My Approach to Flute Study in the College Years—A Guide for New Students
I want to write a few words about the way I approach my teaching of college students. I have found that when students enter college or university, it helps them to have the “long view” of their activity so that they can relax into each year knowing that their goals will be met, and that by graduation they will have accomplished everything that they set out to do in these most important years of study.
Students entering college for their first year must be aware that there will be a lot of energy spent on the simple transition of leaving home and entering into the environment of a college, university, or conservatory. For the first time, many of these young students are on their own, making their own schedules, responsible for their own activities, and dealing with the enormous challenge of personal freedom to make their own choices without having adult supervision.
I have found that the first year can be extremely profitable if the student is encouraged and nurtured throughout the first semester with patience and understanding. Discipline, of course, is important, but it takes a while for young students to understand how to run their lives.
Flutistically, I like to go over every aspect of fundamental flute playing: tone, vibrato, technique, intonation, tonguing on all types of articulations, etc. I think it is very important for the student and the teacher to develop a mutually understood vocabulary as it pertains to all of these elements of flute playing. I also like to start the student thinking analytically about their phrasing and musical commitment to each line. In my class, we work with a pianist weekly, so I encourage students to move fairly rapidly through repertoire. I also believe that etudes serve a wonderful purpose in a young student’s curriculum, and I make this part of every weekly lesson.
In this year the student has become more confident and assured as they have had more experience with how to run their lives. I have found the second year to be a very good year for learning and the confident, relaxed student is very open to new challenges and great expectations. As a teacher, I find I spend less time on the fundamentals, as they have been very well developed in the previous year. I like to work with an increased concentration on learning large amounts of flute repertoire and orchestral excerpts. Also, I focus more on performing in weekly flute seminar masterclasses.
In this year the student is generally beginning to understand that the undergraduate college years will be coming to a close, and there is heightened focus in the work. Most students are auditioning for major summer festivals, competitions, and even professional auditions for orchestras. It is in this year where I see a real flowering of technical confidence and tonal imagination. The culmination of this year is often the junior recital.
I like to regard my senior students as living this year part “in-school” and part “beyond school”. The students are independent in their work, and largely focused on the areas that are important to them: professional auditions, auditioning for advanced degrees at other schools ( MM ), competitions, prestigious summer festivals, and their senior recital.
In contrast to the great dependency that exists in the beginning of these four years, I like to see the student becoming increasingly independent of me and more self-taught. This is essential for a great player....we all must learn to teach ourselves. I encourage the student to use the lesson as a time to check their own progress, ask me questions, and perform for me in the lesson. Of course there is a big emphasis on their performing presentation in the weekly masterclasses of solo repertoire with piano, or orchestral audition material.
I have been so gratified by the outstanding graduate students that I have had at CMU. They have all received a tremendous foundation and background with their undergraduate teachers, and are eager to move into the professional world. There are usually a few elements of their flute playing that they wish to work on specifically, but these years are usually devoted to auditioning for orchestras, chamber groups, and me helping them become comfortable as performers.
At this level, I am interested in students that are ready to move forward at a very fast rate. The fundamentals of great flute playing are really in place when they arrive. I would say the most important area of concentration is working to achieve a higher artistic standard as a musician - learning how to use all the acquired skills as an instrumentalist to make beautiful phrases that are emotionally compelling and to be able to sing on the flute with your own individual voice.
The students in this program work in a way that is very similar to those in the Graduate program. However, their experience and mastery of the instrument is at an even higher level. These students are free to practice many hours a day, as they have no other class work. This gives them time to prepare for and to enter into international competitions and professional orchestral auditions. It is a program where the candidate should be playing at a professional level when they enter the program.
I am convinced that one of the greatest teaching tools is to utilize the power of the flute class. I know that as much as a student will learn from the teacher, they also learn an incredible amount from each other. I encourage an atmosphere in my class where this amazing synergism can flourish and help me to form these talented students into the artists they will become.
This means the students are challenged by each other, but also are supported and helped by each other. If this environment exists, the students are guided by their most generous impulses and our class becomes a great place to live and to learn, for all!