December 27th, 2013 Comments Off
A few days ago, I had a lesson with one of my teachers, Christina Smith. I half jokingly mentioned on Twitter later that afternoon that it had “changed my life.” But after some reflection, maybe it did in a small way…
Since I am no longer in school, I have to grab lessons whenever my schedule allows and when I can be where the teacher is. What a drastic contrast to the days of luxury when I had a lesson every single week! I loved school, which is one reason why I’m a prof now; I loved the academic music classes except sight singing, at which I am truly abysmal; Oliver Sacks could explain a few things about my sight singing abilities, but I digress. But my weekly lesson, regardless of what day it was scheduled, was the beginning and ending of each week for me.
This means that when I have the opportunity for a lesson now, I soak up as much of it as possible. I don’t come to lessons waiting to having things explained to me. I know where I am as a musician and I try to come prepared to ask the questions that will draw out information that will help me develop. What a huge difference from my student days!
In my recent lesson, we worked on sound. My sound is generally pretty solid but it can always be improved. My teacher shared with me new thoughts about sound production. It was really interesting to see how *her* ideas about sound have changed since I first studied with her almost 15 years ago. I have completely integrated the ideas I learned from her then; as her ideas change (and result in improved sounds), my approach must also change.
I have plenty to work on now; it’s good to know that there is always room for improvement as a student and as a teacher. I can now share those same ideas with my students and feel free to change my approach as I encounter ideas that work better. And hopefully I can impress upon my students that regular lessons are a luxury, coming to lessons with an open mind and plenty of questions results in better progress, and the study of the flute is a lifelong process that never really ends.
December 4th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The holidays came early to the SDSU flute studio in November. Several of my students wanted to try out new flutes; most were ready to upgrade, and one wanted to get an idea of her options in anticipation of upgrading next year. We had seven brands of flute to try out over the course of about a week. Every flute was within my students’ budgets, so they knew that any flute they tried was a possible purchase. Included were well-known brands, and the majority of them (6 our of 7) were solid silver headjoints and bodies with plated mechanisms.
My students were quite excited, of course, and each approached the trial process in a different way. Some wanted to try all of them in a single session; others wanted to just try a few and come back later to try the others. One student knew immediately which brand she preferred and didn’t change her mind at all during the trial process. The others had a more difficult time and took longer to make a decision.
Each student played the flutes over several days. They played long tones as well as scales, etudes, and repertoire. They also tried the instruments in different spaces, including the flute studio as well as the recital hall. Other than the student who immediately knew which one she wanted, the other students’ opinions changed a bit over the course of the week. They slowly began eliminating choices based on “feel” (e.g., this mechanism just isn’t comfortable) and sound. Eventually, two more students decided on a new flute. I also enjoyed trying these flutes outside of the usual convention atmosphere. It was a luxury to have some time to really get to know some of these brands.
My goal was to guide them in this process. I carefully tried to not influence their decision, since I strongly believe that each person has to buy the brand that works best for him or her and not just buy the brand name alone based on its reputation. I also don’t have extensive playing experience with some of the brands they tried, so I didn’t feel it would be fair to push one brand over another. Since they were trying solid, high-quality instruments, I knew that there wasn’t really an issue with them choosing something that wasn’t going to hold up. I answered a lot of questions about mechanisms and structural aspects of the instruments but I really wanted them to have the experience of careful, critical listening to determine which flute was best for each of them. In the end, I think each student chose the instrument that was most comfortable and responsive and had the best sound. There is also a lot of room for each student to grow artistically with the new instruments.
They’re still in love with their new flutes and another student has a very good idea of which brand she prefers when she is ready to upgrade, so I think the entire process was a success.
October 9th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
One of the classes that I teach each fall is Woodwind Pedagogy. Most of the students who take this class are music education majors, and this specific class is one of their degree requirements. The goal is to have each student reasonably proficient on three different woodwind instruments by the end of the semester, which is quite a task. Obviously, the scope of this class must be limited so I’ve had to ask myself what the absolute essential information is that each student should be exposed to before the end of the semester.
I require that each student spend time with a single reed instrument, a double reed instrument, and flute. The only exception is if the student plays one of those already as his or her primary instrument. We cover various topics throughout the semester; some days the students play out of method books as a “beginner band,” other days we discuss articles on pedagogy. Later in the semester, as students gain confidence, they teach each other in the style of a private lesson or masterclass. The other students in the class offer suggestions on what went well during the lesson and what might be improved on. Students also offer advice on their primary instrument if that happens to be a woodwind.
So what do I want them to learn? I tend to think back to when I was a beginner on flute and recall the things that worked well for me as well as those that didn’t. For example, I played flute for an entire year before I realized that the tongue had anything to do with articulation. This type of mistake is something I hope my students are able to detect and correct before their students develop habits that are detrimental and quite difficult to change. I also think about the struggles my beginner flute students have had.
Here are some of the ideas I want to make sure these future band teachers have a good understanding of:
how to safely put the instruments together as well as take them apart.
the proper terminology associated with each of the woodwinds.
very basic maintenance.
healthy embouchure skills.
the general sound and feel of the different types of woodwinds.
cork grease doesn’t belong on a flute!
I also want them to know about resources that are available to them. When they inevitably are confronted with a situation they don’t immediately have an answer to, I want them to know where to find the answers.
As a flutist, teaching this class has been a learning experience for me, as well. I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a huge thanks to Dr. Bret Pimentel, who generously offered advice when I was putting together my woodwind pedagogy class last fall. He has fantastic blog posts about the work of a woodwind doubler/professor on his site, which have been excellent additions to my own class here at SDSU.
Woodwind pedagogy teachers and band directors: what other topics might be useful that I haven’t included above?
March 11th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Trying to prepare for a recital can be an overwhelming process. Whether you are a student planning a junior or senior recital or a professional who is trying to balance recital preparation with other duties, careful planning will ensure that the event goes smoothly.
First, it’s important to choose your program carefully. I usually have a backlog of music I would like to perform. I try to come up with a program that is balanced and includes a lot of variety. Even though I primarily focus on new music lately, I am aware of my audience and also include some of the older standard works. I also try not to neglect works written for interesting instrumental combinations when the players are available. For the recital I most recently presented, I included J.S. Bach, a French work, and a lot of new music. Of the new works, there is still considerable variety. One is for solo flute, two include digital audio sounds, one is for flute and clarinet, and another is for alto flute.
Some music has been on my stand for many months because I knew I would plan to program it on my next recital. Some of it is newly chosen, and I haven’t been working on it as long. As my recital approaches, I begin to keep a list of the entire program and put each work into one of these categories: almost performance ready but just needs polishing, really needs technical work, and ready to go. Then I determine a practice schedule based on that list. I continue to work on the pieces that are nearly ready but I spend much less time on them. The other works get more focused, intense practice like I describe here.
Lately, I have preferred to have most of my music learned and some kind of idea of how I want it to sound before I start collaborating with chamber music partners. While I keep an open mind, it seems to result in a stronger performance if we aren’t trying to make every musical decision as we go.
For students, I help them come up with a similar schedule to that outlined above, but we are more specific as to when and how often the student should practice each work and even each section of each work. Based on where they are with the music, we might come up with a schedule that includes the best-prepared works being heard in lessons every 2 or 3 weeks. The works that are nearly ready but need polishing might be heard every week but only those specific spots. The music that requires the most technical work will definitely get the most focus, including more intense lesson time. And as we approach the recital date, students will begin to play entire works in lessons, so they get the feel of what it’s like to play the entire program at one time. By making a specific schedule, this helps the student feel like there is a manageable plan between preparation and performance.
Teaching musical style can be tricky and obviously is a much longer process. I try to expose the student to various styles through demonstration and quality recordings; this is ongoing work, regardless of whether or not there is a recital on the horizon. Then when the student approaches a piece, we will have spent a little time with that particular style and it won’t be a brand new concept.
As with most things, careful preparation is important. Instead of forging ahead with no clear plan, a detailed approach will more likely result in a successful, confident performance.
January 23rd, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This is a little delayed, perhaps, but it’s time for a bit of perspective on the events of last year. As I went back and read through my summary of 2011, I can’t help but be reminded of how incredibly, insanely different this January is compared to last January.
Last January, I wrote my end-of-year summary while enjoying a vacation overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This January, I live over 1500 miles away from that beach and hope to see it again some time this year. Some of my goals last year were to get a full-time music gig, find a vintage Powell flute, present and perform at flute conventions, continue writing, and collaborate on more musical performances. I’m thrilled that so much of that was accomplished in 2012.
In my quest to obtain a full-time, tenure-track faculty position, I ended up going on two interviews last year. The second was successful, and I am quite happily the newest Assistant Professor of Music at South Dakota State University. My job is a blast. I’m happy to go to work every day, my colleagues are fun to be around, and I hit the lottery with my students. I’ve said this before, but the midwestern work ethic is alive and well in South Dakota. My workload includes world music, woodwind pedagogy, music history, and applied flute. We’re starting a flute choir this semester, which I’m pretty excited about.
During the first half of last year, I was on faculty at University of South Carolina Aiken and Newberry College. There I was teaching Theory II, Theory IV, form and analysis, world music, applied flute, flute studio, and flute ensemble. It was a heavy load, but I really enjoyed being about to spend some time with theory. And it was sad to leave the flute students I had spent several years with but I know they will continue to work hard and do well.
I managed to attend and perform (or present) at several flute conventions last year, including the Kentucky Flute Festival, the Atlanta Flute Fair, the South Carolina Flute Society event, and the British Flute Society. I presented various workshops on efficient practice and the flute music of Joan Tower, performed with Ian Clarke and on a flute choir piece for the SCFS, and judged the adult amateur competition of the BFS. It was great to be able to see colleagues and friends and hear amazing players. Some performer highlights were Walfrid Kujala, Ian Clarke, Christina Smith, and so many amazing British flutists at the BFS event. I also attended some great masterclasses throughout the year with Keith Underwood, Patricia George, and the Imani Winds. Hearing players at this level is always a much-needed inspiration.
One of my goals last year was to be involved in more musical collaborations. I felt like that was something that I neglected to do in 2011, probably because my teaching schedule was too heavy. My first big collaboration of 2012 was a benefit concert for the March of Dimes. The music students at Newberry College put together a nice program, and we ended up raising over $700 for the local chapter. I hope to be able to make this an annual fundraising event. Other collaborations included several works with my new colleagues at SDSU, including Nate Jorgensen, Emily Toronto, and Mike Walsh. It was a great way to jump in and play some chamber music repertoire I haven’t played before. I was also invited to be guest artist by Heidi Alvarez at Western Kentucky University, where I joined several of the faculty members in performing music by my Twitter-friend Michael Kallstrom. Heidi is a great flutist and teacher, and I enjoyed working with her and her students.
Miscellaneous things: I recorded the soundtrack for a short animation at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta; bought a vintage Powell flute; enjoyed soaking up the country music culture in Nashville; moved across the country; got a quick introduction to Native American culture from an expert at SDSU, which I could use for my world music class; got to know the state of South Dakota through numerous recruiting trips; watched the marching band participate in the 100th Hobo Day parade at SDSU; and drove through an actual blizzard to play in a concert. This year included trips to (or through) twelve states and two countries. Good thing I like travelling!
So what’s the plan for 2013? Basically, keep going. Collaborate as much as possible, recruit amazing flute students, teach, write, travel. I’ve also found myself playing more and more new music as the years go by. I commissioned a work last year by Rob Cronin and had another dedicated to me by Rob Steadman, and I’m looking forward to performing those this year. Working with composers is pretty great, and I’m looking forward to more of that this year.
As always, I’m interested in collaborations. If you want to work together, contact me! Email or Twitter @TammyEvansYonce.
November 29th, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As I was teaching today, I realized that there tend to be two types of applied students in my life. A student can move from one category to the other over time, or it’s possible for a student to stay one type for their entire time with me. Where that student falls is probably a factor of many things, including musical maturity, technical ability, motor skills, among many other probable causes. I’m not trying to make any sort of judgment of these two types; instead, I’m curious if other teachers find the same breakdown of students in their own studios, if they prefer to teach one type over the other, and how (or if) their pedagogical approaches differ between the two types.
With one type of student, we primarily work on musical ideas in lessons. Their repertoire might not be completely technically accurate in all respects. There might be a few wrong notes, and we work on refining that technique by practicing in small segments, by making sure we’re using the fingerings that make the most sense for that passage, by altering the rhythm and playing the passage in question backwards. We might work on refining the embouchure, or changing the direction of the air stream, or experimenting with faster or slower vibrato. However, it’s all in the name of musical experimentation and development. This group includes private students of all ages, college music majors, and college students who are taking lessons as an elective.
The lessons with the second type of student consist solely of technical nuts and bolts. Every lesson, we correct fingerings. I remind these students of the various fingerings for B-flat. I remind them to lift their left pointer finger for our middle D and E-flat. We work frequently on aligning the head joint. We count rhythms together every lesson. I also spend a lot of time with them supervising their practice during each lesson. I frequently coach them on how to practice things and specifically what to do and for how long in the practice room. Now I’m not naive; some of the students in this category flat-out do not practice. I understand that quite well. However, there seem to be those students who do spend time legitimately practicing and still have significant problems with just the basics of flute playing. As with the other type, this group also includes private students of all ages, college music majors, and college students who are taking lessons as an elective.
As a teacher, I’m genuinely happy to teach anyone who is an involved, enthusiastic student. I have very little patience for students who don’t practice at all. (Isn’t this true for everyone?) But teaching both of these types of students (Categories 1 and 2; not the non-practicers) is ok with me; it makes for an interesting, varied week of lessons. Reminding every student repeatedly of very basic information every day can be exhausting, and I have yet to be in a situation where I have only students of the first category. I always have a mix of both categories, with a few non-practicers thrown in to keep things interesting.
I’m interested in hearing from other applied teachers: do you have many students at any level (i.e., college, adult, high school, and so forth) for whom the fundamentals are very difficult? Is your pedagogical approach to them significantly different from your approach to Category 1 students?
November 26th, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As a college professor, one thing that can be difficult for me to assess at the end of the semester is how much progress my students have made in the preceding 14-or-so weeks. When grades are tied to assessing this progress, it makes things even dicier. Feelings, scholarships, and progress towards their degree completion makes the stakes high. After seven years of college teaching, some things have worked and some haven’t. Here are some ways I organize my assessment of my students’ progress, which can also be used by students for some self-reflection.
At the beginning of each semester, during the first lesson, I determine where that student is as far as tone, technique, and musicianship are concerned. Obviously this task is easier if I have taught the student before. It can be a little tricky if the student is brand new, but there is always room to make adjustments later. At that point, we decide together on various materials that will be used during the course of the semester. It depends on the student; if this is a young or inexperienced student, sometimes I will primarily use one method book. If it’s an older student, we tend to include etudes, technical exercises, repertoire, and other materials from a variety of sources. While I think there are certain materials that every student should eventually work through, I don’t feel like every student must be playing from the same sources at the same time. (This also makes lessons more interesting and varied during the week!) We come up with an approximate amount of material that can be covered; for example, we might outline one etude a week, three heavy technical exercises, tone studies, and two works to focus on for the entire semester. We talk about a reasonable amount to cover each week and try to identify performance dates for the pieces. This way we have benchmarks to hit at various points throughout the semester and can pace ourselves accordingly. I make sure to get students’ input here, as well. Maybe their vibrato doesn’t strike me as something that needs to be heavily addressed during the semester, but the student is quite uncomfortable with it. I will make sure that we cover that. Perhaps they know a piece that they would really like to work on. As long as it is appropriate for their level and is well-balanced with their other repertoire, I’m happy to allow them to make those decisions.
I also do a mid-semester “check up” to see if we’re making sufficient progress towards our outlined goals. If we’ve decided to finish one etude a week, and it’s taking three weeks to get through one etude on average, it’s time to reassess. Are the etudes really that difficult, or is the practice time spent on these insufficient or badly organized? This can be tricky to determine. Sometimes there are circumstances that we aren’t aware of as teachers, and it takes a good amount of trust to know whether a student is being lazy, has a mismanaged life, or is really having trouble with the material.
There is also the circumstance where something that wasn’t apparent in the first lesson reveals itself as an issue that must be dealt with immediately. Perhaps there are serious embouchure problems or major rhythmic inaccuracies in a student’s playing. Things so fundamental must be addressed before making progress towards other musical goals. In this case, a student might not get through all the material that was outlined in the first lesson, but if serious progress was made on these other aspects, it has been a successful semester.
If a student is making good progress towards the outlined goals, everything is in good shape. It’s still worthwhile to have that mid-semester reminder that there is still work to be done and grades do inevitably happen at the end of the semester. And of course, if a student is making progress beyond what was initially outlined, they will hear no complaints from me!
By making expectations completely clear at the beginning of the semester (and giving a reminder midway through), this lessens the possibilities of misunderstandings or hurt feelings when grades are due. Also, by making the student involved with the decision-making, that student has more ownership of the situation and hopefully feels more in control of his or her musical development.
October 25th, 2012 § 1 Comment
So I entered the realm of beatboxing a while back and figured it was time to write about it. I can’t remember exactly when I started experimenting with it, but it couldn’t have been much earlier than this past spring. The name to know in flute beatboxing circles is Greg Pattillo, who is a performer and composer. He also performs with the PROJECT Trio. I think it’s important to note that Pattillo comes from a fairly typical classical upbringing – started music in school, went to college for music study, etc. He even lists Beethoven as one of his main musical influences. (The other he cites is Ian Anderson.) But then he took inspiration from beat boxing, which is a type of vocal percussion performed by hip-hop artists. This style is combined with flute sounds to create something entirely unique. And this is where my interest was piqued. I’m in love with the framing of sounds – all kinds of sounds – and this is a new sound to experiment with. I think it’s also a good idea for me to learn these new techniques because it absolutely stretches me as a performer. Part of my obligation is to keep up with new developments, and it’s also a great reminder of how difficult new things can be to learn. When my students are approaching something new that I take for granted at this point, and they’re having trouble with it, these types of things remind me what they are experiencing.
In 2011, the National Flute Association commissioned Pattillo to write “Three Beats for Beatbox Flute” for their High School Competition, which is a pretty strong indication that this style is fairly well accepted. Whether it will become mainstream or will die away as a passing fad remains to be seen. I don’t know how often it is taught by flute teachers at any level, but my students find it interesting and I certainly don’t discourage them from practicing it. (Are you a flute instructor who teaches this? Let me know!)
The videos are really helpful to learn the technique, and that’s what I’ve relied on. I’m currently working on the first part of his “Three Beats,” and who knows. Maybe it’ll end up on a faculty recital one of these days … ?
October 15th, 2012 § 3 Comments
I would be remiss if I didn’t write a blog post about my new gig. This semester, I began as an Assistant Professor of Music at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. If you told me a year ago (or even six months ago) that this is the direction my career would take me, I simply would not have believed you. Now that I’ve been at the job for long enough to feel settled in, I can give you a bit of an introduction.
My summer was hectic. After being offered and accepting the job, we immediately began making plans to move our belongings, our lives, and ourselves 1377.15 miles from where we were living at the time. The pressure was on, especially since my husband had his full-time job and there were friends to still enjoy (and say goodbye to). I was also preparing to present at the British Flute Society convention, which took place right before the beginning of the semester.
Once I got back on this side of the pond and got into the swing of things, life has settled down somewhat. My teaching load this semester includes applied flute students, woodwind pedagogy, and world music. I’ve taught these before, except for the woodwind pedagogy. My time working with a homeschool band group gives me a background in pedagogy of the OTHER woodwinds, and a very helpful colleague is also a great resource. (Shout out to the amazing Bret Pimentel at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.) I’m also recruiting quite a bit. While I am not building a studio from the ground up, my predecessor here was part-time so there is an opportunity to expand the studio from its already-healthy size.
As a native Southerner, I was first introduced to the Midwestern work ethic as a graduate student at Indiana University. I can assure you that it is alive and well in South Dakota. With very few exceptions, the students here are extremely hard workers and are receptive to new ideas. It is making my job easier.
I’m also enjoying working on my other projects. I have the opportunity to write, perform in various locations, travel, meet new colleagues, collaborate on different projects, and continue to enjoy a varied career. I’m also really excited to learn about this part of the country, which I have never seen before and which is so different from what I am accustomed to. While my lack of knowledge about this state has required me to print out a map of South Dakota and tape it next to my desk, I think I will learn the area quickly enough.
Yes, it’s cold and very windy. Lately it feels like Christmastime in the South. I have unpacked most of my warmest clothes. I anticipate spending a good hunk of change upgrading my wardrobe this year. But I will figure it out, and if I don’t, please come dig me out of a snowdrift.
After paying my dues for what seemed like a very long time, I’m deeply appreciative of a job that I truly enjoy with colleagues who are a lot of fun to work with and students who are incredibly hard workers.
November 1st, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The following was a result of a handout I put together for a workshop. More detailed information can be found about these topics in separate blog posts on this site.
Establish a solid practice schedule:
- Actually block off time in your schedule designated specifically for practicing. Avoid using it for lunch, socializing, homework, errands, sleeping, and so forth. As a musician, practicing is part of your job, so treat it with professionalism.
- Write your designated practice time in your schedule. Enter it into your online planner. Make sure it ends up wherever you will see it until it becomes habit.
- Arrange your practice time for when you practice best. Some people love getting work done first thing in the morning before anyone else is around to be a distraction. Others work best late at night. Maybe right before or after lunch is when you’re most alert. Figure out when your most effective practice time is and make sure you schedule around that. A reasonable amount of focused practice is better than lots of unfocused practice.
- Your practice time doesn’t have to be one large block. Maybe you have 30 free minutes between classes early in the morning. That’s perfect for your warm-up! You can then schedule another practice session for technical work and repertoire, or you can split that work into two sessions.
When approaching a new piece:
- Listen to a quality recording of the piece. Yes, this counts as practicing!
- Do a quick run-through of the piece to get a feel for it and where the difficult parts are.
- Actually write the tempos of each problem area in your music (in pencil) so you remember where you are the next time you practice. You will probably have different tempos for each difficult section of the work, but that’s ok. You’ll eventually work them all up to the same tempo. Don’t forget to update the tempo in your music after you’ve made progress.
- In particularly difficult sections, it may be necessary to break your practice down into just 2 or 3 notes. This may seem too simple, but it’s a much more effective use of your practice time than simply running through the music and making little, if any, progress.
- Save run-throughs. Start doing more of these as you approach a performance to get a feel for the work in its entirety and to start building endurance. It’s also helpful to do occasionally to assess how well your practice is going, but it’s simply not enough to be your sole practice strategy.
Handling especially difficult sections:
- First, make sure you’re practicing slowly and with a metronome. Play it as slowly as needed so that you’re able to play the entire passage correctly. This may be half-speed or even slower. That’s ok; you’ll speed it up later.
- Second, try playing the passage with different articulations. Try slurring the difficult passage, articulating it, slurring small and large groupings, and combining articulations and slurs.
- Third, alter the rhythm of the passage. If the passage is made up of eighth notes, play a dotted eighth/sixteenth note pattern. Then reverse it and play a sixteenth note/dotted eighth note pattern.
- Finally, try playing the passage backwards. This gives your brain and fingers a serious workout. Practice this section backwards until you can play it smoothly and comfortably.
- Once you’ve practiced this difficult section with all of these changes, play it as written. Even after a short amount of practice, you should see considerable improvement.
How do you know when you’re improving?
- Checking metronome markings. This is a pretty simple way to measure progress, especially in technical passages. Being able to play something a few clicks faster than you could at the beginning of your practice session is a pretty good indication of progress.
- Being able to play longer passages in a work. Maybe you could play only small portions of a work previously. Maybe you could only make it through one movement before you felt fatigued or lost focus. Suddenly, you can make it through the entire piece successfully. This is a positive sign, especially if you are getting close to a recital date.
- Noticing an improvement in tone quality. This issue becomes more subjective. Recording yourself, an eye-opening experience, is a great way to hear what your audience is hearing. The sound from the performer’s side of the instrument can be vastly different from what the sound is by the time it reaches the audience. Maybe you’ve been working on tone and you *think* it’s clearer, more resonant, more focused, and so on. Double-check it with your recording device.