Avoiding Performance Injury

From tendinitis to carpal tunnel syndrome, overplaying and over practicing can have devastating consequences for musicians. I am lucky, because I have yet to have a performance injury. There are plenty of musicians who have had (or currently have) a repetitive stress injury (RSI).

Hannah B Flute | Avoiding Performance Injury

How can you avoid RSIs but still make enough progress on your instrument? The short answer is to listen to your body. The long answer is a little more complicated.

Performance health is important for any artist or athlete. Working to hard or too much can cause an RSI. When music is your career, you have to find a balance between practice and physical health. That’s what this blog post is all about.

Listen to Your Body

The most important thing you can do is listen to your body. Slight discomfort is one thing; you can experiment to find a better playing position. Pain, on the other hand, should not be ignored.

If you experience any sort of pain, even if it is mild, stop practicing. Even if you have a performance coming up. Even if you have to warm up for a lesson. Stop practicing.

Do some stretching to help relieve the pain, but be prepared to take a break if stretches don’t work. Your body is trying to send a message, and you should listen.

Stretch…Often

If you practice a lot, make sure to regularly stretch commonly used muscle groups. For flutists, that means stretching our hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and facial muscles.

Just as you start a practice session with musical warm ups, you can also do some body warm ups. Almost every flutist knows the horror of navigating the right hand pinky keys. If you will be playing a lot of low register stuff, make sure your right hand is tension free.

Pianists can benefit from finger stretches to help with those octave plus reaches. Cellists should always stretch their shoulders to avoid thoracic outlet syndrome.

No matter what instrument you play, stretches will help you stay flexible so you can play without pain.

Break Up Your Practice

This tip is for both physical and mental health. I am not one of those people who can just practice for hours on end. I have to practice in 30-45 minute bursts throughout the day. This not only helps me avoid over practicing, but it also improves my focus.

Even if you can practice for hours at a time, consider taking short breaks. Drink some water, walk around, or read a blog post like this one 😜.

Shorter practice sessions can improve your productivity while keeping you physically fit to play your instrument.

Switch Instruments

Okay, so this tip only works if you play more than one instrument. If you want to avoid repetitive stress, try practicing a different instrument. Most instruments have their own requirements for posture, so switching can free up certain muscle groups.

You should of course stretch first. (Remember?)

If you play multiple instruments, switch off between them. That way, you can still reach your practice goals and avoid playing in the same position all the time.

As an example, flutists can switch to piccolo. That brings the arms closer to the body and can put less stress on the arms and hands. A curved head alto flute can serve the same purpose.

Find Other Ways to “Practice”

If you can’t actually play your instrument, find other methods to practice. Other practice methods include score study, listening to recordings, and watching videos.

Don’t let pain keep you from progressing as a musician. There are plenty of things you can do to keep up with your music.

For inspiration, check out The Joyful Flutist’s 100 Days of Alternative Practice on Instagram!

Don’t Give Up

While it is always best to avoid injury, sometimes you can’t avoid it. If you do have an RSI, follow your doctor’s orders so you can get better.

It can be tempting to play if the pain isn’t severe, but doing so can cause more damage. So listen to your body and find other ways to practice.

But most importantly, don’t give up.

So…

Have you ever had a performance injury? How did you recover? Let me know in the comments!

And be sure to check out these exercises for left hand only…perfect for those days when your right hand just ain’t havin’ it! (Subscribe for the password)

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Important Flute Pieces

It is that time of the year again. School is starting up, and some of you might be preparing for college or ensemble auditions. Because of this, I wanted to share some of the most important flute pieces.

Hannah B Flute | Important Flute Pieces

While some auditions do specify what pieces they want you to play, others give you free choice. If the latter is the case, you want to make an informed decision so that you can show off not only your strengths, but your knowledge of the flute and flute repertoire.

I will be sharing some of my favorite flute pieces as well as other pieces that are considered pivotal. The flute has a lot of repertoire, so hopefully this list will help narrow your scope when looking for pieces to play.

And while you’re here, be sure to check out my tips on how to sight read.

Baroque: J.S. Bach

J.S. Bach was one of the most well known composers of the Baroque period. He wrote music for violin, keyboard, cello, flute, etc. His Partita in A minor for solo flute is incredibly technical, and it is really only for the most advanced players.

Some of his less difficult works include his flute sonatas. However, two movements from Bach’s orchestral suite will always stick out in my mind: Polonaise and Badinerie. For all of you Kansas flute players, Badinerie is actually this year’s audition piece for all state.

Classical: Mozart

Who could write a post about music that did not include Mozart? The Concerto in G major is asked for in almost every professional orchestra flute audition; it is that famous.

Then you also have the Concerto in D major. That one is important too, however, sorry oboists, we stole it from your C major concerto.

If you are not up to the challenge of learning a concerto, then try Andante in C or the Mozart Rondo. Andante in C major as written as a second option for the second movement of the Concerto in G major. So it is a nice introduction to his bigger works.

Romantic: The Paris Conservatory

As with Mozart, we can’t talk about flute repertoire without touching on the Paris Conservatory or the book “Flute Pieces by French Composers.” This book is a must for every serious flutist; it contains many of the pieces written for the Paris Conservatory.

You have the more famous works like the Chaminade Concertino and the Faure Fantasie. You also have some lesser known works like the Perilhou Ballade.

The Paris Conservatory played a huge role in flute repertoire, and every flutist should learn at least one piece out of “that French book.”

Contemporary: Ibert

While I have not personally studied it, I do know that the Ibert Concerto is a very important piece for flutists. What’s kept me from learning it then? Cost.

Most contemporary works are still under copyright protection which means that you have to purchase the music. It isn’t available on a site like IMSLP.

If the Ibert Concerto is daunting to you, try Piéce. Ibert wrote this unaccompanied work as an encore to his concerto. He literally wrote it on the spot at the afterparty of the concerto’s world premiere.

Baroque: Vivaldi

This is for all of you piccolo nerds out there: Vivaldi. While Vivaldi wrote more for strings than for winds, his piccolo concertos still remain famous. His Piccolo Concerto in C major is particularly well known.

Etudes: Andersen

Joachim Andersen wrote etudes upon etudes upon etudes for flute. Andersen Etudes are very important to flute playing. While you probably won’t perform these etudes, they will help your technique on the pieces you do perform.

Contemporary: Debussy

If you haven’t played either Syrinx or the opening solo from Prélude a L’apres-midi d’un faune, you haven’t lived. Debussy’s flute writing is challenging yet beautiful.

Yet another unaccompanied piece, Syrinx tells the story of Pan and Syrinx, in which Syrinx disguises herself as bamboo and Pan turns into a flute. In the end, Pan realizes what he has done to his love, and the end of the piece shows his sadness.

The prelude is an orchestral work which starts with solo flute. The opening solo requires a good breath support and overall control. If an upcoming audition calls for orchestral excerpts, consider playing Debussy.

Baroque: Telemann

Telemann wrote 12 Fantasias for solo flute. They are in different keys, and they are all unique. Each Fantasia has multiple movements and can be performed as its own work.

I love playing them on both piccolo and alto flute in addition to C flute.

Contemporary: Flute Sonatas

There are many flute sonatas from the 20th century, and so I thought I would combine them all under one section. There are sonatas by Hindemith, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Taktakishvilli, Martinu, and a whole lot more.

There is also a Sonatine by Dutilleux.

So…

While I could not touch on EVERY piece of flute repertoire, I hope I introduced you to at least one new piece to learn. If you guys want to see a version of important flute pieces specifically on chamber works or orchestral works, let me know.

Are there any important pieces that I missed? Leave your favorites down in the comments!

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Embouchure Changes…

Hey guys, so today’s post is going to be a little different. I’m going to get a little personal with you. This past week was insane. So insane that I’m writing this just minutes before it will be going up.

Hannah B Flute | Embouchure Changes

Amongst those changes was a revelation about my embouchure. I have a Cupid’s bow, and that means that I can’t get the best sound by playing exactly in the middle.

So what exactly happened this week? Read on.

My Embouchure.

Last Wednesday, I had a lesson with my flute teacher, and she noticed that I actually don’t play off to the side that much. I play a little off to the side, because the exact center would split my air stream. But I don’t play so far off to the side.

My lip muscles aren’t “built” to play like that. So instead of concentrating on playing off to the side, I will now be concentrating on keeping my flute level. No more “flute drop disease” as my professor in undergrad called it.

My arms are sure gonna get a workout from this.

Preparing for Vacation.

If you don’t already know, I have a full time day job as a bank teller. I started the job back in September, and before that I had a part time job as a cashier. I’ve been working almost nonstop for a year now.

And finally, this week is my one week of vacation. Yes, aside from holidays, I have worked five days a week for the past (almost) 11 months. I am ready for a break.

And my vacation couldn’t have come at a better time. A lot of craziness happened at the bank last week, some good, some not so good. But all I can say is that this past week makes my vacation that much more worth it.

Bound for Orlando.

The main reason I even scheduled this week as my vacation week was because of NFA Orlando! So while I don’t fly out until Wednesday, I get the whole week off (banking procedures dictate a full week of vacation must be taken).

So over the next couple of days, I will be packing and practicing in preparation for my first solo trip. It’s a little scary, but I know it will be a good experience for me. So if you see me, say hi!

I will be staying at the convention hotel, and I will also be bringing my own food. Yesterday, I went food shopping and found lots of easy, filling, space-saving snacks. In fact, I might just make a video of what I got (follow me on Instagram to see).

Related: NFA Convention

Starting Grad School…

Applications that is! I have been working on audition material for the past few months, and I have narrowed my choices to about three schools. And last week, I officially applied to my alma mater.

And actually, grad school might be a little closer than I thought, because I decided to apply for spring 2019 entry instead of fall. Online classes, anyone?

Within the next couple of months, I will apply to a couple of other schools, but this week, I will actually (attempt to) earn some graduate credit.

If you didn’t know, the NFA offers graduate and continuing education credit through a college called Seattle Pacific University. So for those of you already in graduate school or those applying, consider trying to get some credit while attending the convention!

So…

Sorry for the shorter post. As you might be able to tell, this week was crazy. But I managed to get this post up for you guys! If you are going to the convention, feel free to say hi if you see me. And, are you going to earn some graduate credit this week? Let me know down in the comments!

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Finding “Motivation” to Practice

Ah, motivation. We all seem to need it to get stuff done these days. Finding motivation to practice music can be difficult at times. That is why I want to move away from “motivation” as a way to practice.

Hannah B Flute | Finding Motivation to Practice

Relying on a motivator often means relying on something external.  There are days where I don’t want to practice, because I can’t find anything to motivate me.

Discipline, however, is more consistent than motivation. Discipline should be the main factor in you practicing.

Motivation vs. Discipline

Motivation is the state or condition of having a strong reason to act or accomplish something.

Discipline involves an activity that helps develop a skill.

Both motivation and discipline *can* be applied to music and musicians, but discipline requires nothing more than you and your instrument.

Motivation requires something like an upcoming lesson or concert. That event gives you the desire to practice so that you can do well.

The problem with this is that we don’t always have a concert or lesson in the near future. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice.

Discipline, like daily practice, will help develop your playing each day. No need for a concert or lesson.

Finding Discipline

If you have never done disciplined practice, it can be hard at first. Discipline has to come from inside you rather than something external.

Your desire to improve as a musician is a great start, but you need to make it a routine.

For example, every time you use the restroom, you wash your hands. Right?

That is discipline. We have trained ourselves to wash our hands before leaving the restroom.

You can practice in that same way. Not when leaving the restroom, but each day. Find a time to practice, even write it down on the calendar.

Think of practicing as something you just do. It is part of your day, just like washing your hands.

Using Reminders

When you start practicing by discipline instead of by motivation, it can be hard to get in the groove. Reminders can be anything. It can be an alarm telling you it’s time to practice. You can also use paper reminders, like on your mirror or music stand.

No matter what kind of reminder you use, make it something that does inspire (or even motivate) you.

In the beginning, it is hard to practice based on discipline alone. Adding in one or two outside factors can help you. Soon enough, you will be practicing without those outside motivators.

You will be disciplined.

Is Motivation All Bad?

No. Motivation can be a good thing, and it can be a great way to get you to practice. Relying solely on motivation, however, is not good.

There will be many times where you are not motivated by anything to practice. If that is the case, it will be a lot harder for you to pull out your instrument than if you also had the discipline to.

Finding motivation to practice is a nice thought, and it can be helpful. Motivating factors, like performances, can help you build that discipline necessary.

It can help you become disciplined to the point where you will continue to practice after that next concert.

Motivation can be a great way to get anything done, but it should be accompanied by discipline.

Why Practice?

I’ve talked all this time about motivation and discipline to practice, but I haven’t mentioned why we practice.

As musicians, we should always want to improve. Odds are, you are not the best performer on your instrument. Therefore, you can learn from someone. You can learn what the greats have done to hone their craft.

Just as how a student studies, a musician must practice.

It is how we can learn and grow. Practice allows us to play new and increasingly difficult repertoire.

Without practice, we would be forever stuck as a beginner.

It’s About You

In the end, practicing isn’t about motivation or discipline. It’s about bettering yourself, both as a musician and as a person.

Music allows you to express your own creativity. You can even form your own community with other musicians.

Practicing is a means to an end for musicians; it is how you meet or even exceed your goals.

Some days, you will be really motivated to achieve those goals.

Other days, discipline will be all you have.

So while music is something to be enjoyed, we cannot rely on our love for music. We will not always be motivated to play or practice.

Musicians need discipline.

So…

What are your thoughts on finding motivation to practice? Do you prefer discipline? Let me know in the comments!

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NFA: Flute Shopping

Hello flute friends. June is here (and almost gone, what?). That means that NFA 2018 is right around the corner. Being that it is the biggest flute convention of the year, you might be thinking about flute shopping there.

Hannah B Flute | NFA: Flute Shopping

Well, I’m right there with you. I’m not sure if I’ll actually buy a new instrument, a new headjoint, or nothing at all. But I will be spending some time in the exhibition hall looking at all things flute.

In this installment of my NFA series, I’m going to share some tips for flute shopping as well as other flute products you could buy.

Know Your Budget.

Flutes can cost upwards of $20K, but you probably don’t have that much money to spend. Right? So make sure you have a budget for spending at the convention.

Do you want to purchase a new flute or piccolo? Or are you planning to stick to the small stuff, like sheet music?

Decide how much money you can and are willing to spend at the convention before you go. Then stick to that budget as best you can.

You could create a daily budget or a budget for the whole convention. Your budget could also have different sections for things like sheet music and instruments.

No matter how you separate things out, have an overall budget in place so that you don’t get sucked into those amazing 18k gold, really expensive flutes. Unless that’s what you’re looking for, that is.

Stick to Your Budget.

Obviously, if you’re budget is less than $5000, you won’t be able to get a gold flute. Certain brands might also be out of reach with that budget. That’s okay.

When you approach a booth and ask to try flutes, tell the salesperson what your budget is. Flutists and vendors are nice people. They WANT you to buy something. So they’re gonna be willing to work with you.

If you’re curious about what you can get for $X, look online at FluteWorld, FCNY, or Carolyn Nussbaum. These online flute stores list the prices of various flutes (and their specs).

By researching different flutes beforehand, you will know what specs you can get and which ones you might need to save for or skip. Adding specs like a C# trill, split E, a gold riser, and more can significantly increase the cost.

Related: Flute Specs

Decide What You Want.

Do you want to buy a flute? A piccolo or low flute? Do you just want a new headjoint? Or are you going to jump on the LeFreque train?

Once you have your budget and know what you can afford with that budget, decide what is most important. If you’re headed off to music school, you will probably want to upgrade your flute followed by piccolo, then maybe an alto flute.

If you are an amateur, you may not need or want a professional level flute. But you may decide that you want a bass flute so you can join a flute choir.

Maybe you’re fine with your set of instruments and you want to test out a new headjoint or a LeFreque.

Now, some people might say you should decide what you want BEFORE setting your budget. That can work for some people, but usually finances aren’t as negotiable as what we choose to purchase. Do what works for you.

Try Lots of Flutes (etc.)

When you get to the convention, try as many flutes, headjoints, etc. as you can. There will be a ton of vendors there (view last year’s exhibitors on pg. 199). Check out different vendors, try out different brands, and test different models within your budget.

Even if you have your heart set on a (insert flute brand here), try others. Your “perfect” flute may be one you never expected.

This is also a great time to ask the flute vendors about flute trials. If you find a couple flutes you really like and want to test out a bit more, see if you can take the flutes on trial. You could either test them during the convention or maybe even take them home. (Again, ask the vendor)

You can also look into financing, if that is something you’re interested in. Financing can help you get a flute without having to pay for it upfront. You usually have to make a downpayment, and there will be interest. But for some people, it’s worth it.

Other Things to Buy

If you’re not looking at flutes, what else can you buy at the convention? You can buy anything from sheet music to cleaning supplies. If your budget is too small to pay for a new instrument, you can also look at different upgrades.

Whether you want to get a LeFreque or a new headjoint, there are low cost ways to upgrade your current instrument.

One thing that I would recommend looking at during the convention is sheet music. Yes, there are tons of places to buy sheet music online, but a lot of them don’t provide free samples.

You can’t actually see what the music looks like, or how it’s layed out, unless you’re in person. I am fortunate enough to live close to a well stock sheet music store, but I know a lot of people don’t have that luxury.

So consider looking at some sheet music while you’re in the exhibition hall. You might just find a new favorite piece.

So…

Will you be flute shopping at the NFA convention this year? Let me know in the comments!