August 2009 Convention
New York, NY

Pedagogy Potpourri

Kristy Ballif

Kristy Ballif

The Pedagogy Potpourri has always been a popular event at the conventions since the Pedagogy Committee sponsored the first one several years ago. This year was no exception despite the early hour of 8 a.m. Presenters were Eleanor Duncan Armstrong, Kristy Ballif, and Mary C. J. Byrne.

Armstrong began with “Learning Links with Tandem Teaching: Etudes, Exercises, Repertoire, and Resources.” She illustrated her premise—“Select a skill for targeted teaching and surround it with specific exercises, supporting materials, and literature drawn from a wide-ranging repertoire”—by guiding two students through various exercises in the first two of three planned topics: Fleet Fingers (Technique), Resonance in Low Register (Tone), and Rhythmic Rigor. In each area, Armstrong highlighted resources, an etude, and a piece from the solo repertoire useful for focusing on each particular skill. She also demonstrated specific activities/exercises to practice—the following for technique, for example: place right palm on right knee; press the index finger, lift, press, lift; press finger, release pressure but not lift, press, release pressure; left hand to right forearm; press finger, lift, press, lift; press, release pressure but not lift, press, release. The goal in this exercise is to focus on what the fingers are actually doing and to achieve no extraneous noise or motion, then transfer to the flute. Listen for the “silky connection between the notes.”

Ballif followed with “Incorporating Music Theory Into Private Lessons.” She recommended that teachers use the Circle of Fifths—particularly in teaching scales, when students should rely on this resource rather than reading scales. Benefits are multiple: students become familiar with the order of flats and sharps, they learn to spell their scales correctly, they listen to the scales, and they memorize them faster. Ballif also encouraged teachers to ask lots of questions pertaining to theory, and provided a handout with many of these listed, along with additional helpful resources. Ballif provided suggestions for ear training activities, including an echo game, scavenger hunt (play a short section from the student’s piece and have the student locate it), dictation exercises (played and/or counted aloud).

Mary C. J. Byrne

Mary C. J. Byrne

Byrne presented “The Flutist’s Face as a Faucet,” the premise for which was as follows: “On the understanding that air is a fluid, this session is aimed at encouraging consideration of the body as a sort of ‘waterworks’ assisting the discovery of a comfortable configuration for the ‘internal pipes and tubing’ of the body, discovering the optimal structures through which to move unobstructed air from lungs to flute.” She noted many similarities between a flutist and a vocalist in how we do what we do, but that there is also a big difference: the flutist is blowing air; a vocalist does not. She discussed body posture and carriage, using detailed images on the screen to show body construction and proper position and discussing briefly each of the body systems involved in flute playing (feet, legs, hips, abdominal muscles, thoracic area, bronchi, trachea, larynx, pharynx, mouth, lips). She equated good posture with the image of a garden hose: “If you twist, it kinks. No kinks!” She also recommended experimenting with vowels for tongue and mouth shape and noted that different languages and dialects can have a significant effect on the sound and tone quality that is produced. “Unkink, unblock, and unobstruct the system!”

—Rebecca Hovan

photos by Brian Covington