NFA: Flying with Your Instruments

The 2018 NFA convention is less than two weeks away, which means you are probably thinking about your travel plans. Hopefully, you already have everything set, but you still might be worried about flying with your instruments.

Hannah B Flute | Flying with Your Instruments

While this is my first time attending NFA, I have flown with instruments before. So, I am going to share tips from my own experience as well as from various travel websites. The tips here will be in chronological order, so you can get a head start with the first few tips before you even arrive at the airport.

You really shouldn’t be worried about flying with instruments, and these tips will further diminish your worries.

1. Boarding/Check In Upgrades.

I don’t know much about other airlines, but Southwest has an amazing upgrade option called EarlyBird Check-in. Southwest is unique in that you do not get an assigned seat on the plane; you choose your seat when you board the plane.

So your boarding position could have a huge impact on not only the seat you get but also the overhead bin space. Overhead bin space is crucial for musicians, because it means you can still bring your carry on and personal item on the plane.

As the plane fills up, passengers might be required to gate check their items; DO NOT DO THIS. Your instrument needs to make it onto the plane in your hands (more later).

For these reasons, I decided to pay the extra $15 each way to purchase EarlyBird Check-in. This feature will check me in automatically, and it will check me an 12 hours earlier than normal check in.

If you can swing it, boarding and check in upgrades can relieve some or all of your travel stress.

2. Remove Excess Items.

Make sure your case is void of items that might be considered suspect. A simple reed knife or cigarette paper (for pads) might be okay to a musician, but that same item might pose a problem for security personnel.

So try and keep your case simple and neat, that way if your bag needs additional screening, it won’t take as long.

If possible, store these other items in another bag or suitcase. You can still have them on your trip, but it won’t seem as scary to those who might need to investigate your bag.

3. Get to the Airport Early.

Give yourself extra time to get to the airport, through security, and to your gate. You never know what the traffic will be like on the way to the airport; especially if your flight is at a busy time.

You also want to allow extra time for going through security. While there shouldn’t be a huge problem, you want to be prepared for the worst. Depending on your instrument or baggage, it might be manually searched. The TSA staff might also want to inspect your instrument itself.

Then, you will still have to make your way to the gate. I am pretty lucky in this regard, because the Kansas City airport (my home airport) does not have one central security line. Each group of gates has its own security line, so once I know where my gate is, I can go through security and be at the gate.

But if you aren’t so lucky, you will still need time to get from security to your plane’s gate.

4. Have Your Paperwork Organized.

Especially if your instrument is on the more expensive side, or you are traveling with a wooden piccolo (see CITES), you will want to have proof that you own your instrument.

Be prepared with the serial number, approximate value, and purchase receipt or invoice. While you shouldn’t need to show this information to anyone, it is good to have it for your records. You will also want this information if your instrument becomes lost or stolen.

God forbid something so terrible, but you should be able to show proof of ownership.

And a side note: be sure your instruments are insured, whether on their own policy or under a home owners or renters insurance. You want to protect your babies.

5. Pack Your Instrument with Other Items.

Whether you stick your flute or piccolo in a backpack or you store some clothes in a bass flute bag, make use of all available space. Packing your instrument with other items will help keep the instrument safe during any turbulence, but it will also allow you to carry more stuff on board the plane.

My goal every time I travel, alone or with family, is to carry on everything I bring. Yes, I know that’s a crazy goal, but it cuts down on time spent in the airport and lessens the chance of losing something of value.

I will probably be packing my flute in my backpack or carry on bag. That way, I can have my flute with me but also have space for things like my computer, snacks, and other necessities.

If you have to carry your instrument case separately, make sure you have documentation from the FAA that states musical instruments count as personal items.

6. DO NOT ENTER THE PLANE WITHOUT YOUR INSTRUMENT.

If you only follow one of my tips, make it this one. Do not check your instrument. Do not gate check your instrument. And do not let your instrument out of your sight/possession.

This is possibly the most important tip of all, because it actually concerns you and your instrument.

If your instrument is too big to carry on, please consider buying an extra seat. Yes, it is expensive, but the cargo hold is often not temperature controlled. Anything you check will be subject to fluctuating temperatures, and instruments (especially wooden ones) can sustain major damage.

Make sure your instrument makes it onto the temperature controlled cabin of the plane. If you play a string instrument, make sure you tune the strings down so that they don’t break. And make sure your instrument is in a hard case.

7. Maintain Physical and/or Visual Contact.

This goes for any instrument. During your whole trip, you want to make sure you know exactly where your instrument is. You can take a break if it goes up into the overhead bin.

Other than that, you want to keep track of your instrument. Thieves can be quick, and it only takes one second looking in the other direction for someone to steal your instrument.

In order to avoid this, don’t travel with an expensive looking case or bag; use the case your instrument came with. Flutists, as stylish as Fluterscooter bags are, they look and are pricey. Thieves can see an expensive bag and they will go for it.

But no matter the case you use, do not leave it with anyone. Do not set it down without securing it to you. When sitting at the airport, string your arm or leg through a strap on your bag. That way, no one can just walk by and grab your bag.

8. Use Straps.

Whether you are sitting at the gate, on the plane, or walking through the airport, straps are your best friend. Make sure your case or bag has straps. They could be backpack straps or an over the shoulder strap. But you want to have straps that can be secured to your person.

If you merely sling your case over one shoulder or hand carry it, the likelihood of dropping it or someone stealing it increases.

Don’t let that happen to you.

So…

As much as we’d like to believe the world is full of good people and that TSA is completely understanding, that is not always the case. Make sure you have extra time and that you are alert during your trip. And if you’re looking for something to do on the plane? Why not learn a foreign language?

Do you have any tips for flying with your instruments? Leave your tips in the comments!

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The Benefits of Doubling (+ a free guide!)

As flutists and other woodwind players know, you can’t always get away with playing just one instrument. Especially for music majors and professionals, the benefits of doubling are numerous.

Hannah B Flute | Benefits of Doubling

Playing a second instrument can help you get more performing and teaching gigs. It can get your foot in the door with other musicians. And it can even help improve your playing on your main instrument.

Today, we are going to talk about the benefits of doubling that flutists should know about, as well as the different types.

Primary to Primary vs. Primary to Secondary

To me, there are two main types of doubling. There is primary to primary doubling and primary to secondary doubling. Bret Pimentel has an amazing post for flutists who want to double, and that is where I learned this terminology.

Basically, primary to primary doubling is when a flutist decides to learn an instrument outside of the flute family. It could be saxophone, clarinet, piano, etc. It just can’t be another flute.

Primary to secondary doubling is when a flutist learns another type of flute. That could be piccolo, alto flute, or even flutes from other parts of the world.

The type of doubling that is best for you depends on your goals. Do you want to play in a big band or a musical theatre pit? Try saxophone or clarinet. Would you prefer to play in a symphony or opera orchestra? Then learn piccolo or alto flute.

Primary to secondary doubling will be slightly easier, because the technique for flutes is fairly similar. The embouchure changes only slightly.

Primary to primary doubling requires the player to learn a whole new instrument. You almost have to forget that you are a flute player.

A Little Backstory

I started music when I was 5 or 6, but I didn’t really start with woodwinds until age 14. At that time, I learned the saxophone. Flute came soon after, because I wanted more opportunities within the classical music scene. I wasn’t a huge fan of jazz.

Eventually, I decided that doubling between families took too much time away from what I really wanted. So, I settled on the flute family.

As mentioned, there are times where primary to primary doubling is perfect. But for the remainder of this post, I will be focusing on primary to secondary doubling for flutists.

Playing Piccolo

Piccolo is the most commonly asked for double in almost all situations. Whether you play in an orchestra or band, you will probably be called upon to play piccolo at some point. If you are an amateur player, though, it may not be as necessary.

For the career bound flutist, it is EXTREMELY difficult to have a career on flute that doesn’t include piccolo. It is possible, but rare.

Being able to play piccolo at least a little bit will help you a lot. It means you can audition for jobs that involve piccolo. You can take on advancing flute students who want to learn piccolo. So try to treat the piccolo as an extension of the flute.

Should You Play Alto Flute?

The alto flute is not quite as common as piccolo, but its use is growing. More flute choirs are popping up, and more flute players, pro and amateur, are buying alto flutes.

Modern composers are starting to write more and more for the alto flute. That combined with flute choirs means that the opportunities for playing and teaching the alto flute are increasing.

The alto flute will continue to become more important to flute playing. Its use in orchestras is limited, but that may change in the near future. From solo and chamber playing to teaching, the alto flute has many venues now.

If you are looking to expand downwards in the flute family, try the alto flute. Alto flute resources are limited, but Chris Potter has an amazing website for alto (and bass) flute. If the alto flute interests you, go check it out.

The alto flute is a little more complicated than piccolo, since it has two headjoint options. Other than that, it is an easy transition for most advanced flutists.

Related: Piccolo vs. Alto Flute

The Benefits of Doubling Flutes

I have found that piccolo and alto flute both help my flute playing in different ways. The piccolo helps me get better control in the high register. Playing alto flute helps better my air support.

Other benefits of doubling include marketability and access to more repertoire.

Marketability pertains to more than just professional musicians. If you play flute and piccolo, you will be able join more ensembles and competitions than if you only played flute.

Maybe your local band is full of flute players but no one likes the piccolo. If you can play piccolo well, you might just get your foot int he door.

The alto flute is similar. If your community has a smaller flute choir, they might need alto flute players. The group might be overflowing with C flutes. If you show up with an alto flute, you will have a better chance of joining the group.

Then there’s access to more repertoire. While the piccolo and alto flute don’t have as much solo repertoire as flute, they have their own set of music. Piccolo and alto flute have their own parts in chamber music, and they can provide more depth to larger works, too.

So…

There are many benefits of doubling that flutists can take advantage of. Even if you just add piccolo to your routine, you will be able to play a lot of different music, and it can help your flute playing.

Be sure to subscribe below to get your free guide to practicing as a doubler.

Do you play multiple flutes? Which ones? Leave a comment below with your answer!

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Piccolo vs. Alto Flute

Once you reach proficiency on the flute, it can be time to think about adding other “auxiliary” flutes to your inventory. Piccolo and alto flute are the two most common ones. So I want to share my thoughts on piccolo vs alto flute.

Some people will gravitate heavily towards one or the other. Some people might want to learn both. Others still might want to stick to the C flute.

Killer Harmony | Piccolo vs Alto Flute

If you have read my blog before, you probably already know I have a passion for the piccolo. I love the small size and being able to float above an ensemble.

If you are unsure of which auxiliary flute to learn, I am going to break it down. Piccolo vs Alto Flute.

Piccolo Pros

The piccolo is small. Even smaller than the concert flute. It can fit in almost any purse or bag. You can take it with you anywhere. It is super easy to just throw it in your bag with your flute.

The piccolo is *relatively* affordable. Piccolos start at around $400-500. Used piccolos can start even lower, but be cautious when buying used. My first piccolo was used, and it cost just under $300.

The piccolo has a growing repertoire. The piccolo is the most common auxiliary flute, so you will find more music for it than the alto or bass flute. There is not a ton of piccolo specific music, but most flute music will transfer over. And the piccolo repertoire is growing more and more each year.

The piccolo is common. You will find a piccolo part in most band pieces, a lot of symphonic orchestra works, and in quite a few flute choir pieces. If you are in a college marching band, you can also play it there. Most of the ensemble pieces I played in music school had a piccolo part, even if it was combined with flute.

Piccolo Cons

The piccolo is high pitched. I’m sure this is obvious, but the piccolo is a high pitched instrument. To avoid hearing damage, you need to wear earplugs. If you don’t like playing either the melody or other high parts, the piccolo isn’t for you. On piccolo, I often play the melody or a descant part that sits on top of the melody.

The piccolo is finicky. Since the piccolo is a small, high pitched instrument, it is very temperamental. Any tuning issues you have are magnified on piccolo. It can also be very easy to bend the mechanism during assembly or disassembly.

The piccolo is not a respected solo instrument. I would like to change that. There are a few great works for piccolo, and I would love to be able to give the piccolo a greater place in solo performance. However, the piccolo is not a common solo instrument.

The piccolo can crack. If you get a piccolo made of wood, it can be susceptible to cracking. In extreme weather, wood can crack and cause tuning and playing issues for the piccolo. If you will be playing indoors and out, it is best to get a composite piccolo or a composite for outdoors and a wood one for indoors.

Related: Should You Play Piccolo?

Alto Pros

The alto flute is lower in pitch. If you love the sound of the flute, but you don’t care for the higher notes, the alto is perfect. It is pitched a fourth below the C flute, so you play a little lower.

The alto flute comes with two headjoint options. If you have longer arms, you can get a straight head alto. If your arms are shorter, you can get a curved head. Each style does have different tendencies, but the flexibility is definitely a benefit to the alto flute.

The alto flute is unique. That could be taken as a euphemism for uncommon, but it’s true. Not many people play the alto flute, and even fewer people own an alto flute. Playing and owning an alto flute can be a great way to stand out as a flutist.

The alto flute is becoming more common. I know more and more flutists who are buying their own alto flute. The repertoire is growing (though slower than the piccolo). Most flute choir pieces call for an alto flute.

Alto Cons

The alto flute is uncommon. While the alto flute is prominent in flute choirs and has a growing solo repertoire, it is still uncommon in other settings. Very few orchestral pieces call for alto flute. I can only think of one band work with alto flute. It’s just not as common as the piccolo or C flute.

The alto flute is more expensive. One factor that can prohibit the purchase of an alto flute is the price. The lowest cost for an alto I have seen is around $1500. The price just goes up from there. If your budget is a big concern, the alto flute might not be the best purchase.

The alto flute is big. If you choose a straight headjoint, you will need quite an arm’s reach to play it. If you choose a curved headjoint, the balance can be awkward. With either headjoint, the alto is going to be bigger. You can’t just throw it in with your flute on your way to rehearsal.

The Verdict

Each flutist is different. We all have different interests and different budgets. We also all have different goals for our flute playing, from fun to a full career.

I don’t want to give a single answer as to the better choice, so here is what is better for certain groups.

For flute majors and serious flute students: Go for the piccolo. It will serve you more in ensembles and solo performances. It is also more affordable than the alto flute. If you need an alto flute, you can probably borrow one from your school.

For adult amateurs: You decide. If you play more in community bands and orchestras, then piccolo. If you play in a flute choir, choose the alto flute.

For semi-pro to professional flutists: Both, because the piccolo is almost expected of all professional flute players, and the alto flute will add to your marketability. When starting your career, you don’t need the most expensive model, but you should have both a piccolo and an alto. If you can’t afford both immediately, then get the piccolo first and save for the alto flute.

So…

I definitely do have a preference for the piccolo, but I do enjoy the alto flute. This holiday season, I think I might have to treat myself to an entry level alto flute. I’m out of school, and I would like to become a professional flutist. I need both a good piccolo (I own one) and a good alto flute to remain competitive in the current world of professional flute playing.

Do you have a piccolo or alto flute? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

How to Manage Multiple Instruments

If you are a musician, odds are you have thought about playing different instruments. Maybe you have thought of playing multiple instruments, or you already do.

Killer Harmony | How to Manage Multiple Instruments |If you want to play multiple instruments, you need to be smart about it. Keep everything organized, and know how to prioritize when you are short on time.

Playing multiple instruments is super common in music, especially for professionals and advanced amateurs. Whether you play multiple instruments in the same family, or you play all sorts of instruments, it can be tough to handle.

You have to be able to give each instrument its own time and attention, and you have to be able to keep track of them all. So, here are a few tips for managing multiple instruments.

1. Prioritize.

I know I say this a lot, but prioritizing is the key to success when you have a lot going on. Odds are, you cannot treat all of your instruments with the same priority. You have to choose which is the most important.

Pick a primary instrument.

If you haven’t already, you need to pick one instrument that is your main instrument. That is the instrument that will always get attention before the others. It is what you play in ensembles. It is also, usually, the instrument you have played the longest.

By picking a primary instrument, you know just what to practice if you are severely limited on time.

2. Determine the instruments’ relationships and purposes.

How are the instruments you play related? Do you mainly stick to string instruments? Are you a flutist who plays piccolo and alto flute? Or do you play instruments from different families.

Once you determine how all your instruments are related, and what purposes they serve, you can better organize your collection of instruments.

You may be a trumpet player who dabbles in piano, because your music degree requires piano proficiency. Or, you may be an oboist who still plays clarinet sometimes so that you can join marching bands or play in musical theatre shows.

Your instruments’ relationships and purposes will help you further prioritize and manage all of your practice. If you have a piano exam next week, you should probably focus on piano. If you only want to play guitar for fun, let it be a stress reliever.

You get it, right?

3. Get organized.

The more instruments you play, the more equipment and sheet music you will have. When you have more stuff, it is hard to keep it from becoming a huge mess in your room or your locker.

Organize your sheet music into different folders based on instrument and even the type of music. Get different bags or folders to organize your music equipment.

Keeping organized means you won’t be searching for a clarinet reed when you need it. Your reeds will be with your clarinet, and your rosin can stay with your violin. You will be less stressed.

4. Make a schedule.

If you have a certain amount of time to practice any instrument, you should make a schedule to stay on track. If you only have an hour, you should probably focus on your main instrument.

Have more time? Warm up and practice your main instrument, and then move to your other ones. Use your upcoming events to figure out what needs the most attention.

If the marching season is over, odds are you won’t need to spend time on the mellophone. Are methods exams coming up? Get out those beginner books and practice for your test.

5. Get the right gear.

If you have a ton of instruments to deal with, you want to get some gear that will help. There are cases which can hold multiple instruments, if you play combinations often. You can also find instrument stands for just about any instrument.

As a flutist who frequently plays piccolo, I love having a flute bag that will fit both. I can grab my flute bag knowing that both instruments I need will fit, and I can cut down on bags to carry.

If you play a larger instrument, you can even find a case that has a pocket for your music. Instead of carrying your instrument and also a music folder, you can keep everything together.

For the pianists, you can get a binder, a multi pocket folder, or a good tote bag to keep your music and metronome in.

Related: Supplies for Every Musician

6. Be flexible.

If you play more than a couple of instruments, you probably won’t play all of them every day. That is completely okay. Things happen, and we might not have as much free time as planned.

This is where it is important to be flexible. If a guitar string breaks and you’re out of replacements, move to another instrument. If all your reeds have gone bad, take a break and practice piano or something.

Flexibility is hard, but it is necessary when you have a lot going on.

You need to remember that you chose all of these instruments, and you should be able to go with the flow that they all bring.

7. Music should be fun.

Whether you are an amateur or you want music to be your career, keep at it for the music. Music should be fun. Adding multiple instruments to your arsenal is awesome, because it adds to the amount of music you can play.

If you want a career in music, it will help you to play multiple instruments, but play music because you love it. If you only add in another instrument because you think it will get you more money or fame, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

So…

How many instruments do you play? I play flute, piccolo, piano, and I have also dabbled in many other instruments. So, let me know if you would like to hear or see me play!

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