually working on a piece. My goal for sight reading is to get the basics under my fingers and to figure out which parts will need more attention and which parts I can simply run through.

If you want to see my tips for successful sight reading, let me know in the comments!

Stage 2: Studying

After I have sight read a new piece, I will either move on to a different piece, or I will start working through the piece. When I start working on the piece, I start to really study it. I find at least one good recording, if not multiple, that I can listen to for inspiration.

This is also the stage where I start chunking the piece. I look for the more difficult parts and the easier parts. I will also mark in things like accidentals and difficult rhythms.

After I have worked through the easy parts, I can then focus on the more difficult ones. Yes, it’s hard to work on the tricky stuff, but that is what will make you a better flute player.

Score study is also very important at this stage. If there is a measure or phrase that I don’t fully understand, I can look at the score to see what the accompaniment is doing.

Studying the score also helps me when it comes to fast runs. The flute part may have no obvious harmonies, but it could be a simple chord or arpeggio. The accompaniment part is very helpful when it comes to finding the harmonies.

Related: The What & Why of Score Study

Stage 3: Performance

After I get really comfortable with a piece of music, I start to practice performing it. Even if I will never actually play it in front of others, performance practice has many benefits.

First, I get to practice my stamina. When you perform a piece, you can’t just stop in the middle of it. You might have a rest here or there, but you need to get through the whole piece without stopping.

Second, I can figure out what notes or phrases are still causing me issues. When I play a measure or phrase, it will often seem more polished than it really is. Putting the piece back together brings those problems to my attention.

I can then go back to the learning stage and work more on those problem areas.

Related: Get Rid of Performance Anxiety

Stage 4: Maintenance

After I have fully learned a piece and practiced performing it, I then move it into the maintenance stage. This is where I put pieces that I have already learned and performed but I don’t want to lose the work I put into them.

Now that I am preparing for graduate school auditions for next year, I have a couple of pieces and excerpts that are in maintenance mode. These are pieces that I have already studied, but I need to keep up with.

They are commonly asked for in graduate auditions, and I don’t want to have to relearn these pieces.

Also, as an aspiring flute teacher, I need to be able to demonstrate pieces and phrases for any future students. I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a piece that I am teaching to a student.

So…

How do you learn and study a piece? Do you listen to it first? Do you keep up with any old pieces? Let me know in the comments!

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NFA: Entering a Competition

Hello friends! This is the first installment in a mini series about preparing for the National Flute Association (NFA) Convention 2018. The first topic is about preparing for and entering a competition.

I wanted to start a series documenting my experience preparing for the convention, because this is sort of a big deal for me. Not only is it my first time attending the NFA convention, but it is also the first time I will be traveling on my own.

Hannah B Flute | NFA: Entering a Competition

I wanted the first installment to be about the initial planning stages and booking the flight and hotel. But since competition entries were due last week, I thought that made competitions the perfect first topic.

Without further ado, let’s get into how I prepared for and recorded my competition entry.

Become an NFA member.

The first requirement to entering a competition through the NFA is to be a member. There are different levels of membership, such as active, student, and lifetime.

You can also be an e-member (active or student) which means you can save a bit of money. The e-membership is the same as the regular membership, except for price and the lack of print publications sent in the mail. You instead are able to read them online.

While the deadline for competition entries has passed, there are many other benefits of being an NFA member. Benefits include attending the annual convention, a subscription to The Flutist Quarterly, and access to a large music library.

You can become an NFA member here.

Choose your competition.

This was the first time I have entered an NFA competition, so I chose just one. I decided to go with the Orchestral Audition Masterclass Competition. Since I am out of school, I don’t have a regular accompanist. This competition did not require accompaniment.

There are other performance based competitions, like Young Artist, Piccolo Artist, and more. You can also participate in a non-performance competition, like the flute choir composition competition.

You can enter as many competitions as you wish, but there is an entry fee for almost all of them.

Learn the Music.

Each competition has required repertoire that must be performed. Some repertoire must be a certain edition, others can be any edition. Make sure you know the requirements before you buy all the music.

You don’t want to purchase the pieces only to find out you needed a specific edition.

After you have the music, start learning it. Listen to the pieces, study the score, follow the same learning process as you would for other pieces.

Hopefully, if you are entering a competition, you are already at a high level, and you know how to learn a piece of music.

For any pieces that require accompaniment, start working with your accompanist. Let them know you are preparing for a competition. The sooner you can start rehearsals, the better prepared you will be for the competition.

Preliminary Recordings.

Start doing some preliminary recordings far in advance. These recordings don’t need to be perfect or even good. They are merely a way to get you used to playing for a device.

While the competition required audio recordings, I made a few video recordings and posted them to Instagram. Doing so helped my confidence. I was able to play for my recording device without any problems.

I didn’t experience any nerves related to recording. Recording for fun will also help you learn from the mistakes you make. When playing, it is hard to focus on some of the details. Listening back to your recordings helps you hear things you wouldn’t otherwise.

Getting Feedback.

During the process of learning the music for the competition, I took the works to my flute lessons. I was able to get feedback specific to my needs from someone who knows me well.

My teacher gave me tips on where and how to breathe. She also gave me tips for tricky fingerings.

While I do believe advanced players, like those entering competitions, can learn a lot from themselves, nothing beats a good teacher.

Feedback is important for any musician, but feedback from different sources is especially important when you are entering a competition. Different judges have their own expectations, and having a variety of people listening to you is extremely valuable.

Audio Recording.

When you have learned all of the music, gotten great feedback, and made some basic recordings, it’s time to make your competition recordings.

I took a day that I had all to myself and dedicated it to making sure the pieces were polished enough to record. That day, I started with my normal warm up routine.

I then focused solely on the competition repertoire. I made multiple takes of each work. Having the whole day for recording allowed me to space my takes out throughout the day.

I did a round or two in the morning and another round or two in the afternoon. Breaking it up helped me avoid too much tension that could bring down the quality of my playing.

When recording, you want to put your best foot forward. That means you want to be well rested, and you don’t want to overwork yourself. Whether your audition is recorded or live, having that day to focus on the audition makes it easier to stay on task.

So…

Have you ever participated in a music competition? Entering a competition for the NFA was a great experience for me, whether I advance or not. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a competing musician.

Leave your thoughts on competitions in the comments below!

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Technology for Musicians

In this day and age, technology is everything. From social media to cameras and audio recorders, there are many ways technology can help musicians. This post will cover technology for musicians.

Hannah B Flute | Technology for Musicians

With each passing year, social media gets bigger and bigger. We can connect with other musicians all over the world. Cameras and cell phones have also allowed for musicians to learn music and connect with others online.

I love using technology to learn more about music, to share my own recordings, and to help others with their musical journey.

Social Media

Certain social media sites have growing communities of musicians.

Facebook

There are many Facebook groups dedicated to classical musicians. Some are general music groups, and others are for players of specific instruments.

Different groups work differently, some are more conversational and others focus more on sharing links to music: recordings and sheet music.

I am in a few flute groups and a couple of general classical music groups. I can pose questions, share links to my recordings and this blog, and I can answer others’ questions.

Instagram

The music community on Instagram differs significantly than that on Facebook. There is less conversation on Instagram and more sharing.

Like sharing videos and photos related to music.

Comments on photos and videos allow connections with other musicians. Compliments and constructive criticism can help not only the one posting the video, but others who watch the video and read the comments.

Instagram stores also let users share more content and give others a look behind the scenes.

Laptop/Desktop

Computers allow us to access social media, to watch videos on YouTube, to listen to recordings of great musicians, and more. There are also different audio and video programs that allow you to record and edit clips of your playing.

Garageband and iMovie are good starter programs for Mac, and similar programs exist for Windows.

Computers are probably the most famous piece of technology, and there’s a lot of stuff we can do with them.

There are many online music courses that you can take from the comfort of your own home. You can even take private music lessons online.

We can also buy sheet music and other accessories online.

Phone

Cell phones allow us to use social media on the go. You can also download apps like YouTube and Spotify. Phones make for great, cheap, tuners and metronomes.

You can also uses the Facebook and Instagram apps to connect with others on the go.

Cell phone cameras also allow us to record videos and audio clips without the need for a fancy or expensive camera.

Phones are a great way to keep up with the online music community and listen to recordings whenever and wherever you are.

Why is Technology Important?

Technology is a huge part of our daily lives. We use it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Why shouldn’t we extend that part of our lives to music?

Just because I play classical music, that doesn’t mean that I have to stick to the technology they had back in that period.

So…

How do you use technology as a musician? Let me know in the comments!

Garner’s Abuse of Power

Today is a sad day for flutists young and old, near and far. It was revealed to many that the well known and well respected flutist and professor, Dr. Brad Garner, has been accused of sexual harassment and assault.

Hannah B Flute | Garner's Abuse of Power

Garner taught at University of Cincinnati, and he basically built the flute program from scratch.

But he used his power and authority to manipulate and harass students for over two decades.

In this special, extra post, I will be discussing the issue as well as my thoughts on sexual assault and the vulnerability of young flute students.

Who is Garner?

Garner is most know for being the first flutist to receive a doctoral degree (DMA) in flute from Juilliard. Until last December, he was the flute professor at University fo Cincinnati.

He is also know for being a headjoint maker, with his company Garner headjoints.

Garner has played with the New York Philharmonic and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center as well as around the world.

He is a very prolific flutist. But that doesn’t give him the right to abuse that power and status.

Why this Matters.

Garner used his power to scare students. If a student spoke out about his abuse, he had the power to stunt their career growth. He could assign them the “bad” parts in orchestra. He could use (or refuse to use) his contacts to get auditions for his students.

This case parallels that of Larry Nassar, the famous doctor of Olympic gymnasts who was recently sentenced for up to 100+ years in prison for sexual abuse.

If you know anything about that case, simply change the word “gymnastics” to “flute studio.”

We cannot let anyone else get away with something like this. Garner deserves a similar sentence to Nassar.

What he did/said.

According to the Daily Mail, Garner would inappropriately touch his female students. He would send them explicit photos, and he would even record his sexual interactions with students.

One student claimed he smacked her butt when she bent down to pick up her flute.

Garner has responded to the allegations as a “witch hunt.” He has denied all allegations.

One student told the Cincinnati Enquirer that if you were on Garner’s bad side, he had the power to destroy your career.

All of this, and possibly more. It’s disgusting.

What I think.

Again, I think it is disgusting.

Anyone in a position of power should know better than to use that power to control others. Be it students, employees, or otherwise.

What now?

Share this. Share this article and others like it with as many people as possible.

Support others. If someone confides in you about being abused, listen to them. Believe them. Help them.

Spread the word about Garner’s heinous acts. He deserves to have his reputation tarnished.

Actually, he deserves more than that. He deserves to pay for what he did to who knows how many students.

So share this.

So…

Even though I don’t normally post on Wednesdays, I could not stay silent about this issue.

Please, share this article as well as this one in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

We will never forget this.

Guide to Piccolo Materials

Piccolo makers use materials in their piccolos to get a distinct sound. Different materials can also affect the price of a piccolo. This post will give an overview to the different piccolo materials you can choose from.

Hannah B Flute | Guide to Piccolo Materials

When choosing a piccolo, you can choose from a variety of materials. The most common are metal, plastic, and wood. Plastic is the cheapest, followed by metal, and wood is more expensive.

There are also two types of plastic: straight plastic and composite.

In this post, we are going to explore the many piccolo materials. We will also look at the pros and cons of each.

Plastic

Plastic piccolos are one of the most common, especially for students. They are cheap, resistant to extreme temperatures, and they work well for beginners.

Some piccolos are made with both a plastic body and headjoint. Others have a plastic body and a metal headjoint.

The pros of a plastic piccolo include the lower price as well as the durability of the piccolo. If you will be playing outside, plastic piccolos can withstand the heat and cold. You don’t have to worry about cracking, like with a wood piccolo.

Cons of a plastic piccolo include the airy tone you can get. However, they are great in almost every other way. Even if you choose to buy a wood piccolo down the line, a plastic piccolo is a great back up instrument.

Common brands: Yamaha, Jupiter, Gemeinhardt

Price range (new): $500-900

Price range (used): $250-450

Composite

Composite is a type of plastic piccolo. These usually come configured with both a composite body and headjoint. Though you can buy a wood or metal headjoint if you wish.

These piccolos are a combination of plastic and wood. I currently play a composite piccolo, and I love it. Composite piccolos give you all the benefits of a wood piccolo without the price or the worries about cracks.

You can play a composite piccolo both indoors and out. No need to worry about the wood cracking. The plastic in the piccolo stabilizes the wood for a more refined sound and requires less management.

Common brands: Pearl, Guo, Di Zhao, Roy Seaman

Price range (new): $800-1100

Price range (used): $650-900

Metal

Metal piccolos are probably the least common, but they do exist. They serve their own purpose for piccolo players. Metal piccolos, like flutes, come in different metals.

You can find metal piccolos that are silver plated, solid silver, and even gold.

Metal piccolos, while uncommon, are great for marching band and other outdoor events. Metal piccolos carry more than plastic or wood, so they can be heard on a large football field.

My first piccolo was silver plated, and it was a great first instrument. I was able to use it in marching band, and it was also very affordable. Metal piccolos do cost a bit more than plastic piccolos, but not by much.

Used metal piccolos are a much better deal than new, because they are not in high demand.

If you plan to play outside a lot, metal piccolos are worth looking into.

Common brands: Gemeinhardt, Armstrong

Price range (new): $1100-2700

Price range (used): $250-1000

Wood

Professional piccolos are almost always made of wood. You can even choose from different woods. Grenadilla is the most common wood, and you can find many companies that use the wood in their piccolos.

I have played a school owned wood piccolo, and it was definitely a step up from my metal one. However, wood piccolos vary a lot in cost. Wood piccolos start at around $1500 and can go up ten-fold. The most expensive wood piccolo I have seen costs around $15000.

If you choose to buy a wood piccolo, be very aware of your budget, and shop smart. Unless you are a professional piccolo player in an orchestra, you probably don’t need all of the bells and whistles. You probably don’t need a handmade mechanism.

The biggest con of wood piccolos is the cost, but you can find lower cost wood piccolos.

Common brands: Yamaha, Lyric, Resona, Gemeinhardt

Price range (new): $1500-15000

Price range (used): $1200-10000

So…

What kind of piccolo do you play? Have you experimented with different piccolo materials? Comment below, and be sure to follow me on Instagram (@hannahbflute)!

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