Thursday, February 22, 2018

The latest Expression Workbook video is up!

If you've been following along so far this year, I am slowly releasing instructional videos to supplement my Flutist's Expression Workbook. The latest is below, featuring the lovely Vocalise in G from G.J. Webb.

I'm also offering some (free) online group classes on Saturdays where we share challenges and ideas on teaching creatively in the studio, and experiment with various ways to utilize the Workbook in our endeavors. Join the Facebook group for updates on videos, group classes, and other freebies throughout the year!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Assigning flute repertoire to reinforce skill development

We are deep into pedagogical philosophy right now in our flute pedagogy course at UW, and I am always amazed to hear how arbitrary our teaching can seem to our students.  Well, here's my focus right up front, and I do believe in stating my process clearly to my students--no need to be mysterious! How do you decide what to assign (or what to play for yourselves), fair readers? Please share your ideas below!

Assigning flute repertoire to reinforce skill development
Nicole Riner
(Published in NFA’s A Flutist’s Handbook: Pedagogy Anthology Vol. 2 from 2012)

Taken as a whole, the flute literature is demanding of a wide range of skills, encompassing fundamentals like rhythms, technique, and control of sound as well as more sophisticated ideas about expression.  Naturally, the goal of playing at a high enough level to tackle the repertoire is what fuels our practice; we learn our scales to make technical passages more natural and practice long tones so that we will be ready to perform any dynamic level or range the composer demands of us.   The deciding factor in choosing what tone and technical exercises to practice may therefore be dictated by the needs of the solo to be performed.

But ideally, we are practicing those exercises every day no matter what immediate performance goal is before us.  At some point, the exercises become the end in themselves, as we are always assessing how to improve our (and our students’) skills.  Is it difficult to slur octaves gracefully without tightening your face?  Marcel Moyse published a great many exercises for that.  Are the fingers a little stiff and uncertain in technical passages?  Regimented daily scale work with the metronome is the cure.  In fact, for flutists who are pressed for time, those exercises may be the most important link to maintaining and improving flute-playing skills on hectic days. 

However, when the exercises comprise all of our practice time, we can forget how to apply the skills we are developing to the solo on the stand.  Many times I listen to a student play a beautiful rendition of De La Sonorite only to find an utterly less appealing sound at the beginning of the second movement of the Poulenc Sonata ten minutes later.  Students sometimes have difficulty applying the skills they are  developing to their literature because they do not readily see connections between the two.  But if we pair literature assignments with a warm-up routine, we as teachers can create a more holistic approach to the management of certain challenges on the flute. 

As I see it, there are two easy ways to bridge the gap between exercise and literature: we can extract sections of solos or orchestral excerpts and turn them into exercises, and we can assign solos and excerpts that require a clear transfer of skill from the exercises being practiced.  The tradition of extracting literature for exercise may have started with Moyse in his landmark book, Tone Development Through Interpretation, which takes excerpts from operas, symphonies, and chamber literature.  Trevor Wye follows suit in Practice Book for Flute, Volume 1: Tone; in “Low Register Exercises”, he excerpts solos from Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun, and the rarely performed gem, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.   Geoffrey Gilbert claimed difficult passages in the standard orchestral literature provided material for his Sequences.   After reviving my own practice of orchestral  literature several years ago, I found that certain skills improved because they were so taxed in the excerpts; I have chosen to incorporate some of those trickier excerpts into my daily warm-up routine ever since.  

Similarly, once a warm-up routine has been decided upon, assigning solo and chamber literature (and those all-important orchestral excerpts) helps students make the connection between what they are practicing and how to put those skills into practice on stage.  To see a double-tonguing exercise side by side with Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, makes application much clearer and more obvious.  In this way, repertoire assignments help to create a cumulative project in mastering whatever skill is being highlighted. 

Any number of pieces from our repertoire could be printed here; obviously, excellent skills in all areas are required to play anything well.  I have also added my favorites from our exercise books, but again, there are many other possibilities not listed here.  My suggestions listed below serve merely as a stepping off point for rethinking the way literature is assigned and the clarity of purpose we communicate to our students in their lessons.  

Repertoire assignments as cumulative project
To highlight loud low register playing and  articulations:
Exercises: Edmund-Davies 28-Day Warm-Up Book, articulation #5; Marcel Moyse De La Sonorite low register exercise starting on p. 10
Solo literature: CPE Bach D minor Concerto (1st movement), Gubaidulina Sounds of the Forest, Marais Folies d’Espagne, Muczynski Sonata (1st and 2nd movements), Piston Sonata (1st movement), Prokofiev Sonata, Rouse Concerto
Chamber music: Harbison Quintet, Hindemith Quintet, Nielsen Quintet
Orchestral excerpts: Ravel Bolero, Strauss Salome’s Dance solo, opening of Stravinsky Firebird Suite

To demand clear articulations and exercise double-tonguing:
Exercises: Edmund-Davies 28-Day Warm-Up Book, articulation #1 & #7; Salvo 243 Double- and Triple-Tonguing Exercises
Solo literature: Enesco Cantabile et Presto (‘presto’ section), Ibert Concerto (1st and 3rd movements), Messiaen La Merle Noir, Nielsen Concerto, Poulenc Sonata (1st movement), Saint-Saens Air de Ballet, Taktakashvili Sonata (3rd movement)
Chamber music: Cimarosa G Major Concerto for two flutes (1st movement), Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 (especially last page)
Orchestral excerpts: Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rossini William Tell Overture, Saint-Säens ‘Voliere’ from Carnival of the Animals

For rhythmical accuracy, complexity of rhythms/pulse:
Exercises: Starer Rhythmic Training; Kujala Articulate Flutist: Rhythms, Groupings, Turns and Trills, rhythm exercises
Solo literature: Beaser Variations (variations 1, 3, 8), Berio Sequenza, Feld Sonata (3rd movement), Francaix Sonata (2nd movement), Martinu Sonata (2nd movement), Roussel Joueurs de flute—Krishna, Varese Density 21.5
Chamber music: Barber Capricorn Concerto and Summer Music, Higdon Steely Pause for four flutes, Hindemith Canonic Duet (2nd and 3rd movements), Muczynski Duos (2nd movement)
Orchestral excerpts: Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Stravinsky Petrouchka opening

To exercise quiet high register playing:
Exercises: Moyse De La Sonorite “Attack and Slurring of Notes” starting on page 15; Marcel Moyse Tone Development Through Interpretation exercises A1, B1, and C1
Solo literature: CPE Bach A minor Sonata (1st movement), Copland Duo (2nd movement), any Debussy transcriptions, Gaubert Second Sonata (2nd movement),  Hindemith Sonata (2nd movement),  Poulenc Sonata (2nd movement),  Reinecke “Undine” Sonata (end of 1st ad 4th  movements)
Chamber music: Jolivet Sonatine for flute and clarinet (1st movement), Poulenc Sextour (2nd movement)
Orchestral excerpts: Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, Prokofiev Classical Symphony (movement 2)

To reinforce scales and chords:
Exercises: Moyse Exercises Journaliers, ‘A’ exercises (for linear scales); Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises, #1, 5, 7-13 (for scale fragments and chords)
Solo literature: JS Bach sonatas, Borne Carmen Fantasy, Demersseman Solo De Concert No.  6 (Italian Concerto), Mercadente Concerto in E minor, Mozart concerti, Schubert Introduction and Variations, Vivaldi concerti
Chamber music: Mozart flute quartets, Beethoven Serenade for flute, violin, and viola, Reicha wind quintets
Orchestral excerpts: Beethoven Symphony No. 3, Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf excerpts

For embouchure flexibility
Exercises: Edmund-Davies 28-Day Warm-Up Book, intervals exercises; Marcel Moyse How I Stayed in Shape, Tone Development Through Interpretation exercises E1-5
Solo literature: Boehm Grand Polonaise, Colquhoun Charanga, Demersseman Carnival of Venice variations, Karg-Elert Sonata Appassionata
Chamber music: Bozza Trois Pieces, Doppler L’oiseau des bois, Villa Lobos Choro No. 2
Orchestral excerpts: Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis movement 3 solo, Rossini William Tell Overture solo, Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Stravinsky Chant du Rossignol opening and Firebird Suite (variation)

For better breath control:
Exercises: Moyse De La Sonorite low register exercises starting on p. 10; Wye Practice Book for Flute Volume 5: Breathing & Scales (breathing exercises)
Solo literature: JS Bach Partita in A minor (especially 1st and 2nd movements), Burton Sonatina (1st movement), Higdon Rapid Fire, Pierne Sonata for violin or piano, (Clara) Schumann Three Romances
Chamber music: Carter Esprit Rude/ Esprit Doux, Villa Lobos Assobio a Jato
Orchestral excerpts: JS Bach ‘Aus Liebe’ from St. Matthew Passion, Beethoven Leonore No. 3 Overture opening and Symphony No. 4 (movement 2), Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Gluck Menuet and Dance from the Blessed Spirits, Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream

To practice making color changes:
Exercises: Wye Practice Book for Flute, Volume 1: Tone
Solo literature: Debussy Syrinx, Griffes Poem, Faure Violin Sonata in A Major (1st 2nd, and 4th movements), Ferroud Trois Pieces, Gieseking Sonatine (1st movement), Martin Ballade, Widor Suite
Chamber music: Beaser Mountain Songs, Heiss Five Pieces for flute and cello, Schickele Summer Music

For overall physical endurance:
Exercise:  Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises, #4
Solo literature: Franck Violin Sonata , Higdon Rapid Fire, Jolivet Chant de Linos, Khachaturian Concerto, Liebermann Sonata, Ran East Wind, Reinecke Concerto, Schubert Arpeggione Sonata
Orchestral excerpts: Dvorak Symphony No. 8, Ravel Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, Stravinsky Petrouchka,

©Nicole Riner 2012.  All rights reserved. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Introducing: supplemental videos and labs for A Flutist's Expression Workbook

I released my self-published  A Flutist's Expression Workbook this past August and have been humbled by its early reviews and positive feedback from teachers who are currently using it in their studios.

I consider the Workbook to be a living document, one that only gets better with collaboration and feedback. To this end, I'm announcing two supplements to the original text:

Demonstration videos, to be released monthly on YouTube throughout the spring term, will feature me speaking about and performing select vocalises with my published expressive markings.

Workbook Labs, in which users can log on to Skype and participate in a group Q & A with me and each other regarding pedagogical applications, challenges, and anything else related to our specific teaching environments.

To participate in this online pedagogical community, purchase the book here. 

If you'd like to receive updates on the latest videos, subscribe to my YouTube channel
if you have purchased the workbook, you can choose to receive email notifications, as well. The first video is currently available, below.

If you have already purchased the workbook and would like to participate in our first Workbook Lab on February 3 at 9am MST, contact me here and say "I'm in!" We'll be discussing the challenges we have getting our students to develop their own expression, ways in which the Workbook can help, and other materials you'd like to see in a second edition.
I am so excited to embark upon this project and reach across the miles to connect with other flute teachers about the crucial topic of teaching musicianship to young flutists, and I hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Great advice from around the web

I have been so gratified to read excellent blogs written by flutists (and the occasional non-flutist) from all over the country sharing their valuable insights, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you. Some are clearly timely as we brace ourselves for the start of audition season, but I think any of these can inspire you to learn a new skill or develop a new project as part of your new year's resolutions.  Read on, and happy 2018!

Demystifying the audition process, by woodwinds professor at Delta State University Bret Pimentel:

What I listen for in scholarship auditions

A lovingly written meditation on being compassionate with yourself by Nashville flutist Jessica Dunnavant:

Surviving Your Life as a Musician

Chicago hornist Kelly Langenberg gives gentle but firm advice on how to be a good colleague:


A comprehensive guide to kicking off your new career as an electro-acoustic performer by flute guru Lindsey Goodman:

The Flutist’s Electroacoustic Primer

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Creating an artist retreat in your own home

Several years ago, my chamber ensemble was selected for a residency at Brush Creek Arts. Our plan was to finally hunker down to select and learn the music for our album.  I knew that being in the same place together for two uninterrupted weeks would make this task much easier than in real life, but I could not have anticipated just how much more productive, and satisfied, I would be as an individual through this process.  It sounded silly to me to say even back then, but I was shocked by how much I got done. 

For those of you who haven't experienced an artist residency (highly recommend), at Brush Creek, we were given free housing and three square meals a day along with appropriate work spaces, and then we were just left to our own devices to do what we wanted to do.  My typical day looked something like this:


  • exercise (I could go to the state-of-the-art workout facilities or, my choice most days, go on a run or hike on one of the amazing trails in the woods surrounding our cabins)
  • breakfast on my own
  • individual practice time: 2-3 hours with short breaks
  • rehearse a new duo with the saxophonist in my trio: 1 hour
  • lunch
  • trio rehearsal (3 hours, broken up with a break or two)
  • go on a long walk with the pianist in my trio and usually a visual artist or two
  • dinner
  • hike up a steep hill to the main cabin, the only place with WiFi, to check email and call home
  • drink wine and talk about the future
  • sleep like a log
Seriously, this was my schedule for two whole weeks.  It was ridiculously luxurious.  The food just magically appeared in the kitchen for us to eat when we wanted. That's something I can't very easily recreate at home.  I live 2 hours away from my other trio members, so it's harder to get together without a lot of advanced planning. But honestly, everything that was most important to my success those two weeks I can recreate, and I continually struggle to keep this in mind. Because what I got from Brush Creek, first and foremost, was the imposition of focus and discipline.  I wasn't checking my email while doing one-handed long tones, or watching the news with the subtitles on while I played scales. I could write on my computer (and I did--8 album or music reviews in 2 weeks!), but without WiFi, I couldn't keep checking Facebook or messing around on Pinterest. And so I was not only working for longer periods of time, I was much more present in every task I completed. I became accustomed to completing tasks in silence instead of having Pandora cranked in the background, and when I took a break from practicing, it really was just a couple of minutes of stretching while still thinking about what I was going to work on next, rather than unraveling a complicated series of emails that all needed "immediate attention" and kept opening the next can of worms to address, and the next and the next. 

When I returned from Brush Creek, these solitary, single-focus habits were easy to maintain for a while--it was June, and I had nowhere to be but home. But as school resumed in the fall, I lost some discipline, and however many years on (?), I have become the stereotype of the keyboard-clicking, smart phone-checking, totally distracted conversationalist I hate being around.  The other day, I honestly got through all of my tone exercise while writing donor letters in my head, and I was totally shocked to land on fourth register D (the end of my exercise) without having any idea how I got there. That was a total waste of my time, and I might as well have put my flute down and just made a to-do list instead.  So, as I settle into this deliciously long winter break and think ahead to new habits I want to create for 2018, I'm resolving to recreate as much of my Brush Creek residency as I can. Here's what I'm going to do:

  • Structure my schedule more specifically; block off practice times rather than squeezing it in between appointments; similarly schedule "office work" (business emails, grant applications, etc.)
  • When practicing, laptop is closed and phone is put away and switched to "silent"
  • Short practice breaks every 45 minutes: no electronics! I can water plants, stretch, look out the window, pet my cats...that's it. 
  • Social media diet: Instagram for entertainment once/day (I love looking at the cat memes and National Geographic photos during my post-breakfast cup of coffee; Facebook news feed once/week (yes. I will do this); Pinterest Saturday afternoon only. 
  • When I have to work on the computer and it involves some promotion on Facebook, I'm now using this app to hide my newsfeed so I don't get sucked in.
  • Closing tabs whenever I can and not opening any for distraction/entertainment until a task is completed (even when grading Intro to Music, my most squirm-inducing computer task)
  • Getting outside for fresh air every day to clear my head

How would you structure your day to be saner, happier, and more productive?