Category Archives: Music

The Month of May

For many, May is when the weather starts to get warmer and we can go outside and play. But for me May is a blur of school activities and my late father’s birthday, as well as Memorial Day. The elementary school has their talent show, their awards assemblies and activities. The high school has their gearing up for graduation, the senior ball, the last of the fundraising. Every day has another field trip, another permission slip another piano accompanying.

Today I played for my daughter’s audition. She made it! Our Pirates of the Caribbean was up to the task. She’ll be playing a flute solo in the Sixth Grade Talent Show.

I’m also involved with the PTSA at our local high school and spent part of the day, pretending to look interested while hundreds of teenagers walked by, hoping they would come order flowers from me.

As for the birthday, my father passed away seven years ago next June. And like with any birthday of a loved deceased family member the day is very bitter sweet, mostly bitter, but there is some sweet.

So while this time of year is busy, I’m grateful for the clamor, it helps with keeping this time of year more pleasant than it has been for a while for me. Here’s to hoping that May 2016 is even better yet.

Multiple Instruments

As a flute teacher I love when my new students have several years of piano lessons. It makes learning flute much easier.

I found as a beginning violin student in my mid-thirties, that while technique is totally different than flute, my years of sight-reading skills are very helpful. I pick up new techniques much faster than I did as a beginning flute student (20+ years ago).

Violin Lesson Update

I’ve now been playing violin for two years and four months. It feels much longer. I’m on Gavotte from “Mignon” which is in the last third of book 2.

My teacher started me in Double-stops by Trott. It’s a challenge. It’s like playing two note-chords on the piano combined with the fingering of violin. I have to warm up a little and if I’m tired it becomes exponentially harder to concentrate enough to play the exercises well.

I’m about half-way in my shifting book. I’m learning a violin duet arrangement of Pachabel’s Canon in D for the Christmas recital. My teacher is also having me play violin with my youngest daughter’s violin group and guitar with my middle daughter’s guitar group.

I started fixing a bad habit today that I noticed last week. I’ve been using my index finger to support the violin neck, like I would use it as a chair for flute playing. Changing my violin hand more into the backwards “C” shape it’s supposed to be stretches my thumb. I have more flexibility and movement in my fingers, but I also have the sense that I don’t know where I am on the fingerboard because I was using my index finger as a reference. Bad habits are so hard to fix!

Beginning Band Elem – Day 1

I got to substitute for the after-school band program. I was excited. Only three students showed up and only one of them brought an instrument. Usually on the first day you’d talk about rules and how to rent an instrument, how to care for your instrument, what music book to buy etc, but I’m not the regular teacher so I dived into the music first. We talked about rhythms, wrote them and clapped them as a group. We covered some vocabulary like staff, treble clef, bass clef, and time signature.

“You remind me of my fourth grade music teacher.” One of the girls said. “You use the same words.”

Music Education

Music Theory

Music theory is a strange child in music education. Many teachers ignore her, yet she is basic to everything in music. The basic ideas in music theory can be taught to a kindergartner, yet music majors and minors sit in college classes learning music theory that no one taught them for the last ten years while they were learning their instruments in grade school.

Fundamentals of music theory for all musicians:

Order of sharps and flats
Write all major and minor scales and play them on your instrument.
Read time values of notes and rests.
Identify time and key signatures
Know the meanings of tempo markings (i.e. allegro, andante, largo etc.)
Know the meaning of dynamic markings (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff)
Know how to write basic major triads I, IV, V7 in any key.

Piano Background

I’ve had several months of lesson, as I could afford them. I learned most of my piano technique during piano proficiency group class at WSU. I grew the most during 2010 when I was the primary pianist at my church for nine months. At first I had to practice an hour a day to learn all the repertoire. The song leader had me learn about fifty songs, in batches of about ten a week. I found the fastest way to improve on an instrument is to have to perform weekly, in public. For me, avoiding embarrassment was a huge motivational factor. I enjoyed playing the songs and miss being with the children, now that I’m doing something different.

I’m still performing weekly for church. I’m playing hymns, which are more difficult than the children’s songs, but I have only three songs to learn a week.

My husband took piano lessons for eight years. He’s much better at playing lots of notes at the same time. I’m better at reading keys with lots of sharps or flats. I’m better at playing scales (piano proficiency class). He’s better at accompanying. We like playing together. If we’re sight-reading we might each take one hand and then we can play most music up to speed.

My Flute Journey

I started playing the flute in fifth grade at a public school during lunches. In sixth grade I joined the beginning band.

In eighth grade I moved to Utah and thought I was doing well because I was in my fourth year of playing. Well the new public school band in jr. high was much better then the one that I had come from in middle school. In ninth grade I took my first private flute lessons. I didn’t know how to look for a good teacher. She helped with my sight reading and rhythm skills, but didn’t do anything for my tone quality.

I took band all four years in high school and was required to take private lessons again my senior year so that I could be the flute section leader. I went to a different teacher who expected me to memorize. I didn’t even know what a good flutist sounded like until mid-high school, when my dad bought me a bunch of James Galloway CD’s. This was long before ITunes and YouTube.

In college I was required to play at a whole new level. My teacher, Cindy Henderson, took me back to the very beginning to start me over learning good tone quality. It was frustrating to start over with a new embouchure for the second time, but very necessary. I felt like an awkward beginner all over again and here I was in college!

I played bass clarinet in the band, because they were needed and flutists were not.

After four years of lessons with Cindy Henderson I played a Junior Flute Recital and received my flute performance music minor.

I learned more in the four year of private lessons then I did in the eight years of playing in public school bands. Part of it was the expectations placed on me at the college level, but most of it was the one-on-one tutoring of my playing ability.

For some, playing the flute comes more naturally than others. I find that the biggest three factors in how well someone plays are: the amount of daily practice, private lessons, and the amount of listening to good music.

Music Adventures: Arranging

In January and February I had the fun of arranging about eight pieces of piano music into full orchestrations for the elementary school musical. I’ve done arrangements for small groups of many songs, usually a piano part for a solo accompaniment or a small ensemble group. This was my first experience with an arrangement project of this size. It took me about two months. I did about a piece a week.

I did the arrangements in Finale Printmusic. I love the extract parts feature, without that, it would have taken me much longer. One of the challenges was nine verses of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Each verse had different pauses and entry cues. I ended up giving each instrument nine versions of that song, with the pauses specific to each version.

Another challenge were the original compositions. I had to compose short snippets of a foxtrot, waltz and a swing dance. The foxtrot and waltz were easy, but writing jazz was a theory… a theory… much beyond the one year of college music theory I’ve had. I read a lot online and ordered a short book, Voicings for Jazz Keyboard by Frank Mantooth. The articles online were the most help. The challenge was getting the melody to sound jazzy with only my traditional theory background.

I achieved the jazzy sound by playing around with a raised and lowered sixth and third tone in a regular major scale. I had to dig out my theory notes and go over 7th and 9th chords. Rhythms are hard to notate and learn because they are swung and not straight. I had to teach the beginning band how to play it in the right style by singing the parts to them. But in the end it was one of their favorite songs to play and they played it well.