Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Number 1 Piccolo Problem Solved

By Kate Prestia-Schaub
Kate Prestia-Schaub

Don't be afraid!
It's truly as simple as that!  When starting students on the piccolo for the first time, the number one reaction I get is: "Oh, Miss Kate!!! It's too loud!"  Then, the shoulders shrug up to the ears, and the shrieking commences!  The kiddos blow as hard as they can, thinking that that will make the high register speak, they tighten up as much as humanly possible to make the the aperture smaller, and they press and press against the bottom teeth with all their might.  Then, lo and behold, they whack out a squeak, and the glass begins to shatter!  The biggest problem with starting students on the piccolo is they try to play too high too quickly.  With this technique, they are sure to play too loud, it will be uncomfortable, and they won't enjoy it at all!  

So, my approach is to simplify, relax, and try not to play piccolo differently than the flute.  I love starting students on piccolo at the same time as flute, because they don't yet have an aversion to it being high and loud.  Generally, if they start with the low register D on the piccolo, and pretend they are playing a middle D on flute, they can match the shape, speed, and direction of the air column, and go from there!  I have them switch every 10 minutes, playing the same music on flute and piccolo.  This way, they start off right, being comfortable with playing flute/piccolo interchangeably, which develops the technique on flute and piccolo evenly.  In this way, the  piccolo won't seem like such a huge change.  By hearing only a small portion of the range of piccolo to start, the progression to the high register will happen naturally, with no fear!  At this point, when they are ready to play in an ensemble, it is second nature, and not a foreign concept. By slowly introducing the upper octave of the piccolo, the student's sound develops with no strain, pressure, or force.  

If it is a student who already has a firm grip on the flute, starting piccolo can be either natural, or disastrous.  If it's as I stated in the beginning, it's important to have them ball up a ton of air in their mouth, and let as little out as possible.  Again, it has been helpful for me to start with very simple melodies in the low register so they can acclimate themselves to the sound without trying to go for the high notes right away.  The Moyse 24 Little Melodies work well for this.  Have them play the melodies in the middle or top register of the flute, memorize what it feels like, with no pressure, tension, or force, and then play the same thing in the low register of the piccolo, maintaining that it should feel natural, supported, and relaxed. The result is that they're not scared of it, and they can hear actual melodies in the range that they are already accustomed to, without having to do anything differently. They may actually enjoy the low register of the piccolo quite a lot, and thus, the shrill aspect of the piccolo is put to rest for a while.  Instead, the natural beauty, richness of sound, and melodious sonority is developed.  

Once the student is in control of the low register, with no force, pressure, or over-blowing, then introduce the mid range, again, until there is no pressure.  Then, of course the high octave. Melodious practicing is the best for this, leaving the technical "noodley-goop" until the student is comfortable with less pressure, no force, and until the sound is produced with the dark "wooden" quality that we piccolo players love so much!  Generally more advanced students are anxious to jump into the more technical repertoire, but doing this too fast is a recipe for the stereotypical forced, shrill sound.  So, to satisfy their urge to play fast and loud, give them pieces on the flute, in the upper register, and have them go to town!  (Make sure they stay loose on the flute, as this will then transfer to the mid range on picc.)

Once they've got the tone under control in all octaves, and they're not afraid to play the piccolo as a melodious instrument, then have them jump into the much-loved "bird pieces," and let them have a blast with the chirps!  Building the muscle structure in this way is not only safer for young players' ear drums, but it is a more natural progression in the magnified development of the muscles necessary to play with brilliant technique, and with a well-controlled, lovely tone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paul Edmund-Davies on Technique

Paul Edmund-Davies
Powell Artist Paul Edmund-Davies was Principal Flutist of the London Symphony Orchestra for twenty-five years.  He is currently Principal Flute with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the English National Opera.

In his fifth video lesson on the Powell website, Mr. Edmund-Davies discusses finger control.  He demonstrates exercises for improving your technique by keeping your fingers light as opposed to gripping, memorizing music, and practicing what he terms as "brain-to-finger coordination."  Definitely seems to work, considering Mr. Edmund-Davies' illustrious career and excellent examples in this video!  You can watch the the lesson on finger control here.

For more on Paul Edmund-Davies, take a look at his website at

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Joshua Smith on Performance Anxiety

Joshua Smith
Performance anxiety is a challenge for many instrumentalists.  Just how can one conquer their nerves?  Powell artist Joshua Smith, Principal Flute of The Cleveland Orchestra, addressed this issue in an interview on the Conversation page of his website.  When asked how he handles nervousness, Joshua answered with the following:

I don't think nervousness in performance ever really goes away. I hope it doesn't, actually, because I'm not sure I would perform with much interest or excitement without it ... Learning how to deal with nerves is what gets easier over time and with experience ... I think it's important to strive to find balance and perspective in one's approach to communicating and performing. How? Maybe start with asking basic (yet complex) questions, like "What am I doing here?," "What am I trying to say?," even "Why am I musician?" Answering questions like these brings perspective that helps to minimize the distractions that students (in fact, any of us) tend to feel about performance - doubts about ourselves, thoughts about who is listening to us, fears about living up to particular expectations ... Effort (trying to please, trying to do your best) often gets in the way ... Sometimes the most inspired performances seem to come when you withdraw your self and your fears and remember that the essence of what you're trying to communicate is the bottom line, the only thing that matters at the moment.

To hear more from Joshua, make sure to visit his website at

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Leone Buyse - "Inspiration from Jean Ferrandis"

Leone Buyse
When an artist challenges me to explore new approaches to music making and teaching, my fondest hope is to be able to share that gift of inspiration with students and colleagues. Summarized below are some ideas that have proven energizing and thought-provoking to the Shepherd School Flute Studio–and their teacher!

On November 19, French soloist and conductor Jean Ferrandis presented a master class and recital at Rice. His ability to communicate the importance of playing naturally, and of using the body freely to enhance the musical message, was deeply inspiring.

First and foremost, he stressed saying “Hello” before beginning to play. This simple act can connect us to the essence of artful flute playing: a natural inhalation that bypasses thoughts of blowing across an embouchure plate or reading notes and instead leads to direct, personal communication with our listeners.

A musical score is only a guide, and our goal should be to convey a personal message as if we were singing or speaking. He advised students to focus completely on the music rather than thinking about sound, saying “If your music is beautiful, then your tone will necessarily be beautiful.”
Jean Ferrandis

Reminding everyone that a long note is “many small pictures,” he repeatedly underscored the need to eliminate lower back tension, and to loosen knees, hips, and shoulders in order to find maximum air.

His recommendation for rapid technical passages: Think long fingers, light pressure, with power coming from the back, and above all, don’t change who you are! You may be riding on a fast train, but only the train is going fast–not you.

Perhaps his most powerful message: “While you are playing, you must love the music and you must love yourself.”

Merci, Jean, for all the inspiration you continue to give us.

*This post may be found on Leone Buyse's website at