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I have been giving flute lessons via Skype for going on 3 years now.  I have found it an incredible asset and a great tool for teaching.

Biggest lessons:

Teaching via Skype is not best for beginners

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This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website: ttuflutestudio.yolasite.com

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Part 1 can be found HERE

Doug Perkins specializes in new works for percussion as a chamber musician and soloist. His performances have been described as “terrific, wide-awake and strikingly entertaining” by the Boston Globe and he has been declared a “percussion virtuoso ” by the New York Times. He has appeared at countless venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Spoleto USA Festival, the Ojai Festival and the World Expo in Lisbon, Portugal. He was a founding member of So Percussion.

Doug has been playing parts of Simple Songs for the last month in the US and Mexico and, this winter, will be playing the entire record live throughout the US. Visit (www.dougperkins.com) to see where and when he will be performing.

IPAP:
It’s a funny coincidence, but this is the second time in the past week or two that New Focus Recordings has come up on the blog since, in addition to putting out your new album, they’ve also recently released some very fine projects by Claire Chase, who we just featured in the wake of her MacArthur Genius award. Given your résumé and fan base, you undoubtedly could have released this project with any of several new music labels – you’ve worked with many others in the past – why was New Focus the right home for this recording? Do you see the idea of the ‘record label’ as something that still has conceptual relevance to artists or is it at this point solely a means facilitating distribution?

 

DP:
When I was setting out to make this record, I felt it was important to release it with a record label and New Focus was where I most wanted to be.  I really admire my label mates and am thrilled to be in their company.  Dan Lippel (guitarist extraordinaire and member of ICE) runs the label and was very supportive, helpful, and involved in every step of the process (in a great way).

I feel like there is still relevance in record labels.  As you mentioned, I am in great company at New Focus.  Their releases have a certain aesthetic profile and commitment to great production.  I believe that this can foster a loyal listenership across the label that benefits all of us.  The best thing that a label can do is help create an foster a community.  Making the kind of music that we all do, it is important to have a supportive home and at the very least, it never hurts to be part of a great team!

IPAP:   
Aside from having the freedom to go back and fix any little mistakes that might come up, do you perform the same piece differently depending on whether it’s for a concert or a recording?  If so, what issues are you thinking about when you craft a studio interpretation? I ask this question specifically because of Michael Gordon’s “XY” and some of the choices that were made in recording that piece. (Regular readers will recall that, in preparation for this interview, we linked to a video of Doug explaining the piece, which can be found here) Personally, I’ve heard the piece in concert several times, most recently in a tremendously good performance by Justin DeHart at the soundON festival. What struck me (pun only partially intended) is how different a listening experience this recording is compared to a concert and how those differences are almost entirely the result of the recording process.

[ed. note – I would explain the differences to our non-tech savvy readers like this: In concert, there is a small set of drums in one place on the stage and sound moves from that singular place outwards to the listener. In this recording, on the other hand, the microphones are set up so that rather then coming from a single spot, the drums are spread out across the entire width of the stereo field. That is, that the leftmost drum will come out (almost) entirely from the left speaker and the rightmost drum will come from the right. The other drums are spaced between those two spatial extremes. So, in the recording, alternately hitting the two outermost drums would create an antiphonal ‘ping-pong’ effect in fact, just such an effect is heard during the portion of the piece previewed in Itunes)]

 

In choosing to go with a wide stereo spread, the 5-piece drum kit transforms from a single complicated sound monolith into a 5-voice choir engaged in an intricate counterpoint. What this does, to my ears at least, is help to clarify the ‘algebra’ of the piece, if you will – it’s patterning and polyrhythmic structure. What you lose, however, at least in my opinion, is some of the piece’s emotional spectrum. It isn’t violent and loud and provocatively overbearing (although, to be sure, it’s provocative in other ways).    I’m not trying to sound negative, as I think both approaches reveal things about the piece that are, to some extent, mutually exclusive within a single performance, but I’m looking for insight into how you, as an artist, negotiate these trade-offs. In any event, I think it’s absolutely marvelous that a piece for 5 bongos can offer the same range of interpretive perspectives as ‘the great symphonies’™

DP:
Your insights about the Gordon are very accurate and astute.  If you ever see me live, you will see a different version of the piece than what you get on the record.  When I play live, I start similarly to the record to try to get people in tune to the slow moving harmonies that are there.  I then quickly move to a more and more breathless performance of the piece where I play with ever increasing abandon and try to bring the audience along with me as I push myself to my musical and physical limits.  In the studio, it was quickly clear that this communicates as noisy and clunky in the context of the record.  We worked hard to make the piece feel large and overwhelming on the record while maintaining a clarity of vision to the harmonic aspects of the piece so that the listener can get entranced and not just annoyed at me hitting my drums to hard.

 

IPAP:
Moving back to performance instead of recording, but keeping with the idea of interpretive choice, the score to David Lang’s “Unchained Melody” tells you when to play an instrument, but doesn’t tell you what instrument to play. That is, the player has to assemble his or her own percussion battery to accompany the glockenspiel. How do you begin to go about choosing instruments for something like that? What freedoms and/or limitations does that add to the interpretive process?

 

DP:          
For David’s piece, my choices came fairly organically.   I was just messing around with my boxes of “noises” in my studio and kind of fell into my version.  The process was more like adding spices when cooking than anything else.  I would add a sound (like a beer bottle) and it would leave me feeling like I needed something rounder.  Maybe that would lead me to a temple block and that might lead me to a hunk of metal.  I just kept doing this until I ended up with something.  I will say that the sounds are always in flux.  I am playing the piece this week and spent some time tweaking just yesterday to reflect my feelings now.  I love David’s percussion music because in is always growing and changing with me.  Also, the freedom that he gives us in the score means that no two “Unchained Melody” performances are alike.

 

IPAP:
In talking with people over the years, I think that there is many classically oriented musicians who are interested in performing more modern and contemporary music but are a little intimidated, especially by the rhythmic challenges. Can you recommend any exercises or techniques that might help a non-percussionist start to make that leap from the rhythmic language of Stravinsky, Copland, or Bernstein to music like David Lang or Michael Gordon?

DP:
Hmmm…  at one level, I would say that if you can deal with Stravinsky, you should be just fine with these guys.  I would say generally that a little work as a percussionist is good for everyone.  If you are a musician that is worried about rhythm, join a drum ensemble, a gamelan, or a rock band!  Learning to groove in these kinds of groups do wonders for anyone’s core sense of rhythm.  I know that I am a drumset player (and bassist) at my core.  Even though it has been years since I have done either thing seriously, my groove and time are all born from these experiences.

 

IPAP:
Thank you, Doug for being so generous with your time and your thoughts. I’m sure our readers are just as disappointed as I am that you have to go now. Any last thoughts on the album?

DP:          
I would just encourage everyone to give the record a listen.  If you are enjoying the record, come see a show, drop a line, or tell your friends (or the internet).  More importantly, I encourage you to dig deeper in to some of my old records or other music by the composers on the record.  My musical friends and I need more listeners, and advocates like you (if you are still reading).  Join the team and help get our kind of music heard!!!  I am extremely proud of the record and hope you enjoy it too.

Having just moved to a new area, I now have a studio of about 24 students and growing – come from an area where getting students was like pulling teeth, being inundated with this many students is not only wonderful but can also be a little overwhelming with trying to keep track of all the finances.   To any other music teacher who understands the frustration and confusion of having a large studio (or heck, of having a studio period) keeping track of student’s information, their payment status, who owes what when, who’s working on what, what school is out for fall or spring break at what time, etc. can be exhausting work.

I have found a lifesaving solution. Seriously,it’s taken the hassle out of running a studio and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a look over.  It even comes with a 30 day Free trial!  After one week I was sold, you just might be, too.
The site is called Music Teacher’s Helper.com

The site seriously does it all…

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Flying to learn

September 21, 2012

In the spring I decided it was time overcome my increasing fear of heights.  To do this I decided to take a trapeze class at the local trapeze school, Trapeze School of New York Boston.   Along with my husband I went to a Friday morning class.  The instructors gave us an introduction on the ground and then it was time to walk up two flights of stairs to the platform where we would leap into the air on the trapeze.  I was scared!  When it came my turn to fly, the  instructor held my safety belt  as I hung my toes over the edge of the platform.  I was instructed to grab onto the bar with one hand then the other.  The first hand was easy, it was letting go of the scaffolding at my side with the second hand that was hard.  In my head I heard two voices coaching me, the fist said “just do it!”  the other said “this is scary, don’t let go.”  I admit  I almost threw in the towel but I did finally muster the nerve to grab the bar with my second hand.  The instructor to called out  the commands, “ready,” and then “hep,”  and off the platform I flew.   I did it, and admit it was a little bit fun.

Fast forward six months, I am now signed up for an 11-week Intensive Flying Workshop with my Body Mapping & flute colleague, Lynne Krayer-Luke. The workshops will culminate with a public performance on a Saturday evening.  Together we are learning about learning, movement, and awareness.  The process has enhanced the high level learning I do with the flute and my teaching.  These are some of the things I have learned so far:

  • The process of learning a skill from the ground up helps me to relate to my students, some of whom are learning flute playing and music from the beginning.
  • In learning to fly through the air with grace and ease I am learning about movement and how awareness plays such a huge role in the process.
  • The power of the kinesthetic imagination.  I don’t have the luxury of breaking the sequence of moves down while I am on the trapeze so I use my mind to go through the movements.
  • Leaving my comfort zone.  Every time i learn a new trick I am leaving my comfort zone. At first the voice inside my head would say “me do that?”  Then I told that voice, “I will try it once, if I don’t like it I won’t do it again.”  Last week that conversation didn’t happen.  I just did it!
  • Overcoming fear – I am no longer fearful of heights!  The fear didn’t disappear with the first leap, it took about four classes over a month and a half to move beyond it.  I learned that it is possible to overcome fears. Every exposure to the fear can diminish the fear’s power.   Students who are fearful need to perform more.
  • Awareness – cultivating inclusive awareness in the 15-20 seconds that it takes to perform a trick has boosted my overall sense of awareness.   I don’t need to consciously cue it up, inclusive awareness is now is more readily available.

I am excited to learn new trapeze tricks over the coming weeks and equally excited to learn about learning.  Lynne and I will use the experience to enhance playing and teaching.  You can follow Lynne and my adventure at our blog “Flying Flutistas.”

When someone says to you “you need a strong core” or “you need to train your core”, does that leave you scratching your head in confusion?  I mean, what IS your core, anyway, and what on earth does it do? Is it your insides?  The middle of your body?  Your diaphragm?  Let me help you clear up all the confusion.

The core, in its simplest form, is actually the area of your body called the torso – therefore, not your arms, legs or head.  These aren’t just your abdominal muscles; there are LOTS of other muscles that make up the core.  In fact, some of the key players to core strength are in your back and lower back.

There are an awful lot of muscles in your core, and each one plays a role in how well you play your flute.  Yes, that’s right, your hip flexors, your back muscles, your abs; all those muscles have an impact on how you play.  How is that, you ask?  Well, the easy way to explain it is that all your muscles work together in any activity you do.

  • Standing uses your core muscles to keep you balanced and from falling over.
  • Driving uses more than your arms; your core is heavily involved. An indication of core weakness is pain in your hips or low back when you get out of the car.

The muscles in the front (your abs) serve to pull your body forward. These are the muscles with which you are probably most familiar, and as you know, spending most of our day in a bent over position works them plenty.  What this shows is that your back muscles may become weak from the forward-pulling motion of your abs. To have a strong core, this means that you must train your body to resist forward flexion and side to side twisting.

So how does this relate to playing your flute?  Like I mentioned before, you don’t just use your arms to play the flute.  Remember that old song “the head bone’s connected to the….neck bone” etc.?  It’s true.  Your body works as a whole.  It takes lots of different muscles to lift your arms, turn your head, hold up a flute and breathe to play.  And some of those muscles will get tired.  When this happens, other muscles take over.  If this goes on too long, you get what are called muscle compensations and imbalances, meaning that some muscles become weaker and allow other muscles to do their jobs for them.  This can lead to pain.

Each muscle is made to do a job whether that is its own job, the job of being a synergist (helping other muscles do their jobs) or an antagonist (the opposite of a muscle).  For example, your hip flexors are antagonists to your gluteus muscles.  If your hip flexors get too tight with too much sitting, your gluteus muscles become weak, eventually allowing other muscles (your hamstrings) to do the job of the glutes.  What happens then?  Your knees could hurt, or maybe your low back hurts from the stress of too much tightness in the front.  When your low back hurts because it is weak, this can translate to a weak upper back.  If your upper back is weak, it cannot support your arms which are doing a really hard job of holding up your flute, so when your arms tire, you’re just in pain everywhere, all because your hips are too tight, and guess what?  They’re part of the core!
So what to do?  I think by now we’ve established why you need a strong core to play.  When the body works well as a whole, you can play longer without compensating.  There are lots of good exercises to help with core strength.  My favorite exercise is the plank.

This can be progressed by lifting an arm or a leg, putting your feet on a bench or arms on a ball, or adding weight on your back, and can even be done on your side.  The goal is to keep your hips in line with your shoulders, so your body looks just like a plank; a board.  Even with the progressions: do not twist your hips or sag in the middle.  Hold for 30 seconds or longer, rest, and repeat.

Another of my favorite core exercises are 1) The Anti-Rotation Static Hold and its variation 2) Pallof Presses.  These are just fun, and it’s a great way to work your entire core without having to do a single crunch, or sit-up and if you have bad shoulders, these are an excellent choice without putting your shoulders into a compromising position.

To set up for both: 

Stand perpendicular to a cable station with a weight stack or a pole to which you’ve wrapped around a band.  Grasp the band or handle, pull it in front of you and then push it out in front of you, without twisting.  If you hold that position, that’s the static hold.  If you push it out and bring it back, those are Pallof Presses.  The goal with both of these is to avoid twisting (hence: anti-rotation) which you’ll feel all down the middle of your body. Make sure to choose a heavy enough weight so that the exercise is challenging.

This is a video of the Pallof Press:

http://youtu.be/JmcH0UsXRVw

If you hold the weight out without bringing it back, again, that is the Anti-Rotation Press.

If you are looking for a program of strength training that will train your core from every conceivable angle and get your entire body stronger in the process, I highly recommend a book called “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs” by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  I’ve done the whole program myself and not only was it fun, I saw my strength increase by leaps and bounds!  They actually have a brand new book out called the “The New Rules of Lifting For Life”.  I just got it today and intend to read through it soon, but the gyst of it is that it is geared for non 20-yr olds, more towards middle agers and people who want to learn how to program their own workouts.

If you would like more exercises and more information, I actually have a longer blog post I’ve written about it with videos here: http://fluteangel.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/3-exercises-1-for-core-strength-and-stability/

As always, I have spots available for long distance training where I can write you a program to strengthen your core, improve your endurance and help you learn to play without pain.  You can find me via my website: www.MusicStrong.com and I’m always around on Face book: www.facebook.com/MusicStrong.  Come by and say hello, or send me an email with your comments and questions to angela@musicstrong.com  I look forward to hearing from you!

This is my 7 year old son, Luca, who has been studying piano for three years. He LOVES playing piano.  Practicing?  Not so much.

A few days ago I learned about the Pomodoro Technique from Angela Beeching and Alexis Del Palazzo, and to them both I am eternally grateful.  I love the idea that this was designed by an Italian (who are not always known for being punctual).  I spent eight years living in Italy, with eight years of eating.  Eating and everything about food pretty much dominates much of Italian living, and I came to love kitchen timers that are in all shapes and sizes, in various fruits and vegetables, that keep the food churning out in every Italian home.  The Pomodoro Technique takes its name from one of those timers, in this case, ones that are shaped like tomatoes (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato).  So of course the Pomodoro Technique immediately appealed to me. Read the rest of this entry »

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