Playing Unaccompanied

For singers and instrumentalists (other than pianists), an accompanist is almost always required for competitions and performances. At least, if you are playing a solo. However, there are a few pieces of unaccompanied music that are important, too.

Killer Harmony | Playing Unaccompanied | Unless you are a pianist, playing unaccompanied music might be new to you. But it's important. Here are some tips for solo playing and my favorite pieces!

I, personally, love playing unaccompanied music. Maybe that is because of my strong piano background, or maybe I’m just…self centered…? Who knows, but I truly enjoy making music and being the only one on stage.

So, I wanted to write a post about playing unaccompanied music and give you all some tips for when you have to play alone.

1. It’s all on you.

If you are playing an unaccompanied work, it’s up to you to do your best and to entertain the audience. That can be stressful, but it can also be rewarding.

On one hand, you don’t have someone to catch you if you get something wrong, but on the other hand, you don’t have to worry about anyone else messing up.

You can rehearse the music as much as you need to, and you don’t have to schedule times with an accompanist. If you aren’t progressing as quickly as you thought, it is easy enough to up your rehearsal time on that piece.

2. The skill of performing alone can translate to other venues.

If you are good at performing alone, performing in a group will become much easier. Once you are comfortable on stage by yourself, a band or orchestra performance won’t seem so scary.

Performing by yourself can also build your confidence in other ways. It can help with your stage etiquette and performance. Solo performance can also help you get over general stage fright and fear of being in front of crowds.

It is just one more amazing way of getting experience with performing on your instrument.

3. You can learn more music.

There are so many pieces out there that are written for solo flute or solo violin or solo cello. If you limit yourself to music that is accompanied, you lose out on a big part of repertoire.

For flutists, the JS Bach Partita in A minor and Debussy’s Syrinx are two examples of important, unaccompanied flute music. If I wasn’t comfortable on stage without someone else, I wouldn’t of had the pleasure of including each of these pieces into a solo recital.

There are six unaccompanied suites for cello written by Bach, and serious cellists are expected to know them all well. The more music you know and can play, the more versatile you become.

4. You might have to perform alone.

If you are a music major, odds are you have to perform a degree recital at some point. If your school is anything like mine was, one of the recital requirements is an unaccompanied piece.

Or if you ever perform for a masterclass or an audition, you may not be able to bring an accompanist. There are some instances in music where you have to play by yourself, and that is a good thing.

You can learn more by listening to yourself without the influence of outside factors, like other musicians.

Now, for my favorite unaccompanied works.

If you want to look into unaccompanied music, check out these pieces. They are so good, and I am sure you will love them.

Bach, J.S. Partita in A minor

I played this piece on my junior recital, and while it seems very technical, there is something about it that I just love. The Baroque style comes through a lot in this piece, and I really think every flutist should learn it at some point.

Debussy Syrinx

Syrinx is based on the love story of Pan and Syrinx, where Syrinx runs away from Pan and into the forest. Syrinx then hides by shapeshifting into some weeds. Pan finds these weeds and crafts a flute that he begins to play. The ending is marked by Pan’s realization that he has killed his love.

It sounds morbid, but the sounds Debussy wrote are so awesome. This is one of those pieces that should be memorized if at all possible, because Pan is improvising, basically.

Ibert Piece

I played this piece for my final flute studio recital, and I have to say that I really love it and the story behind it. The piece was written by Ibert after the premier of his flute concerto; it was basically an encore.

Telemann Fantasias

Telemann’s 12 fantasias for solo flute are great works to play for solo gigs. They are each their own work, but they can be strung together as part of a larger program.

These pieces are also a good introduction to the piccolo, because the range is well within that of a beginner. It doesn’t go too high or low, which makes the piccolo a lot less intimidating.

Read More: Flutists, Should You Play Piccolo?

Bach, CPE Sonata in A minor

This sonata has three movements, and is typical of the later Baroque style. If you want something to contrast the Partita by JS Bach, this is the piece for you. I have been working on this sonata, and it is hard, but fun.

So…

Those are my tips for playing without an accompanist as well as my favorite unaccompanied flute pieces! If you have any other tips or favorites, comment below!

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How to Survive College Band Camp

It’s August, and that means that the new marching season is almost here. I marched in my university band in college. Through my time in band, I have learned a little about how to survive college band camp.

Killer Harmony | How to Survive College Band Camp | With the month of August comes another year of band camp. Marching band can be a lot of work, so here are some tips for getting through it easily!

Band camp can be exhausting, but it is necessary to prepare for the semester ahead. Most college marching bands memorize all of their music, and it can be hard to do that without an extra week of focused practice and rehearsals.

Here are some of my tips and tricks and well as the gear you need to survive marching band camp.

1. Have a water bottle at all times.

Whether you are rehearsing outside or inside, you need to be drinking water as much as you can. In most parts of the country, August is a hot month. If you are outside without drinking enough water, you can suffer from dehydration and other health problems.

If you are worried about more trips to the bathroom, you will sweat enough, so that shouldn’t be a problem. So show up to rehearsals and sectionals with a full water bottle.

Odds are, there will be a jug of water that you can refill from, but you shouldn’t rely on the band to provide water for you. Come prepared.

2. Use sun protection.

It doesn’t matter if you have light or dark skin, you need to protect yourself from the sun. Apply sunscreen, wear hat, and put on some protective clothing.

If you are outside during peak sun hours, this is even more important. The last thing you want, aside from dehydration, is a bad sunburn. It can be easily avoided with the proper precautions.

I was a little lazy with this last year, but don’t follow my lead. It takes a couple of minutes to apply a layer of sunscreen, and a hat should be worn anyway.

3. Use the best instrument you can.

While you definitely should save your highest quality instrument for inside, don’t neglect your marching instrument. If you will be marching with your own instrument, make sure it doesn’t need any repairs.

If you have to march with a school owned instrument, get to campus and check in with the band as soon as you can so that you can try multiple instruments and get the one you want.

The good school instruments go first, so you don’t want to be stuck with the cheapest one that hasn’t been repaired in years. The better your instrument, the easier the season will go.

4. Get enough sleep.

It can be tempting to spend your late nights watching Netflix, but try and sleep at a reasonable time. Odds are you will have to wake up pretty early for band camp, and your day will be long.

You don’t have to go to bed as soon as the day is done, but shoot for about 8 hours of sleep if you can. Band camp is tiring, and the heat doesn’t help. Take advantage of your time and sleep.

Your body will thank you.

5. Eat enough.

If you live on campus, you probably won’t have access to dining services just yet. You might have to eat take out for a few days, but make sure you do eat something.

Food is fuel, and you need that fuel to keep you going during a whole day of rehearsals and sectionals. Don’t hesitate to pack a small snack bar in your bag in case you get hungry. You can then eat it quickly during a break.

Even if you don’t feel hungry, you still need to eat enough food for your body. If you can eat healthy foods, great. If not, do your best to eat foods that will fill you up and give you energy.

6. Use your breaks wisely.

This goes off of the tip for sleep above. If you have a lunch or dinner break, enjoy your time off, but be smart. When you have some time on your hands, see if you can work on memorizing a section of your music.

While sectionals are devoted to memorizing music, you can’t work too much on memorizing. One thing I did during sectionals was play from memory even when I didn’t “have” to.

If we had one more chance to look at the music, I would still try to play as much from memory as I could. That helped solidify the music for me, and I was able to play it with more confidence.

7. Know where you can/want to store your instrument.

If you will be marching piccolo or another small instrument, you can use your own bag or backpack. Some larger instruments might even have their own storage closet.

However, if you will be marching saxophone or mellophone, or another midsize instrument, have a plan for storing your instrument. Will you keep it in your dorm? Can you check out a locker in the music building?

Also be flexible. The layout of my university’s campus had my dorm much closer to the stadium, with the music building a bit out of the way. If I had to start at the stadium, I would make sure to have my piccolo in my room the night before so that I wouldn’t have to waste time going to the music building.

8. Have fun!

Band camp is an amazing way to make friends and have fun playing music. Marching band is a lot of work, but the social aspect (and the music), makes it worth it.

I know that when I was new to campus, band camp allowed me to meet a lot of people that would later be in some of my other classes. Those friendly faces made the semester go much easier.

So, have fun!

So…

Have you gone to college band camp before? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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Flute Prices & Brands 

If you are a flutist or want to become one, you need to have a good quality flute that fits you and your playing style. There are a lot of flutes to choose from at different levels and from different brands.

Killer Harmony | Flute Brands & Prices | Flute shopping can be hard. You have to consider the price you can pay as well as the brand of the flute. Some brands and materials or better than others.

As a recent flute grad, I have learned quite a bit about the different options available, and I would like to share that info with you in this post. Brands and prices vary differently depending on where you live, so I will be discussing the most common brands and their flutes in the US.

I hope you can use this as a guide to determine the best flute for you. But first, a disclaimer: don’t just take my advice for choosing a flute. Find a reputable flutist or teacher who can help you in the buying process.

1. Student model flutes

These are the flutes that are best for beginners. Most student flutes are made out of silver plated nickel, and they are built to withstand a lot. Almost every flutist starts out on this type of flute, because they are reliable, and they are budget friendly.

At this stage, you probably won’t know what to look for in a flute, which is why you should consider finding a teacher and asking for their help. You can buy a flute from the company, a music store, or second hand. Some music stores also allow you to rent your flute before buying so that you can test it out. Then, you won’t be obligated to pay in full without knowing if it is for you.

Some good student model brands include Yamaha, Jupiter, Gemeinhardt, Trevor James, and Di Zhao. The first three brands are a little cheaper than the last two, but Trevor James and Di Zhao flutes are better for if you want a long lasting flute. The other brands are not always as well built, and so you will need to upgrade sooner than if you have a better constructed student flute.

Most, if not all, student flutes can be found for less than $1000. But be careful of the really cheap ones online. They are not made well, and some repair technicians will not work on them. The least you can get away with paying for a student flute is around $200 for a used Yamaha.

2. Intermediate model flutes

These flutes are great for advanced players. Once you have started to out grow your student flute, it’s time to upgrade.

Intermediate model flutes usually have a solid silver head joint and a silver plated body and foot joint. They also have open holes, a B foot, and sometimes other mechanisms to help facilitate playing.

Some intermediate models are considered professional quality (I play one of these myself). These flutes are made of the same materials as other intermediate flutes but might be partly handmade or have a professional level head joint.

Intermediate models are often also called step up flutes, because they are a step up from student models. These flutes start at about $1200 and can go up to about $3000, depending on the maker. If you have been playing flute for a few years, this type of instrument is a great choice.

3. Solid silver flutes

These flutes can be considered intermediate or professional, depending on the brand and the amount of hand work put into them. Solid silver flutes are a bit darker than silver plated flutes, and they sound slightly more mellow.

Solid silver flutes are usually considered more professional than flutes with only a solid silver head joint. I have yet to upgrade to an all solid silver flute, but I would like to in the near future.

Silver is the standard metal for flutes, so it is a good choice for professionals and advanced students. While silver is the standard, there are other metals that are used on some flutes.

4. Other metals

Flutes can use a few different metals in their construction. The most common metals, as discussed above, are silver and nickel. These two metals are relatively hard. They will carry more, and they are cheaper.

If you want a really mellow sound, you can invest in a gold or platinum flute. These flutes are really only available at the professional level; I don’t recommend them for students. I personally do not want a gold or platinum flute in the future. They are a little too mellow for me.

Gold flutes are better at blending into other instruments, so if you want to play in an orchestra, they are a great choice. I don’t know much about platinum, but I assume they are similar.

Gold and platinum flutes are more expensive than silver flutes, and usually start at around $8000.

Which flute is right for you?

I am not going to recommend one flute for everyone. The flute that is best for you will depend on your needs and what you want out of a flute. Students should go with a silver plated nickel model. Advancing students and beginning professionals should upgrade to a flute with a silver head joint.

More advanced professionals can then experiment with solid silver and other metals. When you are ready to upgrade (or even to buy your first flute), you should try as many different ones as you can. You may have a dream flute, but you could end up finding a model that is even better.

So…

What flute do you play right now? What do you love about it? Let me know in the comments!

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Back to School Tips

August is here which means so is Back to School season! Even though I am not in school anymore, it is still an exciting time for everyone. I always loved going shopping for school supplies and preparing for the year ahead.

Killer Harmony | Back to School Tips | August is an exciting time for music majors. You have auditions coming up, a new schedule, and more. Here's how to prepare now so you won't stress later.

Now that I have completed my undergraduate degree in music, I am going to share some tips to make going back to school (for musicians) just a little bit easier.

These tips can be applied no matter you major. If you will be playing music this year, there are tips in this list for you! Without further ado, here are my best back to school tips for musicians!

1. Prepare ASAP.

A new school year means a new schedule and a whole new set of classes to prepare for. If you will be in music theory this year, start brushing up on your theory now. If you have to take a piano class, get out that old keyboard and start working on your scales.

For the band geeks out there, pull out your marching instrument. Because, I know you haven’t touched it since last fall. If you are a returning student, look through your old music to see if you still have some marching music to practice. You can start memorizing the omnipresent fight song now.

Contact your lessons professor about scheduling your lessons. They may not want to think about it now, but you will look interested and more professional. Your professor might even think about you and schedule your lesson in your favor.

The sooner you start preparing, the less you will have to stress when you move in and the start of classes arrives.

2. Take your instrument to the shop.

If you haven’t done so this summer, now is the time to take your instrument in for regular maintenance. Once the semester starts, you probably won’t have the time or money to be without your instrument for long.

The more you play your instrument, the more it will need basic maintenance from a professional, such as cleaning, oiling, and adjusting. For the vocalists out there, visit a specialist and ask about how you can keep your vocal cords healthy.

The end of the summer is a slow time for everyone, musically. Get your instrument in good repair now, that way you won’t have to be without it during the semester.

3. Look at new repertoire.

If you have not chosen pieces for the semester yet, here is your chance. Don’t wait for your professor to assign you a new piece. Looking for yourself allows you to listen to a bunch of works and decide what you want to learn.

You will also start the year off on a high note (pun intended) with your professor. Especially if your professor has a lot of students, you will make both of your lives easier if you already know what you want to play.

Having a new piece or two picked out also means that you can get to work during your first lesson instead of spending the time going through a bunch of possible pieces.

4. Check your schedule.

Make sure you are enrolled in everything you need to be. As a music major, there are some classes that you need to take each semester. Lessons, ensembles, and music recital attendance are required by a lot of schools, and you enroll in all of them like a normal class.

If you are not enrolled in these types of courses, you won’t get the credit you need. If you need any or all of these classes for a scholarship, it is even more important that you enroll in what you need to.

By checking your schedule now, you also have a slightly better chance of getting into classes you need. If you wait until the semester has started, adding or dropping a course gets much more complicated. Do it now to avoid any issues down the line.

5. Get your books.

This is a pretty general college tip, but you should get your books as soon as possible. For the more academic classes, you will probably use your book regularly. Especially if it’s a workbook.

If you need new music books for your lessons, order them now so they will arrive in time. Playing from copied parts or free downloads is not professional and should be avoided if possible.

The earlier you get your books, the more you can avoid the crowds at the bookstore. That is, if one or more of your books are only available on campus.

You can order your books either through your bookstore or online through Amazon or Chegg. There’s really no excuse to wait.

6. Get a locker.

As soon as you are back on campus, sign up for a locker in the music building. Unless you are a vocalist, you are not going to want to carry all of your music plus your instrument across campus.

Lockers are usually free, and they come in different sizes. If you have a large instrument, or multiple instruments, you want to get in early so that you can get one of those bigger lockers.

Even though I “only” had to store a flute and piccolo along with sheet music, a locker was super helpful. I could store anything music related that would fit and I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

7. Sign up for practice slots.

Depending on your school, you may or may not need to do this. If your school schedules out practice rooms, sign up as soon as you can to get your desired schedule.

The longer you wait, the fuller those schedules will become. Wait too long, and you might get stuck with a 7am Monday slot in the room with no piano and terrible ventilation.

If your school does not schedule practice rooms, then you don’t have to worry about this. But if that is the case, try and mold your practice schedule so that you don’t practice during peak times. You might not be able to find a practice room.

So…

Do you have any other tips for musicians going back to school? Let me know in the comments!

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