Thursday, June 21, 2018

Are your practice habits healthy?

I'm so excited for our upcoming Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive this weekend, and am in the throes of updating material for our workshops. We start every day with a not-rushed stretching session, some breathing exercises, and then warm-ups played as a group.  Not only does this bring a group of strangers together quickly, I hope it will also serve as a basis for healthy, well-rounded practice after participants leave. Here are some favorites from last year's sessions:

Breathing Exercises (which is heavily inspired by Breathing Gym)

Explore the Spaces: Isolate the different chambers you can fill with air—lower abdomen, chest, back/sides. Place one hand on your abdomen, the other on your chest, and work to push out each hand (meaning you are filling up) as much as possible.  Try this sequence: fill up for four beats each in 1. Lower abs 2. Back/sides 3. Chest. Add one beat of “slurp” breath to see how much more you can pack in, then exhale steadily. Experiment with shorter inhalation times and longer exhalation times as you develop this exercise. 
Suck-n-Pop: Resistance training for your abs! Create extreme resistance through suction by placing the back of the hand against your mouth, in the way of proper inhalation. Then quickly remove the hand, creating a “pop” sound and allowing for a quick, deep inhale.  Then exhale smoothly.  Experiment with shorter inhalation times and longer exhalation times as you develop this exercise.  (from Breathing Gym)
Time is Running Out: Breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts.  Repeat once.  Breathe in for 3 counts and out for 3 counts.  Repeat once.  Breathe in for 2 counts and out for 2 counts.  Repeat once. Breathe in for 1 count and out for 1 count.  Repeat the 1-to-1 pattern as comfort allows. Quarter note = 60-88.

And although what we do is a bit more involved, this Mayo Clinic slide show has some pretty great stretches that you can easily personalize with your own variations to target specific points of tension! So here's to a summer of healthy practicing... 😊

Thursday, June 7, 2018

An Introduction to Career Coaching

What is Career Coaching, anyway?

Career Coaching has been around for decades in the business world, and it's finally starting to gain a foothold among creatives in this hyper-competitive market. And it's about time! Just as musicians spend thousands of hours in private lessons over the years to become better on their instruments, people across many career fields invest in career coaching, which may take the form of individualized counseling, group classes, specialized conferences, or a combination of all three, to hone their business skills and advance in their careers. Career coaches give advice on their topic of expertise with counseling techniques that support their clients in making complex career decisions and facing difficult challenges.

In the past, such practical advice might have been doled out sparingly in private lessons just before applying to graduate schools or taking orchestra auditions, but this advice was often limited in scope and depth. In our current, hyper-competitive musical climate, we are now seeing the emergence of a new, music-specific career coach.

I started Nicole Riner Career Coaching for Musicians in March of 2018 out of a desire to provide affordable, timely advice to help musicians take the next step in creating their unique portfolio careers. It stemmed from my experience working in academia, orchestras and recording studios; developing and promoting a private studio; founding and managing a chamber group and booking national concert tours; performing internationally as a soloist and chamber musician with corporate sponsorship; and leading non-profit groups in the arts, all just to survive in this business! (And along the way I realized this kind of flexibility was exactly what I wanted most in my life.) After doling out advice on the side for years to friends, friends of friends, and students, I realized there is still a need for more artists acting as official guides in our field.


Top 10 ways you can benefit from career coaching

  • Finding passion and purpose: who are you going to be?
  • Introduction to financial planning: how to get yourself ready to quit your day job
  • Creating your personal brand
  • Fight your fear: overcoming performance anxiety, shyness, and hushing your inner critic
  • Grant writing for the uninitiated
  • Painless networking strategies
  • Time management strategies
  • Getting started: promoting your group and booking tours
  • Developing a winning job application
  • Practicing your killer interview skills (mock interview experience)

(Psst, if this blogpost spoke to you, you can Claim your free 45-minute coaching session here and/or sign up for my free newsletter here to see what career coaching is all about!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Make this your summer of piccolo!

Looking for a summer project to keep you motivated over the next few months? Might I suggest piccolo?  This oft-unloved tiny flute has a sweet sound and some awesome repertoire (more all the time!), and I truly believe that it's only due to lack of instruction and practice time that it strikes fear in the hearts of so many. If you learn it in a hurry because your band director shoves it at you, you're starting out behind and will constantly be in a position of jury trying to survive each rehearsal. So, get a great book, snuggle up with some inspiring recordings, visit my friend Dr. Christine Beard's amazing piccolo website, and get to work!

Here are some tips I share every year with my Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive participants in our optional :Learning to Love Piccolo" workshop!:

1. Play a little bit higher on the lip (especially if you have no lip plate).

The blow hole is smaller, so it stands to reason that your normal flute-playing position will have you covering too much of it with your bottom lip. Experiment by placing the headjoint on your bottom lip, rather than under it, in different positions until you feel that you have control over all registers without making big adjustments.

2. Learn your pitch tendencies.

Get out the tuner and play every single note individually. What does the tuner tell you—how many cents flat or sharp are you? Write it down, as well as taking notes on what you have ot do to eventually get each note in tune (change vowel shape, air directions, etc.)

3. Practice all the same tone you do on flute, from D1-B3.

Long tones, harmonics, “diamonds”, and everything else you do on flute are equally valuable on piccolo.

4. Get used to practicing with ear plugs.

Piccolo really does cause nerve damage when played in the upper register. If you hate the muffled sound of cheap foam ear plugs, you can invest in more expensive, equally attenuating plugs like Earasers, Ear Peace, or MusicSafe by Alpine. Or you can learn to translate the sound you’re hearing with the foam plugs from the drugstore. All will protect your ears and should be worn every time you play.

5. Learn alternate fingerings.

The piccolo tends to get flatter, not sharper, in the third register, so for some instruments, alternate fingerings are the best way to control pitch and volume. This fingering chart from John Krell's notes is a great start.

6. Buy a good instrument.

Not all piccolos are created equally, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive one in the store. Like flute, stick with trusted brands from trustworthy merchants: Burkhart, Emerson, Pearl, Powell, Yamaha are good to try. A wood or plastic piccolo without a lip plate will be easier to blend in a concert band situation, while hybrids like Yamaha’s YPC-32, which has a plastic body and metal head joint with a lip plate, will work equally well in marching band and concert band. Always try before you buy!

7. Know your place.

The piccolo is not a shrinking violet, and you can’t be, either! Play in tune, with a beautiful sound, and know that you are serving as a special color in the ensemble. If you try to hide by playing ppp, you’ll only be flat, airy, and paranoid. Love your piccolo and know it well, and you will be rewarded.

8. Reward yourself with a great solo! (These are appropriate for junior high through high school)

I (easiest)
Barone Learning the Piccolo (Little Piper)
Trott Bird Fanciers Delight (Alry)

Laufer Scars and Scrapes (Laufer Jazzical)
Michal Four Dances (Alry)
Tchiakovsky/Kennedy March Miniature (Alry)

III (hardest)
Jacob March to the River Weser from The Pied Piper (Oxford)
Liebermann Concerto (Theodor Presser)
Persichetti Parable (Elkan Vogel)
Vivaldi Concerto in C Major, P. 79 and Concerto in A minor, P. 83 (International)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Join me at Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive this June!



Noon: Check in and registration begins
1pm: Welcome, Establishing a Breathing and Stretching Routine
2pm: Building a Better Tone 3pm: Conquering Performance Anxiety 4pm: Flute choir sight-reading
5:30pm: Dinner
7:30pm: Faculty Recital


8am: Breakfast
9am: Stretches/breathing/tone
10:30pm: Option: Piccolo Basics OR supervised practice 
12pm: Lunch
1:30: How to Practice
2pm: Articulation Class
3pm: Master Class
5:30pm: Dinner
7pm: Open Mic Night: everyone plays!


8am: Breakfast
9am: Stretches/breathing/tone
10:30pm: Supervised practice
12pm: Lunch
1pm: Summer Music Camp registration opens

Register here through May 30, or contact me with questions.  I hope to see you this summer in beautiful Laramie, Wyoming! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Springtime means sexism in the band room! (it's doesn't have to, though...)

Now is the time when young, hopeful future musicians are trying out wind instruments in the public schools and signing up for what they'll start playing in band this summer, and it seems apt that I should share my doctoral research about how we guide those young students towards the right instruments. Mercifully, we as a society are becoming more flexible about gender stereotypes, even since this research in the early 00s, but it's not time to relax our mindfulness yet!...I think you can still order this labor of love through inter-library loan from my good old alma mater, Indiana University, or contact me for a copy...

The Girls in the Band: Women’s Perspectives on Gender Stereotyping in the Music Classroom
Nicole Riner, 2004

Introduction.  Since the early 1970s with the advent of Title IX, gender bias has been explored, applied to various academic subjects, and equality advocates have installed programs to eradicate gender bias from curricula.  In the area of social sciences, this technique has been applied with varying levels of success.  The world of classical and academic music seems to have largely missed out on this process from the 1970s and 1980s, and it wasn’t until scholars like Susan McClary and Marcia Citron in the mid-1990s that a similar discussion began on college campuses.  These discussions generally involved surveying the bulk of famous classical composers (white, hetero, male) and famous performers (the same, unless in “feminized” areas like woodwinds or voice) and pointing out missing demographics (women, minorities...)

Independent of this activity and occurring largely in obscurity to the rest of the academic music world, studies were being developed by music educators to explore this phenomenon from a different angle.  High levels of gender segregation were demonstrable in most band programs in the country: why do male and female children tend to play different instruments in their public school band programs?  Do they choose these instruments for themselves, or are they chosen for them?  

Conclusions and Suggestions for Addressing Gender Stereotypes in the Bandroom

Seek role models of both genders on all instruments.
            Studies (Tarnowski 1993, O’Neill and Boulton 1996, Sinsel 1997) show that children of both genders choose from a wider variety of instruments when they see both men and women playing those instruments.  When Susan Tarnowski used equal numbers of men and women modeling band instruments to small children, those children rated all instruments as “gender neutral” rather than identifying them with one gender or the other.

Allow students to choose instruments whenever practical.
            Obviously, physical limitations come into play; some students, both male and female, are too small to play the trombone, for instance.  The flute also requires more air than some children can produce.  But there is no reason why children of either gender should be excluded from certain instruments if they are physically capable of handling them.

Encourage students equally and make equally strenuous demands.
            Green and Hanley (1993 & 1997) found that teachers often inadvertently expect different things from their male and female students, assuming that boys are “naturally more talented” or that girls are “more diligent workers”.  Be aware of these possible assumptions and be sure you are dealing with each student’s personality on an individual and realistic basis. 

Learn music outside of the canon: women, minorities, other cultures.
            Play music from other places and written by “other” people. The more diversity we can introduce into the curriculum, the more diversity we may be able to reflect in the classroom.  This has the added benefit of satisfying “world culture” and other multiethnic requirements in general school curricula.

Avoid gender-specific language in addressing students.
            Encourage an atmosphere of cooperation by not pitting male and female students against each other for the sake of competition or using gender-specific language in chastising groups of students.  This will keep them focused on individual, rather than stereotyped, relationships amongst students.

Collaborate with other teachers tackling gender issues in the classroom.

            Gender equity has been a strong part of English, social studies, and other social science curricula for decades.  Put on an operetta or musical with the theater department that has feminist or civil rights undertones.  Stage a poetry reading with incidental music or an open mike café at the school after hours in which social issues can be addressed in an unstructured atmosphere.  This has the added benefit of integrating music more fully into the genera curriculum, which is a constant struggle we face in defending our positions in the public schools.  

Nicole Riner ©2016