Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Top Ten Piccolo Tips

By Cindy Ellis 
Cindy Ellis

  • Play piccolo and love it! One of the first things many new piccolo players do is try to hide the sound.  The pitch range of the piccolo is higher, therefore perceived by our ears as louder, than the flute. It is a mistake to ‘hold back’ because this causes fundamental problems with support and air speed. It takes a bit more courage to play realizing every note is quite audible to all: use this to your advantage in developing your musicianship. 

  • Get to know your tuner!  Intonation is critical for all musicians, even more so for piccolo players. The instrument is so self-pervading that it is simply harder to hear others when you are playing too. It is essential to work often with a tuner so that you are aware of your own tendencies and can be adjusting constantly to produce the best results.  It never hurts to check passages with colleagues back stage before a rehearsal so the two of you can hear in a more isolated acoustic environment. 

  • Invest in a Reliable Instrument!  Manufacturers today are producing high quality piccolos at all price levels.  Invest in a quality instrument with a good scale: that is, a piccolo that plays well in tune with itself.  Because the piccolo is a secondary instrument, it is tempting to spend the least amount of money possible. This can be rather short-sighted thinking. A good piccolo will hold its resale value better and serve you well in your performances.  Take your tuner with you to try instruments, checking the pitch of each D on the piccolo. The three octaves should play well in tune without a lot of adjustment.  I feel it is better to purchase an instrument pitched at A = 442 rather than A = 440 as many orchestras are tuning at the higher pitch level today.  Make sure the pads are nice and flat, and that they do not protrude down into the tone holes. Overstuffed pads are poorly designed:  Intonation can be severely affected if they are hanging down past the key cup into the tone hole.

  • Adjust your Embouchure! Roger Stevens played flute and Piccolo with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for 31 years, 16 years in the piccolo Chair and the remainder as Principal Flute.  He used to remind his students that the piccolo is a compromise. In his book “Artistic Flute Playing”, he says: “ The flute embouchure is of a size that is quite normal for the average human being: theoretically, the piccolo embouchure should be approximately half the size of the flute embouchure.  Since one doesn’t find ‘little people’ especially designed for piccolo playing, the player’s responsibility then is simply one of accustoming themselves to playing within the limits of the compromise.”  Downsizing the aperture, then, would be the appropriate adjustment needed to match the smaller size of the embouchure hole for the piccolo. Note the angle of the piccolo also: you do not need to hold it straight across, in ‘marching band’ style. A slight descending angle, echoing that of most flutists, is desired to keep the piccolo parallel to the bottom lip.

  • Place the Piccolo Higher on the Lower Lip!  As a result of the smaller size of the instrument, it is helpful to place the piccolo higher on the lower lip than your flute position.  Most of us place the flute on the edge of the lower lip, where the pink skin of the lip meets the flesh colored skin of the chin. It helps to place the piccolo just north of this intersection, on the lower lip, so that the air column will be projected slightly higher at the back wall of the piccolo’s embouchure Hole. 

  • Loosen Up! Many new piccolo players tighten up their lips, almost spitting the notes out as if they were trying to dislodge an errant piece of popcorn stuck in their teeth! Although the piccolo embouchure is firm, it is not overly tense: and absolutely no squeezing from the center of the lips or the corners of the lips! The embouchure only directs the air to the instrument: it does not produce the sound. AIR produces tone.  I think of coming forward at the point of the aperture, almost like you were blowing a kiss across the room.   This helps to decrease tension in the embouchure. 

  • Alignment!  It helps to align the embouchure hole slightly forward, rather than directly in line with, the center of the keys on the instrument. This helps keep the player from covering too much of the embouchure hole, again, due to the smaller size of the instrument. 

  • Low equals Flow, High equals Compression!  You will actually use more air blowing into the flute: it is a longer, bigger bore instrument. Low equals flow: Just think back how you have never seen a tuba player get red in the face when he or she plays: they just need to keep feeding air thru all that tubing: lots of air flow. Think again of our friends in the trumpet section: many of them seem to have a problem controlling too much air, and they can turn all kinds of interesting crimson shades just by compressing the air. Piccolo players frequently overblow if they try to use the same quantity of air as they do when playing flute.  Tone production on the piccolo is based on using stronger support but less quantity of air than flutists use. The tone will be harsh and brassy if you use too much air to produce the tone. Think of using a firm, concentrated air stream, thinking of speed and support (compression) rather than using a large quantity or volume of air.  Lifting the rib cage and sternum at the ends of to phrases to control the air helps keep the pitch from dropping. 

  • Get to Know Alternate Fingerings!  Alternate fingerings provide a wealth of opportunity to adjust pitch and change the tone colors of notes.  There are many great books (Steven Tanzer’s  and Jan Gippo’s come to mind). These are an absolute must if you are serious about becoming a piccolo player. Try to incorporate a new fingering every week until you become able to easily remember your choices for a given note.  It also helps to remember several choices per pitch, so that you have options from which to choose. 

  • Keep it light!  It often helps to keep the spring tension lighter on the piccolo than on the flute.  Keep your finger pressure light as well:  remember the hands are positioned closer together than you are used to on the flute. This can trigger the ‘grip reflex’, which is part of our hard wiring: when we become apprehensive about something, (sixteenth note runs perhaps) it is natural to grip the piccolo more fiercely in the hopes that this will give us more security. In fact, more finger tension will hinder our playing. Keep the fingers close to the keys and stay relaxed and supple in your motion.  Move the fingers from the knuckle joint down, don’t ever move the hands.  

Learning to play the piccolo is a wonderful extension of your skill as a flute player, and often leads to more opportunity in the job market as well.  Make it part of your daily practice  routine.

For more of Cindy, visit her website and Powell profile page: 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yoga and Flute Playing

Cindy Ellis
By Cindy Ellis

Namaste: A Hindi word used as a greeting and a goodbye: It means "I honor the light in you, I honor the light in myself." It is spoken with palms pressed together. It is part of the centuries old tradition of a yoga practice.

Playing any instrument is a physical, emotional, and logical endeavor. We use our body, our imagination and our brain at all times for optimum performance.  We always schedule consistent time for practice and study of our instrument but sometimes in a busy life, scheduling time for physical activity takes a back seat on the ‘to do’ list. I have found that by making physical activity a big priority and working consistently in a yoga practice, my flute playing has reaped many benefits, often in unexpected ways.

What is yoga?  It can be defined as “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.”

There are many different styles of yoga,(over 14) from Bikram yoga (or hot yoga, practiced in a room close to 105 degrees and 40% humidity) to restorative yoga, which focuses more on stretching and relaxation, and power yoga, which is more athletic and demanding. You will be able to experiment with different styles once you try out the discipline, and it really helps to know which kind of class you will be taking before you go. Now, some of you out there are more of the solitary exercise types who use videos: nothing wrong with that! However, you will miss out on the experience of community in a face-to-face class, bonding with other students and having a knowledgeable instructor there to answer questions and help you with correct alignment in poses, or asanas. If you go to a gym or yoga studio, ask which kind of class you will be taking, what kind of equipment you should bring (your own yoga mat and a towel are usually all it takes) and if this class is appropriate for you as a new student. If you decide to try hot yoga, please make sure to hydrate REALLY well before you go! There are also classes which combine styles of yoga or have target audiences (maternity yoga) for example so it helps to look at the specific kind of class you will be taking.

Physical Benefits
Flute playing is asymmetrical by it’s very nature: since we hold the instrument across our bodies from left to right, we are shortening muscles on the right side, and lengthening them on the left side. This natural imbalance from holding the flute hours each day over the years can be helped with many gentle stretches of the arms, upper back, neck, and torso. Sitting for long periods of time in orchestra rehearsals or when teaching tightens the hips, legs, and back: the stretching in yoga can reverse all this tension by working out the entire lower body. Restorative yoga classes will concentrate on asanas that will work to lengthen muscles and destroy tension. I take this kind of class once a week and I can notice the difference if I need to miss a week…my body LOVES to stretch and relax.

Emotional Benefits
It is HARD to quiet the mind. With an endless stream of self talk, learning to be in command of my “inner chatterbox” is a lot harder than I ever imagined. Some days I can’t get to a place of peace… but many days it IS possible to become focused only on this present moment. Harnessing this power has been incredibly valuable to me as a musician. It’s easier to practice when you have this ability to turn off the noise, and accept musical results without so much judgment and criticism. The practice of ‘mindfullness’, of staying in the HERE and NOW, is extremely important to good music making. In yoga, you learn to concentrate on THIS breath, not thinking of the past, nor the present but only the NOW. It’s a real difference than the usual ‘fretting’ (past worries) or ‘projecting’(future worries)  that many of us engage in fairly typically.

Logical Breathing
As flutists, we are used to taking very quick full inhales, with very long sustained and controlled exhalations.  Yoga will connect the breath with motion in a more even, balanced and measured way, as well as use the breath to quiet the mind. This experience of breathing is quite different than our flute inspired breathing. This kind of breathing is restorative, lowers the heart rate, and fully oxygenates the blood. After a typical class, I feel almost as refreshed as after a full night of sleep. Which makes EVERYTHING in my day go much, much better.

As you begin your exploration of yoga, stay flexible and open on the mat and off the mat. Listen to your body, going to your edge, but never past it. Be mindful, be in the present.  Namaste.
Cynthia Ellis 

For more from Cindy, visit her website and Powell profile pages at:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Technique vs. Expression?

by Katharine Rawdon

Katharine Rawdon
We flutists have been taught to organize our daily practice into categories such as sound, technique, studies, and repertoire. This is a great starting point, as it keeps us from concentrating too much in one area at the expense of another. The famous classic books from the French School, such as Moyses De la Sonorité and Tone Development Through Interpretation or the Exercices Journaliers of Taffanel and Gaubert, contain exercises for sound or technique, respectively, suggesting that these are separate issues.

But does this separation lead us to the integrated, organic performance we hope to share with our audience?  Do they experience our playing separated into categories, or is it the integration of these aspects that can either move them or leave them flat?  Perhaps we could prepare more thoroughly by being aware of the overlap, rather than the separation of these categories, aiming to integrate all elements into an expressive whole, a highly communicative musical experience that will reach the audience and touch them to the core?

My suggestion is that there is a lot to be gained from integrating your work on sound and technique to the greatest extent possible. While keeping the basic structure of the practice session, you can enlarge your awareness, bringing attention to technical issues while practicing sound, and inversely, bringing attention to sound and expression while practicing technique.

While ostensibly working on sound, and using the classic materials mentioned above or other more recent books, you can simultaneously pay attention to technicalelements, such as the use of your body, an easy balancing of the weight of the flute, articulation, and efficient finger movements. While playing slowly and working on sound, expand your attention to include an awareness of these elementsit is much easier to attend to these issues while practicing long tones or lyrical passages, than while zipping through scales. Slow work will lead to fast scales before long! Use a large mirror to observe yourself, since what we think we are doing and what we actually are doing can often be quite different! Additionally, slow work on soundin patterns moving through all keys will eventually lead to greater fluency at faster speeds, better sight-reading, memorization and improvisation. A rather good return on your investment of time and practice energy!

Likewise, when practicing scales and so forth, it is essential to listen carefully to the tone quality and to play expressively, since the ultimate goal of all our work is to perform
music expressively!

According to brain research, if you learn a musical figure, lets say a D Major scale, robotically, without any emotional meaning or expression involved, your brain will not even recognize that figure when you come across it in an expressive context such as the delightful opening gesture of the Mozart D major Concerto:

So avoid practicing scales and technical patterns mechanically, and dont wait for your solo pieces to turn onthe musicality!  Be creative with your technical practicing, inventing a variety of dynamic patterns to challenge yourself, perhaps starting with the pattern of rising crescendofalling diminuendo, which is natural for the flute, and advancing (during the practice session and over time) to its less natural opposite, to other more complex dynamic patterns, and to playing with different colors or color changes.

Practicing in this integrated way, with musical goals first on your list of priorities, will make your practice sessions not only more productive and efficient, but far more entertaining and creative. Considering the many hours we flutists devote to practice, why not make them as fulfilling as possible? Our increased pleasure in playing and our more integrated musicality will surely pass into our performances, connecting more deeply to the musical pleasure of our audiences.

© Katharine Rawdon, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014


with Lisa Friend (Soloist & Recording Artist), Professor Robert Winn (Musikhochschule Koln) and Anna Stokes (Chamber / Orchestral Player)

I've always had a passion for teaching in a relaxed, inspirational and friendly environment, and with the surname "Friend", it seemed the natural and appropriate wording to lend itself to the name, "The Friend Flute Academy". What better position to be in, then to set up a flute academy based here in London! Every year, I invite highly respected guest flautists / professors to join me in a three day intensive, yet friendly workshop, focusing on solo and orchestral repertoire, as well as all the technical aspects of flute playing.

Now in our fifth year, we have had enormous pleasure working with a wonderful mixture of students from intermediate to advanced level, ranging from a spectrum of ages. Many of our students return to the ‘Friend Flute Academy’ each year, and we have almost become like a musical family (with the added bonus of meeting new faces and hearing new players!).

Our primary aim is to give talented flautists, the opportunity to benefit from direction, advice and constructive criticism within the realms of an intensive yet encouraging atmosphere, taught by myself, Lisa Friend and flautist, Anna Stokes together with a wonderful variety of visiting professors. This year, we are excited to welcome on board, Robert Winn (Professor of Flute - Cologne College of Music ‘Musikhochschule Köln’) as guest professor on our masterclass this summer.  Past teachers have included: Katherine Bryan (Principal Flute - Royal Scottish National Orchestra), Anna Pope (Flute Prof: Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Royal Academy of Music & the Purcell School) & Judith Kleinman (Alexander Technique Teacher – Royal College of Music)
The ‘Friend Flute Academy’ is located in a beautiful private home in central London. The intimacy and space give the students a nurturing and warm environment within which to study, with a feeling of a "home away from home." 

As a child, my father was Concert Master of the New York Philharmonic.  I was so incredibly lucky and blessed growing up, as I had the opportunity to listen to some of the greatest musicians including Bernstein, Barenboim, and Horowitz to name a few.  My mum would take me to the New York Philharmonic rehearsals and concerts and even from an early age, I was transfixed on the flute section (Julius Baker and Renee Siebert).  I would come away from rehearsals/concerts in a total trance and drove my parents crazy to buy me a flute.My fondest memory was when Renee Siebert took me down Broadway to purchase my first flute.  I was five!  I worked hard during those years and dreamt of becoming a flute player.
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to attend the ‘Julius Baker Summer Course’ in Connecticut.  It was such a bonding time and I would literally come away buzzing from the incredible atmosphere and music that surrounded me. This feeling never left me, and in fact became one of the driving factors in the founding of the ‘Friend Flute Academy’!.

As a performer and teacher, it is my utmost goal to encourage every individual to flourish in their understanding and appreciation of music!  I personally find that students develop more confidently in a non competitive atmosphere thus eliminating a military style of teaching. For me, it is about the music!.  I was so fortunate to have had such incredible teachers including Renee Siebert, Susan Milan and Alan Marion and to be able to pass their teaching methods on to mine and other students, is an absolute honour.

My message is simple: "Lets all thrive in what we do, learn and celebrate how lucky we are to be able to play music by some of the greatest composers.”  Masterclasses can be intimidating and stressful at the best of times, but by exposing students to the fantastic repertoire available, identifying their personal gifts/ strengths, focusing on the fine skills that enable them to be great performers, encouraging them to listen and learn from fellow students and performing themselves in a ‘non pressured’ environment, I have always found that a balanced combination of these factors is the best and most profitable way for individuals to learn!  I feel so lucky to be able to hear talented flautists as well as enthusiastic amateur players. I hope to be able to continue the ‘Friend Flute Academy’ for many more happy musical years and would be delighted to welcome new performers to apply for the forthcoming 'Friend Flute Academy London'  Lisa plays on a Verne Powell gold flute.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

WAKE UP: Music Student = Future Business Owner

Nicole Camacho -
Photo by Erika Kapin
By Nicole Camacho

As a star-eyed dreamer music student, I heard beautiful, difficult sonatas, and hungry for a challenge, bought the music and threw on the metronome at a ridiculously slow tempo to start a journey that I knew might be a year or two or a lifetime!  I saw my teachers on stage and marveled at their careers for years thinking their days consisted of "practicing" and their evenings "performing!"

In pursuing a career in music, I wouldn't dare have asked my amazing teachers for time from our lesson to talk about "business".  Truth be told, I had no idea I was destined to be a "business owner." I was in serious denial and not at all looking forward to the day I would have to "wake up".  

Inspired by this "WAKE UP" analogy, here are a few ways for you to "wake (yourself) up" to the ideas you will pursue as a "small business owner":

1)   Stalk artists you LOVE in many different genres on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.  Why?  It's called MARKET RESEARCH.  You begin to notice how people "advertise" and notice how they find innovative ways to communicate their dreams and ideas.  Its quite possible you are already stalking these people!  And so now just look at it from the perspective of you one day needing to communicate your own creative ideas.  Watch and learn!

2)  Follow blogs!  Golden advice can be found in these, and they are often free!  Blogs I appreciate:    
Emerge Already! by Concert Pianist Jade Simmons

3)  Organize a type of "studio class" for a business talk.  Perhaps you and some of your colleagues are ready to teach young students or have a performing group which would like to play events for pay. Set up this class!  Ask your questions about etiquette when working with customers, writing contracts, and how much money you should charge!  Perhaps you can open up the class to others and do a door fee of some sort so you can pay the speaker/ teacher or just split the fee with your colleagues for the session.  It is your choice, but definitely be proactive in creating friendly environments to have such discussions.  Rehearsals and lessons are sometimes too precious to steal time away for business advice.  Business learning is way too important of a topic to constantly do in passing conversation!  

Activities like these will play a big role in preparing you for running your small business in addition to being a vital part of the businesses of your colleagues.  

Wishing you all the best!

Find Nicole online at:  
Twitter:    @Flutana 
Facebook:  /flutana 
Instagram:  flutana 

Music Unboxed Concert Series:
Twitter:  @MusicUnboxed  
Facebook:  /musicunboxed 

Twitter:  @FutureOfFlute