What I Learned Judging A Round of Pre-Screening Recordings

I was recently asked to be a judge for a round of pre-screening recordings, and it was my first time being on the other side of a recorded round. Listening through each candidate, I began to think about how I was listening based on the recording, and I made a mental checklist of things to take into account for myself and my students in future recording sessions.

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Here's what a I learned while judging a round of pre-screening recordings:


1. Recording Quality

Recording quality is really important for showcasing your true sound. The listener will have to guess about your tone if the quality is low or the distance from the microphone is off. Your tone is the first basis for determining your level of playing when it comes to competition recordings, and it makes the difference between the listener falling in love with your playing versus trying to decide on your ability in the first few moments. (Don't make them guess, make them love!)

2. Microphone Set-Up

Microphone angle and distance are just as important as a good recording device. Too far, and the quality can seem too low - the intricacies of your sound will be lost. Too close and you'll hear loud breaths and possibly even keys moving. Both things can distract the listener from how great you are.

3. Intonation

Intonation translates no matter the quality of recording! Take the time to practice playing in tune, and tune well on your recording day. A recording with few technical flaws but poor intonation throughout is very distracting to hear. Bring a recording device into your rehearsals - a phone works fine for listening back for pitch issues!

4. Play for the Space

Know the space you're playing in. If it's a dry room, be intentional about creating vibrancy and spin in the sound, and releasing the ends of notes. If it's a live or echoey space, keep things clear and precise.

5. Take a Sample First

Listen to the recording tests for yourself. Are your contrasts coming across? Are you happy with the balance? How's the distance and location of the microphone? Take a moment to make sure you're happy before proceeding.

Thinking back, I never heard the recording tests for myself - only the recording engineer listened. I didn't know how I was coming across in the room through the microphone, and in some cases, I would've played differently had I listened first. This can also help you hear whether you've tuned well or not before you proceed with a full take!

6. Have a Back-Up

Use a back-up recording device when possible. If you had a great take, but the recording device shut off halfway through (or you forgot to hit record altogether), you'll thank yourself for having a back-up device!

7. Don't Forget About Your Collaborator

Don't forget, your pianist is most likely going to be using an instrument that isn't their own. They may have insights or a preference as far as the location of your recording based on the instrument available, so account for this before deciding!



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Flute Advent Calendar: Self-Care + Taffanel + Gaubert!

This season, I'm giving myself the gift of self-care and intentional improvements each day in December. What's a more festive way to do that than with a Flute Advent Calendar?!

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Here's the guide:

  • Each day is filled with one exercise from Taffanel and Gaubert or an exercise in self-care or inspiration.
  • If you're going away at some point during the holidays and not bringing an instrument with you, fill in those days with mental practice! Listening to or watching inspiring performances is important, it can fuel your excitement to return to your instrument, rather than fueling the guilt and dread. It's easy and only takes a few minutes!
  • If you're feeling "too busy to have a real practice session" on any of the days, here's permission to approach each task without warming up or fully completing it before your timer goes off. (You choose how many minutes!)

 

Put perfection aside: the goal is to set an intention, practice the task around the intention, and improve one small thing in a specific way each day.


^ (Click on the above image to download a PDF Version)




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Instagram FAQ: Cameras, LefreQue, and Playing Fast!

One of my favorite things is connecting with other musicians via Instagram! In honor of hitting 10K followers this month, I decided to round up my most frequently asked questions and answer them all in one post!

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Equipment

 

  • What camera do you use for photos and videos, and how do you get your photos to look like that?
    • I use a Canon EOS M3 with a Rode microphone attached.
    • I recently had the honor of talking about creating images for the blog and Instagram in an interview with The Flute Examiner! Click here to read it!

 

  • What kind of flute and piccolo do you play on?
    • I play on an Altus 1507 with a David Williams-Gary Schocker Headjoint, and a Burkart Professional piccolo.

 

  • What are your thoughts on fill-in-the-blank-flute-brand?
    • I don't have a strong preference for or against any brand of flute, and I believe that choosing an instrument is highly personal because everyone is unique. My best advice if you're in the market for a new instrument is to take your time and try as many brands and models as possible - don't rule anything out until you've experienced it for yourself!

 

  • Where did you get your baroque flute?
    • I purchased my Simon Polak baroque flute from his booth at the National Flute Association Convention. You can find out about his instruments and see which conventions he'll be visiting at his website: www.earlyflute.com.

 

  • What is that thing on between the headjoint and body of your flute?
    • It's a LefreQue sound bridge! Find out all about what it is and how it works on www.LefreQue.com.

 

  • What are your thoughts on the LefreQue?
    • I took advantage of the free trial offered by many distributors, and tried a Silver, Yellow Gold Silver Plated, and Rose Gold Silver Plated in 41mm.
    • During the trial, I rotated through each option for two days. With the silver, I noticed no change at all. With both gold options, I noticed an added resonance to the sound, and also a subtle sense of "forgiveness" from cracking notes. I ultimately went with the Rose Gold option because it was a bit warmer than the Yellow Gold, which seemed a bit more harsh.
    • The difference is very subtle. If you're expecting a complete change in tone, note that it's an enhancement that's attached on the outside of the flute - it won't have the same impact as a new headjoint!
    • From my experience, it really varies from instrument to instrument, and the metal you choose can make the most difference, as well. (I had a friend try my LefreQue on her silver flute with a gold headjoint, and it seemed to stifle the resonance of her instrument.) I can't say if it will work for you, so I highly recommend taking advantage of a trial to test each of the metals and decide how well it works for your instrument. 

 

  • What app are you using when playing off an iPad?
    • I've actually never tried a music-reading app! I often pull pieces up right on IMSLP or flutetunes.com using Chrome or Safari. 

 

  • Why do you have a skeleton?
    • Because of Body Mapping! Learning to play and teach based on anatomical reality has transformed my approach to playing. Having a full-sized, three-dimensional skeleton as a reference is extremely helpful for observing and applying information about the body while practicing and teaching. www.bodymap.org

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Lessons

 

 

  • Do lessons via Skype really work?

    • The self-awareness techniques that guide my lessons are uniquely and perfectly suited for lessons via Skype! Lessons involve questioning, guided experimentation, and discussion to identify habitual barriers to uncover greater freedom. The verbal and visual feedback that occur during experimentation mean that breakthrough moments are more than possible via Skype! I have a great amount of experience listening and watching students carefully to detect and address subtleties in all areas playing.


See what current Skype students have to say!


Practice Tips

 

 

 

 


Thank you all for following along on Instagram, and for the opportunity to support you in your own journeys as much as you support me in mine!

 
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3 Tips for Effortless Technique in the Upper Register [Video]

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This video was inspired by a flutist who asked for advice for achieving more eveness in the third octave of the chromatic scale. I'm sharing my favorite tips for playing faster with greater precision in the upper register, including practice tips, exercises, and resources. 

Click Below to Watch!

 

1. Stability & Hand Balance [0:09]

2. Even Note Groupings and Anchor Notes [2:29]

3. Practicing Smaller Chunks in All Octaves [4:40]


 

want some more practice inspiration?



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Fall Favorites: 5 Inspiring Posts for Musicians 

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1. Hilary Hahn Commits to Practicing for 100 Days in a Row—with Unexpected Results

I took on the #100DaysofPractice challenge after seeing Hilary Hahn's inspirational posts, and I especially resonate with her following statement:

“It’s really hard to practice by yourself in a room every day on the same piece and know if you’re making progress or know if the process is working,” Hahn says. “Doing the project kind of created the bond for me where I realized that everyone is thinking about the same things and working toward these things and people do feel isolated at times.”


2. Lessons by Marcel Moyse: The Private Lesson Journals of September Payne, D.M.A

Dr. Payne shares insights into her lessons with Marcel Moyse, including wonderful quotes from lessons on De La Sonorite, Andersen etudes, and more!

"The goal of this article is to illuminate more of his precious teaching and to offer a unique glimpse into the intimate master class setting of lessons that were held at the home of Marcel Moyse in Brattleboro, Vermont."


3. 9 Things Singers Need to Know About Their Bodies - Total Vocal Freedom

Clear, useful advice that applies directly to flutists, too!

"Allow the head to move subtly up off the spine which lets the vocal mechanism hang freely and the breathing and support muscles of the torso work effortlessly." 


4.#FluteFridays: Breathing and Warmups by Mary Hales

Wonderful advice for the crucial components of warming up before your instrument is out of the case!

"...there’s a mindfulness aspect to the way I do my breathing exercises that really helps me get into the zone to practice."


5. Totally bored of playing long tones? Not working out for you? Here’s 15 things to consider tweaking first by Dr. Jessica M. Quiñones

Approaching tone study with mindfulness and a curious attitude, with 15 specific self-observation questions for problem-solving.

"...a physical check-in to see how you are using your body when playing."


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Grad School Auditions: What I Wish I'd Done Differently + What I'd Definitely Do Again!

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Many students choose to embark on their grad school journey just after graduating as an undergrad, and this was the case for me. I found this helpful because I had my teacher by my side to guide me through the process.

Our lessons in my final two years were geared towards preparing for grad school auditions, and it really contributed to the sense of confidence I felt about going through every step of the process from choosing schools that were right for me all the way through making my final decision.

I've learned a lot in the years that have passed since graduate school, and if I were to go through the application and audition process all over again, there are some things that served me well, and some things I wish I had known or thought to do.


What I'd Do The Same

I had an overall positive experience during my grad school auditions, and I ended up attending the school that was the perfect fit for me. I'd consider the following four things again:

 

1. Choosing Which Schools to Apply For

 

I developed an interest in body awareness techniques as an undergrad, and as a result, it led me to seek out schools and potential teachers that had a strong interest in those techniques.

There are plenty of highly respected schools and teachers out there, but narrowing my focus in on my main interests helped me ensure I was applying to the programs that I'd be happiest learning in.

If you're still early in your undergrad career, take an opportunity to explore what you're passionate about. What kind of artist do you want to be? Get to know the artists, teachers, and schools that align with your values and interests.

 

2. Keeping Fundamentals Strong

 

I was working on fundamentals and etudes with my teacher every week surrounding audition preparation, and as a result, I was in good playing shape beyond my repertoire. I had a strong practice schedule that felt well-rounded, and I was committed to improving each day.

If I were going through the process again without the guidance of a teacher, I would be sure employ a strong plan for fundamentals that helps me address my weaknesses on a daily basis. I would challenge myself to go above and beyond what feels easy to make sure I'm fully prepared.

The Paul Edmund-Davies Warm-Up Book has been incredibly challenging and rewarding, and comes with a guided plan in the front of the book for rotating through all the exercises if you're looking to up your fundamentals!

 

3. Choosing Repertoire


Applying for grad school during undergrad meant I was also preparing for a senior recital. I chose bigger pieces I had performed at my junior recital so they would only need polishing, and for any new, required pieces that I needed to learn fresh, they went straight onto my Senior Recital program.

Don't spread yourself too thin by choosing too many different pieces. Overlap and re-use as much as possible! Fortunately, the repertoire at my four prospective schools overlapped quite a bit, which is common for many school requirements. 

If I were doing this all over again, I would still choose the pieces I'm familiar with and feel strongly about. Playing those pieces that you end up playing for fun from memory translate into energetic and convincing performances in the audition room.

 

4. Audition Day


I did four in-person auditions, (one of which was a regional live audition that was video-recorded by a representative from the school), and I felt confident at each of them. I followed along with several consistent things that really served me well, and many of these "Audition Day Rituals" still stick with me and bring me comfort.

I shared a post on the 9 Things I Did Before Every College Audition, and I would still do all nine of these things again!

 

What I'd Do Differently

Knowing what I know now, there are several things that I'd go back and change about my audition preparation and pre-screening recordings. Here's what I'd do differently:


1. Excerpt Preparation

 

Having spent more time preparing for professional auditions, I know WAY more about orchestral excerpts, their context, and how to practice and perform them in a consistent, convincing way.

If I had known about the resources I shared in the following post, my excerpt game would've been especially strong:

 

2. Pre-Screening Recordings 

 

I did my pre-screening recording the day before Thanksgiving, so campus was very quiet and it was easy to use the recital hall without feeling rushed. 

If I were doing it all over again, however, I would bring a back-up recording device. I utilized our school's recording services, but the best take of my Mozart Concerto had an issue where several seconds in, it only played out of the right side of the headphones. I ended up using this recording and passing pre-screenings, but it wasn't ideal. Take steps to avoid any issues that could be a distraction away from your playing!

 

3. Balancing Preparation + Travel with Everything Else

 

I remember one of the weeks where I was flying out for an audition but also had a million other things to do with concerts, recitals, recording sessions, projects, and more. It was overwhelming to say the least!

Your music professors understand the grad school audition process, so speaking with them early on and letting them know when you're going to be travelling is a good idea. Ask for advice on how you can get ahead and keep from falling behind, and get started on projects and big assignments early!

I was definitely a procrastinator and did not take initiative in this department. If I were doing it all over again, I would've given myself at least one good marathon day a week spent in the library with plenty of coffee, snacks and a best friend to focus on getting ahead. I'd also use the Pomodoro Technique to focus and be more efficient with my time!

 

4. Preparing For a Strong Performance

 

I didn't experience too many issues with performance nerves as an undergrad. It wasn't until the end of grad school into my first couple of years of independence that it really began to expand and become an issue.

Because of this, I've since practiced having stronger focus while performing under pressure, employed meditation and mental practice, and most importantly, learned to practice in a deeper way to ensure muscle memory would prevent slip-ups.

Here are a few of the resources that have helped me practice and mentally prepare for stronger audition performances:


Whether you're years away or just a few months away from graduate school auditions, know that you'll end up right where you need to be to grow in ways you haven't realized yet! Enjoy the excitement of it all, seek balance, and trust the process! You got this!


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Better Low Notes: Optimizing Air, Space + Lips

When it comes to low notes, some players have a natural ease while others struggle to find consistency. I frequently spend a good deal of practice time problem-solving in the low register, and have found the following ideas to be the most useful for me and my students.

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Breath Is The First Priority:

Keeping A Low Center of Gravity in the Body

  • I discovered this phrase in an article by Helen Bledsoe filled with ideas on playing low notes. In the article, she mentions an idea from Robert Dick: "Drop the belly. A trick from brass players, it keeps the center of gravity low." 

  • Releasing excess tension in the upper body (arm structure and abdomen) allows the center of gravity to shift towards the body's natural middle- the hips joints! A body in balance is supported by the floor, with the the upper half balancing on top of the legs. From here, the torso is free to enjoy the movements of breathing - Our inhalations can be efficient and we can maintain spaciousness to support the airstream.

  • Are the arms overworking? Release the weight of the arms, allow the elbows to hang, and keep the hands and fingers light: There's no need to squeeze the keys if your flute is functioning properly without leaks!

  • All-in-all, squeezing is a sign of effort that can get in the way of breathing, and we can redistributed this effort in a more useful way! Try singing and playing to encourage and open and well-supported airstream and notice the resultant feeling.

SECOND: JAW FREEDOM + SPACE WITHIN THE MOUTH

How Do I Drop The Jaw?

  • In addition to releasing tension in the upper body, releasing excess tension in the jaw and face is important, too! If the direction to "drop the jaw" involves forcing or pulling downward, you may begin to feel discomfort over time, as well as excess tension in the face. Consider the feeling of releasing or softening the face.

  • Do you clench your jaw as a habit? As an emotional response? Have a look at the muscles that move the jaw and lips! The masseter is a strong muscle used in chewing that helps us close the jaw, and it's attached to the cheek bones! Consider a feeling of softness surrounding the cheeks to encourage a more natural, neutral jaw feeling.

  • The tongue can lie low within the mouth to encourage a feeling of spaciousness. Imagine a warm, window-fogging airstream gliding across the floor of the mouth. What is it like to play with an "ooooh" vowel shape? What about "awwww?"


Finally, Embouchure:

Mushing the Lips Forward + Freeing the Lower Lip

  • Releasing and softening the face forward can also encourage us to release the embouchure forward, especially the corners. (We can get away with playing higher notes with corners that are pulled back, but the low register is especially difficult to play this way!) What is it like to release the face and the lips toward the lip plate?

  • Low notes need the embouchure to be available in order to be flexible, which means the lower lip also needs to be free and available. Use a mirror to experiment with a lower position if the lip plate is covering too much of the lower lip. 

  • With greater possibility for embouchure flexibility, we have more possibilities to uncover the optimal air angle needed for low notes. What is it like to roll out? What is it like to aim down toward the elbow? Does my airstream aim left, right, or straight? Is the aperture focusing the sound?

 


In Conclusion

The best way to get better at low notes is work on them daily with a sense of curiosity! Improving should involve a spirit of experimentation and trial and error, so be patient. Use a mirror, try out different ideas, and be kind to yourself if you make messy sounds, they're just information! Every day is a chance to become a little bit better than yesterday, no matter where you are!

recommended exercises: 


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Surviving the Warm-Up Room (2 Things That Helped Me Play My Most Confident Audition Yet!)

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In the last audition experience I wrote about, I had discovered the importance of simplifying my pre-performance routine to remove crippling over-thinking in the crucial moment just before beginning an excerpt. It helped tremendously. (Read all about that here!)

This time, however, I wanted to address another issue.


Confidence

...and how it all went out the window in the warm-up room.

Any confidence that I had mustered up on my way to the audition had crumbled once I stepped into the warm-up room and started hearing 20 flawless Peter and the Wolf excerpts from every corner.

It got worse once I heard the flutist in the corner telling someone else she just got her degree from fill-in-the-blank-conservatory and has been playing with such-and-such wonderful orchestra. 

I made my best effort to say: Don't listen...just warm-up...who cares...I'll be fine... but I spent so much energy trying to block out everyone else that I had lost myself completely. 


1. Finding Confidence Earlier in the Process

On Day 79 of #100DaysOfPractice on Instagram, I made an important realization when I started warming up just before going to get lunch one day.

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I had been listening to inspiring recordings by my favorite artists that morning. When I went to play, I waltzed right up to the big window in the living room, started playing, and I realized that I was uninhibited

I was not over-thinking any aspect of my playing, and I realized this is what confident playing feels like.

I knew that performance mode can't thrive when you're still in analyzing-practice-mode, but experiencing it in this moment was illuminating. This was a whole new level of letting go and simplifying my effortful thoughts and actions, and I wanted to access this every day leading up the audition.


2. Headphones

After understanding how I could access confidence through spontaneity and turning it into a daily habit leading up to the audition, I needed a new tactic for holding onto confidence in the warm-up room. 

Several books, articles, and friends told me to wear headphones. (Why wasn't I doing this before?!) I made a playlist of comforting and uplifting songs paired with about 50% Beyonce, and I warmed up with headphones on. 

I was already comfortable using ear plugs while warming-up, but I also made sure to practice warming up with other songs playing to get used to the feeling before doing this on audition day.

In the actual warm-up room, I still heard Peter and the Wolf, but I also heard songs that remind me of who I am and what I enjoy outside of a warm-up room.

This is the part that made a world of difference in allowing me to remain confident: not just blocking out everyone else, but also fueling my own identity and connection to confidence outside of playing an instrument.

 

The Bulletproof Musician just shared an article on the subject of using music to ease anxiety this morning: Click here to read it!


In Conclusion

With each new audition experience, some new part of the preparation process comes into focus, especially regarding the mental aspects of performing under pressure. 

Confidence comes with every new learning experience, and the ability to simplify and trust is key in removing mental obstacles.


How do you remain confident in auditions? Do you use headphones in the warm-up room? Tell me in the comments below!


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What Your Test Notes Are Trying To Tell You

Do you or your students rely on test notes before playing?

If the first test note is undesirable, we play a second or third with the goal of improving. Ultimately, we want our actual first note to be the best. The process often goes like this:

1. Play Test Note

2. Judge and Adjust

3. Play Test Note Again or Begin Piece

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Ultimately, removing the need to play a test note is an important goal:

In a performance or an audition, every note is judged, and the ability to begin a piece confidently without playing additional notes after approaching the stage is a necessary performance skill. 


Test Notes Can Reveal Performance Habits

 

Long tones and isolated tone studies provide a lot of information about how we create our best sounds.

When we remove the other variables of playing in context, we can focus on embouchure, air speed, vowel shapes, and more, and this process involves a high level of awareness.

Quick test notes, however, can tell us how we actually respond under pressure when we're about to begin a specific piece, and how we may change certain things when approaching different musical contexts.

 

That's an important difference!

 

If you begin a piece on a soft high note and go for a test note to make sure it will happen, your body is probably giving you a lot of information before you even begin. 

In my experience, I stop myself and realize that I've lost all sense of my head balance in relation to my spine, my throat feels more tense, and my thighs have started gripping!


Next time you find yourself testing notes, pause and gather some information. 

Here are Some Useful Questions:

 
  • Do my feet change? 

Ground yourself in preparation to play, keep awareness on your feet and their contact with the ground while inhaling, and continue to notice through the first sounds.

Do your feet attempt to leave the ground? Do you feel a sensation of pulling upward caused by excess tension and doing?

Noticing if the feet feel less contact with the ground is a sign of the body gripping and pulling upwards.

 
  • Do I Hold At the Top of The Breath?

During your inhalation, do you attempt to help the body inhale by adding tension at the top of the breath?

I feel the arms gripping over the ribs and a tense feeling near the sternum when I'm consciously gasping in air.

To go from activating to a state of simply allowing optimal breathing, watch the journey of air, beginning with watching the air coming into the mouth. Lay on the floor to get to know the feeling, as the entire body can be supported by the floor while we observe.

*The most important tip for beginning sounds with a free feeling in the body is to move slightly and fluidly while breathing and into creating sound. Holding the body in a rigid position for the breath and before the initial sound can reduce the feeling of ease and increase anxiety.


Cultivating Trust + Alleviating Test Note Dependency

Once the body has given information, notice what information the mind can provide when you play a test note.

 

  • Does the test note involve the same level of mental imagery and preparation as an actual performance?
  • Do you hear the same level of detail regarding the initial attack, intonation, vibrato, and color before playing? 

 

Overall, thinking musically and imagining the sound you want (in all its dimensions) before playing can alleviate the need to test the first. Thinking this way builds trust with your inner performer.

 

If your test notes are aimed at the practicalities of creating sound, considering the intention of always beginning with a musical intention and cultivate trust with your inner performer each time you initiate sound in the practice room!


What have you learned from your test notes?

How do you cultivate trust with your sounds without playing a test note first?


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