Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Avoiding burnout this holiday season

Happy Gigmas, everyone! December is blessedly busy for musicians; I say "blessedly" because we need the cash.  And we all know that this full calendar is temporary, so we tend to say "yes" to every extra holiday gig that comes our way in order to make up for January's blight.

But that can make us super crazy by the time New Year's rolls around. 

The need to gig is real, so I'm not going to preach (too much) the virtues of taking time off, meditating for 30 minutes a day, and other things we can't afford to do.  But I do have some suggestions to get through December...

1. Start every day with structure.

The busier you are, the harder it is to maintain a feeling of control. But control eases anxiety, so you want to keep proving to yourself every day that you've got some.

If you open emails, texts and social media first thing in the morning, you've opened up your life to everyone else's energy and opinions. Once this happens your own mission and focus become diffused.

Start with a morning ritual that works for you and is easy to accomplish. For instance, if you like to meditate, read or work out in the morning, have everything you need ready the night before. And remember, your morning routine is not someone else's. Do what's right for you.

I always find it is helpful to set an intention for your day. If you crave a morning warm-up routine (I do), schedule it into your day and insist upon it. If you need to get up earlier in the morning, or skip some non-essential task (that's a personal decision), do it.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness references morning routines to avoid burnout and support productivity. "When first starting the day, it's important to avoid 'decision fatigue' by having a set morning routine."

2. Focus your thoughts

What you focus on grows. So, if your focus is on everything that is not working, you can expect those things to expand in your life and stress you out. Focus on what is working, then reboot the places that need attention. Similarly, if you spend all of your time focusing on how tired you are, how many more Nutcracker performances you have to get through, etc...well, you know.

I find it helpful to write down what I want to accomplish by the week. This allows clarity and keeps me from having to remember everything. It also keeps me from focusing solely on the (sometimes negative) minutiae of getting through each busy day, so that I'm not neglecting longer-term projects I need to accomplish (like updating syllabi for my adjunct teaching, etc.) And the bonus is that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

3. Stay out of the how

How is an exhausting word for most people. When you ask how, you'll feel a rush of anxiety going through your system that sets you off in many different scenarios and opens loops. For instance, "how am I going to get this all done?" is quite a daunting question.This is a recipe for burnout.

Instead of how, ask yourself, what needs to happen next? This puts your brain in solution mode. Make a list, and then prioritize. Where there is a problem, there is a solution.

Asking questions around next required actions will keep your brain focused on a solution map rather than spinning worry, which creates burnout.

4. Remember the 2/3 rule

Is it too late in the season to say this? There are three general gains you can make by saying yes to a gig: music, people, and money.  To elaborate, the music might be so inspiring that you just have to say yes. The people might either be really great to work with or really great for making connections in order to network in the community--you decide what's important to you there. And the money...I don't need to explain that, do I? So, if 2 of the 3 categories are fulfilled, you can probably rest assured you'll be glad you did the gig. You can decide to do a gig for just one of those categories, and people often do, but know that it's your choice to make. And if the calendar's filling up, it might be wise to insist on 2/3.

5. Avoid comparison and judging.

Somehow, even when w're at our busiest, we manage to covet others' work, perceived prestige, accomplishments, etc. Seeing other freelancers more during this season can dredge up all those competitive feelings, along with the unwelcome humble brags. But when we compare ourselves to other musicians, we'll likely do one of two things: think negative thoughts about them or think negative thoughts about ourselves. This creates a boomerang of low vibe energy and throws emotions into a downward spiral.

Two thoughts here: the grass always seems greener, but that other musician you envy may feel like she's drowning right now. She may even envy you! And focusing on your fantasies of inadequacy are not helping you get though the here and now: "negative self talk is the No. 1 barrier to success."

You can avoid deprecating self talk by lifting others up. Be excited for those doing well. You're building a career in a system that thrives on all musicians doing well.

Once you understand there's a never-ending amount of support and creativity, you'll feel inspired by those who do well and drop the competition.

In the long term, you may find burnout creeping in for reasons other than the PTSD "Sleigh Ride" is causing you (like, "what am I doing with my life ?" sort of stuff). If that's the case, I encourage you to read these two excellent blogs by Clarinet Jenny and Dr. Jessica Quinones, International Flautist.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tips for college audition season

Applications to study here at UW are flying in right now, and I know that some of these unfamiliar names in the database are about to become members of the Wyoming flute family. It is so surreal to me! We will go from being awkward strangers (yes, I feel awkward at these auditions, too) to developing lifelong relationships in the span of two, four, or maybe five years. Isn't that crazy? 

Students have a lot of decisions to make, as do their prospective teachers: is this a good fit musically, personally, professionally? I have written some posts in the past about this and don't really have anything new to add just yet, but thought I would share them again in hopes that something here may be of some comfort as students make the Big Decision in the coming months. 

Good luck to everyone this audition season!

What can you do with a music degree?

Choosing the right college for you

And if you think University of Wyoming might be a good fit for you, read more about the program here. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Basics for sonic control

There are many ways to describe how to play the flute, but there are some core principals which must be maintained in any description. Whenever I travel around the country giving master classes (as I have recently done) or begin working with prospective students in their auditions at UW (and it's definitely that season), I am reminded of how confused these basics can become in eager young students' minds. And so, for what it's worth, here are my simplest descriptions, meant to be varied and elaborated to suit each individual student's needs:

Resonant space: At all times, you can remain open and relaxed in these areas: chest, throat, jaw, tongue (down and relaxed when slurring, only raising the tip for articulation).

Air flow: Avoid holding tension in the abs or other areas of the torso and back so that you can "fill the container" completely upon inhalation. Imagine your entire torso and back and a large container with stretchy walls when you fill up, then hold those container walls firm (but not tense) as you evenly disperse air.

Embouchure: If air is flowing generously and your resonant space is open (see above), your only other job is to gently guide the air stream with the lips, or embouchure. Playing the flute should be like speaking--we do not hold a rigid, fixed position with the embouchure, but maintain flexible, movable lips for maximum efficiency of aim on the headjoint. 

The rest is air direction, and this can be practiced on the brilliant Pneumo-Pro, found here, or simply by blowing up and down on the hand in a straight line, from wrist to finger tips. When you are blowing towards the top of your hand, or trying to hit the top fan on the Pneumo-Pro, your bottom jaw pushes forward, which aims the lips forward and more across the hole. You can also think of the syllable "ooo". Conversely, as you work your way downward, to your wrist or the bottom fan on the Pneumo-Pro, your bottom jaw drops down and back, causing you to aim more air down into the headjoint. You can think of saying the syllable "aw".

By blowing higher ("ooo", or lips/jaw forward), you can accomplish the following:

  • playing higher notes in the range
  • playing quietly
  • raising pitch

By blowing lower ("aw", lips/jaw pointing down), you can accomplish the following:

  • playing lower notes in the range
  • playing loudly
  • lowering pitch
For some ideas on developing a well-rounded tone workout, read my previous blog posts, 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Find me in Tennessee and Kentucky in November!

I'm about to hit the road for some appearances in the Mid-South area, and I'd love to get a chance to meet some of you in the process!  Check out my schedule below or email me at nicole [dot] riner [at] gmail [dot] com for information on how to get there, scheduling a lesson or audition for the UWYO flute studio, or just to say hello!

Thursday, November 7: I'll be at Tennessee Technological University to teach a master class AND give my presentation, "Becoming a Practice Wizard" for all music students. Lessons are also being squeezed into the middle of the day, so drop me a line if you'd like to add yourself to the schedule.

Friday, November 8: Western Kentucky University is having me out to teach a master class at 11:30am.  Lesson spots are open in the afternoon.

Saturday, November 9: Yes, that is my enormous head on the poster for Morehead State University's Flute Day, where I'll be giving a recital (11am) and a master class (3pm) featuring performances by MSU students.  The whole day looks like loads of fun and a great way to spend a Saturday if you're in the area!

My mini-tour is generously sponsored by Altus Flutes and the Department of Music at University of Wyoming.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The rules will only get you so far.

Image result for flutist from behind on the beach

The great thing (for me, at least) about maintaining a non-monetized blog is that I can write whatever I want. Normally, I tend towards providing resources and instruction here, but today I'm just going to blather. Because I can.  But also because I think it's a really critical topic that we too often neglect in classical music. 

When we first begin to play the flute (or any instrument), we are learning rules. That's fine--it's complicated enough just developing the body awareness required to coordinate yourself on the instrument, and with no experience comes no wisdom when a note doesn't speak, etc. So, we have our little rules--put your headjoint exactly here on your face, place your right thumb in this one spot I have marked off with tape, place your feet like so--and we strive for consistency and mastery. But any experienced musician will tell you that these rules are imperfect--what if you have a teardrop shape in your upper lip, a very bendy thumb, etc.--and will require some adjustment for each student depending on the particular body holding the instrument. Teachers present these adjustments as clarifications of the rules, and the students don't know that nuance is already being introduced into the system. They just follow the rules and keep going.

I very rarely work with beginners or middle school students anymore, but I think this is a fine system for them, provided the teacher can be relied upon to adjust the "rules" effectively for each student. It takes years to just find yourself on the instrument.

I generally enter people's lives when they are in high school, college, or graduate school. And at all of these levels, I am often the one to introduce them to the next phase of their education: artistry. This is the phase in which a student has accrued enough information and experience to start making some of these decisions about nuance for themselves. A student in this phase recognizes that the rules only work until they don't, and when the desired results are not achieved, it becomes necessary to creatively combine skills and tweak that set of rules until the desired effect is achieved. It's moving beyond merely following rules to think critically and apply information to the situation at hand.

It is with heartbreaking regularity that I encounter students who are not being encouraged to move past the rule phase of their education. Here's a very simple case in point: we have THREE different fingerings for B-flat. But when students come to me as freshmen in college, they have often been taught only one of those fingerings (the most clunky, of course!). Some of them have been actively discouraged from using either of the other two (thumb and lever), others have just never learned about them, nor have they bothered to discover them on their own. So, I make it my mission to get everyone proficient on each of the three fingerings by the end of their first semester, and we talk about what it means to have three fingerings for this note: it means that you have choices. Some students take to this information and make it their own quickly, but others will continue to use the beginning band fingering for years, producing involuntary grace notes or, in the case of piccolo, poor pitch as a result.  And I will point out to them that perhaps they are not using the most efficient fingering each time, and they will be surprised and say "oh, yeah!". Because they have this deeply ingrained rule in their heads that they can only use "long" B-flat, so they aren't even open to the possibility of creative problem solving when it comes to that or any other fingering. It's a real time-waster, in my opinion.

But using a fingering that takes you longer to wood shed into submission is not the end of the world. It's a little unintelligent, but you'll eventually get there either way if you persist. What is more troubling is the way students are being allowed to remain in the rule-bound world with everything they do as musicians. No dynamic change written in the music, even though it is clear (to a musician, anyway) that this repeated phrase should either get louder or softer? Nope, it doesn't say to do that on the page, so I will just play it like a robot! You can imagine (and probably have heard) such an approach when applied to the Barenreiter edition of a Bach Sonata. And then there are the things which will never be written into the "rules" on the page-- where each phrase is going and how they relate to each other, what depth and speed of vibrato will sound most appropriate on any given note in a phrase in relation to its musical function, etc. When a musician sticks to "just the facts, ma'am", the resultant performance is a real snooze fest, and I would venture to say may not even qualify as "music" per se, but is rather a demonstration of typing and obedience regarding the notes and rhythms printed on the page.

Never before has our profession seen so many physically capable technicians; when I judge young (generally this means under 30) flutists in competitions, I am pleased to hear such incredibly clean technique and, often, the ability to produce one very clear, resonant tone consistently throughout the entire range of the instrument. It should be said that instruments have become easier to play, as well; technology has improved vastly since even the 1990s. But what I often do not hear is any music being made, original assertions about the purpose of these organized sounds, a story to tell, etc. While technical mastery is better than ever before, I fear that artistic creativity is becoming endangered as a goal.

Ironically, basic, "rules"-y kinds of things suffer, as well. I will coach duos in which the flutist is clearly not making any decisions about how to balance herself to the piano or acknowledging who has the melody (spoiler: occasionally it's the piano). Pitch is not always great, and when I mention it my comment is often countered with "that's a hard note on my flute" or some such idea which clearly reveals the performer is allowing the instrument to make all the decisions. If you think of the flute as a machine, then you are the engineer. Even an engineer must gather up all of her knowledge which she has absorbed, experimented with, and made her own, and creatively apply it appropriately in each situation.

What I have always loved about being a musician is that, beyond all of the training and discipline I have spent the majority of my life attaining, I get to make the rules. I may be playing someone else's notes, but I (in an intelligent, informed way which is respectful of the composer) am turning those splotches of ink into a musical story, sonic art. What I am witnessing lately is a whole of students who don't seem aware of this next step in their artistic development, and some teachers who are far too comfortable lingering in the black-and-white world of rules to venture into the gray matter.

What can we do about it? Students must listen, and care deeply about every aspect of the sounds they are making. A painter doesn't say "I don't care, just give me whatever paint colors you have laying around", and a musician can't disengage from the resultant sound they create while they are occupied by placing their feet in the correct shape on the floor or obsessing over how close they are to the metronome marking their editor provided. They should record themselves in different sections of the music, their tone exercises, their scales--everything!--and listen back critically. They can also train themselves to hear these nuances in others' playing, through good, professional recordings and critical listening to live performances regularly.

Teachers must dive into the less objective stuff that turns sounds into compelling music, and know that they don't have to provide all of the answers. In fact, they can't! Ask students questions about what they think the music is about, where they think the peak of a phrase resides, etc., and don't feed them your answer after five seconds of silence. If you haven't been asking these questions in lessons, your students are not going to like it at first, but they'll learn. We must experiment with language and be willing to say things imperfectly as we struggle to get in between the cracks of the right notes, right rhythms, etc. It's messy, but that's art.

I remember a lesson in graduate school many years ago. I was playing a phrase correctly, but wasn't engaging with the obvious fact that the harmonies in the piano part had changed drastically and I needed to reflect this in my sound, as well. My teacher said, "I don't know how to say this...can you put more red in the sound?" It was a thrilling experience for me. I didn't know what he wanted, and no one had ever asked it of me, but I loved the challenge of trying to figure it out (and it certainly was an evocative image to work with). When I tried it again, he clapped and laughed happily--"That's it!" But if that hadn't been it, I know that he would have persisted until he helped me craft my artistic statement. We need more of this.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Graduate Teaching Assistantships available at UWYO!

Department of Music
     Dept. 3037
     1000 East University Avenue
     Laramie, WY  82071
     (307) 766-5242 / (307) 766-5326 fax
Graduate Teaching Assistantship

A full Graduate Teaching Assistantship includes a full tuition waiver, stipend of $12,330
and available health benefits. Half assistantships are also available. 

Assistantship duties may be awarded in the areas listed below. 
Students who are qualified in any of the below mentioned areas are strongly encouraged
to apply.  Qualified students may have the opportunity to receive teaching experience in
their areas of expertise.

Performance Areas   Academic Areas Other areas
Applied lessons Music History Recording studio
Chamber music Music Entrepreneurship Bands
WW methods class Music Theory

Degrees offered:  Master of Music in Performance and Master of Music Education

Department of MusicThe University of Wyoming Department of Music's Mission is
multi-faceted. As artist/performer/teachers, we offer the highest level of instruction in preparing musicians for leadership positions as professional performers, excellent teachers, and as continuing creative individuals in the field of music. As an active performing community, we continue to position the UW Department of Music as a state, regional, national, and international artistic and cultural leader in performance, teacher education, research, and creative activities. As role models and leaders, we serve the state and region as resources for music educators, for community performances, and as mentors and guides for young musicians seeking future musical careers.

Deadline: Competed application materials (including audition) must be completed by 
February 21, 2020.

Application Process: Visit the Department of Music webpage at
for details and a link to the online application. 

Questions: For any questions or assistance contact:
Dr. Nicole Riner Dr. Beth Vanderborgh
Visiting Asst. Professor of Flute Graduate Coordinator
307.223.5184 (cell) 307.766.5242 (office)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

2020 Wyoming All-State etudes videos

It's once again All-State and Honor Band season across the country, and I am always eager to try to create something of value for our auditioning Wyoming students. I have recorded myself performing this year's All-State etudes, which you can find on my You Tube channel and in this post, below.

You can download all three excerpts (two for flute, one for piccolo) and scales here. Let's get started!

Etude #1: 
  • Rhythm counts! If you are new to compound, mixed meter (or just not in love with it yet), I strongly suggest articulating a smaller subdivision to ensure your note lengths are precise and correct. If you go to the UWYO flutes Instagram page on Friday, 9/27, you can find a mini-lesson on how to do this, complete with demonstration videos. In the demonstrations, I am articulating the eighth note beat and the sixteenth note beat, and stomping my foot on the rest so I know I'm doing something active and in-time for that crucial pause. 
  • Each phrase has a clearly marked dynamic, and they must all sound different. Map out your dynamic range on a single stable pitch: piano is the quietest sound you can make with a focused sound and excellent pitch, mezzo piano is one obvious notch louder, mezzo forte another step louder, etc. Fortissimo should still be in tune. To get louder, you drop your jaw (it should naturally go down and back at the same time) in increments for each louder dynamic. Conversely, to get quieter, your jaw will come up and forward slightly, like saying "oooo". Remember you'll have to do some shifting within each dynamic to ensure that every note is your chosen volume. 
  • Make sure your fingers are all working as a team on each note! Always practice with a metronome, and alternate very slow practice with woodshedding/looping techniques (minimum 10 perfect repetitions or 1 minute per day on each short difficult passage) daily. You'll see a link to my post describing these practice techniques in "scales", below. 
Etude #2:
  • Choose one goal note per phrase to help you keep a sense of forward motion through all of these repetitive notes; every note leading up to that goal note should have a slight sense of growth, and any notes after your goal will recede slightly. Your goal note should happen pretty late in each phrase--see if you can hear mine in the video! 
  • If q=68 is too slow for you to play beautifully, start by practicing at the slowest comfortable tempo you can do, then gradually slow it down in increments. You haven't perfected a tempo until you can play in tune, with clear tone and correct dynamics ten times in a row. 
  • Be sure your vibrato depth/speed matches your volume--shallow and slow for piano, deep and fast for forte. Practice whole notes crescendo from piano to forte, then decrescendo back to piano ("diamonds") and experiment with your vibrato to fill up, but not go beyond the borders of, your sound at every volume. 
  • As with etude #1, map out your dynamics

Scales: Visit my blog post, "Tips for Creative Practice" to keep things fresh (and accurate).

Deadlines: check in with your band director early and often about getting everything recorded and turned in on time! 

A few thoughts about the value of taking these auditions: Every time you challenge yourself to learn a new, difficult piece of music to the best of your ability, you get better as a musician! You also get a chance to practice getting nervous--and getting past those nerves-- in performance, which makes the next performance less terrifying. And whether or not you get the chair you want this year, you can be happy in knowing that you stretched yourself and grew both as a flutist and as a musician from the experience. There's no punishment for not getting in, and potentially great reward if you do make it, so it's the easiest gamble you'll ever make. Given all you'll learn about yourself and how to learn music, you'll win no matter what. 

If you're coming to Saxofluticon this year, I encourage you to workshop some of this music in our All-State master class. There's still time to register (deadline: Oct. 1).

Good luck, and enjoy the process!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Wyoming Saxofluticon is in one month!

Hey middle school & high school flutists in Wyoming and Northern Colorado!

Our ninth Wyoming Flute Day / Saxofluticon is happening ONE MONTH from today at University of Wyoming.

Here's the sales pitch:

Wyoming Saxofluticon (formerly Wyoming Flute Day) is a day-long celebration of all things flute and saxophone! Run by Dr. Nicole Riner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Flute at University of Wyoming, and Dr. Scott Turpen, Professor of Saxophone at University of Wyoming, this annual fall semester event includes individual master classes on All-State and All-Northwest audition material for each instrument and general workshops for all, with topics ranging from practicing effectively to conquering performance anxiety and wellness issues like breathing and physical health. Rotating locations ensure that every corner of the state is reached. UW faculty and students perform and serve as mentors throughout the day, and all participants have the option of performing in the flute choir or saxophone ensemble for the gala concert. For ages 13 and up; registration is free, lunch provided.

Deadline to register: Oct. 1

This year's schedule is slightly compressed to accommodate students who also wish to participate in the UW Marching Invitational at the stadium, and here it is:

10:30 All-State master class and instrument specific workshops for flute and saxophone.
11:30 a.m. flute/saxophone ensemble rehearsals
12:30 p.m. Lunch provided by UW Department of Music
1:30 p.m. dress rehearsal
2:30 pm concert
3:30 pm reception in lobby

And here are some cute pics from years past to show you how much fun you've been missing. We hope to see you there! 
Flute Day 2014

Saxofluticon 2016

Flute Day 2013
The flute choir at Saxoflutison '15
Saxofluticon 2015

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Developing your Home Music Studio: A Worksheet

Every August, I invariably end up posting on this topic, because I field so many questions regarding private studio teaching throughout the summer and fall. Perhaps I should get smart and post these pieces earlier; I suspect most of us are too exhausted by the time June rolls around to make much of use of the information until August rent and electricity bills come due (I know I am)! At any rate, I hope this information is timely enough; a private studio is an ongoing adventure, so these actionable items can feed your creative spirits and business-oriented minds throughout the year!

This worksheet accompanies a series of lectures I recorded for iCadenza's Coro series two years ago but can be adjusted to fit your own experiences and environments. I am happy to answer questions as you work through this; just post below!

List all of the locations you could post a flyer advertising your studio (consider community centers, libraries, and individually list all public schools with music programs which include your specialties).

What workshops are you ready to teach in the public schools right now?

List area music teachers’ organizations along with contact information, website, and membership fees.  Put a * next to the ones you plan to join.

Finding a space
Where will you teach? List possible locations and their pros and cons, including what improvements you might need to make to any potential location. This list could include your home, area schools, churches, community centers, etc. 

Designing your syllabus/contract
 Your mission statement--please answer the following:
  1. What age levels do you prefer to teach?
  2. What ability levels do you prefer to teach?
  3. What genres can you teach?
  4. What kind of learning environment do you wish to create for your students?
  5. What are your goals for your students?
  6. List any specific pedagogical interests of certifications.
Other policies--please list the following:
  1. Payment: list acceptable forms, due dates, and late fees
  2. No-show/make-up policy
  3. Required equipment
  4. Expectations for practice (amount of time, quantitative evaluation of preparedness, etc.)
  5. Other (required attendance at performance, required number of performances given, etc.)
  6. What expectations do you have for parents?
Creating an online presence--your checklist
To do in the next four months:
    Name your studio
    Create a logo (check out Canva if you’re not a designer)
    Purchase the domain name for your studio
    Start a Facebook page
    Start a website, including
    bio: approximately one page in length, in Word document terms
    teaching philosophy: one page
    A/V: you could include video or audio recordings, pedagogical videos, photos
    studio policies
    contact information
    resources/links/articles you would like to promote
    calendar of performances/studio events
    payment page
    student accolades page

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Using Social Media to Grow Your Studio

It's that time of year again--school is back in session, and it's just starting to dawn on students that they could benefit from some lessons before honor band audition season (hopefully you'll get them to stick around beyond that). Those of us teaching at the college level are already preparing audition advertising materials for next January and February, and we will begin posting information about scholarships and assistantships next month.

I know what I do, and it works OK, but in this age of ever-changing social media platforms and mores, one can never remain stagnant. So, I put together a panel of young, smart flutists who are doing some really cool things on social media and we held a thoroughly enjoyable discussion at NFA at the beginning of the month. I certainly learned some things, and I put together some of my favorite points the panelists made in this handy table, below. 

For more detailed ideas about developing and advertising your studio, you can also review my previous posts, 

Is it time for an audit of your private studio? Part 1

Is it time for an audit of your private studio? Part 2

*      *     *      *      *      *     *      *     *      *     *      *     *      *
The panelists:
Jessica Banks, flute professor, Mississippi State University

Jolene Madewell, teacher and blogger, Practice Room Revelations

Kallie Snyder, owner, Snyder Flute Studio and creator, The Sound Musician
Instagram: @thesoundmusician_
Facebook: The Sound Musician, Snyder Flute Studio

Brittany Trotter, social media guru for NFA conventions 2017, 2018
Instagram: @brittanyflute
Twitter: @brittanyflute
Facebook: Brittany Trotter

Tech skills developed with some apps to get started: 
Photography and photo editing: Snapseed, VSCO, Adobe Photoshop Express
Audio/video recording and editing: Acapella, Audacity, Garage Band, iMovie
Graphic design:Adobe Spark, Canva, Phont/Vont, PicPlayPost
Web design: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly
Organizational tools: Buffer (schedule social media posts), Google analytics, Google Drive, Planoly

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

2019 NFA preview

It's almost that time of year again, that heady mix of excitement, neurosis, and classmate reunion that is the National Flute Association convention. I know I've shared a lot of this advice before, but it still holds true, and I am particularly hoping my UW students will read it before we caravan out to Salt Lake City next week! Whether you're going this year or not, I encourage you to make it happen at least occasionally (I know it's expensive, but it truly is like nothing else in our profession). If you've never been, some words of wisdom:

  • Bring (healthy) snacks that can act as meal substitutes to save money and avoid missing out over the lunch hour. 
  • Dinner breaks are usually (sort of) built in to the schedule, and if you've never attended NFA, the Myrna Brown Dine-Around is a great orientation. You can learn more about it here
  • Bring layers. Sitting in a heavily air conditioned convention center all day for four days is painfully cold! 
  • Don't be shy.  Approach performers to congratulate them.  We like that, and we won't bite. 
  • Make new friends. Check out prospective teachers in performance and see if you can take a lesson. This is a great networking opportunity.
  • Maybe don't buy a new instrument there?  The exhibit hall is too chaotic to really get to know anything. But do try instruments and gather a list of what you'd like to try in the calm and quiet of your living room after you get home. (Students: play everything for your teacher before purchasing!!) 
  • It is most customary to arrive late and leave early for events because everything is always double- and triple-booked.  Anywhere else it's rude, but at NFA it's mandatory to breeze in and out for maximum exposure. Don't worry, we won't get mad. 
  • You cannot possibly see/hear everything, so don't stress about what you're missing out.  Just go to the things that compel you most. Try to buddy up with someone who wants to go to different events and share notes over dinner afterward. But do go to something every hour if possible!

I'll be doing some performing and some talking again this year, and here are the details:

August 1-4: National Flute Association Convention at Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City UT

August 1 @ 10:30am: Joseph Hallman's Four Pieces for flute and piano on "Fresh Voices"Check out this amazing piece, which won the the Flute New Music Consortium's Competition last fall! Each movement is dedicated to a different composer or artist: Jolivet, Nico Muhly, David Lynch, and Poulenc, respectively. I'll be performing with Katie Leung on piano. 

August 2 @ 1pm: "Using Social Media to Grow Your Studio"I'll be moderating this panel discussion featuring Jolene Madewell (Practice Room Revelations), Kallie Snyder (The Sound Musician), Jessica Banks (bachnbaseball on Instagram), and Brittany Trotter (brittanyflute on Instagram). 

As always, I will also be available for private lessons throughout the week; just email at nicole (dot) riner (at) gmail (dot) com. 

University of Wyoming students, alumni, and fans, we'll be gathering for a UW dinner together (Dutch treat) on Saturday, August 3 at 5:30pm. To join us, just meet us at the registration table. 

And if you're partial to the contemporary world of flute repertoire, come see me at Flute New Music Consortium's annual NFA dinner Friday, August 2 at 5:30pm. We'll meet at the registration table for this one, as well. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Building an etude: practice techniques on Andersen #4, op. 21

Here's a rough video I made recently of Etude #4 from Andersen, Op. 21:
I love the haunting melody Andersen chose for this theme-and-variation-style study, and it provides lots of opportunities to practice creatively. Any of these techniques can be applied liberally to all of the music on your stand, so let's use this as a case study.

First, here's the etude as a free download.

Now, let's come up with something special to do in each section.

THEME: This can either be very captivating or very boring, depending on how much care you give to the music itself.

  • Identify the beginning and end of each phrase (4 measures in this case).  
  • Assign a character, color, texture, mood, whatever works for you, for each phrase. Every single one must be at least a little different, whether it's a variation on a previous mood or a total departure.
  • Experiment with how to produce these elements of your sound to support that assigned character: articulation (working within what's written), volume, color/quality, vibrato.
  • Put an * over the most important note in each phrase--only one per phrase. Every other note must be moving towards or away from that note. 
(PS: always remember this road map and impose it on each of the variations as you see fit!)

VAR. 1 (eighth notes): We're going to play with time here so it doesn't sound too stodgy.
  • Practice strictly in time with the metronome on the quarter note (your chosen tempo).
Now, we're going to start giving and taking time--this must be balanced to avoid creating a steady ritard or accelerando where you don't want it. If you take time on a note in any given measure, you must give it back before the end of that measure! 
  • Move the metronome to the half-note beat. Practice so that you can consistently play it at a steady tempo in this way, always playing beats 1 & 3 precisely with the metronome. 
  • Now, choose one special note every two beats you wish to emphasize. Keeping the metronome on the half-note beat, you're going to stretch that special note as much as you dare while still aligning with the metronome click on beats 1 & 3. 
  • Adjust as you see fit to create a flexible, fluid line that's not too predictable but not out-of-balance. 
VAR. 2 (triplets): More notes=more potential for mistakes! Let's make sure they all get their due:
  • Play only downbeats (assuming a quarter note beat) by themselves, using the mirror.
  • Now play only the second and third note of each triplet, still using the metronome to fill your silence on the downbeats. This will take more practice, both for rhythmical and note accuracy, but will yield perfect confidence on every note eventually. 
  • As you put all notes together, don't forget your phrase shapes (THEME) and your chosen stretch notes (VAR. 1)
VAR. 3 (sixteenth notes): as the number of notes per beats increases, we need to prioritize the moving  notes which represent the actual melody. For each phrase,...
  • First practice playing only the first two sixteenth notes on each beat (the notes that are slurred)
  • Then add the filler (articulated) notes, playing them slightly lighter and quieter than the melody notes.
VAR. 4 (Modulation to E Major): Again, we want to outline the simple melody here, for our listeners and for ourselves, to avoid making this sound like a jumble of notes. 
  • Identify the simple tune (it will be slightly different than the original melody). As I look at the first phrase, I see it as the downbeats of 1, 3, and 4 (first measure), then only the downbeat of measure 2, then  the downbeats of 1, 3, and 4 again (third measure), and in the fourth measure of this variation, downbeats of 1, 2, and 3. In other words, the notes, occurring on downbeats which are a noticeable leap (a 3rd or more) away from the notes around it. 
  • Practice slurring this simple melody many times, playing it lovingly, beautifully, and with great phrase shapes (see "THEME"). 
  • Add the rest of the notes, choosing to make them "filler" as in Var. 3 or swirling notes which propel you forward, depending on their shape and trajectory. For instance, the ascending scale fragments at the ends of measures definitely move forward (swirling), while repeated notes in between the melody notes (as in measures 1 & 3 of this variation) are filler. 
Return to the THEME (last line): how do you make this sound senza espressione, as directed? Experiment with a slightly unfocused sound, using little to no vibrato. But don't forget your special notes--every phrase must have a sense of direction, even if it's very subtle. 


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Basic recording gear for flutists

Summer is a great time to think ahead, and many students will be making numerous recordings in the fall for honor bands, college auditions, and more. So why not go out and invest a little in some decent recording equipment now, make a bunch of experimental recordings this summer, and be ready to knock it out of the park this fall? Your iPhone is not going to get the job done for something you want to share publicly, but your last name doesn't have to be Rockefeller, either.

Hand-held recorders, built-in mic
Recommended models: H4n and above, Q2HD
Recommended models: D100 Linear PCM Recorder D Series

Microphones for use with laptops
Recommended models: Yeti, Yeti Pro, Spark Digital
(In the studio, ribbon mics are actually ideal, but too pricey for home use.)

Free recording software for laptops (Windows and Mac)
(Garageband -- Mac only)

“For a good all-around sound, start by placing the mic 2 feet in front of the flutist, positioning it halfway down the body of the instrument. Raise the mic so that it is about 6″ above the flute and angle it down so that it's pointing at the body of the flute.” - Recording Magazine Resources

A thorough article on how your flute works and how to mic it:

Best shopping sites
Musician’s Friend:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A graded list of flute etude books available on Petrucci: college level

In my last post I shared links for etude books that are on Petrucci and appropriate for middle and high school level students (roughly ages 12-17).  Here's what I've found for college level students:

Etudes - College

Altes 26 Selected Studies
Boehm Op. 37  & Op. 26
DeLorenzo 9 Studies
Demersseman Op. 4
Donjon 8 Etudes de Salon
Dothel Flute Studies
Furstenau Op. 15
Furstenau Op. 107
Gariboldi Op. 139
Hugues Op. 75
Karg-Elert Op. 107
Kohler Op. 33
Kohler op. 75
Kummer Op. 110
Kummer Op. 129
Popp Flute School Op. 205 (vol. 2)

(Also available on Petrucci: Andersens Op. 15, 21, 30, 33, 37, 41, 60, 63)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A graded list of flute etude books available on Petrucci: middle and high school levels

I have long referred my students to Petrucci ( when searching for older standard repertoire, but I don't always take the time myself to see what's there. Imagine my delight when I found LOADS of etude books we can download for free!  Some of my colleagues are of a different mind than I am regarding etudes, but here's what I think our students get from them:

1. Practice learning new music quickly
2. Therefore, lots more reading practice (goal=master one per week)
3. Obviously, technical practice
4. Musical practice, as not all etudes are inherently interesting!

But the more music you buy, the more it adds up.  I prefer to send my students directly to the living composers from whom they wish to purchase contemporary music (whenever possible), and download the old stuff that isn't copyright protected. Of course, always check for accuracy, edition, etc. when searching on Petrucci, but I think etude books are a great thing to grab, as we are rarely so picky with the edition of these books.

Here are some of my favorites on Petrucci right now, with links (part two, college level, is coming soon):

Etudes - Middle School
Gariboldi Op. 132
Kohler progressive duets op. 55
Kohler Op. 93

Etudes - High School
Berbiguer 18 Exercises
Boehm Op. 37
Demersseman Op. 4
Donjon 8 Etudes de Salon
Drouet Method, Part 4 (Studies)
Gariboldi 15 Etudes Modernes
Hugot Op. 13
Hugues Op. 32
Kohler Op. 33
Kohler Op. 66 (Romantic etudes)
Kohler expressive etudes, op. 89
Kummer Op. 110
Kummer Op. 129
Terschak Op. 71

(Also available on Petrucci: Andersens Op. 15, 21, 30, 33, 37, 41, 60, 63)