A Flutist’s Guide to the Fall Season by John McMurtery, D.M.A.

A Flutist’s Guide to the Fall Season

John McMurtery, D.M.A.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The cooler weather, crunchy leaves, and football games contribute to its unique appeal. If you are in school, you might be preparing for marching band shows and competitions, but it’s not too early to start thinking about concert season if you haven’t already. Here are some ideas to help you prepare.

First, make sure your instrument is in good working condition. Playing your flute or piccolo outdoors in extreme temperatures will often make the delicate mechanism go out of adjustment. Don’t try to do repairs yourself. Visit your skilled local repairperson.

Consider participating in events like solo and ensemble competitions, regional bands, and your All-State festival. Get the audition materials and deadline dates from your band director or private teacher and fill out the application forms. Attend workshops on the audition music by professional flutists in your area.

Once the forms are sent, you can begin preparing for the audition. Plan a regular time to practice every day. Your teacher can help you structure your practice time effectively. Thirty minutes of focused practice every day is much better than cramming three straight hours before your weekly lesson. Create a distraction-free zone for yourself and make sure the phone is off (unless you are using a smartphone app as a metronome or tuner) or set it to the “do not disturb” function.

Learn the music well in advance, and then put it away for a while (maybe a few weeks) while you work on other material. When you come back to it, you’ll find it to be much easier. If you are preparing for auditions or an important performance, playing for as many people as you can ahead of time will help you feel less nervous on the big day.

Here are some items you will need during your practice sessions. Your teacher can advise you on how to get the most benefit from these tools.

  • Instrument in good working order
  • Pencil with a good eraser
  • Metronome
  • Tuner
  • Practice notebook
  • Recording device

One major difference between playing the flute on the marching field and performing on the concert stage is posture. Marching instructors often encourage flute players to hold the instrument exactly parallel to the ground, head tilted up toward the press box. While this creates a good visual image on the football field, it can force some players to raise their shoulders, causing unnecessary tension. In your personal practice, allow your head to align naturally with your neck, and make sure you’re keeping your shoulders down. Check your posture in a mirror frequently.

Fall is a busy time of year, so be sure to get lots of rest and exercise, and drink lots of water. Proper hydration is essential for good flute playing. Carry a water bottle with you during the day.

Finally, attend a concert at your local symphony or go to a professional flute recital. Hearing and seeing experienced musicians perform will teach you many wonderful things and inspire you to raise your level.

John McMurtery is professor of flute at Western Illinois University and section flutist with the New York City Opera Orchestra. He performs with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Luna Nova, and UpTown Flutes. He earned a D.M.A. from The Juilliard School, M.M. from Rutgers University, and B.M. from Central Washington University.