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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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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The Importance of Listening

As a musician, listening is a must in order to keep up with your craft and to improve your skills. The importance of listening to music, to others, and to yourself should not be ignored.

Killer Harmony | The Importance of Listening | As a musician, you should use listening as a tool to improve your craft. Listening opens you up to different sounds you couldn't learn otherwise.

In order to make sufficient progress as a musician, you need good listening skills. You also need to be able to listen to different things, because the more you listen, the more you will learn.

In this post, I want to talk about a few things you should always listen to as a musician. I am not going to go into specific musicians or other details, but I want to cover the basics.

Your Teacher

The first resource you should use and listen to is your music teacher. If you are taking private lessons, your teacher has much more experience than you and probably knows what to say to teach you.

It may sound obvious, but listening to your teacher will help in more ways than one. You can listen to what your teacher says about your playing, and you can listen to your teacher play.

If you don’t have a private teacher but are in band or orchestra, you should also listen. Your director may not know much about your instrument, but they do understand how instruments work and what you can do to help the ensemble.

Other Musicians

Whether you go to YouTube in search of a recording by a virtuosic musician or you just want to listen to friends, other musicians can help you. You want to listen to a variety of players so that you can understand how your instrument works and what others like to do.

By listening to good recordings, you can of course learn your pieces, but you can also open yourself up to new and different sounds. If you limit yourself to only listening to one or two people, you are limiting your sound.

Other musicians, whether they play your instrument or not, have their own voice. I love listening to all sorts of instruments so that I can understand how I can make a better sound and to learn how I can blend with other instruments.

Yourself

This is so important, and I wish more people would listen to themselves. You can listen to yourself while you play or through a recording. I know it can be hard to listen to yourself, I will often cringe when listening to recordings, but you need to do it.

You can learn so much from listening to yourself. While you can start by just listening live, recording yourself is super helpful. When you are playing, you often need to focus on playing, and you can’t focus on listening.

A recording allows you to go back, follow along with your music, and listen for what you like and dislike. You can record yourself with nothing but a smartphone. So don’t give the excuse that you can’t afford any equipment. You already have a solid option.

Your Body

This one is often overlooked by a lot of musicians, and I don’t think that’s right. Your body is your greatest tool. It is how you make music and do just about everything else in life. You need to treat it well and to listen to it.

If your muscles are starting to tense up or you are getting tired, take a break. You might have been told by a teacher that you need to practice multiple hours a day. But if that is not realistic for you and your body, you can hurt yourself.

As much as I would love to play music all of the time, I can’t. My shoulders and fingers can get tired, and I need to take a break. I then switch to other tasks, such as doing work for this blog. Or I watch videos on YouTube.

If you only listen to one thing, please, let it be your body. The last thing you want is to have to stop playing long term because you overworked yourself.

Just Listen

Listening to other musicians, to your teacher, and to yourself can serve you for the rest of your musical career. You can learn so much from listening to recordings or by taking notes in a private lesson.

If you need to take a break from playing, don’t stop listening. You may not be able to practice your instrument, but you can think about what you want to do next time you pick it back up.

I am not always the best at listening, but I still think it is an important tool and skill for musicians. There are things that you can’t learn otherwise. As with language, you need some sort of reference when it comes to making music. You can only get that reference by listening.

So…

How do you incorporate listening into your music routine? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe for music tips and tricks sent right to your inbox!

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What’s in My Flute Bag?

With back to school season coming up, I thought it would be fun to tell you guys about what I keep in my flute bag. As an aspiring professional flutist, I like to keep a lot of stuff on hand.

Killer Harmony | What's In My Flute Bag? | As a serious musician, I have a lot of stuff to carry around. I keep a lot of important things in my flute bag. So, I decided to share what is in there.

Now, if you are just taking lessons for fun, you may not need everything here. If you are a music major, you are just curious about what I use, this post is for you.

Without further ado, here is what I keep in my flute bag.

About the Bag

The flute bag I use is the ProTec Flute Gig Bag. I got it for about $35 from a local music store, but you can find it online.The bag comes in different colors, such as black, blue, and purple.

I went with black, because black goes with everything, and it blends in on stage. I love being able to keep my case with me during performances, and you can’t do that with a bright colored bag.

If you want a full review, let me know, and I will get a post up!

My Flute

Um, duh. It is a flute bag. So I have to keep my flute in it. I have a Lyric Artisan Flute, which I love. Lyric flutes are a branch of Miyazawa, similar to the Powell Sonare line, for you flute nerds.

My flute has a silver head joint and a silver plated body, foot joint, and mechanism. I have a B foot, a split E mechanism, an offset G, and the more common features that you see on flutes.

I do keep my flute in its own case, because the bag doesn’t have the parts that keep a flute in place like a normal case. My flute is in its French style case, which means a case that doesn’t have a handle or any exterior storage.

My Piccolo

I have an Armstrong metal piccolo, which I used for marching band in college. Now that I don’t have access to a wood model, it has become my primary piccolo.

I have had the instrument for three years, and it has served me well. It was the best birthday gift I ever received. I do need to upgrade to at least a composite model, and I hope to do that soon.

If you are a serious flutist, you should consider investing in at least a student model piccolo. It will be greatly used, and the piccolo can open up many other doors than just the flute.

Flute Cleaning Cloths

I probably have more cloths than the normal person, but I need all of them. For my flute, I have and use four different cloths at least once a week.

The first cloth is a swabbing cloth. I use it with a cleaning rod to swan out the inside of my flute. Since saliva and condensation collect in the flute, it is important to swab out your flute after playing it.

The second cloth I use daily is a microfiber cloth. I use this to wipe off any dirt or finger prints that collect on my flute. Unfortunately, I can’t skimp here, because I have acidic sweat. My sweat has actually caused a bit of the silver plating to come off of my flute. I have to polish my flute every time I play it.

Another cloth I use to polish my flute after the microfiber cloth is a plain cotton cloth. I don’t always use this cloth, but it is great for a second go over the head joint.

The last cloth I have is a two sided polishing cloth. It is meant to get the serious dirt and grime off of your flute. I only use it once or twice a week, and I don’t use it on my head joint. I did that once, and my lower lip had a slight discoloration for awhile.

Piccolo Cleaning Cloth

I do also have a piccolo swab. The swab is just a silk cloth that I bought off Amazon. I use it with the piccolo cleaning rod that came with my instrument.

Instrument Stands

A must have for me is a flute and/or piccolo stand. I have a bigger stand that stays in my room at home and smaller stands that can fit in my case for rehearsals and performances.

My flute stand is by Hercules; it is the travel size one. I also have a piccolo stand that is by K&G.

Instrument stands are awesome, because you don’t have to haphazardly put your instrument on a chair or table. You can safely put it on your stand and know that it will not get sat on or knocked off.

A Pencil

You need a pencil. Whether you have a private lesson or an ensemble rehearsal, a pencil will save your life. You can mark notes in your music, write down important dates, and much more.

Avoid using pens, because you can’t erase them. You never know if your teacher will want to make a change or if they might take a change out. If you are borrowing your music, you especially shouldn’t use pen. Borrowed music needs to be returned in good condition; pen doesn’t allow for that.

Earplugs

As a piccolo player, I have to have earplugs. When I am playing in the high register or just playing loudly, my ears need protection. I love and use Etymotic earplugs. They allow me to still hear what’s going on so I can tune to others, but they lower the volume of everything by a slight amount.

If you play piccolo or any other piercing instrument, you should own a pair of earplugs and actually use them. They will save your hearing.

So…

What do you keep in your instrument case? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to sign up for the Killer Email Squad to get music tips and tricks sent directly to your inbox!

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Get Rid of Performance Anxiety

If you are a musician or any other type of performer, odds are you have had some performance anxiety or nerves. This is totally common, and even the greatest performers sometimes get nervous.

Killer Harmony | Get Rid of Performance Anxiety | Performance anxiety is totally normal, but you can do a few things to get rid of it. So, I am sharing seven tips to get rid of performance anxiety.

I have had my fair share of stage fright, anxiety, nerves, whatever you want to call it. But over time, I have managed to overcome those feelings and to turn that nervous energy into positive energy.

It takes practice to get rid of performance anxiety, but you can do it. So, here are some of my tips for getting rid of nerves and giving your best performance.

1. Practice ahead of time.

This sounds obvious, but it needs to be said. The more prepared you are for a performance, the less you have to worry about it the day of. Leading up to a performance, you want to make sure you give yourself enough preparation time.

Give yourself at least a month, or longer depending on the nature of the performance. You need enough time to really learn and study what you will be performing. No “winging it” as they say.

Now, I do believe there is a limit to practicing. I have found that if I practice a piece too much or too often, I peak before the performance. You don’t want that. You want to peak during the concert or show.

2. Break it down.

If you will be performing an entire sonata, for example, you want to break it down into more manageable parts. First break it up into the different movements. Next, look for the big sections of the movement. Then, find the phrases and even look at the separate bars.

By breaking something down, you can focus on individual parts of the work. There will be easier sections, and there will be harder sections. When you see each section and can isolate them all, you can quickly see which sections need the most attention.

I will admit that I don’t always do this, but it is super helpful when I do. I can focus in learning a small phrase or two instead of an entire movement. One or two phrases sounds a lot less intimidating than a whole movement, right?

3. Memorize the difficult bars.

If there are a few difficult bars in your music, you should try to memorize them. Even if you are playing with music, it is important to have everything under your fingers. Memorization will help build muscle memory, and you won’t have to worry as much about those sections.

There will be at least one or two of “those bars” in almost every piece. Memorizing them will help with your memorization skills, and you will get to know those difficult parts really well.

But obviously, don’t just focus on those bars. You want to make sure that you learn the entire piece.

4. Recreate the stage.

While you are working on a new piece to perform, try to practice it on stage a few times. If you can play it through on the stage you will perform on, that’s great. If you can’t, then recreate that environment.

Practice while wearing the shoes you will perform in and the outfit you plan to wear. It sounds silly, but doing that will get you ready so that you know you can do it.

Normally, you won’t be practicing in fancy clothes or dress shoes. But that’s commonplace attire for performances. If you are only used to wearing sweats and tennis shoes while practicing, then of course the different clothing would make you nervous.

Recreating the performance environment to the best of your ability will help prove to yourself that you are ready to give the best performance of your life.

5. Take a break.

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking a break close to the performance is a good thing. A break will give your mind and body time to rest and be ready for the performance.

I like to take a break for about thirty minutes to an hour before the performance so that I can breathe and take in everything. I do warm up before that, but I don’t usually run through what I am performing, unless there are still some rough spots.

This is because I want to avoid overworking the piece. As I said earlier, you want to peak during the performance, not before. Giving yourself a break before going on stage is a great way to recharge your muscles and give you a boost of energy.

6. Perform a lot!

There more you perform, the easier it will get. I have been performing since I was really young, and I performed even more often when I got to college. That performance experience helped me and one of my classmates get over stage fright.

For my music degree, I had to give two solo recitals, perform on two other recitals each semester, perform for a masterclass each semester, and also perform as part of any ensembles I was in.

All that performing made any bouts of nerves just go away. Any nerves I get are quickly turned into adrenaline. I am able to coast through a performance without worrying about everything else. I can just play.

7. Understand that it’s normal.

Everyone has gone through periods of stage fright, nerves, performance anxiety. And it’s okay. It is super normal to be nervous. When I do feel nervous, I remind myself that there’s not much to be scared of.

Is the audience the big scary thing? Well, they aren’t there to see you fail. They want you to play well, and they want to hear good music. Why else would they have come to a concert?

Are you afraid of making mistakes? It happens to everyone. And odds are, no one will notice. As long as you keep your composure, you can make it seem like you meant to play that note or that rhythm.

It’s easier said than done, but don’t worry about it.

So…

Do you have any other tips for getting rid of performance anxiety? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to sign up for the Killer Email Squad to receive music tips right in your inbox!

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