Sunday, July 27, 2014

Keep Your Head Up

By Cindy Ellis

In the words of a pop song I've heard on the radio, you gotta keep your head up,...and for the best resonance, intonation and projection, these words could not ring more true. Make sure that your neck is not bent too low (don't connect chin to chest)  and that you are balancing your head freely on the top of your spine.. I like to imagine keeping a bit of space between my neck and my skull, lifting the crown of my head. Keep the collarbone open and lifted as well and shoulders open as much as possible. Thinking of the shoulder blades pulling down, as the neck lifts up, can give your posture a gentle vertical lift.  These small 'tweaks' to posture can really aid in your projection and you will also look much more confident as well. 

*Note - This article first appeared on the "Teaching Tips" section of Cindy Ellis's website.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Joshua Smith on Section Playing and Projection

Joshua Smith © Frank J. Lanza, 2013

Powell artist Joshua Smith has held the position of Principal Flute with The Cleveland Orchestra since 1990.  We have enjoyed reading his blog, and in particular, a series of posts that share his terrific insight on flute playing and teaching.  These posts are segments of an interview with one of his former students, Madeline Lucas.  This week, we wanted to share his insight on section playing and projection, as you will see in the questions and responses below:

ML: So often in a lesson, you only get to hear a student's sound as he plays by himself. How would you counsel him about playing in a wind section, about playing with others?
JS: That's something that develops over time, and again goes back to that idea of specific contexts. You start to become aware of what is possible by hearing great orchestras and chamber musicians, and using those experiences as arbiters of what can be possible, developing personal goals for yourself. Generally speaking, in a wind section, the most important thing is to find a way towards cohesion so that all of the instruments have their own individual colors when they need to, but manage to sound blended when they're playing together, especially in octaves or unisons. Somehow, what you end up creating is a sound that is a combination of two colors-- because of the way a flute and clarinet combine, for example, you get a new color that is the result of blending both separate colors. That's something that can only be done if you really understand the qualities of the other instrument you're playing with.
ML: How does one go from just playing loudly to projecting, especially in a large ensemble?
JS: That has a lot to do with air-speed, actually, and what I talked about earlier in terms of resonance. Sound goes the wrong direction if it has an edge or is forced, because when you start forcing air, you're not actually supporting it; rather than channeling the air column so that it's coming out of you quickly and steadily, you're anchoring something in your body so that the column tightens. Yelling might sound loud, but it doesn't necessarily carry the same weight underneath it that speaking resonantly can.
From all the experience I've had, both listening to myself and my students play, hearing people both in big halls and small rooms, I know that a sound that is focused and round is what carries; again, that has a lot to do with air speed: what projects into a space from a wind instrument is sound created with round and spinning air. Just like with a voice, focusing your energy on depth and enunciation is what carries the sound forward.
Back to that book, Bruser's The Art of Practicing. As I try to explain this to you, I find myself listening carefully to my own voice, exactly in the moment, while I'm speaking. That's such a great practicing technique, becoming aware of what you sound like, because as you listen, you start to learn what is possible. Having feedback from others helps, too: "When you do that it doesn't carry into the hall as much as when you do this" is helpful, and having gotten a lot of feedback like that, I know that projecting takes a lot less effort than most people think it does. The effort is meditative more than forceful, so that you end up expressing yourself rather than yelling.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adult Learners

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis with adult students demonstrating how octaves are created on flute.

If you’ve taught private music lessons, you know that each student is remarkably unique when it comes to learning an instrument. There are factors of whether they are kinesthetic, visual or aural learners. Perhaps reading music comes easily to them, but keeping a steady beat does not. With younger students, we are responsible as teachers for both diagnosing and providing solutions to these problems. If you’ve taught an adult beginner or hobbyist, you know that the playing field changes entirely!

I have had a variety of adult learners come to my studio for flute lessons. Some are brand new to the flute and are looking for a challenging and engaging new hobby.  Others were quite advanced at a young age, but followed a different path through life and are ready to come back to music making. In both cases, adults carry a self awareness most young students don’t have, creating for an interesting and challenging dialogue in lessons.

For an adult who has never played an instrument, the first few lessons can be quite challenging. Their level of comprehension is probably quite high, but their facility and dexterity may not be able to keep up quite yet. This is where good humor and open conversation is a must. Most likely, you learned as a young child and don’t remember this frustrating part of the journey as clearly. In this situation, I find it most useful to treat lessons the same way I would with young beginners - diagnosing the issues I see and providing practice solutions to help the student fix them efficiently. You may find this even more satisfying with adults, as they often are more responsible about practicing!

For adults who are returning to the instrument after a long hiatus, you may find that they overestimate what level of music they should be playing, or what exercises they should be doing. Their memory of the difficulty of music they played where they left off may motivate them to skip some important steps when it comes to refreshing their abilities.  Be sure to speak openly with them about the importance of rebuilding good habits, both so they can play their best, and also so they can avoid any injuries from playing too vigorously too soon.

There are many opportunities for adults - including adjudicated events (the National Federation of Music Clubs provides opportunities for adults, as do other organizations) and camps. The Pocono Flute Society hosts a camp that is geared primarily to adult learners each July ( As adult hobbyists are a driving force in the flute community (take note of how many attend the National Flute Association Convention each summer!), camps like these are becoming more common. Camps, community band and orchestras, and adjudications for adults are wonderful events geared toward growth and camaraderie, and are a wonderful place for adults to move forward quickly in their development over a short period of

An open mind is important when you are teaching adults. Their ideas and interests may help you find resources you were unaware of, learn new music, or even adapt teaching methods you hadn’t previously used. One of my favorite analogies for talking about air direction and speed came from an adult student! I’m sure to give her credit when I use the idea - after all, her interpretation of my approach is much easier to understand than the words I was previously using! Another of my adult students has introduced me to countless books, collections and pieces because of his own love of the repertoire for our instrument. I look forward to my adult students’ lessons as a refreshing point in my week where I am able to take on the role of both teacher and student. Frequently, these lessons lead to friendships and meaningful exchanges that enhance the lives of everyone involved!

For more on Morgann Davis, visit her website and 
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