Arts in Letters – Subscription Sidehustle on Etsy

Arts in Letters

Hey there!

In the ever-continuing effort to become an independent music entrepreneur, I’ve started a new Subscription Sidehustle on Etsy that I’m calling Arts in Letters. It is a subscription service, sending out weekly letters written by great musicians, literati, artists, and scientists. Subscriptions can be for a single category or for what I call the Grand SLAM, with each week bringing a letter from a different category, rotating through each in a four week cycle.

 

As a perpetual student, when researching the lives and works of composers, musicians, and great thinkers in general, I love to read letters they have written. Whether the letters are to friends, colleagues, family, or fans, it provides insight into the thoughts and life of the writer that you just don’t get by reading the words of biographers.

It might seem a little voyeuristic to read Mozart’s letters to his wife, or Handel’s letters to his sister, but think about what you could learn from letters to patrons, publishers, or other composers! What were these great masters enthusiastic about, what did they want to learn more about, what did they enjoy doing, what made them crazy, etc.? Every week subscribers receive a letter written by a different person, a little peek into history. How cool would that be to look forward to?

Of course I enjoy finding these letters and picking out those that I think are both interesting and informative, so this sidehustle is fun for me. And I’m learning a lot! Please check out my Arts in Letters project and let me know what you think about it. Hopefully you’ll think it’s as much fun as I do, or you’ll know someone who does!

The Number One Thing You Can do to Practice Better

What is the number one thing you can do to practice better? The one technique or strategy you can use to correct mistakes or even out bumpy passages?

It is something really simple, as are most suggestions I try to bring to you. If you don’t already do this, you should try it. It is to slow things down.

Slow Down Sign

It only makes sense that if you can’t play something slowly, you won’t be able to play it fast, so when you make a mistake, take a breath and take a close look at what just happened, look for the cause, and go over it slowly until there is no problem. Then you can work that spot up to tempo, slowly, if need be.

This Might Take Awhile

I’m always looking for new and better ways to make my practicing better so I often read the Bulletproof Musician blog to see what new advice he has to share. Check out this  post to see how your practicing methods compare with the 8 top methods identified in a study of accomplished pianists. And guess what the Number One method is! Yes it is to “Slow Down!”

http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/8-things-top-practicers-do-differently/

What I’m Learning From Bodymapping Lessons

I’ve recently begun taking bodymapping lessons and after only a few  sessions, I’ve learned that I didn’t understand nearly as much about how the body works as I thought I did.

I’ve struggled with physical limitations that affected my playing since my early twenties. Pain, numbness, tension, impaired function, etc. led me to work hard at avoiding injury. I thought my awareness of how I used my body was pretty good. I could usually manage the amount of physical effort and tension I put into playing and if I overdid it in a practice session or performance, I could undo the damage with careful, mindful practice.

I’d never previously never taken any real instruction in bodymapping, only read about it and attended some workshops, but I thought I had a good handle on it. I was so wrong!

Bodymapping is based on the idea that the image you have in your mind of how the body works, specifically how your skeleton, muscles, and nerves interact to as you do anything. This is something that I understood intellectually, however my body map was way off.

I discovered that I didn’t really know where my hip and shoulder joints were, how my back should have curves, how my shoulders/collarbone are supported by my neck, and most surprising, how my head sits on my spine.

I’ve spent years, decades thinking that I knew how my head should be positioned in relation to my spine, and that I had good posture, especially when playing, yet I’ve had terrible neck problems. My chiropractor told me that stretches would help, but that it would only get worse. Stretches did help, and yoga helped more.

However,  just a few minutes with my bodymapping coach correcting my misconception about how the skull and spine interact, and I can turn my head from side with almost no discomfort or limitation. Wow! And when I play, my tone has opened up tremendously, with my air flowing much more freely.

In my case, because I thought the point where my skull rests on my spine (the Atlanto-Occipital Joint) was further back than it is. This caused me to misuse the muscles in my neck and upper back. Besides the obvious discomfort, this  limited my ability to move my head and put unnecessary stress on the nerves and muscles in the right side of my body. Definitely not good for flute playing!

I had been wrong all these years and after just a few days after correcting this part of my ‘map’,  I feel so much better. It’s amazing how much impact a small change can make. Of course, making this change permanent will take some sustained effort, but it is definitely worth it if it improves my life and playing this much.

Are you experiencing pain when you play? Want to learn more about bodymapping? Here are some resources to get you started.

Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Teacher Should Know About the Body by Dr. Lea Pearson

If you think you might be interested in Body Mapping lessons or just want to find out more about it, take a look at Dr. Lea Pearson’s website, Music Minus Pain, for more information.


 

Flutist or Flautist? Which is It?

Are you a flutist or a flautist? This has to be the question I am asked most when I meet someone and I tell them that I play flute. It’s funny how much of a controversy the simple issue of what someone who plays flute should be called.

Granted, ‘flautist’ may sound more sophisticated than ‘flutist’, and maybe that’s the effect people are going for when they use it. I’ve noticed that the people who say “flautist” are most often non-musicians.

When I was in high school, I thought being called a flautist was really cool. At a summer orchestral camp I attended, the flute section even had Tshirts made up that said “If you’ve got it, flaut it.” I treasured that shirt!

Later, one of my teachers insisted on flutist. Her reasoning was, “I speak English and I live in the 20th century.” (Guess I’m dating myself here!) And like many students who idolize their teachers, I decided that I also wanted to be called a ‘flutist,’ quoting her reasoning to anyone who dared refer to me as a ‘flautist.’

Nancy Toff’s discussion of the terms in her book, “The Flute Book,” finally cleared this  issue up for me. It turns out that the term “flutist” predates “flautist” in the English language by over 200 years! Flautist is the term for flute player in Italian and Spanish. Perhaps it was popularized during the 18th century, when Italian was the language used most often for musical terms.

Nowadays, I’m a little more tolerant than I used to be when someone refers to me as a flautist. If they ask which I prefer, I explain and don’t make a big deal of it. If someone cares enough to show interest, I’m thrilled!


 

What If It All Started With the Flute?

Imagine if the invention of the flute was the first step to the invention of computers? Musicians know that musical activities can inspire great ideas in other fields.

Steven Johnson, writer and researcher on the history of innovation, presents an entertaining and informative video describing how the invention of the flute 40,000 years ago can be connected to the invention of computers. Another prime example of how important music is to the human race (and should be in homes and schools, hint, hint!)

Click on the link to see Johnson’s TedTalk video, it’s surprisingly fun as well as informative!

How Play Leads to Great Inventions

 

Flute Tip of the Week – Spring Cleaning

It’s Spring Cleaning time! I’m sure you take care to swab out your flute, wipe off the tenons, maybe gently wipe the lip plate and keys, but have you looked at the inside of your case lately? Might be time for a good de-linting! You can gently vacuum the inside of your case to remove lint, dust, and loose fibers that otherwise could get into your flute’s mechanism. Just make sure you take your flute out of the case first!

Don’t Practice Tired

“Don’t practice when you are overtired.” Easier said than done for most of us! I am sure that every flutist has felt the need to practice when they were really too tired to get any good out of it. Besides being unproductive because you can’t concentrate well, you run the risk of physical injury when you practice under strain. If you are truly too tired, stop, get some rest, and get up a little earlier tomorrow so you can practice when you are fresh.

Flute Swabs

Are you swabbing out your flute before you put it away? Hopefully so, it is critical that you keep your flute clean inside and out. But what are you using to swab out your flute?

I advocate using a simple, 100% cotton handkerchief or bandanna. They are absorbant and nonabrasive, readily available and inexpensive. Cotton works great for wiping off the tenons so the joints go together smoothly, too. Cotton is also washable so when it gets grubby, just throw it in with the regular laundry (using fabric softeners may not be a great idea, though). Very practical!

A silk swab is nice, but it can be fragile and tends to flatten out after a couple of uses. A 10″ or 12″ bandanna or kerchief will stay full enough to clean the whole tube for several uses. You could just use a strip of cotton or a square piece of cotton, but I think the edges should be finished so stray threads don’t get caught in the mechanism.

As for the fuzzy flute swabs that are so popular, I do not recommend them. They are supposed to “wick the moisture away from the pads”. Great! But what do you do after you have done that? You stick it right back into the flute! Where is the moisture supposed to go? I live in Florida and any moisture that is allowed to sit around leads to one thing, mildew. While I haven’t heard of too many cases of “flute mildew”, I do know that once you get the moisture off the pads, you should keep it away from them. If you feel you have to use the fuzzy things to swab out your instrument, fine, but do not store them in your flute or inside your case. Besides, you will still need a soft cloth to wipe off the joints and the fingerprints, so why not just get a cotton cloth or two and leave the fuzzy things alone. I also suggest that your flute cleaning cloth not be stored inside the case with your freshly swabbed out flute.

This is all part of good flute maintenance, which results in better flute performance. It’s easy, it’s practical and it’s cheap. Besides, you can create a collection of cool “flute” bandannas that will make you the most stylish and hip flutist around!

Language is important

Whether we are talking with teachers or students, fellow musicians, conductors, etc. we are constantly talking about playing. The language that we use is extremely important to how we think and feel about playing. I’m not talking about terminology here; what I’m talking about is much more subjective.

The words we use when talking about our playing can have a huge impact in how we think about what we are doing. We all know the effect that using judgmental language, especially negative words, can have on a player’s attitude. This is actually pretty simple to address by just avoiding negative words “no”, “not”, “bad”, “wrong”, etc. Other words have a more subtle, sinister, effect, and while they do not sound like negative words, they can have negative effects. For me one of those words is “control”.

I have spent years working on breath “control”, “controlling the air stream”, etc. and, while I have had some success, in general this practice ties me up in knots. To “control” something really means to inhibit it in some way, keep a tight rein on, or hold it in check. These ideas are all antithetical to what we need to do to make any sound at all on the flute. The air has to get out before we can make any sound, so why am I trying to restrict it? I now substitute the word “manage” for the word “control” and immediately the air flows more freely and I am able to accomplish the things I wanted to do when I was trying to “control” the air. Neat, huh?

Different words affect different people differently, and maybe this example doesn’t do anything for you, but unless you are the most positive, balanced person on the planet, it is likely that there are words that affect you negatively as well. Take a look at your practice journal, listen to your conversations about playing, and pay attention when a word causes you to tense up or groan a little, anything that is less than positive. A teacher at a masterclass I attended made a similar point with this little test. She asked us to notice what happened to our bodies when she said different words, like ‘ice cream’, ‘sunshine’, then she said the word ‘flute’. Immediately everyone in the class gasped and some even groaned a little. (What reaction did you just have?) We all had an ah-ha moment when we were made aware of the tension that one little word could cause in us. And this word represented something we loved! Many of us had come to associate the word ‘flute’ with tension and strain. For me, working on ‘control’ magnifies that tension, so I don’t try to do it. Rather than trying to hold things in, I work on managing them as they are happening.

Of course, some things are just wrong, terrible even, and it’s OK to acknowledge that. Just make sure your approach to fixing what’s wrong is as benign and productively oriented as possible.

Practicing Flutist Tshirt Sidehustle

In case you didn’t know, I have a sidehustle that includes designing Tshirts.  And surprise, surprise, many of them have musical themes. Might be a little weird, but it’s fun. It’s even more fun with people like them and buy them, makes me feel like I’m making a connection with them. Below are links to my newest efforts, available on Amazon’s newest POD Tshirt service. You can also search for Practicing Flutist to find them.  If you like them, share them! Or send me ideas for what you want to see on a Tshirt.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072BWXF3S

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711RZS26