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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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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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18 Resources for Studying Flute Excerpts

Are you preparing flute excerpts? If so, perhaps you've scoured the internet for resources to find as much information as possible to assist your preparation.

That's exactly what I've done over the past several months! In my search, I've stumbled upon many different videos, articles, and resources that are specifically geared towards flute excerpts.

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Here are just a few of my favorites!

Do you have any to add to this list? Share them in the comments below!


FOR PRACTICING YOUR PART IN CONTEXT

If you haven't performed your excerpts in a full orchestra before, simulate the context with a pianist or round up friends to play the other parts.

Here are some resources to help you practice in context:

 

 

  • Acapella App

    • Record each part and play along with yourself or a friend by reading off the score or using arrangements.

 

 

 

  • OrchestraExcerpts.com

    • In addition to simply playing along with many different recordings, some excerpts on this site feature quality orchestral recordings with the ability to alter the tempo.

Online Video Resources

A small sampling of the many free and paid online video resources!

 

 

  • PRINCIPAL CHAIRS [Paid Subscription]

    • My most-visited site for full-length video lessons on a wide variety of excerpts by Michael Cox, Aldo Baerten, Lorna McGhee, Jim Walker, Denis Lupachev, Paul Edmund-Davies, and more!

 

 

  • MUSIAC (New World Symphony) [FREE]

    • Free video lessons on Bach, Beethoven, Rossini, Debussy, Ravel, Mendelssohn and Dvořák with Mark Sparks, Bonita Boyd, Kelly Zimba, & Joshua Smith

 

 

 


Must-Haves for your Library

If you're just beginning your journey with excerpts, these are the most-loved books to add to your library!

 

  • Orchestral Excerpts for Flute [Book]

    • The must-have book of excerpts! Selected and annotated by Jeanne Baxtresser, Principal Flute, New York Philharmonic, Piano Reductions by Martha Rearick

 

 

 

  • Orchestral Excerpts for Piccolo [BOOK]

    • "This book is a collection of excerpts compliled during Jack Wellbaum's many years with the Cincinnati Symphony. The selection of contents is based on those excerpts most frequently asked for in auditions."

 

 


Add your own favorites to the comments below!

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August Inspiration Calendar [Free Download]

THIS MONTH'S THEME

August means the end of summer and the last chance to accomplish summer goals before the fall. For a lot of us, it also means fall auditions! 

This month's actions are geared towards preparing you to perform your best under pressure whether you have an upcoming audition or not!


TIPS FOR USING YOUR CALENDAR

  • The actions provided are meant to serve as inspiration to think outside the box while practicing. 
  • There's no need to do every action in the order specified. If you're one to print out calendars like this one, then stop using them after one day if you haven't done everything as listed perfectly, here's permission to use it however you'd like
  • Half the days are intentionally left blank, and you're encouraged to fill them in with actions that are very specific to your own personal goals and sources of inspiration.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. 
  • Items with an asterisk (*) have corresponding links and explanations that are available below the calendar at the end of this post! Follow the link at the bottom of the calendar to come back to this post at any time!

SET YOUR NEW GOALS

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask the following questions:

  • Am I on track with my overall, long-term goals?
  • Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term?
  • Have I been putting off improving any specific areas of my playing?
  • What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

HERE YOU GO!

Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!


CORRESPONDING LINKS


#PRACTICEROOMREVELATIONS

I am so excited to see your own revelations and the ways you're staying inspired throughout the month!

Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share your printables in action!

Top 5 Favorite Blog Posts from July

 

"Ultimately, your technique is only as good as your sense of time." 

Great tips for simplifying the process and reaping the benefits of self-recording while practicing!

“Performance presence is born out of a sincere and deep connection to the music you are playing and the desire to share this with your audience." 

"How setting the right practice goal can help us improve more in the same amount of time (hint: practicing for time or number of repetitions is not the answer)."

"Note the acute observation required here: the tiniest hesitation or deviating muscle movement is to Lynne an indicator of further work being required."

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Don't Forget About The Legs! 5 Awareness Exercises For Today's Practice Session

Does your awareness have a tendency to narrow as time goes on while practicing? I often begin with good intentions of feeling my feet grounding my entire body, but at some point, I lose full-body awareness and become only aware of what feels uncomfortable in the upper body or the notes on the page. 

Perhaps you've never considered the way your lower half influences the entire body while playing! Try the five exercises below while playing, and scan the body carefully for changes in tension and release, holding, or ease. 

1. Shifting Weight Forward and Back

  • Are you habitually standing with more weight on the heels or the balls of the feet as you play?
  • Scan the body for changes as you slowly shift forward and back from the heels to the balls of the feet.
  • Do you feel a change in the legs, the back, the abdominal muscles? Does the sound change as you play?
  • Notice your breathing as you do this:
    • I recently realized I felt quite locked and without breath, so I rolled from my heels to the balls of my feet, and felt a tremendous difference in my ability to play with freedom once I rolled forward from my locked position on the heels!

2. Shifting Between Left and Right Legs

  • Uncover which leg habitually receives more of your weight while playing.
  • By slowing shifting your weight side to side while you play, you may notice changes all the way up the body. 
    • Do you notice a release and increase in space in the opposite side body?
    • How do the ribs feel?
    • Does the opposite arm change in effort?
    • Does anything happen in the neck?

3. Standing on One Leg

  • Take it one step further by standing on only one leg, lifting one leg behind and leaning forward to maintain balance. (Something like this image of a Modified Warrior 3 Pose.)
  • Do you notice a change in your sound? Breathing? 
    • This elicits a change in resonance for me, and naturally allows the abdominal muscles to release, making breathing easier!

4. Walking in Place Along with the Tempo

  • Invite ankle movement by lifting the heels off the ground to the tempo. 
  • Embody the tempo beyond listening to the metronome or tapping one foot, while avoiding a locked-in-place stature. (Try this if you're prone to locked knees!)
    • What is it like to watch leg movement while you play?

5. Bend the Knees

  • Take the knees from locked to generously bent.
  • Notice the relationship between the abdominal muscles and the muscles of the back. 
    • Going from the extreme of locked knees to bent knees, I notice just how much my torso and abdominal muscles release and allow easier breathing and resonance.

 

Are you aware of your lower half and the relationship to the whole body while playing? Take the time to observe changes in the body while trying these 5 ideas during your practice session! 

#PracticeRoomRevelations

Leave a comment below to share your own discoveries, or use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute on Instagram!