How to Sight Read

There are many skills that musicians must develop. Finger agility, hand-eye coordination, note reading, and many more. The skill that is possibly the most important is sight reading.

Hannah B Flute | How to Sight Read

If you can sight read music, you can do just about anything. Sight reading allows you to play in ensembles, learn pieces more quickly, and even take on last minute gigs.

This post is all about how to sight read. Start off on the right foot with your next piece by sight reading it first.

What is Sight Reading?

Sight reading is exactly what it sound like; it is where you read and play a piece of music at first sight. This is an important ability that you should learn as soon as you can.

If you are not able to sight read, that means you will have to spend even more time looking at the piece before you can actually start to play it. sight reading speeds up that initial process of learning a piece.

Sight reading not only speeds up the learning process, but it also means you can play in more settings than on your own.

Why is Sight Reading Important?

Most ensembles do not pass out the parts before the first rehearsal. Your first look at the piece will be with everyone else around you. You will not have the time to look over the whole piece to figure out what the hard parts are.

Ensembles require you to sight read in the first rehearsal. Only after reading through the piece will you (usually) get to break the piece down and work on it.

If you are serious about music and want to take on gigs, sight reading is sometimes necessary. You may have one rehearsal with the other musicians, and that may be the time when you get your part. In that case, sight reading will help you give a better performance without a ton of rehearsal time.

Know Your Music Theory

A big part in sight reading is knowing how to read music. Know all the notes in the written range of your instrument. Check out this PDF if you don’t know your instrument’s range.

You should also be able to read simple and complex rhythms. Notes and rhythms form the basis for written music, and those foundations will help you sight read with ease.

Be sure you know your time signatures and your key signatures. If applicable, know the different clefs that your instrument plays in. That will help you with the next step.

Check the Piece

Before you start to play a piece, there are a few things you should check. First, check the clef. While flutists and violinists will only ever play in treble clef, bassoonists and cellists could play in bass or tenor clef.

Next, check your key signature. Part of knowing the notes is knowing if any are sharp or flat. The piece won’t sound right if you miss every F# or Bb.

Thirdly, you should check the time signature. The top number notates how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number notates the type of note (quarter, eighth, half) that gets a beat.

Lastly, you should also check to see if there is a metronome marking. In ensembles, the conductor will set the tempo, but in your own practice, it’s on you. You don’t have to sight read fast pieces at tempo, but you should at least know what you’re working towards.

The Next Downbeat

When you finally get to sight read, there is one thing that you should always do. Get to the next downbeat, visually and physically. Avoid focusing on each note as it comes up.

Yes, music from the baroque and classical periods are fairly predictable, but romantic and 20th century composers are less so. Newer works have more chromaticism and other weird quirks that you need to prepare for.

If you’re a flutist playing in Db major, it’s tempting to use the thumb Bb for everything. But if you get a rogue high Gb, that Bb thumb will cause you to sound flat. Other instruments probably have similar issues.

So always keep your eyes ahead of yourself in the music. That will help you stay on track and avoid mistakes while sight reading.

Practice

As with anything in music, you will not become a master overnight. Sight reading takes practice. If you take lessons, ask your teacher for sight reading exercises. If you do not take lessons, look online for easier pieces for your instrument.

Incorporate sight reading into your practice routine, just like scales and tone exercises.

You will not be perfect, after all, sight reading is only your first time playing a piece. But sight reading practice will help you with reading music and, in a way, multitasking.

Sight reading requires you to adapt to any changing key and time signatures, look out for upcoming sections, and play the piece in time.

So…

Do you have any sight reading tips? Leave them down in the comments!

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Recommended: Music Apps

I am part of many flute related Facebook groups, and I always see people looking for recommendations on what gear to buy, where to shop, etc. So I decided to create a little series here on the blog with my recommendations. Today’s entry is music apps.

Hannah B Flute | Recommended: Music Apps

Hopefully this series will be helpful to anyone shopping for a flute, a case, cleaning materials, music, or other accessories. I wanted to start with music apps, because a lot of them are free or cheap, and you can download them today.

This post will have two parts: apps for your phone and apps for your computer. Now, I do use an iPhone and Mac, so some of the apps may only be on those platforms, but there will probably be a Windows or Android alternative.

MusiciansKit

This is a free app for Apple, but similar apps exist for Android.

MusiciansKit is a tuner, metronome, and audio recorder all in one. If you are like me and you don’t have a ton of space on your phone, an all in one app is perfect for you.

Instead of having to maintain space for three different apps, you have all you need in a single app.

The tuner part also has a tuning fork, which you can change to the pitch you need. You can use A=440, 442, etc. or you can have the tuning fork play any other note.

The metronome also has some advanced features you won’t find on a physical metronome. You can change the beats per measure, thereby creating an emphasized downbeat. You can also add in subdivisions.

While most phones already have some sort of voice recorder app, it is nice to have one specifically for your music recordings. I don’t use the recorder function as much as I should, but it is an easy way to record yourself in a practice session or for a lesson or competition.

You will probably want better recording equipment later on, but an app is a great way to get started.

YouTube

I listen to a lot of recordings on YouTube. When I don’t have my computer, I use the YouTube app to find a video or audio clip of the piece I’m working on. You can find a lot of different recordings on YouTube.

One of the things I like about YouTube over, say, Spotify or Pandora, is that you can watch the videos that people post. As important as it is to listen to great players, listening will only help you so much.

Watching video of great players can give you more insight into how to get a better sound or build your stamina for performances.

If you find a musician you really like, you can even subscribe to their channel. That way, you can see more of their recordings and videos.

SymphonyPro

If you have ever wanted to compose or arrange music, this is the app for you. It is available for both iPhone and iPad, though they are technically different apps.

The iPad app costs $14.99, and the iPhone app costs $4.99, though you can get the iPhone app for free with proof of purchase of the iPad app.

SymphonyPro is a music notation app, and there are multiple ways you can use it. You can use the onscreen piano keyboard, onscreen guitar fretboard, or manual entry. If you have an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, you can write the notes like on paper.

MuseScore

If you prefer using a desktop music notation program, consider MuseScore. This program is available for both Windows and Mac. Other popular music notation programs, like Finale and Sibelius, cost hundreds of dollars, but MuseScore is free.

MuseScore is open source, which explains the price tag, but it definitely does not lack any features. You can write solos or large group works. You can add dynamics, accidentals, and articulation markings.

If you are just getting started with notation, or you’re on a budget, MuseScore is a great way to go. And because it is open source, there is a huge online community where you can go for help.

Your download even comes with a one page guide for the basics of MuseScore.

So…

Have you used any music apps? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

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Piccolo Bores: Cylindrical vs. Conical

A while back, I wrote a post about different materials that piccolos are made of. You can find piccolos in various metals, woods, and even plastic. Aside from their different materials, you can also find different piccolo bores.

Hannah B Flute | Piccolo Bores

The bore is the shape of the inside of the tube of a wind instrument. Many instruments, like the oboe, have a conical bore. Other instruments, such as the concert flute, have a cylindrical bore.

You asked for it, and now I’m delivering! In this post, we are going to look at the differences between cylindrical and conical piccolo bores.

Cylindrical Bore

If an instrument has a cylindrical bore, that means that the tube does not get larger or smaller from one end to the other. The best example for this is the modern metal flute.

If you measure the diameter of a flute at the tenon between the headjoint and body, you will find the same measurement at the end of the foot joint. The headjoint itself does taper slightly, but that is beside the point for this post.

Pros

A cylindrical bore gives a fuller sound in the low register. Since the tube diameter does not get smaller at the end, the sound has more space to resonate.

Cylindrical bores also tend to have a more even scale, and the harmonics are closer to where they should be. Cylindrical bore piccolos are also more similarly built to flutes than conical bore piccolos.

Cons

Not many piccolos are cylindrical bore. That makes these instruments hard to find. Most cylindrical bore piccolos are made of metal, which is not usually a preferred material.

Because the low register is so strong, other tuning issues, particularly in the upper range, can arise. That means more time practicing or searching for alternate fingerings.

Models

Nagahara Mini

Jupiter JPC700

Armstrong 204

Most metal piccolos

Conical Bore

A conical bore instrument has one end that is noticeably smaller or larger than the other. Within the instrument, the tube tapers like a cone. In some instruments, like the oboe, it gets bigger as you reach the end of the instrument.

The case is reversed with the piccolo; the end of the instrument is smaller than at the top.

Pros

Conical bore piccolos are plentiful. Most piccolo models are made with a conical bore. If you only plan to learn how to play one bore, go for a piccolo with a conical bore.

Piccolos with a conical bore have fewer tuning issues than their cylindrical counterparts. And since most professionals and teachers have played a conical bore piccolo, more information and alternate fingerings are readily available.

Cons

The footjoint end of a conical piccolo is smaller than on a cylindrical piccolo, and that results in a smaller sound in the low register. Some piccolos, like those by Yamaha, really struggle in the low range.

One reason that the flute is cylindrical is because of various developments that helped the flute become a better instrument. However, the piccolo has been left in the dust. It is almost as if the piccolo is stuck in the 19th century, pre Boehm.

Models

Gemeinhardt 4SP, 4SH & 4SS

Most plastic, composite, and wood piccolos

How to Choose?

In most cases, you cannot request a certain bore for a piccolo. Some models are made with a cylindrical bore, others with a conical bore. While you can change certain specs on a piccolo, like adding a split E, that is not the case for the bore.

Rather than choosing a piccolo because of its bore shape, choose a piccolo based on materials, workmanship, and how it fits you. I have played an owned both a cylindrical bore piccolo and a conical bore piccolo, and they both play well.

It’s less a question of the shape and more a question of whether or not you can get a good sound out.

So…

Have you tried both cylindrical and conical bore piccolos? Which piccolo bore did you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

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Facebook Groups for Flutists

Facebook has gotten a bad rap with a lot of people. They are constantly changing the new feed algorithm to manipulate which posts you see. Facebook also isn’t as popular as other social media platforms.

Hannah B Flute | Facebook Flute Groups

There is one thing that Facebook excels in: groups. Facebook groups work similarly to online forums, except you can use your Facebook profile. I am a member of quite a few Facebook groups for flutists, and I love being able to ask questions and share my insights with others.

Not every flute group will benefit every flutist, so in today’s post, I am going to give a brief description of each group. I will also include the type of flutist that I think would benefit from each group.

Flute Forum

I have to start with what is possibly the biggest flute group on Facebook. Flute Forum is a public group, which means you don’t need to be a member to see posts and comments. You do need to be a member to post your own questions and comments.

This group is run by a couple guys at Weissman Music in New York. They offer repair services as well as flute sales. Because of this, you will see sales pitches from time to time, but the majority of posts are from forum members.

Perfect for: any flutist looking to connect with others online

Not for: people who do not want to ask or answer questions

Join here.

New Again Flutist

This group used to be known as Facebook Flutist Network. A few months ago, the admins decided to make it a place for flutists who were returning to the instrument after a hiatus.

You can find and share tips for returning flute players as well as get help and advice from some of the pros. While I am not a returning flutist, I love getting to share tips and tricks with one of my favorite groups of flute players.

This is a closed group, meaning you can only see posts if you are a member.

Perfect for: flutists returning to the flute, pros looking to give advice

Not for: long time flutists who do not want to answer questions

Join here.

Flutist Facebook Association

This group is a great place to share recordings, articles, and other promotions with other flutists. It is a small group, and it is closed, but it is a good place to learn about up and coming flutists.

You can find new musicians to follow, and you can share your own work. This is not the most popular group, but it is a good outlet for sharing and finding other flutists.

Perfect for: flutists looking to find other musicians and share their work

Not for: asking a ton of questions

Join here.

Flute Players International

This group functions similarly to Flutist Facebook Association, except it is a public group. You can share posts as with FFA, but people do not have to be members to see your posts.

You can find new and emerging flutists and share your own recordings and works with others. Flutists from all over the world can share their stuff here, and you can learn from all of them.

Perfect for: sharing your work and finding new flutists to follow

Not for: asking a ton of questions

Join here.

Flute Tips Group

This group is for sharing and learning tips for the flute. Ads are not allowed in this group, so you can be sure that you are getting good tips, no strings attached. The group is not as active as some, but it fills a nice niche.

Most of the posts are people sharing tips, but you can also ask others for tips and solutions to problems. This group is a public group, so you can see the posts without being a member.

Perfect for: finding and sharing flute related tips

Not for: selling or promoting products, services, etc.

Join here.

Piccolo Page

If you play piccolo or want to learn about it, this is the group for you. It was based on the concept of Flute Forum, but it’s for piccolo. The group is still small and not very active, but it is a good resource for new piccolo players.

It is a public group, so you can check it out to see what sorts of posts are shared before you ask to join. A lot of the bigger flute groups can get bogged down, and Piccolo Page fills a void just for piccolo players.

Perfect for: piccolo players and enthusiasts

Not for: flutists who have not interest in the piccolo

Join here.

Low Flutes

Just as Piccolo Page exists for piccolo players, the group Low Flutes was started for flutists who also play alto, bass, and other flutes below than the concert flute.

The group, which is public, is run by Chris Potter, one of the most influential low flutes specialists. As with other groups, you can post questions, comments, and share links to performances and other works. If you are looking into alto and/or bass flute, this group is a great resource!

Perfect for: flutists looking to learn alto and bass flutes

Not for: flutists who aren’t interested in the low flutes

Join here.

Flutes for Sale

This public group is great if you are looking to sell or buy a used flute. You can post listings of any flutes you are looking to sell, and you can connect with potential buyers.

If you are looking to buy a flute, you can search for active listings that fit your needs. You can messages the seller of a flute you are interested in, and you can even buy through the Facebook marketplace.

Perfect for: flutists looking to sell or buy instruments online

Not for: flutists who have G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome)

Join here.

So…

These are just a few of the many flute related groups that you can join on Facebook. Each group has a slightly different purpose than the last, so you can probably find the group for you.

Are you in any Facebook groups for flutists? Let me know your favorites in the comments! And be sure to check out my previous post here.

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How Flute Trials Work

As flutists learn and grow, that student model no longer suits them. It’s time for an upgrade. There are so many different flutes out there for advancing musicians, that a trial is almost always necessary before buying a step up flute.

In this post, we are going to talk about flute trials, how you can get started with them, and how they work. Flute trials allow you to test out different flutes to see which one works best for you.

Hannah B Flute | How Flute Trials Work

There are multiple ways to get started with a flute trial. You can go through your own flute repair tech/dealer, you can contact a local music store, or you can go through an online store.

If you are visiting a flute convention, you can also check out the exhibition hall to see what flute vendors are there.

I have done trials both through my flute tech and through a local music store. I haven’t gone through an online store, and I will explain why later.

Flute Techs

A lot of flute repair technicians are also authorized dealers for some flute brands. If you need to take your current flute in for maintenance, you can ask to try a few flutes that your tech has in store.

Going through a flute tech is good, because they will probably have a decent selection of flutes for your to try. As with any trial, give them your budget, and they can find a few flutes that fit your needs.

Not all flute techs carry new flutes for sale, though they might have used flutes that their other clients are selling. Used instruments can be a good way to get a great instrument for less money.

Music Stores

In person music stores are another great way to test flutes. This is how I got the most recent flute (an alto).

I called a local music store and asked if they could order a couple of alto flutes for me to try. Only one of them ended up making it to the store; the others were out of stock. Once I tried the one that made it in, I fell in love.

If you don’t fall in love with the first flute you try, make sure to try others.

The really nice thing about going through a music store is that they handle the shipping. You call in and tell them which instruments you’d like to try, and they go about finding those instruments.

I worked with an area location of a national music chain. What they did was call to other stores around the country to find the models I wanted to try. I loved not having to deal with shipping. The store also had a few practice rooms open for me to really test the flute.

If you want to know how I tested my new alto flute, let me know in the comments!

Online Stores

Some online stores, like FluteWorld, offer trials. They send you a few instruments to try. You have a set trial period, usually 3-7 days, and then you send back any of the instruments you do not want.

I considered going this route for my alto, but I really didn’t want to deal with shipping to me and back to the store. If you don’t live near a flute dealer or music store, going through an online flute vendor is your next best option.

Another benefit of using an online flute store is that you can choose from a wider selection of flutes. These stores tend to carry more brands than flute techs and in person/general music stores.

If there is a specific brand or model you want to try, check out a few online stores. Be sure to shop around, because each online store has their own trial policy. The trial lengths differ, and some stores may require payment, even if you do not buy any of the instruments.

Conventions/Festivals

Flute conventions and festivals are a great place to try a LOT of flutes at the same time. Big flute conventions like the NFA convention attract vendors and players from all around the world.

If you want to try even more flutes than through an online store, a convention is the place to do it.

You probably will not be able to take a ton on trial at once, but you can visit various booths and test the different flutes. If you have no idea what flutes you want to try, this is a great way to narrow your list of choices.

Testing lots of flutes can help you figure out which ones are absolutely not for you. You can eliminate those flutes from your list to try. If you find a few that you want to play with some more, then you can make note of that and set up a more thorough trial later.

So…

There are many ways to test out a flute before you buy it. In most cases, a trial will benefit you. You can test different flutes to see which works best for you, and you can be assured that you make the right purchase.

If you want to learn about how I test flutes, leave a comment below, and I can write a post all about my process!

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