Flute 101: Creating a Method (with Patricia George)

Patricia George and Phyllis Avidan Louke’s Flute 101 method books have become standards in teaching, and their three auxiliary methods - The Flute Scale Book, The Art of Chunking, and The Flute Vibrato Book - round out the series.

Below, George touches on everything about the books - their inception, Debost's influence, experiences with particular aspects of the books, and plans for the next book. 


Writing with a Friend
from Patricia George

I first met Phyllis Avidan Louke on the flutelist (an internet listserv which was hosted by Canadian flutist Larry Krantz). After a few years of posting to the list, we realized that both of us had similar ideas about teaching.

In the fall of 2007 Phyllis was starting a bunch of beginners and shared that she couldn’t find a satisfactory method book. She considered writing one herself. In November, we both attended the Western International Band Clinic in Seattle and made plans to meet and have lunch. From there, Phyllis, who was president of the Greater Portland Flute Society, invited me to present a Flute Spa for the Portland area flutists. (I returned there several times to present masterclasses and a recital.) After these presentations Phyllis remarked that she loved my ideas about teaching beginners and thought we should get these written down for all to use.
 
We met again at Midwest Music Clinic to discuss the project - and we got to work. Both of us had full-time jobs, so work was in the evenings and weekends using the internet and telephone. Sometimes our phone conversations lasted six hours or more.

My goal has always been to teach beginners to play musically, which Phyllis immediately understood and supported. The premise of Flute 101: Mastering the Basics was to provide the best information available for teaching beginner flutists, and at the same time be a phrasing book for more advanced players – much like Marcel Moyse’s De La Sonorite. We also wanted to include extensive pages about starting beginners because, frankly, at that time most flutists, both young and old, knew little about pedagogy. We hoped to fix this situation.


Flute 101: Mastering the Basics begins with headjoint only pages. This allows the flutist to learn how and where to direct the air, aperture size, and embouchure flexibility. Headjoint practice is a must for flutists of all ages. If you have no time, practice on the headjoint only. You can practice embouchure flexibility with the octaves plus vibrato and articulation exercises. One of my students who is a realtor keeps a spare headjoint in her car so she can practice while waiting for clients to show up to see properties. 

I had already been teaching chunking as a practice technique with my college students and wanted to apply that concept to teaching beginners. The early pages in Flute 101 focus on the chunking technique, which is to play one-inch of notes followed by a sip or guppy breath. I had also been team teaching with Michel Debost, legendary flute professor of the Paris Conservatory and the Oberlin Conservatory. One day one of my students asked Debost, “What do you do when you have a bad tone day?” Debost replied, “Three things: first place your right hand on the barrel and pull the flute into the chin. If that doesn’t work, then aim the air to the left elbow bone (the left elbow should be hung for this to work). Then, if all fails, squeeze the left index finger—remembering that Taffanel said, ‘The left index finger is the fulcrum of the flute.’” 

Exploring this concept, I realized that you can play left-handed scales and many melodies with the right-hand on the barrel. Then I thought this might become a better way to start beginners because so many young flutists struggle with balancing the flute in their hands and keeping the flute stable in the chin. When I showed Debost my experiments, he was ecstatic. The opening few lessons of Flute 101 explore both the chunking and right-hand on the barrel ideas extensively.

Having taught woodwind methods, I realized that the flute books of the band method books taught notation, fingering, and articulation. I wanted our book to be written with an expanded teacher’s guide at the end of the book. Most band methods teach a range of about one octave with the first lessons beginning with the D2 to C2 interchange – one of the most difficult maneuvers in flute playing. I wanted to make learning simple and obvious starting with B, A, and G with the right-hand on the barrel.



Have you ever realized that flute fingerings are easy to remember if you say “left-hand notes spell BAG and right-hand notes FED?” Using this concept fingerings are learned quickly. Also, for these early pages, there is no need to put the footjoint on, as the flute can play B, A, and G with the headjoint and body only and the right-hand on the barrel. This means you can teach younger and smaller students well and safely.

Embouchure development is practiced by playing octaves and harmonics (third partial) right from the beginning. More notes are introduced until by the end the flutist knows from C1 to G3.

One evening over coffee, I asked Debost why European flutists were better rhythmically than American flutists. He thought for a moment and said, “All the tutors are written in duet style so the flutist is playing with his teacher all the time.” We followed his advice. Flute 101 is full of duets. Almost every other page is a page of duets, with several pages of Christmas and Hanukah songs at the end.



Two of the other things that are interesting about Flute 101 is that it is printed in off-white paper, which is better for viewing, and is spiral bound so it stays flat on the music stand. I think we might have been the first to do both of these things in a method book.

Anyway, we finished our book and began to look for a publisher. The economy had tanked and no one was willing to take the risk of signing us. So, we decided to self-publish. It seemed at this point that every day was filled with new learning objectives for us.

We put out a notice on the flutelist and began selling books. They sold very quickly, and suddenly all the books we had printed were gone, so we once again printed another batch. Carolyn Nussbaum, as well as a few other flute specialty shops, also began to carry the books. At the NFA Convention that year, Daniel Dorff, VP at Presser Music Company, approached us and asked if we would be willing to sign with them. We agreed and they began to publish Flute 101, maintaining our concepts about off-white colored paper and spiral binding.

Over the next months we were pleased with the sales of Flute 101. We felt like we had made a contribution to teaching beginners and to providing a vehicle for teaching the rules of phrasing. Then we began to get emails from teachers saying, “My students are finishing Flute 101 and need the next volume!” We began writing again.  

Flute 102 and Flute 103 are very similar in concept. Flute 102 covers keys up to three sharps and flats, and Flute 103 continues with four flats and sharps and progresses on. 

We wanted to focus on key saturation so a student would really know one key before moving on to the next. Each key would be represented with four or five lessons. The first lesson is titled F Major and Friends. (Friends could be the relative minor key or the dominant key.) We also wanted to focus on improv/composition work to enrich the flutists’ experiences. We did this through Preluding, a process in which a flutist improvises a small cadenza in a few lines of music. Preluding was popular beginning in the Baroque era and continued into the 20th century, and it is said that Phillipe Gaubert was excellent at preluding. We incorporated the chunking technique into the preluding.



In the first lesson of each key, the opening and the closing of the prelude is written with three blank measures in between. Printed below are many small chunks from which the flutist can select to fill in the blank measures of the prelude. In Flute 102, the chunks are from the next four lessons, but in Flute 103, the chunks are based on scales, thirds, arpeggios etc. in the tonic and dominant keys. I had discovered if I could teach a flutist to play musically in unmeasured time, then when the same gesture or figure appeared in written time, the results were more musical. 

Another feature of Flute 102 and Flute 103 is an exercise called Blooming the Tone. This exercise is based on the teachings of Georges Barrere. The premise is the flutist picks out the third partial and then rotates playing the harmonic with the regularly fingered note. When played with vibrato, this becomes one of the all-time great tone exercises.
Both Phyllis and I had lamented over the neglect of teacher’s assigning some of the wonderful intermediate level repertoire. In both Flute 102 and Flute 103, there are many pieces that every flutist should know – including extensive performance guides for the varied repertoire, along with the composer’s bio. We also redid all the piano accompaniments to make sure they were stylistically correct and, frankly, to make sure they had the correct notes. To do this we went back (in most cases) to the original scores. It was shocking, at times; the mistakes we found that had been reprinted through the ages. Both books incorporate enough repertoire for the flutist to perform two or three distinct recital programs. We also kept the piano accompaniment books separate, for those teachers using the books purely as methods. 

Then Phyllis went on a cruise to Alaska. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick that I am not sure she ever saw anything other than water. She was bored and put on her thinking cap. When she was in port, with cell phone service, she called and said we should write a scale book. I loved the idea and said we should call it The Best Scale Book EVER

I had been teaching the 17 Big Daily Exercises by Taffanel & Gaubert and had developed my 25-minute Laundry Routine. With the Laundry Routine, the goal was to put in your laundry and then practice the entire book (over a week’s time) in 25 minutes. Then you got up and put the wet laundry in the dryer. I had written about this routine on the flutelist and over time had received several hundred requests for this routine. This became the basis for the scale book.

We both wanted a scale book that a student could use beginning after the first year of study, and continue to use throughout their life. Chapter 1 is whole note scales, thirds, arpeggios etc. which are perfect for the beginner. Chapter 2 features the phrasing gestures using 9-note scales. Then we realized that we couldn’t go on with more scales until we dealt with the third octave fingers and note production, so Chapter 3 focuses on harmonics, octave variations, short scales, harmonic scales etc. Chapter 4 includes what every high school flutist should know and Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 are for advanced high schoolers, college and professional flutist. At the end of the book are two Appendices – one with patterns and rhythms for playing any group of 8 notes, and another for any group of 6 notes. 

From teaching with Michel Debost, I was familiar with his famous Scale Game, but needed to write one that started off in a more kid friendly way. I did this with his blessings. We were ready to publish this book ourselves when, on the Sunday night before we were going to the printers, Daniel Dorff at Presser Music Company wrote saying they wanted to publish the book – but we had to change the name. I asked what googled well and so the name was changed to The Flute Scale Book.

In 1984 or so I had read a book by John Sloboda about eye movement when reading music. His observations led me to develop my personal chunking practice technique. These ideas were collected and explored in Advanced Flute Studies: The Art of Chunking. I wrote about this concept on Facebook a few weeks ago, and that essay has been uploaded here. I think it is an interesting read about incorporating chunking into daily practice and learning strategies.



A bit of time passed and I was cleaning out my file cabinets when I came across an entire drawer filled with vibrato exercises. I have been obsessed with vibrato production for a long time, and have even been filmed in a fluoroscope machine showing how the vibrato is produced. We put the vibrato exercises in a logical order and Phyllis found melodies that worked for each concept—vibrating on dotted notes, vibrating on pickup notes, vibrating on repeated notes, etc. If you want to improve your vibrato, I think you will find everything you need in this volume.
 
I have been privileged to co-author with Phyllis. Her experience in the middle school classroom has given her a unique view about sequencing material. She is also a genius at finale and layout, which is good because I have no talent in those areas.

If you have never looked at our books, I hope you will peruse them in the future. Our goal has always been to teach musicianship along with the nuts and bolts of good flute playing. Right now, we are writing another book for students who learned in band method and need to transition into Flute 102. The working title is Flute 101.5: Enrichment—Becoming a Flutist. Hopefully we will get it finished soon.
 
When we started writing, we never intended to write this series of books. The journey continues to be a wonderful adventure. I think the two of us are happiest when putting our creative minds together.
 
Best,

Patricia George
Phyllis Avidan Louke