It's been a while since I've posted about the music I'm currently practicing, and once I started to take inventory of it myself, I realized that it's quite a lot! Especially since I have been low on practice time lately:( Maybe writing today's post will be the extra motivation I need to get back into the swing of regular flute time. I know I always feel so much better when I do--what about you?
Here's what I've been practicing lately--or what I "should" be practicing, anyway...:)
Pipes and Keys
Elysia and I have been working on several duets together to perform locally and hopefully to record. We have three or four duet collections, the Kuhlau Three Duets, Op.10, and The Bach Partita "Ghost" by Gary Schocker. You can like us on Facebook to keep up with our latest performances and videos!
Whew!! That was a lot! I can say that after looking through my music, writing all of it down, and searching for great recordings, that I'm ready to hit the ground running! What is on your music stand on this fine Monday?? I'd love to hear about it.
Comment below and follow me on Facebook! www.facebook.com/smythflutestudio
If you've ever had the opportunity to meet someone who is visually impaired, you know that conversing with such a person is a refreshing experience. Personally, I have a lot of appreciation for those who aren't distracted by the visual nature of our world, and namely, our society. But if you've never had the chance to teach music to someone who is blind, you are really missing out!!
I never dreamed I would ever encounter a situation like this--it's a subject that wasn't discussed in my music education courses--and if by chance it actually was, I definitely didn't pay attention. So when I got the call from a colleague who teaches at a local middle school about how he had a blind student who wanted to learn to play the flute--I was more than a little hesitant. How would I teach her? Would I have to feed her everything by rote? Was it even possible for a non-sighted person to play an instrument and read music? I told my friend that I needed a few days to do some research to even consider the possibility of teaching in such a unique circumstance. After talking with several others and doing countless Google searches, I decided it was worth a try. I would give it a few weeks, and if I failed, I would just help the poor girl find a more qualified teacher.
Well, that was a year ago, and I've never been more proud of Lydia and what she has accomplished in such a short amount of time. We've had several challenges: a flute that was in ill repair, practicing roadblocks, and trouble communicating with those who are helping her at school--but all in all I feel like we've done the best we can with what we have--and to me this is a huge success. Our lessons fly by so fast that we are both left wanting more time to continue the learning process. I've enjoyed it SO much, and it has been eye-opening to educate myself about a musical language that, up until last year, I didn't even know existed.
I've compiled the following guides to use if you or someone you know is teaching a non-sighted musician. Researching all of this on your own can be tedious and time consuming, so I hope these resources take a little pressure off--especially if you are a full time school music teacher who doesn't have time to pee, let alone time to search for helpful tools to teach your student!
Please contact me/comment below if you have any questions or if you have additional pointers!
I record all of the music that is to be learned as well as any additional instructions/reminders. Lessons are too short for Lydia to make notes on her electronic braille device, so I spend a few minutes after she leaves to record and email everything to her accessible phone.
2. Drilling the Braille
Learning music is incredibly difficult for even a sighted person. Take away the ability to see and it gets even more interesting. To complicate things further, Braille Music is COMPLETELY different than normal Braille that a blind person reads on an everyday basis--so they are essentially learning TWO new languages instead of just one. It can be quite confusing for the student and requires intense desire to learn. Though I do choose to teach some sections of music by rote--especially if we are running low on time before a performance--I require Lydia to learn everything by reading it for herself and then to translate it to me before we play. I have print copies of all her music so I can help her double check if the transcriptionist did their job correctly.
3. Tactile Aids
Graphic tape is such a wonderful invention--one that I hadn't even heard of before I started teaching my student. This tape can be placed on various points of the instrument to aid the pupil in locating the correct hand position, joint alignment, lip placement, etc.
4. Hands On
With most students I am very careful not to do a lot of touching--blame it on my public school days--but in the case of teaching someone who can't see, touching is unavoidable. I am constantly using touch to remind Lydia how to hold her head, where to place her hands, the shape her tongue needs to form for effective tonguing, and keeping an efficient embouchure formation.
1. Body Awareness
I have never encountered a sighted beginning flute player that has much body awareness--if any. Encountering a beginner who has never had sight is a completely different ball game. Even a year in, we are still going back to the basics of how and where to hold the flute in the air, where the lip plate should rest under the mouth, the angle of the head, etc. As with most things, I'm expecting this challenge to resolve itself over time as Lydia becomes more comfortable with how it feels to play the flute.
2. Describing Music
Visual aids in teaching the nuts and bolts of music are non-existent in our lessons, so I've had to become better at finding a wide range of explanations for everything from the staff, meters, time signatures, to articulations, dynamics, and repeat signs (oddly enough that has been the most confusing so far). I've noticed that Lydia thinks more deeply than any student I've ever had. Once she grasps a concept or learns a certain technique, she never loses it. Her mental capacity blows me away every time we have a lesson, and I know this will serve her well as she continues to memorize more and more music. I haven't tried this yet, but I received some advice early on about making tactile representations of these different musical elements so that a visually impaired student can be "clued in" about what the rest of the ensemble sees in the music.
Again, I'm sure this one will remedy itself with plenty more repetition--but there's something about seeing the notes go by on a page as your reading and playing the music that makes feeling the beat so much easier. Since Lydia must first translate the Braille into the notes and rhythm, memorize it, and then play it, applying rhythmic concepts such as keeping a steady beat have been so much more difficult. We will continue to do as much clapping and counting out loud with a metronome/tapping feet as we possibly can, and my hope is that eventually it will "click" with her.
If you or someone you know has the wonderful opportunity to teach a blind musician, I hope my pointers and resources have helped you in your instruction. I would love to hear your stories, so please leave a comment to join in the conversation!
*This is the second part of a three part series on the history of the modern flute. To view the first part, click here.
In the last half of the seventeenth century, French flutist Jacques Hotteterre (1673-1763) employed significant changes to satisfy this need. He began by adding the d-sharp key in the 1660s, transforming the otherwise keyless mechanism into the one-keyed flute. In order to educate flutists about the new system, he published a tutor method, Principes de la Flute Traversiere, ou Flute de Allemagne in 1707. Another innovative move was to change the bore to from cylindrical to conical starting at the top of the middle joint tapering to the beginning of the foot joint. This radical modification eliminated the shrill quality of the timbre and flattened the pitch by allowing the finger holes to be placed closer together.
Though progress in workmanship was evident in the early eighteenth century, advancement in pitch accuracy was not. Prior to the days of equal temperament, variances in pitch from a=350 to a=500 were common depending on the country of performance and the other instruments in the ensemble. Pitch versatility, therefore, was a necessity. To accommodate this, common flute components of this period included an adjustable head joint tuning cork as well as interchangeable upper middle joints in varying lengths. The latter, called corps de rechange were carried along in separate cases in the event a different pitched instrument was required for a collaborative performance. Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) also invented a head-joint tuning slide that evolved into the tuning method flutists use today.
The Classic Period (1750-1820)
These innovations achieved moderate intonation success, however complicated cross fingerings and impeccably accurate embouchure placements were required to play many of the notes on the flute. There was, unfortunately, little room for amateur ignorance. Consequently, Mozart (1756-1791) primarily wrote in the flute friendly keys of G and D to appease his own sensitive ears. Nevertheless, to the general listening public, poor intonation was an accepted reality. The great skill required to navigate tuning tendencies was taken into consideration whenever a flutist performed.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, London flute makers Pietro Florio (1730-1795), Caleb Gedney (1729-1769), and Richard Potter (1728-1806) introduced several chromatic adjustments to the flute mechanism. The addition of three new keys—g-sharp, b-flat, and f—left c-natural as the only remaining note needed to fill the d-chromatic scale. The flute making trio added the missing c and a c-sharp key in 1774. Though the materials used in constructing the key mechanisms were not widely accepted until the 1790s, evidence of these changes can be observed in Haydn’s music in the second half of the Classic period.
The “German” or “old system” flute was complete with the further contributions of flute designers Dr. J.H. Ribock (1743-1785) and Johann G. Tromlitz (1725-1805). The resulting eight-keyed flute sported a closed c-natural key and an additional f-key (long-f) to more easily facilitate certain slurs. The eight-keyed flute was highly innovative in its time, though the popularity of the one-keyed flute prevailed into the early nineteenth century. The latter was less expensive to manufacture and flutists preferred the familiar fingering system—troubled as it was.
Stay tuned for next week's post all about how Boehm came to the rescue of flutists everywhere!
Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!
For sources, click here.
The Blog Vault