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How to Practice without Your Instrument

After coming down with a cold recently, I thought it would be the perfect time to write about practicing flute without your flute. There are multiple reasons why you might need to do this.

If you’re sick, if your flute is in the shop, or even if a roommate or family member needs quiet, you may need to find other ways to “practice” than simply picking up your instrument.

Hannah B Flute | Practicing without Your Instrument

These ideas are not the same as playing your instrument, but they can help you improve your skills. At the very least, you can learn a little bit more about your instrument.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Click here for my full disclosure policy.

Listen to recordings

I have mentioned this before, but you can learn a lot about music from listening to some recordings. If you are learning a new piece of music, recordings will give you a sense of the tempo and the feel of the piece.

You can also listen to recordings after you have learned a piece. This will help you figure out how others interpret the music. You can then create your own unique version of the piece.

If you are playing an arrangement (i.e. a piece not written originally for your instrument), you can listen to recordings on the original instrument. This will give you a good idea as to how the composer wanted the piece to sound. Each instrument does have its own quirks after all.

Related: The Importance of Listening

Watch videos/read blogs

If you can’t practice your instrument, you can learn about it. Get on YouTube or social media and watch videos or read blogs. The internet is a great place to learn about music.

A lot of videos and blogs are free to use, and there are some premium sites where you can spend a bit of money for more specialized content. I am working on premium content, and I hope to release some of it early next year.

However, there are tons of great websites where you can learn about music and the flute. This blog is, of course, one of those resources. I also have a ton of other favorites that I wrote about awhile back.

Related: Online Resources & Websites for Music

Study the scores

Whether you are working on a solo piece or an ensemble work, you can study the score. I wrote a whole post on how to get started with score study, so use those tips to help.

Studying a music score allows you to know what other players are doing. You can compare the different parts to your own. This means you can change how you play a certain phrase based on what else is happening.

I don’t study scores as much as I should, but when I do, I am able to make more educated decisions for tempo, articulation, and dynamics. Score study also tells me where I am in a chord. Am I the root? The third? The fifth?

Related: The What & Why of Score Study

Brush up on theory

If you are fairly new to your instrument, or even if you have been playing for years, you can always study up on music theory. Music theory (and ear training) is at the core of music.

You need to have a working knowledge of music theory to know how music works. Solid ear training also helps you “hear” a phrase or piece before playing.

You can check out music theory books or download an ear training app to your phone. With a book or app, you can practice in the comfort of your own bed, even when you’re super sick.

Recommended: Guide to Music Theory

Rest. A lot…

This tip doesn’t exactly relate to flute playing or to practicing without your flute. It does, however, help you get back to flute playing sooner rather than later.

Winter is approaching, and that means so is cold and flu season. If at all possible, don’t be afraid to take a few days off from the flute. If you’re really sick, you want to recover. Playing while sick isn’t productive.

Heck, sometimes music study isn’t even productive when you’re sick. So listen to your body and know when you should take a break. Sometimes it is more important to sleep than to prepare for you next performance.

I have had to perform while sick…twice. And it wasn’t fun. I got through it, but I didn’t push myself. As soon as the performance was over, I left. I went to sleep. I rested. Your health is important. Don’t let a performance or practice session impede your recovery.

So…

Have you played flute while sick? Were you able to take time off to get better? Let me know in the comments!

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Getting Personal

Hey all. I know I don’t normally post on Saturdays, but…

I’ve got a confession. I’m not a huge fan of the name “Killer Harmony.” I chose the name almost two years ago now, but I don’t really feel like it fits the blog. I was a college junior; I had just thought I lost my entire blog. It was time for a change.

I don’t regret the name Killer Harmony. It’s a cool name. But it’s not the best. So, I think it’s time for a change. I want to share it with you before I actually make the change, so you know it’s coming.

I have a few names in mind, and I want to share them, and my thoughts, with all of you.

Change is natural

I have grown and changed a lot in the last two years. I finished college and moved back home. And I found a “big girl” day job. Over the past two years, I have come to realize that Killer Harmony is not a very professional name. It’s cute and spunky, but it’s not professional.

I care about music and blogging, and I want to take it seriously. It’s hard to take a blog with a cute, spunky name seriously.

I know the change will be hard. I’ll have to make sure everything transfers correctly, and that you can continue to find my blog and all its content.

Looking forward

My blog has grown. It’s still very small, but it has grown and changed just as much as I have. I need a name that reflects that change and that can work for me for years to come.

Killer Harmony is a great name for a hobby blog, but I want this to be more than that. I want to create a community of flutists and other musicians. I want to share tips and tricks and to advocate for music education…for all ages.

There’s a lot I want to do with this blog, and I need a name that can handle that.

A new name?

I have narrowed the options down to two different names.

The first one is my full name: Hannah Haefele.

It’s clear that it’s my website, and it allows me to do what I want.

It’s also hard to spell and pronounce.

The second option I’m considering is Hannah B Flute.

B is my middle initial, so it represents me and what I write about. As long as I write about flute or music.

But it’s catchier and easier to spell than my full name.

My Thoughts

I’m really leaning toward Hannah B Flute. I love the flow of the name, and I don’t see myself drifting from writing about music anytime soon.

So…

I have been thinking about changing the blog name for awhile now, and I really think it’s time. The name Killer Harmony just doesn’t do it for me. Though, the name will still be found on older posts, and I plan on making sure all of the current links will work with the new domain!

So be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter (@HannahHaefele)! I really want this to be a community, so I want your input!

Posting Rough Cut Recordings

Hello friends! It is officially December! As you may have noticed by now, I am not participating in Blogmas this year. I am just too busy with my full time job and making music my little side hustle. I couldn’t think of enough topics to cover it. But today, I did want to talk about something I have been doing: rough cut recordings!

Killer Harmony | Posting Rough Cut Recordings

Back in October, I started posting videos on YouTube! I am not much of a video person, so I decided to start my channel by posting rough cuts of me playing different pieces of the flute repertoire.

Today, I want to talk about why I am doing rough cuts at this point, and how I think they can help you all as well as myself.

No Editing Required

Rough cuts are easy, because I can film myself playing a work or excerpt and then post it. I don’t need to spend a ton of time editing the footage to make it perfect. The video can go up as soon as I am done filming it.

As a busy musician with a full time day job, being able to film and immediately upload the video is awesome. I don’t have all that much time to dedicate to editing videos much less filming them in the first place.

Filming and uploading a rough cut is a lot easier and less time consuming than if I were to edit. I can share more content with you guys more quickly.

Teaching Tool

Rough cut videos are a great tool to use for every musician. They are great for my own use, because I can learn from my mistakes. They are great for viewers, because you can see that I am not perfect. Rough cuts go behind the scenes to reveal the “secrets” of pro and semi-pro musicians.

I can learn from myself, but my real goal is for you all to learn from my rough cuts. These videos show my mistakes, and if you make those mistakes, you can then understand mistakes aren’t bad.

If you make my same mistakes, you can then learn from them, knowing that you are not the problem. Some pieces are not written to be easy.

Vulnerability

A lot of musicians have to use social media and the internet to build their careers these days. That means that skilled musicians could come off as perfect. If a musician knows how to edit their photos or videos to appear as this perfect person, they aren’t relatable.

Posting unedited footage leaves the musician vulnerable. They show the world what musicians a generation ago showed their audition committees. The openness of rough cut videos shows a side to me (or any musician) that the internet would otherwise allow to stay hidden.

I love showing off a vulnerable part of me, because it proves that I am human. I make mistakes. Being a perfect musician is not a fact of life for many of us. That’s okay.

So…

I hope you enjoyed this shorter post. I think it’s important to share the unedited version of myself once in awhile. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my latest video. I want to start posting weekly on there and to continue to show off what a real musician looks and sounds like.

Piccolo vs. Alto Flute

Once you reach proficiency on the flute, it can be time to think about adding other “auxiliary” flutes to your inventory. Piccolo and alto flute are the two most common ones. So I want to share my thoughts on piccolo vs alto flute.

Some people will gravitate heavily towards one or the other. Some people might want to learn both. Others still might want to stick to the C flute.

Killer Harmony | Piccolo vs Alto Flute

If you have read my blog before, you probably already know I have a passion for the piccolo. I love the small size and being able to float above an ensemble.

If you are unsure of which auxiliary flute to learn, I am going to break it down. Piccolo vs Alto Flute.

Piccolo Pros

The piccolo is small. Even smaller than the concert flute. It can fit in almost any purse or bag. You can take it with you anywhere. It is super easy to just throw it in your bag with your flute.

The piccolo is *relatively* affordable. Piccolos start at around $400-500. Used piccolos can start even lower, but be cautious when buying used. My first piccolo was used, and it cost just under $300.

The piccolo has a growing repertoire. The piccolo is the most common auxiliary flute, so you will find more music for it than the alto or bass flute. There is not a ton of piccolo specific music, but most flute music will transfer over. And the piccolo repertoire is growing more and more each year.

The piccolo is common. You will find a piccolo part in most band pieces, a lot of symphonic orchestra works, and in quite a few flute choir pieces. If you are in a college marching band, you can also play it there. Most of the ensemble pieces I played in music school had a piccolo part, even if it was combined with flute.

Piccolo Cons

The piccolo is high pitched. I’m sure this is obvious, but the piccolo is a high pitched instrument. To avoid hearing damage, you need to wear earplugs. If you don’t like playing either the melody or other high parts, the piccolo isn’t for you. On piccolo, I often play the melody or a descant part that sits on top of the melody.

The piccolo is finicky. Since the piccolo is a small, high pitched instrument, it is very temperamental. Any tuning issues you have are magnified on piccolo. It can also be very easy to bend the mechanism during assembly or disassembly.

The piccolo is not a respected solo instrument. I would like to change that. There are a few great works for piccolo, and I would love to be able to give the piccolo a greater place in solo performance. However, the piccolo is not a common solo instrument.

The piccolo can crack. If you get a piccolo made of wood, it can be susceptible to cracking. In extreme weather, wood can crack and cause tuning and playing issues for the piccolo. If you will be playing indoors and out, it is best to get a composite piccolo or a composite for outdoors and a wood one for indoors.

Related: Should You Play Piccolo?

Alto Pros

The alto flute is lower in pitch. If you love the sound of the flute, but you don’t care for the higher notes, the alto is perfect. It is pitched a fourth below the C flute, so you play a little lower.

The alto flute comes with two headjoint options. If you have longer arms, you can get a straight head alto. If your arms are shorter, you can get a curved head. Each style does have different tendencies, but the flexibility is definitely a benefit to the alto flute.

The alto flute is unique. That could be taken as a euphemism for uncommon, but it’s true. Not many people play the alto flute, and even fewer people own an alto flute. Playing and owning an alto flute can be a great way to stand out as a flutist.

The alto flute is becoming more common. I know more and more flutists who are buying their own alto flute. The repertoire is growing (though slower than the piccolo). Most flute choir pieces call for an alto flute.

Alto Cons

The alto flute is uncommon. While the alto flute is prominent in flute choirs and has a growing solo repertoire, it is still uncommon in other settings. Very few orchestral pieces call for alto flute. I can only think of one band work with alto flute. It’s just not as common as the piccolo or C flute.

The alto flute is more expensive. One factor that can prohibit the purchase of an alto flute is the price. The lowest cost for an alto I have seen is around $1500. The price just goes up from there. If your budget is a big concern, the alto flute might not be the best purchase.

The alto flute is big. If you choose a straight headjoint, you will need quite an arm’s reach to play it. If you choose a curved headjoint, the balance can be awkward. With either headjoint, the alto is going to be bigger. You can’t just throw it in with your flute on your way to rehearsal.

The Verdict

Each flutist is different. We all have different interests and different budgets. We also all have different goals for our flute playing, from fun to a full career.

I don’t want to give a single answer as to the better choice, so here is what is better for certain groups.

For flute majors and serious flute students: Go for the piccolo. It will serve you more in ensembles and solo performances. It is also more affordable than the alto flute. If you need an alto flute, you can probably borrow one from your school.

For adult amateurs: You decide. If you play more in community bands and orchestras, then piccolo. If you play in a flute choir, choose the alto flute.

For semi-pro to professional flutists: Both, because the piccolo is almost expected of all professional flute players, and the alto flute will add to your marketability. When starting your career, you don’t need the most expensive model, but you should have both a piccolo and an alto. If you can’t afford both immediately, then get the piccolo first and save for the alto flute.

So…

I definitely do have a preference for the piccolo, but I do enjoy the alto flute. This holiday season, I think I might have to treat myself to an entry level alto flute. I’m out of school, and I would like to become a professional flutist. I need both a good piccolo (I own one) and a good alto flute to remain competitive in the current world of professional flute playing.

Do you have a piccolo or alto flute? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Flute Practice: Quality Over Quantity

For most musicians, time is not on our side. We have to hustle with a day job, work tons of gigs, teach, or do a combination of things. That is why flute practice is so important. But, if you don’t have much time, you need to focus on quality over quantity.

Killer Harmony | Flute Practice: Quality over Quantity

In music school, the idea that I had to practice for hours a day was drilled into my head. If I wanted to be the best, I had to practice as much as I could. Now that I am out of school, that is just not possible for me.

I work full time in an field outside of music, and so I don’t have multiple hours a day to dedicate to practicing. I wish I did, but I don’t. Since graduating, I have learned to appreciate the time I do have to practice.

Here is why quality practice is so important and how you can make the most of the time you have.

Get up earlier.

One thing I have started doing lately is getting up a little earlier than normal. I set my alarm for thirty minutes before I *need* to get up, and I use those 30 minutes to practice.

I did this in school, so why can’t I do it when I’m out of school?

There are many benefits to practicing first thing.

The obvious benefit is that you get it out of the way. You don’t have to think about it all day. That’s especially nice if you work all day.

Another perk of practicing first thing is that I have the energy to do so. I know some people are super groggy first thing, but I am lucky that I am not. Since I am awake, I am able to use some of that energy to practice.

If I were to wait until I got home from work, I would be tired, and I would not have the motivation to practice.

Make a list.

It can be a mental list. I like to make a list of what I want to accomplish in any one practice session. Maybe my goal is as small as improving my harmonics. It might be as big as perfecting a section of a concerto.

A list can help streamline your practice and help you focus on what you need to work on. If you just pick up your flute without any goals or direction, you will just be wasting that time.

So make a list of a few small, achievable goals that you can work on for your next practice session.

Another great thing about listing out your goals is that you can look back at them. You can look back to see if you accomplished your goal or if you missed something.

Then you can reevaluate for your next practice session.

Take a break.

If you are not genuinely motivated to practice, you will not get anything done. I have found that unmotivated practice is a huge waste of time and energy. It accomplishes nothing.

While it can be tempting to practice whenever you have the time, it’s not always worth it. If your mind is elsewhere, put the flute down and come back later.

Mindless practice is exactly that: mindless. Walk away. Go watch a show. Read a book. Take a nap. Do whatever it is that is taking your attention away from the flute.

Part of practice is being able to discipline yourself, and that includes knowing when to take a break. You will improve, but not if you are practicing without wanting to.

Make the most of your time.

When you have limited resources, you learn to make the most of what you do have. That includes time. Unless you are in music school (not working), or you somehow managed to find a full time performing job, you will not have endless practice time.

You will have an outside job, or other classes, or other life responsibilities that you need to tackle. That, sadly, leaves less time for music.

But part of becoming a well rounded adult is learning to make the most of what is available to you. If you really prefer to practice for a longer period of time, utilize your days off. Get up earlier. Go to bed later.

Do what you need to do to practice how you need to, but remember that time is limited. So make the most of it.

How/When I practice.

As I stated above, I like to get up about 30 minutes earlier than I need to so that I can get clock in a half hour of well rested, motivated practice time. I start with harmonics and then long tone to warm up my lips.

Then I move to some technical exercises so that I can work my fingers and practice different articulations. After that, I play through Debussy’s Syrinx from memory. That helps me maintain the piece from memory, and I can practice my expressiveness.

Finally, I move into solo and ensemble music. Since I play in a flute choir, I usually like to work on the harder sections or pieces. I also like to work on a solo or two to build my repertoire list.

If I have the motivation later in the day, I practice some more, and I will usually pick up my piccolo. However, since I have already achieved thirty minutes of uninterrupted practice, I don’t feel bad if I don’t have the motivation to play later in the day.

That’s the nice thing about having an outside job. I can be more forgiving with myself when it comes to music. I don’t *have* to practice all the time. Music is something I can do on my own terms.

So…

How do you practice? Do you practice quality over quantity? Let me know in the comments!

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