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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The Benefits of Learning Music as an Adult

There are many benefits to learning music, no matter your age. But a lot of people believe that you can’t learn how to play an instrument as an adult. I’m here to tell you that that is not true.

If you have the drive and the passion, you can learn (or re-learn) an instrument at any age. In fact, there are even a few benefits to learning music later in life that younger students lack.

Hannah B Flute | Benefits of Learning Music as an Adult

In this post, we are going to look at some of the biggest benefits that adult and adolescent music students have over their grade school-aged peers.

1. The Choice.

While some people know what instrument they want to play from a young age, others might be pressured or forced to learn a specific instrument. Also as a young student, you have little to no choice in the music you play.

This all goes away when you are older. As you start to have your own income, you have (some) choice in where it gets spent. You have the ability to choose which instrument you play as well as what music you play.

Freedom of choice makes it a lot easier to stick with something when you get frustrated. It was your decision to learn this instrument or that piece. When a teacher or parent makes the decisions, it can be harder for the student to stay motivated.

As an adult or even as an adolescent, you can choose just about everything having to do with music. You can choose your instrument, the music you want to learn, and even your teacher.

And now with the internet, you have access to more qualified teachers than ever. Want to learn from someone in film music but you don’t live in LA? There’s the internet! Want to learn from different teachers? The internet can help with that, too.

Your options are unlimited.

2. The Finances.

Sorry to say it, but playing music gets expensive. From purchasing your first instrument or an upgrade to buying sheet music or taking private lessons, music is expensive.

When you are younger, you are at the liberty of your parents on spending money. A frugal parent, or one that doesn’t play music themselves, may not see the value in spending money on music. That’s not a bad thing at all. Frugality is never bad.

But it can be a problem for younger talented music students. A lack of finances can stunt your progress. If you are stuck on a beginner instrument, for example, showier pieces can be harder to play. The mechanism of the instrument is only built to handle so much.

When you are an adult, or an adolescent with a part time job, you have your own money to spend how you wish. While some of that money has to go toward food, rent, transportation…you can choose to put your disposable income toward music.

Your own income allows you to make decisions you couldn’t if you relied on a parent.

3. The Time.

When you are out of school, or at least in college, you have more time for fun activities than in grades K-12. Younger students have a full seven hours of school plus other extracurriculars plus homework.

As a college student or working adult, you don’t have all of that. College students (non-music majors) average 15 hours of class per week, and thus have more time for themselves.

Working adults work their 40 hours a week and then don’t have any homework or studying at all. You can spend your free time any way you wish. It is easier to start new hobbies when you don’t have mounds of homework each day.

You can still get the same amount of sleep and rest, but you can spend more time on other things. Some younger students get overwhelmed when they have classes, extracurriculars, and homework all on top of their music.

Sadly, music is one of the first things to go when a student doesn’t have much free time.

As an adult, you have more free time to pursue your own hobbies and interests.

4. The Desire.

As stated above, some students are pressured or even forced into playing a specific instrument. Whether by an overbearing parent or a desperate band director, younger students don’t always get to play the instrument they want.

When you are an adult, that goes away. You get to play the instrument you want to play. That desire will take you much farther. That also means you will probably progress more quickly.

Passion and desire fuel us in all aspects of life, and music is no exception. Your desire to play your chosen instrument will give you the motivation to practice and improve so you can play more challenging pieces.

No matter the instrument you choose, that choice came from your desire.

*Note: While you may feel like you are too old, please DO NOT force your own children into music just because you feel you missed your chance. You didn’t.

So…

When did you start learning your instrument? Are you a “late” starter?

Let me know in the comments!

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A Musical Christmas Haul

Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, Christmas has finally come once again! In honor of the commonly celebrated holiday, I wanted to do a little Christmas haul for the blog. First, I want to make it clear that I am in no way trying to brag. I am merely telling/showing you all what I got as inspiration.

If posts like these make you angry or upset, that is fine. This is your warning to click away and read some of my other posts.

Hannah B Flute | A Musical Christmas Haul

If you got some money or a gift card for Christmas, you can use that to get something from this post that interests you. If not, that’s cool too! Be sure to leave a comment below with your favorite Christmas (or Hanukkah) gift!

Now for the haul!

Music Journal

One of the gifts I received this year was a music journal. It is pretty awesome, because the left side of each layout is lined just like normal notebook paper. The right side, however, has blank staves for composing!

I have been wanting to get into composing and arranging for awhile, and I can’t always get into it using technology. This way, I can write stuff down with a pencil on paper.

The journal is also smaller than typical letter paper. That makes it a perfect fit for a purse, in case I happen to need or want it on the go!

Musical Pencils & a Pencil Holder

I also got a set of three musical pencils. They are not the mechanical kind, so I will need to get a sharpener, but ya girl can never have too many pencils.

Along with that, I got a spring pencil holder that attaches to a music stand. I don’t have to worry about pencils getting in the way of my music anymore. The spring for the holder clips onto the bottom rack of the stand. I can keep my pencils close by without them being in the way of anything.

Amazon Gift Card

This gift came from my secret santa at work, and I have to say, they chose well! We did a secret santa gift exchange last week, and I got an Amazon gift card. If you didn’t know already, Amazon is my favorite online store.

They have almost anything you could think of. It’s great. I’m not sure what I will use the gift card for yet, but they don’t expire, so I have time.

Ocarina

Over the years, I have amassed quite the collection of non-concert flutes. I have a couple recorders, a couple tin whistles, and even a Native American flute. Until now, I didn’t have an ocarina, but I wanted to add one to my inventory.

I got a gorgeous 12 hole ocarina, and I can’t wait to learn how to play it. Ocarinas are nice and small, but they aren’t super high pitched.

The Mazzanti Method

Nicola Mazzanti is an Italian flutist, most known for his piccolo playing. He wrote a comprehensive book for piccolo. I had wanted this book since I first heard about it last summer. While I considered putting it on my birthday list (July baby, right here), I decided to wait.

It made it onto my Christmas list this year, and I am so happy to have received it! In case you haven’t been here long, I love the piccolo. It is a goal of mine to be known for my piccolo playing. So, I guess you could say I want to be the American female Nicola Mazzanti (lol).

Anyway, I think this book will help me improve my piccolo playing. I have other books by Trevor Wye and Patricia Morris, but Mazzanti specializes in piccolo, the others don’t.

Cedar Wood Fluterscooter Bag

Now for the granddaddy of my Christmas haul: a Fluterscooter bag! This was something I had wanted for quite some time, but I never had the courage (or whatever) to buy one for myself.

They are a bit pricey, but I had heard so many good things about them that I had to get one. I feel especially lucky to have one, because the Cedar Wood bags have been on backorder since early December.

If you would like to see a review/an update on what I keep in my flute bag, comment below! I’m sure I will do one or the other in the future, but let me know which (if either) you would like to see first!

Other…

I did get some other gifts, like a book on personal finance, that don’t directly relate to music. So I decided to leave those out of this post.

And again, I have to say THIS POST IS NOT ME BRAGGING.

I know it may seem that way, but Christmas hauls have been a thing for years, and I thought I would jump on the train this time.

So.

Did you get any musical gifts this holiday season? What was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

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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!

Flute Tips for Older Beginners

There are tons of resources for younger music students, but there aren’t many books or websites that target older learners. I started playing flute at age 16, and many of the basic beginner tools and books were for elementary school students. So, I want to share some flute tips for older beginners.

Killer Harmony | Flute Tips for Older Beginners

I have played music of some sort since I was 6, but flute came later. Whether you have prior music experience or not, I hope these tips help you up your flute game.

One of the biggest assets that older beginners have is their drive. Many young students play music because of their parents or friends. When you’re older, you can focus on music and do it for you. Whether you are 16 or 60 and up, these tips are for you.

Start with Rubank.

The Rubank books are a great beginner method for flute. Most “band books” are created with younger players in a class in mind. Those books aren’t well suited for older beginners or students who are learning independently.

Rubank has four volumes across three levels for flute players. The beginner method is similar to other beginner books, but it goes a little bit faster. In my experience, older music students are more motivated to improve.

Older beginners can handle the speed at which Rubank moves along. It is easier to learn and progress on an individual basis rather than in a class. If you start with a good quality method book, you will be better prepared for the future.

Get a Good Student Flute.

By good student flute, I don’t mean those cheap no-brand flutes you find on Amazon or Ebay. As an older beginner, especially if you are financially independent, you can afford a better instrument.

While brands like Jupiter and Gemeinhardt are well known, they are not always the best quality. I would recommend brands such as Trevor James, DiZhao, and Yamaha for older beginners. Those instruments will last longer than other brands, and they will hold their value better.

Trevor James, DiZhao, and Yamaha are more expensive, but they are worth it. I have the Trevor James 10x, which plays just as well as my more advanced flute. I have also heard good things about the DiZhao and Yamaha student flutes.

Focus on Your Tone.

Tone is the foundation of your flute sound. When you are starting out and as you get better, make getting a good tone your priority. That is another reason why you want a good flute.

I always start with tone exercises when I warm up. Harmonics, long tones, and octave leaps are all essential to my practice routine.

If you are a full time student or you work full time, you probably have a limited amount of practice time. Tone exercises are a quick and easy way to build and maintain your sound on flute.

Listen to Recordings.

Since you cannot practice all the time, listen to flute recordings on your way to work. Have some music playing while you make dinner. Listen, listen, listen.

You can then try and emulate the sounds you hear on those recordings. Listening to music also helps you learn new pieces. As you reach the point of learning full repertoire, your ears can be a super valuable resource.

I don’t listen to recordings as much as I should, but they are extremely helpful when I do listen.

Join Online Flute Groups.

I am a part of a few different flute related Facebook groups. I love being able to both ask and answer questions about the flute in a safe space. Everyone in those groups has a different background, and we can all share our experiences to help others.

When you first begin the flute, you won’t be able to answer questions. You can ask all the questions you need, and there are many flutists who can help you out.

Flute groups are especially helpful if you cannot take private lessons. Members include everyone from beginners to professionals, flute teachers, and flute technicians.

Don’t Give Up.

If you take any advice from this post, let it be this. Do not give up on the flute. It can be difficult. You might have days where you don’t want to practice. You might have a bad tone day. Things happen.

If you really want to play flute, you have to work on it. Giving up is the easy option, but is it worth it? Music does wonders for the mind, body, and soul. We need more adult amateurs in this world. Music should not just be something for children. Music is for everyone.

If you do have a ton of doubt about playing flute, take a break. Step away from it for awhile. Give yourself a break. That might be all you need. You might go back to the flute and have a renewed love of the instrument.

So…

When did you start learning the flute? Are you an older beginner? Or a re-beginner? Let me know in the comments!