30Aug/17

10 Reasons Why Flute is an Incredible Instrument

Image result for flute playing10 Reasons Why The Flute Is An Incredible Instrument

I began playing the flute when I was 10 years old, mostly because I wanted to play in the school band, and the flute didn’t look as intimidating as the clarinet or saxophone (too many keys for my 10 year old brain to handle). When I was that young, I never would have dreamed about where the flute would take me in the years ever since. I have met so many amazing people and seen some incredible places. I’ve had the chance to perform alongside friends for audiences of a thousand and more. And with the power and accessibility of the Internet, I have been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people with my music. All of this has happened because of the instrument in my hands: the flute.

With this in mind, I decided to compose a list of 10 of the most salient reasons why the flute rocks my world, and why it can be a joy for anyone to learn!

The flute is one of the oldest instruments around, and one of the most diverse. It is virtually ubiquitous in every culture of the world. Learning the flute means learning how to take care of the body. Among many health benefits, it notably promotes good posture, proper and healthy breathing, core strengthand control, and finger dexterity.
Flute requires a high degree of patience and discipline, which happen to be necessary attributes for academic excellence and good work ethic.

The flute is NOT just an instrument for the orchestra. It is found quite frequently in jazz, folk, and world music. It can be used effectively in settings ranging anywhere from a church service to a home recital to a rock concert (yes, I have played in all 3 of those settings). Not a performer? Not a problem! The flute is the perfect way to step away from work to unwind and make music for yourself. Flute can get you scholarship money for college! Most university marching bands offer stipends to members, and third-party scholarships are often awarded to those with a diversity of skills, experiences, and talents.

The flute is easy to maintain and transport. You don’t have to worry about reeds,
temperature, or humidity. Simply put it together and go. Also, if you’re traveling with it,
you don’t have to buy it an extra seat on a plane! Many will say the violin sounds the most like a human voice, but the flute is the closest to the voice when it comes to how sound is produced. Flutists breathe exactly how vocalists breathe, and require the same type of air support to create good sounds (I’ll save defining “air support” for another day.). Many other details and facets of flute playing closely mirror the way vocalists train their voices. Music has been proven to increase cognitive and perceptual skills, aka more brain power. Don’t believe me? Check out this video (https://youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng), and if you’re really intrigued by the topic, read ‘This Is Your Brain’ on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.

The flute is the perfect way to give your brain a workout! Though the flute doesn’t have as much music written for it as the violin or the piano, it’s been making a big comeback since the turn of the 20th century. When a German guy named Theobald Boehm figured out how to make the flute out of silver, it revolutionized how the flute sounded, and composers started to take notice. Today, the flute is on the cutting edge of avant-garde techniques, and has been crucial to the progression of
classical music throughout the last century. It’s become one of the dominant solo
instruments in classical music today. I can teach you how to do this: https://youtu.be/QNG9gSJKbAo.

It is an immense privilege for me to be able to pick up and play this amazing instrument every day! I love playing it, listening to it, and teaching people how to play it. I hope to see you or your child at AMI to experience the joys of flute playing together!

Drew Powell
Flute Teacher – American Music Institute

11Jul/17

Guitar Learning & Benefits

Instrument Spotlight: Guitar

by Ryan Wallace – AMI Guitar Faculty

Who doesn’t love the guitar?
Guitar is the second most popular instrument to play, coming in right after piano. Why are these two instruments so loved by many musicians? It’s all about the versatility. Not only can you play them as solo instruments, but it is also easy to accompany yourself or others as a singer, or on a different instrument. But why start with guitar? It is a fantastic way to play your music anywhere you want without having to lug a huge instrument to the campfire, park, or any place the musical urge takes you. There are few pleasures in life quite like playing the guitar for a group of friends around a campfire at night or playing outside in the grass while the sun shines on you. It’s enough to make anyone feel like they are not only expressing themselves creatively, but also seeing life through a lens of ultimate satisfaction that few people get to truly experience. It’s an amazing way to feel at peace with yourself and the world, to build self-confidence, and to light a fire in yourself that is both invigorating and oddly healing at the same time.

Play Anything.
The guitar, along with the piano, is possibly the most versatile of all instruments. Whether you like classical music, folk music, rock, pop, metal, electronic, country, jazz, blues, or anything in between, the guitar fits in without a second glance. It can be played solo or to accompany a singer or other instrumentalist. Taking guitar lessons is not about just learning to play your favorite song, but preparing you to play whatever music you may find yourself wanting to play tomorrow, or ten years from now.

What can we expect from lessons?
Aside from learning the fundamentals of music and performance, guitar lessons are about learning to play the instrument, not just repeating memorized passages on it. However, learning your favorite songs is a great way to start doing that and keeps both kids and adults excited about playing and enjoying lessons! From that base, we can start exploring more complex music, and open up worlds of music that we often aren’t even aware exist since we don’t hear them on the radio. Coupled with learning songs, lessons will help establish good technique that will carry you in good stead as you advance through more difficult music. The world of music is nearly unlimited, and we don’t want to be held back by the narrow view we have of it at a young age.

Technique… what’s that?
Technique is often a scary word for us, and it can be synonymous with boring, frustrating, and any number of other unpleasant words. But technique doesn’t need to be scary! It’s simply learning how to play with the least amount of effort. Learning good technique early in our musical lives teaches us how to approach the instrument in a way that will allow us to advance as far as we like, rather than be held back by songs that are “too hard”. Different styles of music will demand more or less from us technically, but they all share the same basic principles. For instance:

Hand position
Good hand position can take a passage from seemingly impossible to one that simply requires a little extra practice. The longer we play with poor hand position, the harder it is to retrain our hands down the road. It also increases the likelihood of injury if we aren’t careful, so training early is welcome and beneficial.

Finger shape
Whether it’s our left hand fretting or our right hand picking, the shape and angle of our fingers on the strings can have a huge impact in both the sound of our playing and the fluidity of our motion. Whether we’re going for fast and flashy, or sensitive and beautiful, the guitar only makes the sounds our fingers tell it to make.

What can music lessons do for me?
Aside from the joy of learning to play music, there is nearly endless research on the benefits that studying and playing music have on our brain and our lives. Playing music also encourages creativity and expression, and working with others in bands and camps teaches teamwork and creates powerful bonds with others.

Music is a wonderful way to bring creativity and beauty into our world, while making for an incredibly rewarding journey. The feeling of mastering a song you once thought impossible or playing a show with friends that highlights a night for the audience is something that everyone should experience.

12May/17

Music Supports Mental Health: NAMI Mental Health Awareness Month

As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we examine the benefits of musical study to supporting mental health. The relationship between health and music has been studied for centuries. As early as 1918, James Frederick Rogers stated in Music as Medicine that “the means employed in this art always have been of two kinds: first, those appealing to the senses, and, through these doorways of the nervous system, by accompanying changes of consciousness […which] usually goes by the name of mental treatment.” (Rogers, 365) He discusses the benefits of music on physical health as well, but our focus will remain with psychological benefits this month. He notes that art has an impact on consciousness because it appeals to our senses and therefore shapes the way we experience the world. When experiencing music as an audience, our response is shaped primarily by what we see and hear. When practicing music performance, however, we also affect our tactile sensations. Grounding techniques used to treat responses like panic rely heavily on sensation, and learning to focus on what you feel as you use your instrument can help to quiet responses to other stimuli.

Of course, statements like those from Rogers have supported the development of Music Therapy as a current treatment method, and music therapists around the world work to help patients recover from significant events and assist with hospice.

Gary Ansdell and Tia DeNora performed a study on musical pathways, and one of their study participants shared her thoughts on her experience with music:

Sophie: “Music and music therapy has been the support and driving force of my treatment and continuing recovery. The continuity, unconscious nurturing and support to my confidence and mental health has been a key to where I am now. It has bridged and supported every step to enable me to progress—in a way that no other therapy has managed in such an all-inclusive way.” (MacDonald, Kreutz, Mitchell, 101)

Research is an excellent support for any idea, but personal testimony allows us to connect with a real application of research and to see how an individual like us has been able to improve her life through the presence of music. Sophie’s observations reflect the holistic way music can aid mental health maintenance and progress. While she experienced these benefits through music therapy as a patient, there are other ways to gain the same holistic wellness through music without a prescription. For those of us simply studying music as part of an educational program or extracurricular activity, there are benefits to every day wellness in each lesson and practice session.

Singers, brass players, and wind players all learn early in their training that breath is the foundation of technique and performance. All musicians are aware of breath as it relates to the time signature of a piece, and conductors of ensembles frequently use it to indicate entrances. Have you ever been anxious or upset and been reminded to take a deep breath? Nancy Zi introduces Chi Yi breathing techniques in The Art of Breathing with the reminder that “In the process of disciplining and controlling breathing, you direct your mental attention inward, thus minimizing or even eliminating external distractions.” (Zi, 25) Music students learn to control their breath and focus when tacking performance anxiety and redirection of nervous energy to musical engagement, which helps to alleviate emotional distress and anxiety as much as the tactile sensations of playing instruments can. Adults often hear “leave it at the door” in reference to outside stressors in the workplace. We all know the “why.” We want to be focused on our work to maximize our productivity and impact. Additionally, workplace and classroom stressors can interfere with success, and we must find ways to combat all of these stressors. Musical study offers us a “how” that equally applies to the workplace and the classroom.

Our mental health is impacted by pressures to succeed, and perfection as a goal can have a detrimental effect on wellness. David Bayles and Ted Orland discuss how art forms like music positively impact our relationship with perfectionism in Art and Fear. We know that concentration on the sensations of music making provides grounding. Bayles and Orland add that “For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” (Bayles&Orland, 31) Music and other arts allow participants to embrace process and imperfection, alleviating societal and personal pressures through shifting focus to the ever important “how” in another way. Through learning to acquire and refine musical skills, we learn that giving our attention to the methods and process through which we produce our work is the key to producing a quality result while alleviating the pressures of result oriented environments.

If you’re the employee who frequently brings work home or the parent of a student struggling to cope with school stress, assigning some of that “worry time” to music lessons and practice could help you to regain and maintain wellness. This month, devote that time and energy to self care, and your mental health will thank you.

Sources:

– MacDonald, Kreutz, and Mitchell. Music, Health, and Wellbeing. Oxford, 2012.

– Rogers, James Frederick. “Music as Medicine”. The Musical Quarterly. Vol 4. No. 3. Pg. 365-375. Oxford,1918.

– Zi, Nancy. The Art of Breathing. Vivi, 1994.

– Bayles and Orland. Art and Fear. Image Continuum Press, 2001.