What do I really Sound like?

Janet Bordeaux is a Flutist & Composer and she has been kind enough to share with us the following story!

“I had an amazing opportunity to go to a master class with Trevor Wye when I was a new flutist. One story he told really struck me: the person playing does not hear the same sound as the listener in the hall. He recounted doing an experiment where he had one person play, another stand next to the player, and one at the back of the room. After the flutist played, he asked him what he heard in the tone, answer: “breathiness and popping.” Next he asked the person stand beside the player; Answer “same thing, I could hear air sounds as well as the tone.” Now the person at the back of the room responds; “I didn’t hear any air sounds or popping…just pretty tones!”

Mr. Wye had done this experiment many times always with the same result. His conclusion: “The performer on the flute is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to tone, because of the nature of how the instrument is played. We blow much of our air over the flute and away from us, so the sound moves away from our ears, but toward the ears of our listeners. So we can never truly hear ourselves as others do!”

So my suggestion is to give your students every opportunity to hear themselves from across the room: invest in as good a quality digital recorder and place it at least 5 feet away (if possible) and let them hear what you hear. I personally have a distaste for hearing myself on a recording, but every time I do, it teaches me valuable lessons. And I must say, 8 years after that master class, I am still grateful to Mr Wye for the insight!

One other bit: I ran across a YouTube video of a man recounting a story about Louie Armstrong: “Always play for someone you love” – that video has changed my performance in amazing ways.” View that video here


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

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Aperture closes down in the upper register

his question was received from a flute teacher – please post your responses/suggestions as comments below.

“I have a young student whose aperture closes down in the upper register. Would the straw exercise or the button/string trick be beneficial to reinforce an opening?” Stephanie (January 14, 2014)


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Treating Music Performance Anxiety

Do you suffer any level of performance anxiety?  Do your students?

Good news!!!!  It can be treated!!!!


Music Performance Anxiety (MPA) can occur immediately before a performance or be a build up of tension over weeks before the performance.

Symptoms can be very distressing and include sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, nausea, breathing problems, notational mistakes, robotic playing and catastrophizing that the audience are thinking negatively about the performance.

Many famous musicians have experienced it, among them Pablo Casals (frequently threw up back stage prior to performing), and Barbara Streisand (who did not perform for twenty years after a experiencing a memory lapse in a New York concert). It is estimated that up to 70 percent of musicians experience it at some stage of their careers.

Treatment programs have focussed on professionals or advanced students, however fifteen percent of adults, and twenty percent of school age Australians participate in music making. MPA is the most common reason for people to give up playing an instrument or singing.

Over several collaborative group sessions this program applies proven psychological treatments specially adapted for musicians. Negative thoughts about performance can lead to physical symptoms and errors in performance. The program aims to decrease anxiety and increase performance quality by examining negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours, while utilising the adrenalin release that often accompanies performance.

The researcher is a psychologist, musician, teacher and examiner (AMEB) currently completing a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) degree at Macquarie University. The program is free and open to any musician or singer. It is currently being delivered in venues across NSW (2013) and the UK (2014). The program can also be delivered at other locations provided there is a minimum of six musicians in the group.

All data collected is non-invasive and there is ongoing performance assessment throughout the program.

Please feel free to contact Naomi on 0409319985; or naomihallsstudio@gmail.com to enrol in a group, arrange treatment date if you have an interested group; or for further information.


Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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Memorising a work…

Once one takes the step of deciding to pursue music at a tertiary level, and then moving into the professional world, the expectations for assessment, competitions, eistedfodds and performances change.  One expectation, which can often be a very daunting and scary experience, is being asked to memorise a work.  If I were to ask you, no matter what instrument you played, to perform something like: Mary Had a Little Lamb; or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; from memory, you probably wouldn’t have a problem!  But it’s when we start getting into longer works, such as concertos or sonatas, the whole process can sometimes seem impossible, let alone actually performing the work for a concert in front of people!

Throughout my Undergraduate Degree, I didn’t memorise anything.  There was no requirement in my recitals, I was comfortable with my music in front of me, and so I didn’t push myself to do it.  There were parts of my pieces that I could in fact play from memory, but that’s a very different thing from actually memorising an entire work and performing it.  When moving into my Honours degree, memorisation (for at least some works in the performance) was suddenly a requirement.  I remember reading through my subject guidelines, and thinking – memorising a 20 minute work and performing it – not possible!  The first piece I memorised was the Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major.  Personally, I think works that are well structured (Exposition, Development and recapitulation, or Rondo forms), like many works by Mozart, are the easiest type of music to begin with when first memorising.

I think that the actual process when memorising is different for each person.  We all have different strengths with memory – some of us have a strong ‘eye’ memory or photographic memory, some of us have a strong aural memory and others strengths lie in our finger memory or muscle memory.  No matter which of these is your strength, we use a combination of these types of memory when memorising a work.

When I’m memorising a piece, my first step is to listen to it – A LOT!   Initially, I listen without the score to become familiar with the work aurally – this is where I learn about the shapes and contours of the melodies, the tempos and characteristics of sections, and how the piece flows together, and fits together as a whole work.  Once I’m satisfied with my aural familiarity, I then listen with the score in front of me – all before I even play through the work.  This gives me a visual idea of what is happening throughout the work, and in my opinion, starts to shape my photographic memory.

The piece I have been learning over the past few months is Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major – a wonderful piece, and thankfully, a very logically structured (for my brain!) work.  I had played this concerto before in second year university, so I had a basic understanding of its melody already, so I was already off to a good start aurally.

I remember at the beginning of this memory journey, I was feeling pretty stressed about memorising the entire concerto, and even though I knew logically how to go about it, it still seemed like such a huge amount of work! Once I felt I was familiar enough with the work as a whole aurally (combining my ‘ear’ and ‘eye’ memory), I broke each movement into their respective sections (Theme A, Theme B, Section A, Section B, etc), and then broke those sections into smaller bar groups. I was generally focussing on between 4-16 bars depending on the difficulty of the passage.  Some passages I was able to learn more quickly – generally anything that was slower and very melodic, while others required a little more work.  My process of physically learning those small sections, involved spending roughly 5 minutes on the passage, and then going away to a separate piece for another 5 minutes, before returning to my concerto and attempting to play that small section from memory.  This was my process throughout the entire concerto.  I would also always go back to the previous section and add on my new section several times, as well as starting from the beginning of the movement until I could play smoothly from the beginning to my memorised point.  I also made a point not to continue on in the piece, until I could play up to that point correctly – otherwise, I think it’s very possible to get lost or confused as to what material happens next.

I find that my visual and aural memory is mostly used within the slower sections and/or movements, and that my finger and aural memory are my strengths in more technical sections. Having said this, I can visualise how each section of the work starts – for the Reinecke Concerto, it opens the first movement on an F#, the first theme comes in on an A, the second theme a C# etc.  It’s also very important for me as a player, and I think anyone who is memorising a work, to feel comfortable starting from just about anywhere in the piece – if you can do this, you should feel pretty confident in how well you’ve memorised the work.

In many ways, memorising is not much different from learning to play a piece – a lot of it is practice, practice, practice – breaking the piece up into smaller sections, playing each section until you really know it, and then putting it all together, with some extra practice on the tricky bits.  Memorising is the same thing – starting with a small section and continuing adding sections until you reach the end.  Obviously, some people are faster than others at memorising – just as some people are faster at learning.  I think as long as you work through a piece slowly, understand it aurally, and are willing to put in the time and effort to really learn it, you’ll find memorising a work can be quite a rewarding experience.  And like many things, the more you do it, the less daunting it becomes!  Make sure to play it for family members, friends, peers, colleagues, and teachers in preparation for a performance so that you can become as comfortable as possible before performing it live.  Play along with as many different recordings as possible so that you are prepared for a number of tempos.  Don’t always start with the first movement of a work, or the beginning of piece, start with the second or third movement, or somewhere in the middle of a work – doing all of these things, should help you to feel as confident as possible.  Taking away that barrier of a music stand and connecting even more with your audience and your accompanist (orchestral, pianist or chamber) can be an exhilarating experience, so take the leap!


Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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Flute Lessons via Skype

Having recently received some questions and comments regarding teaching private instrumental lessons via Skype, we decided that further discussion may help teachers and students to achieve a successful lesson while using this program.

What equipment do you need for a Skype Lesson?

This is a checklist for both the student and teacher, in addition to your usual face-to-face teaching tools.

1. Computer

2. Reliable Internet connection

3. Webcam

4. Microphone

5. Speakers

6. A Printer/Scanner for sending notes, sight-reading or any exercises you may have written

7. Skype program or similar (eg. video call through Google Chat)

8. An agreed form of payment (Note: Bank transfers and cheques are not a good option for overseas students due to international account fees. A better option may be setting up a Paypal account, so the student can pay by credit card).

A lesson in this format can only be successful when both parties are organised. Anything that the teacher would usually show their student needs to be planned in advance. If this requires scanning or printing, the student needs to have their copy before the lesson begins.

Most computers now come with a built-in microphone, webcam and speakers. External, purpose-built devices can be used to achieve better quality. I have recently been using a Blue Snowball Microphone and have found the sound quality to be much better than my built-in microphone. The Snowball is a USB condenser microphone which plugs straight into your computer without the need for an additional power source.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Skype Lessons:


– You can teach or have a lesson with a teacher who is not based in your local area.

– Skype can work as a back-up when a face-to-face lesson is not possible (transport not running, snowed in etc.)


– Some teachers and students have reported that they feel disconnected from each other. There will always be a human element missing from a Skype lesson, as opposed to teaching face-to-face, but as long as the student and teacher are comfortable communicating with each other, successful lessons can still be achieved.

– Technical problems may interfere with teaching – power black-outs, internet connection problems, the teacher or student’s hardware and software not working.

– Even with a great computer and webcam, it is harder to see what the student is doing in this situation than in person. Teachers may need to ask the student to move or adjust the webcam from time to time.

– Some teachers have reported to us that they have experienced difficulties while teaching aural skills via Skype. This may have been due to the delay experienced while communicating over the internet, or due to the quality of the microphones and speakers. Jacinta Mikus came up with the following solution:

I have a few students in regional areas. We Skype once a week and try to meet up at least once (if not two or three times) a term in person. Have had great success with students doing well with exams and one way I got around the aural aspect was to record my own exercises…emailing them to the student and them recording themselves via voice memo on their phones and sending it to me.”

My personal opinion is that if this technology allows us to do something which would not otherwise be possible, we should use it! Skype teaching does require hardware, software and planning, but offers many more opportunities to teachers and students.

Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions regarding this topic.


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Tear drop upper lip

Often students will present with a tear drop upper lip.  In most cases where a pronounced tear drop is present it results in the traditional placement of the flute in the centre of the lip as ineffective as it obstructs the air stream.  This results in it becoming virtually impossible for the student to produce a good sound with a perfectly centred embouchure.

For students with a tear drop to produce a wonderful sound they will most likely need to use an off centre embouchure and this is absolutely fine.  The main thing to be aware of is that the focus should be on finding what works best for the individual student.  Be flexible and work with the realities of the situation.

Experiment with the student and move the placement of the flute to be slightly to the left or right of centre. Use long tones (Sonorite is great for this) and ask them to move the position of the flute on the lip slightly to find where is best for them.  With perseverance most will find a comfortable position which involves the air stream passing beside the tear drop and thus removing the obstruction and enabling a better quality of sound production.

Many many famous flute players play off to one side or the other. Larry Krantz has a great page illustrating the wide variation in embouchure of “…highly accomplished musicians with better than professionally average tones…” – visit the page here

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Braces are impacting sound quality

Braces are almost a right of passage for many students these days and as teachers we have all faced this dilemma at one time or another and new teachers are guaranteed to come across it sooner or later.

If your student’s new braces are impacting their sound, try having you student place the flute slightly higher or lower on their lip – their lip now has to sit over the top of the braces and this extra bulk in their mouth will probably effect where and how they blow.  Do keep in mind that they are likely to be very tender around their mouth after getting braces and also when their braces are tightened at various stages by their orthodontist.  This will effect their ability to practice for long periods.  Consider working with their head joint, playing short but favourite pieces and tone exercises and work on other areas to help them maintain interest and motivation while they find their new ‘sweet spot’.

Encouragement is key!  Be patient.  With perseverance a good sound will come (or return) – many many great flute players had braces in their younger years and are none the worse off for them!



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Developing Tone on the Alto Flute

Tone is an aspect of flute playing that takes many hours of critical listening and experimentation. The alto flute can produce a tone that is richer, deeper and warmer than the c flute, but it does not leap out of the alto as soon as we start playing. Like the c flute, the alto will sound best if you take full, deep breaths, create a large open space inside your mouth, have a relaxed and open throat and are covering just 20% or so of the flute’s embouchure opening. I cannot emphasize enough that a deep and full breath is critical to getting a big sound. Your body is an amplifier for the flute sound, and the more space you create inside your body, the deeper and richer your tone will be. A flute breath involves the entire torso, it is very similar to yawning. Think “Ah.” Work with a teacher to help discover how to make this kind of breath a default breath when playing the flute. Here is the link to my video on breathing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcB9PSgsDkc

To find your clearest tone possible, focus on the lips. Most people’s lips have an opening that is much too large. The target area for the air inside the flute is similar in shape to a thin ribbon. The opening in the lips should be comparable to avoid wasting air; it is basically a small and somewhat flattened oval. If you can see the opening in your lips in a mirror, it is too big. The best aid I have found to work with students on the lip opening size is a straw used to stir coffee. Get a mirror and one of these straws. Put the straw between your lips and blow through it strongly enough that you can hear the air hissing out: keep blowing and remove the straw. Observe how small the opening is and what muscles are involved in maintaining that small opening. Then get your flute and play any note. Observe the opening in the lips. We are trying to get as close as we can to the opening size of the straw because this will result in two wonderful things; you will use less air so you can play longer phrases and, you will produce a solid and clearer tone. I deal with this topic in my YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaeHSbGyGWM

Some people aim the air a little too high into the headjoint, resulting in a loud, hissing, unfocused tone. Some people cover too much of the flute mouthpiece opening, resulting in a clear but soft smothered tone with no dynamic range. A teacher can help you find the middle ground.

The lip position for alto is very similar to the lip position of the c flute, it is only slightly more relaxed. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 15% more relaxed. If your lips on c flute are already too relaxed, you may actually need to firm up your lips more than they are. This will help your tone on both instruments. If you like your tone on c flute, just keep the corners of the lips soft when playing alto. Usually we are playing alto because we like the less edgy and warmer, rounder sound. On alto, play with a sound less like an arrow and more like a warm cinnamon roll.

Spend time playing slow, simple melodies on alto so you can think about your tone and what you would like to improve about it. I have a collection of favorite pieces I use for this purpose. If you want to improve your tone, you must spend time listening to it without the distraction of too many notes. If you don’t like what you hear, you have taken the first step. Take step two and decide to do something about it.

Copyright Mar. 2013, Chris Potter


About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.


All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates


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Finger technique and fluency in the 3rd register

A great exercise to improve finger fluency and technique in the 3rd register from Niall O’Riordan:

“Take this 5 note scale pattern 3rd 8va (c,d,e,f,g,f,e,d,c) and see what speed you can play it at.

Then see if you can just finger the needed movements for the Left hand. Go slowly until the pattern for the LH feels easy and effortless, the speed is less important to the feeling of ease. Do it a few times in your imagination also. can you make it feel easy in your imagination? Take regular short rest in concentration. Do the same for the RH.

Continually finger the passage and alternate between both hands hands separate try and make it smooth and seamless

Put it back together 2 hands. Easier? Faster? More fluency.

Over time do it for all scale patterns in this register, including chromatics.

This is Scales with a Feldenkrais twist!  Pianists practice hands separate why don’t we!”

View a video tutorial about practicing hands separate here: http://youtu.be/RoNDwjUKfcQ

Visit Niall’s website here

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