Friday, June 28, 2013

Christina's Flutes

Left to right: Christina's Powell, high school flute, beginner flute.
Flute players may begin on one flute, but how many do they have between that very first beginner model and a pro model?  Well, it all depends on the player.  We caught up with Powell Flutes’ Marketing Director, Christina Guiliano-Cobas, and took a closer look at her personal story of “flutes through the years.”

From her beginning days through the present, Christina has had a total of four flutes.  In addition to her administrative responsibilities at Powell, she is also a professional performer and educator.  Her first flute was a popular closed hole, C foot, student model.  It served her well in the formative years, and when she began high school, she progressed on to another flute – this one being a popular step-up flute with open holes and a B foot.  She continued on with her studies, majoring in flute in college.   In her second year of college, she purchased a pro flute with a solid silver headjoint, solid silver body, and drawn tone holes.  The very next year, she purchased an additional professional, custom headjoint for this flute. 

Christina mentioned that most beginners play on a closed hole, C foot flute, because it allows them to focus on developing a good tone and facility.  The C foot flute is lighter than a B foot, and the additional range of the low B would not be critical in a beginner’s studies.  Some teachers feel it is best to start students on an open hole flute because it helps them establish proper hand position from the get-go.  There are different schools of thought, and they are all valid for their points.  However, Christina mentioned that there is always a point in the development of a flutist where you need to make a change in equipment.  She says, “With flute, you progress to a point where you are providing more air than the instrument can take.  You may start cracking and splitting notes.  At this point, it’s best to go to a solid silver flute --- or at least a solid silver headjoint.”  For those who have started on a closed hole, C foot, beginner flute, this next flute is also usually an open hole, B foot model.  Her point became very clear when she shared the following story with us:

I had a student who came to study with me after having played for three years.  After her second or third lesson, I felt that she could not continue to play on her closed hole, C foot flute, because it was really holding her back.  You could hear that she had much more air than the flute could hold and was advancing quickly.  There were 16 flute players in her school, and she was 14th chair.  She went with her parents and bought a new solid silver flute with open holes and a B foot.  She instantly sounded better without having to use more air.  She went back to school with the new flute and moved up to 2nd chair.

Open hole flutes with a B foot are important when stepping up from a beginner model, but material is important as well.  The material of the flute needs to be firm and solid enough to hold the air that an advancing player can put through it.  Eventually, when one goes to a fully professional model like a Powell, you have many choices on customizing the material for multiple parts of the flute – not just the body and headjoint, but tone holes, ribs, posts, and rings as well.  You can also customize the material for the lip plate and riser of the headjoint. 

When Christina began working at Powell in 2002, she decided that it was time to purchase a fully professional, Handmade Custom Powell.  She had the opportunity to choose exactly what she wanted in the design and materials, and the choices were quite overwhelming.  She tested a few solid silver models and was interested in the 14K Aurumite but was a bit concerned with the weight.  With her previous pro silver flute, which was inline, she developed severe pain and problems in her shoulder.  However, she picked up a 14K Aurumite with an offset G and had absolutely no problems with the weight, and she felt no discomfort.  She played for her colleagues, and they agreed that this was the perfect flute for her.  At this point in the process, it was September, and her birthday was approaching.  She came to work and was immediately called to the president’s office, where the entire staff was gathered.  They handed her a box with a pamphlet that came with all the 75th Anniversary flutes.  As she recalls, “They asked me to read it, and I thought, ‘Why should I read something I wrote?’”  Well, as she read through it, the specs at the bottom of the form said, “to be determined…  Happy Birthday, Christina!”  Her parents came through on the speaker phone to wish her a happy birthday, and at that point, she said, “I knew I was getting the flute for my birthday!” 

So, there are certainly no “correct” number of flutes to own as one progresses from a beginner to a pro, and the specs will differ based on many factors, including a family’s budget and the popular question of “will my child continue on with the flute?”  What is most important to remember is that the right flute at the right time will certainly make a difference.  By the time one chooses a custom, professional flute, no two flutes (like no two flutists) are the same.  The flute should always be comfortable for you so that you can enjoy many years of healthy, happy music making!

Friday, June 21, 2013

State of Mind with Dr. Nora Lee Garcia

We recently sat down with Powell Artist Nora Lee Garcia to talk a bit about her philosophies on teaching, performing, and musicianship in general. We’ll share sections of our conversation with Nora Lee in several posts throughout the Teach Flute blog. Nora Lee shared with us that in the past few years, she has become quite interested in three areas of research that have greatly influenced her perspective as a musician: brain, wellness, and motivation.

Dr. Nora Lee Garcia
One topic we wanted to discuss with Nora Lee was performance anxiety. Does she get nervous? How does she handle any feelings of anxiety on stage? She began by telling us that she does get nervous, but the difference is that she gets nervous in the right part of the brain, where you perceive happiness and your body is able to release and avoid giving in to tension. One philosophy Nora Lee believes is that you need to experiment, train, and perform daily. She feels that these tools help you to access the right part of the brain more often. Often performers admit that once they speak during a performance, they are unable to connect with the audience while playing. Nora Lee believes the problem occurs because you are not able to switch from the left side of the brain (used for speaking) to the right (used for performance). By practicing experimentation, training, and performing daily you are making your brain accustomed to switching back and forth between the left and right hemispheres. When you perform, you need to have a trigger that helps engage the right hemisphere, allowing you to realize the whole picture. When you experiment, you have zero inhibition, much like improvisation which activates the right hemisphere. When you train, you listen and you search for ways to correct, finding new ways to push yourself to the next level and incorporating use of both the right and left hemispheres. You may not always reach those places while performing, but exploring those extremes in practice sessions helps to expand your boundaries over time and trains your brain to switch easily from one side to the other.

Nora Lee’s interest in brain research parallels years of wellness research. She has learned that in order to be physically capable of finding her center during performance, she must be humble and simple through her performances, with zero expectations. If you feel good, your body is able to release any tension and you are then able to play from a place of relaxation and happiness. You are capable of performing from your true center and reaching a level of expression and communication with the audience that is impossible if playing from a place of fear and tension. When conscious of this, you are not discouraged by unexpected setbacks, such as falling ill or losing practice time. You are reassured that you will achieve a beautiful performance by the fact that you draw upon a source of peace, rather than fear or ego. 

Motivation is another subject of interest to Nora Lee. She feels that the job of a musician is to continuously find sources of inspiration for performance and practice in order to excel and move forward. No matter how bad a performance you may have, you must always find a balance of mind and body that helps you to center and access the best of yourself. This centering is a personal responsibility crucial to regaining your flow and balance as a performer.

Nora Lee left us with this idea: you must desire to play the flute, to practice, to perform. Once you reach this point, you can unlock the potential to perform in your optimal state as a musician. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Andante Pastoral - Jean Ferrandis

Last fall, we had the chance to speak with Powell Artist Jean Ferrandis, who at the time was in his second year on faculty at California State University, Fullerton.  If you didn't have a chance to see our this post, it's here on the Teach Flute blog archive at  Now in his third year at Cal State, he enjoys a a balance of teaching and performing both in the U.S. and around the world. 

Claude-Paul Taffanel's Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino is one of the great standards of flute repertoire.  How should one interpret the work as a performer?  Mr. Ferrandis helps answer this question in one of his recent Cal State masterclasses.  His discussion and performance examples highlight one particularly pivotal pitch in this section of the piece...  Which note could that be?  Find out in a video of his masterclass at

For more information on Jean Ferrandis, visit his Powell artist profile page at and his personal website at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Practicing Long Tones

By Pamela Sklar
Pamela Sklar

Sometimes I wonder how many flutists including students practice long tones. When I happen to talk with flute friends about practice methods or hear colleagues warm up, it seems roughly half of them regularly work on long tones. Since I find that practicing matching tones/long tones are valuable and enjoyable on many levels- from control & endurance to dynamics and variety of colors, I will address some of these aspects here.

A common goal of long tones is to develop greater tone control and endurance in all of the registers. Through closely listening to the sound as well as what we're playing, we continue to develop control by practicing slowly with an even tone. By using different dynamics, such as loud then soft in each register, then louder and very softly for greater contrast, we gain more control.

Certainly there are many ways to work on long tones. These include sets of slow quarter notes, half, dotted half or whole notes with or without repeats, slurring 2, 3, or more notes, chromatic or diatonic scales; thirds & other intervals, octaves and more. Personally, I happen to like playing a variety of long tones whether they're slowly practiced extracts I've adapted from things I'm learning, or from my favorite source: Marcel Moyse's de la Sonorité, which can be downloaded here:

If I want to work on a decrescendo on a certain note or a few notes, I'll use certain muscles around my mouth which control the pitch more directly. By using certain facial muscles we develop more control of higher and lower notes, extreme dynamics, edgier or more mellow tones, and acquire a more colorful sound. Being more aware of which muscles we're using and how we're using them with a specific goal in mind, will further help to develop and improve sound quality.

Some of the most important facial muscles involved in controlling our sound include:
-Orbicularis oris, a group of muscles which circle above, below & in the lips.
-Triangularis, which help us frown or pout by pulling down the corners of our mouth. These muscles are helpful in controlling tone quality. When used in a relaxed way and in combination with the lower lip rolled out slightly, a more supple tone can be heard.
-Nasalis, utilized by pulling down sides of the nose by elongating top lip downward; without the flute try to cover your top teeth while your mouth is slightly open. You may also feel your nose being pulled down slightly. These muscles are great at helping us lower the pitch & are especially useful if playing with a piano that's tuned flat.

So, for that certain decrescendo we need to keep in mind & listen to see if the pitch goes south with the volume. It naturally will unless we use our muscles to maintain the desired tuning. In most cases we need to push the lips out gently, using a bit more of the lower lip with the triangularis muscles pulled back to aim the air stream slightly higher, which enables the note to stay in tune. Keep in mind the degree of changes you are making all at once; too much movement in general or a sudden change may cause us to miss the goal or lose the sound entirely.

Conversely, if we want to play something louder, a more relaxed embouchure helps us to avoid pushing or tightening the lips too much, which makes us play sharp.

Trying to isolate and use different muscles separately and subtlety in combinations over time will lead to an improved sound quality, greater accuracy of pitch and control in different registers.

Go ahead and work on experimenting with just one goal. You'll be likely to have an interesting experience and start developing a better ear!

Finally, for those of you who are interested in learning more about the facial
(and body) muscles, there's a phone app called Muscles (Real bodywork).

For more on Pamela Sklar, visit her website at