Retake: Musical Perception – Developing Artistry within Technique

May 16, 2011

This article is about playing with intention. Even with our best intentions, sometimes we lose sight of why we play. My goal as a flutist is to become an artist. I want to rise above the instrumental connection, and have a purely musical connection to what I do. This process takes much time and dedication, but we must instill this perspective in our students. There’s so much to cover in a half hour lesson with a student, but never let them lose sight of the big picture. This is the type of lesson our students will never forget.


Our musical perception is crucial to how we shape our performances. A student will often focus only on the details alone because they haven’t yet developed the musical intuition that often takes years to coax out. In my reading and listening, I come across many wonderful players that always seem to focus only on the technical part of playing the flute. Some may be so talented that their musical intuition has always been there, and they don’t know how to express what it is that they do. Others are so focused on the instrument that they become consumed with technical details.

We’re all here to play music regardless of our focus; however, I think musicality is a skill that must be taught from the very first lesson in order to develop a student’s intuition. Helping a student develop his musical self is the best step you can take to develop his or her musical competence and independence – the ultimate goal of music study.

We practice the flute to develop advanced skills as they relate to tone, technique, articulation, dynamics, rhythm, style, and vibrato. Michel Debost wrote an interesting article in the November 2010 issue of Flute Talk (“The Artist as Technician”) that discusses how the farther along we advance in the flute, the more all the technical elements of the instrument begin to overlap to produce the ultimate musical product. He writes, “We should put technique into our music, and put music into our technique.”

The previous articles I have written on intention and our own inhibitions and our personalities as musicians discuss musicality primarily because I think it’s a topic that does not get discussed enough in the flute world. Great intonation, fast fingers, and connectivity of sound all go far to offer the flute as a musical offering, but how do we combine conscious artistry with conscious technique?

To play musically, we must be in touch with ourselves. Musicians are communicators, and whatever message we are conveying will always speak through us wrapped in our individual life experiences. This is what makes live performances so important and critical to the development of young musicians. Require or encourage your young students to attend local concerts and recitals. If they don’t have the sound of a good musician in their ear, they will never have a higher goal to strive for.

This is a difficult skill to teach, which is why more tangible skills are taught in favor of opening up a student’s awareness to the ultimate power of music as a vehicle they can communicate through. Recital attendance, regular practice, and drawing attention to music as a whole package instead of a series of notes and rhythms on the page will begin to open up a student’s musical world for the better.

Play with intention and your artistry will emerge.

*Originally published on The Sensible Flutist on November 10, 2010

Alexis Del Palazzo ©2010


6 Responses to “Retake: Musical Perception – Developing Artistry within Technique”

  1. […] Introduction to Music Piracy Problem * Retake: Musical Perception – Developing Artistry within Technique This entry was posted in business, music and tagged how to make it in america music, how to make […]

  2. howard A. Cohen Says:

    Right on Alexis! From the very first lesson, indeed! We must get accustomed to exploring and practising the beauty in the technical aspects; how can one perform a task sucessfully without having a clear idea about what it is? A good recipe includes at least one picture of what the dish looks like etc, though I don’t want to constrict imagination. In Taffanel et Gaubert I let my university students show me how beautiful the exercises are. “Everything is an exercise in Beauty” heads T& G Nr. 1 in my own handwriting. Anyway, I wanted to leave you a link to check out in my work with 8 – 9 year-olds. I hope you enjoy this. Flutistically yours, howie

  3. What an all round great piece.

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