Flute, very slow progress and frustrating, advice please

(47 Posts)
Dancergirl Sun 11-Nov-12 15:49:30

Dd1 started playing the flute at the end of Year 4 after trying piano and deciding it wasn't for her. She has now started secondary school and hasn't even taken Grade 1 yet.

A bit of background: she was having private 30 mins lessons at school but unfortunately there was a high turnover of teachers. She had 3 different teachers whilst at primary school. The second teacher was the best one and there was talk of her preparing for grade 1 but then she left and teacher no 3 didn't pick up where she left off.

Fast forward to her new school - I did ask her new flute teacher if she could skip the early grades and go in at Gr 3 but he wants her to start at gr 1 so she's started to learn the pieces and scales. But she's finding learning v slow and difficult/ frustrating. I keep reading on here about dc getting through the grades quite quickly and I'm wondering what we're doing wrong. Does it really require hours and hours of practice? Dd is quite busy with other things but she usually manages to practice 4 times a week. Is this enough? I do have to remind/nag her though and the enjoyment seems to have gone and it's more like a chore.

I don't want to push her too hard but at the same time having learnt an instrument myself as a child, practising IS hard work and the reward often doesn't come till later.

BellaTheGymnast Sun 11-Nov-12 15:52:44

Is she actually musical, would you say? If she isn't, then getting through even grade 1 could be quite a slog, but it sounds like she's been at it for AGES!

Did she play recorder at school?

ZZZenAgain Sun 11-Nov-12 18:31:43

maybe it isn't the right instrument for her. It is difficult to get the hang of. How does she get on with basic stuff like blowing across the hole and generally getting a nice sound? If she plays a simple piece, does it sound nice and is the rhythm right and the tune recognisable?

Maybe she doesn't really like the feel of it held up to the side and pressed against her lower lip, maybe it is too high in pitch for her liking (she might get more out of a saxophone or cello), maybe she is more comfortable with clear rhythms than melody. Hard to say.

I know you've been paying for lessons for a while now and she also found piano wasn't for her so you won't like this but I wonder if something different would suit her better. Have you considered singing so she can develop her musicality without all the fingering? I am sure she is musical enough to learn and enjoy playing an instrument but it isn't always that easy to get a good fit and as you say, she has changed teacher a great deal.

If she likes the instrument, it is the practice. Generally, try to get her to practise every day, even 10 minutes every day. It is the regularity of it which does the trick and using practice time to improve. What you have to do is not play your piece through over and over, you can spend an hour and a half doing this but you just stay at the same level. How does she practise, what does she do?

ZZZenAgain Sun 11-Nov-12 18:38:30

she would progress much faster on the guitar, whether she did finger picking or chords and would soon be playing recognisable pieces. I wonder if she would take to the guitar.

I think she has spent just over 2 years on the flute so far, no wonder she has lost interest in practising if the pieces aren't getting much more interesting. My dd really took off with a love for the violin when she began playing in groups with other children. The whole thing became sociable and fun. Wonder what your dd's secondary school offers in the way of orchestras/ensembles and when she might be ready to join something like that.

AnitaManeater Sun 11-Nov-12 18:38:33

I used to play the flute, it took me from yr 5 to yr 11 to make it to Grade 6. Is there a concert band or little orchestra local to you that she could join? Thats what kept me interested in playing and pushed me through the grades.

Colleger Sun 11-Nov-12 18:39:06

It's probably not the right instrument. I can't blow the clarinet but got to grade 4 on oboe (as an adult) in three months, and I still can't blow the clarinet!

Dancergirl Sun 11-Nov-12 19:48:57

The thing is, she can actually make a very nice sound on it. Some of the high notes don't always come out straight away but generally the notes are clear. I'm reluctant to try yet another instrument because after playing the piano for a while, she was absolutely convinced that flute was for her. And we've spent a lot of money on lessons.

Although, ironically enough, she quite likes having a little play on the piano now (I play). Her friend who also plays the piano taught her an easy tune which she picked up quickly. I wonder whether piano's better for her after all....?

In terms of musicality, she's probably not the most musical child but not that bad either.

BellaTheGymnast Sun 11-Nov-12 20:00:10

How about you get some music for a couple of songs that she knows, and you could play together? If she already knows how it should go she might be able to just enjoy playing, and not worry about reading the music etc.

Like a couple of other posters have said, the ensemble side of playing might really help her come on.

weblette Sun 11-Nov-12 20:04:48

Ds1 was exactly the same. He's v musical but it took forever to get to Grade 1. His teacher suggested he try oboe, he's an absolute natural and having started just in September will take his first grade in January.

Maybe it's not the right instrument for her. The money on lessons won't have been wasted, she'll already have the basics for whatever else she tries.

ZZZenAgain Sun 11-Nov-12 20:50:50

since you play the piano, can you face overseeing (gently) a short daily practice, winding up with playing each piece together and maybe start doing some simple Christmas carols together, work on a new carol a day or a week? I think you can get her through grade 1 pretty fast if you would be willing to do it with her. Maybe that is all she needs and then you can step back. Help her practise, check she is up with the theory, try to make it relaxed and enjoyable.

Dancergirl Sun 11-Nov-12 21:22:19

zen that is what I've been doing with her on and off. Difficult to find a quiet time with my other 2 around, but today we were alone and I helped her with practice.

Do you think it's worth persevering with? Or cut our losses?

ZZZenAgain Sun 11-Nov-12 21:40:05

does she want to continue and is she playing grade 1 pieces now?

Dancergirl Sun 11-Nov-12 21:52:04

She's finding it hard but she's chosen 2 of the gr 1 pieces with my help and has made a start on them. And her scales are not too bad.

HappyTurquoise Sun 11-Nov-12 21:54:10

if she is doing a bit of practice each week, then I'd say encourage her to persevere. Getting to grade 1 generally takes longer than from grade 1 to 2, 2 to 3, etc. It's a good sign that she is getting a thorough grounding, which will stand her in good stead.

You could ask her tutor whether she will be ready to take grade 1 soon, and which examining board she would be using. We used to live in an area where Trinity was popular, and the tutors tended to miss out grades 1 & 2 and get the children to about grade 3 before taking exams. Then we moved and DCs took grade 1 ABRSM after a term or two of further tuition, and did well, and then took a further grade per year, roughly (if that sounds slow, they both play/played several instruments, and neither I nor DH is particularly musical.)

If you can afford lessons with another instrument, let her try another one as well, without giving up on the flute.

ZZZenAgain Sun 11-Nov-12 22:10:34

I wouldn't continue with things the way they have been because I think she has got into a bit of a rut and also feels it is too hard and she cannot do it. So I would either drop it (have another go at piano maybe or give her a break) or I would oversee her practice every day (even just 10 minutes but 10 minutes with a Suzuki style parental involvement). I think now to move her along and give her the confidence to believe she is good at it, you will need to be hands-on about it and do it daily or say 6 x week. Then she will definitely progress well. I don't know what your situation is and how difficult 10-15 mins quiet time is with your other 2 children around. I think I wouldn't leave her to struggle on with 10 minutes 4 x week on her own. Can the other two paint or draw for that time in the same room if they are small?

I am sure though, I am entirely sure that she is capable of doing it. As you say, her intonation is good and that is the main thing really so if you take her in hand, she'll be fine. If not, I don't know if it is really worth it unless it gives her pleasure.

I would love you to come back and tell us she has passed grade 1. It will give her such a boost.

MordionAgenos Mon 12-Nov-12 09:35:58

I'm sorry but it does sound as though the flute might not be the instrument for her.

Lancelottie Mon 12-Nov-12 14:24:26

Christmas carols are a really good idea, as you can go for lots that she knows (so she can hear what she is aiming for) plus some less known ones, which will be great sight-reading practice for her.

They also tend to be pitched rather well for the flute (and you could inflict them on any tolerant friends or neighbours as a 'Christmas concert' by way of giving her some performance practice).

mouldyironingboard Tue 13-Nov-12 19:34:11

I would suggest that your DD keeps going towards grade 1 flute. Some children take longer to get to their first exam than others. If her high notes haven't been completely secure that could be the reason that she hasn't yet taken her exam as marks tend to be deducted if the upper register is weak (even at grade 1!).

Even if her playing has improved I would still suggest taking the grade 1 exam first because it will give her confidence if she does well and she can progress to grade 2 or grade 3 very quickly if she does regular concentrated practise.

Dancergirl Tue 13-Nov-12 20:32:41


Firstly thank you so much for all your helpful replies.

Amazingly in the last few days things have really improved due to me helping her practice as suggested. And she actually said to me it's helping her! And her enthusiasm has picked up. Her scales and arpeggios sound ok apart from a couple, she's not sure about D sharp so needs to ask her teacher about that. Pieces - made a start on the A piece and C piece both of which likes and are manageable. I'm going to get an aural book so I can do that with her.

In hindsight I probably should have intervened a bit earlier instead of letting things slide.

She also sees me playing the piano which I think helps to spur her on.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 13-Nov-12 20:44:38

My DDs a lot like yours. She started flute lessons in yr3, did her grade I in yr 6 - now in yr9 she's just about to do her grade 2.

She isn't that naturally musical - which is exactly why I wanted her to play something like the flute where you don't need to pitch the note yourself. Her singing got more in tune. She can read music - so she has taught herself to play descant and alto recorder which she has spells of enjoying noodling around with (she'll probably join the recorder group at school next term). She's not really good enough at flute for the orchestra, but so long as she's enjoying it she can carry on for the rest of this year - we'll probably stop when she starts her GCSE years as the lessons are in school lesson time, and then just get easy pieces she can play for pleasure if she wants. I think she's finally twigged that she needs to practice to progress, but its up to her - I'm not going to nag her (though I sort of wish I had done more of that earlier).

She's actually got a very good tone, apparently, and can now play well enough that its a pleasure to listen to - that's 'good enough' for me.

MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 20:49:13

Dancer Greensleeves? grin D# is normal D plus the little finger of right hand. You do know there are only 3 scales at Grade 1 - F and G maj and E min, right? And they are only 1 octave.

MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 20:51:35

@Grimma If I never hear March Militaire again, it will be too soon. Sadly there are 3 more weeks before DD2's grade 2 exam.

Dancergirl Tue 13-Nov-12 20:57:52

Yes Greensleeves lol! And Study in F I think it is for C. B pieces are harder to choose though.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 13-Nov-12 21:36:22

grin Yes, we went through Greensleeves (Hot Chilli for the List B - she scraped a Merit so I guess that worked OK)

... a couple more weeks of the March Militaire to go. I can't stop internally singing that song, you know, '...he could play the big bass drum'...

The examiners (and teachers) must get pretty sick of the same few tunes for several years at a time, mustn't they.

Dancergirl Tue 13-Nov-12 22:14:19

I looked at Hot Chilli, some of the rhythms seem tricky for Grade 1. It's a possibility though.

MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 22:36:10

Everyone does hot chilli. It's fine, it has a momentum all its own and the accompaniment is very helpful. DD2 did short waltz for her piece C last term. This term she's doing march militaire (which I have always hated since I was a child), naughty but nice, and study in..whatever it is. G I think. I must say, the recorder grade 3 pieces are much nicer. To be fair the flute grade 3 pieces are nicer but she can't really manage two octave scales yet - not enough puff.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 14-Nov-12 14:08:42

Snap, except for the speed of progression through the grades!

Can I just briefly hijack...you mentioned recorder grade 3. I've never heard of anyone ever having 'proper' recorder lessons or doing grades - DD seems to really like recorder so it just got me wondering...

Lancelottie Wed 14-Nov-12 14:31:52

Goodness, is Hot Chilli still on there? DS did that for grade 1, and he's 16...
Mine mostly do brass (with bits of piano), and as the brass tunes don't all come from the same book they don't overlap so much.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 15:49:07

Grima did you not see the recorder player who won the woodwind section of YMotY this year? Look on YouTube - I can't link (phone). I'm definitely not the only grade 8+ MN recorder player, and DD1 is definitely not the only MN spawn ;) who is or has been in NYRO. Theas has kids who have been in NYRO, for sure. There may be others. DD1 isn't even the only MN spawn who is currently hoping to have recorder as her first study at conservatoire, either.... I think I might be the only MNetter who regularly plays in an adult recorder orchestra though (if you check out the orchestra in a field website you'll see photos of my orchestra playing at this year's festival).

Recorder exams have been around for >30 years with Trinity board, ABRSM started offering them some time after - the Trinity exams are still better regarded I think but mainly because most specialist teachers did them when they were kids and so have brand loyalty. Many woodwind teachers will offer tuition for the early grades, I think you need a specialist for the later ones and post grade 8 diploma levels. There are some amazing recorder players out there. Check YouTube for Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, Chris Orton, Pamela Thorby - some amazing performances. grin

GrimmaTheNome Wed 14-Nov-12 16:28:27

Goodness, that's impressive... I did know that there are people who play recorder to a high standard, just no idea how they get into it. School seems to do mass squeaking sessions with non-specialist teachers (primary generalists and secondary classroom music teachers) and keen kids form clubs doing their own thing - wonder why the woodwind teachers don't seem to mention it as an option. Its such an accessible instrument, seems like more should be done with it. (sorry for the digression)

ZZZenAgain Wed 14-Nov-12 18:02:16

that sounds great Dancer. You must be handling it really well for her to be enthusiastic. Sometimes we all just do need a bit of a new impulse to make things we have been doing for a while become interesting again. Be sure and come back and let us know how she gets on in the exam when the time comes.

Lancelottie Wed 14-Nov-12 20:31:27

DS's school currently has a 'first study' recorder player, and they are quietly excited about him. He is rather good (and also rather beautiful, and a dancer -- apparently he was bullied out of his previous school partly for these reasons sad ).

Wafflenose Wed 14-Nov-12 20:46:50

* * waves * *

We are proper recorder players here! I only ever did some group lessons at primary school, then recorder club, by taught myself post-university and got Grade 8 distinction. I now have 78 pupils of my own (mostly recorders, but some clarinets and saxophones too. Ironically, clarinet is my first study).

DD aged 7 started recorder at 3.5 years. It fizzed out after a few months, but she took it up seriously 18 months ago, and is taking Grade 3 in a couple, of weeks. We both played in the local music festival yesterday!

DD aged 4 is desperate to start, but is very tiny, and a bit flighty, so we will probably wait a year or two!

Wafflenose Wed 14-Nov-12 20:48:23

Forgot to say... DD1 also plays the flute (which is why I read the thread in the first place) and piano, but recorder is her first love!

Glad your DD is now working towards her Grade 1, OP. When she passes that, and can play some Christmas carols, I'm sure she'll have renewed enthusiasm. The journey towards Grade 2 will probably be a bit quicker.

Dancergirl Wed 14-Nov-12 21:37:48

Another update:

With her new-found enthusiasm, dd had her lesson at school today. She came home and reported to me that the teacher said that she shouldn't be spending so much time on the grade pieces as she'll be 'pulled in too many different directions'! He wants her to do just studies from a red book that dd finds v boring. She's actually enjoying the grade pieces now and wants to take the exam as soon as she's ready. My view is I see no reason why she shouldn't do the exam in march.

The problem is I can't talk to him face to face, although I can email him. Or should I find a private teacher and have lessons out of school? Dds a bit miffed as she says she feels she's being held back.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 22:01:22

I wonder if the teacher is a good fit.

However, I do think it would be utter madness for an older child to spend 4 months focussing on those grade 1 pieces. She will get beyond stale.

So - I don't know. But maybe you should think about a different teacher. Just because the lack of communication seems a bit odd.

GrimmaTheNome Wed 14-Nov-12 22:35:59

Perhaps you could email and ask if there is some other book you could get for your DD if she's bored with the one she's got. Between grades 1&2 dds teacher recommended a couple of books 'what else can I play' and 'making the grade (grade2)' - so I assume theres a grade 1 version of that. There's a lot of nice tunes in them (DDs favourite at the moment is the Dad's Army theme tune but she can't quite reach the top E). She did do more playing when she first got those books, now I think about it.

Dancergirl Wed 14-Nov-12 22:54:08

Thanks grimma they have the Grade 1 book of Making the Grade on Amazon, I might get it for her anyway, I think she would enjoy playing well known pieces.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 23:35:26

Making the grade is a level below. You should get her book 1 of Time Pieces for Flute and Baroque Flute Pieces - those books have loads of pieces ranging from grade 1 to about grade 3 standard so you will get some use out of them. You can get music books for beginner flute based on themes like Glee, or Harry Potter or other films or shows too. I remember Dd1 had a lord of the rings one and a pirates of the Caribbean one back in the day. These books come wth CD accompaniments as well as piano parts so you can really have some fun with them.

Dancergirl Mon 17-Dec-12 20:15:39

Another update: wow, what a change in dd! We've gone from me nagging her to practice 3x a week to her picking up her flute and playing for pleasure every day! In fact her flute is rarely put back in its box!

Scales are coming on well too.

I bought making the grade and dd loves it. We play eidleweiss together (me on piano) and oom-pa-pa and Joseph.

I have found a lovely teacher who comes home and I didn't see any reason to delay her starting. Unfortunately I am locked in to the schools lessons for another term so she won't be able to give those up till Easter shock I did ask the school but they won't let me off the terms notice. And dd is really not enjoying the school lessons. She's a bit scared of the teacher, he tells her off if she hasn't practiced the right things and she's bored playing studies all the time. So I've asked the school to allocate her a different teacher next term while we ride out the notice. It's not ideal but while dds so enthused and likes the new teacher I don't want to rock the boat.

Wafflenose Tue 18-Dec-12 10:17:24

If it were me, I'd just pay up front for the notice period, then write a letter saying that dd did not wish to attend any more lessons. If she has a great new teacher, she doesn't really have to endure the school lessons any more. As a music teacher, I would be unhappy about taking on a pupil until they had totally finished with their previous teacher, and it sounds your dd doesn't enjoy the school lessons at all.

I really like the red study book! Used alongside other things though.

Is she going to do Grade 1 next term? I think my dd is going to. It sounds like yours would be well able to.

ZZZenAgain Tue 18-Dec-12 14:10:53

yes, I agree, now that she is happy with the flute and coming along well, just pay for the other lessons and write it off. If the lessons at school are not pleasant, it is not worth it. It is a shame to have to still pay for them but your dd sounds better off without them tbh.

So glad to hear things have picked up and she is enjoying the music now.

Dancergirl Tue 18-Dec-12 16:12:14

Yes I did think about doing that, it's just galling paying out all that money for nothing! In hindsight I should have given my term's notice in September and used this term as a 'trial'. But who knew?

What other music books can I buy for her with well-known pieces?

mummysmellsofsick Tue 18-Dec-12 19:43:49

Can you ask the school teacher to teach her theory for a term? I sometimes use the Theory Fun Factory book with my students if ABRSM seems a bit dry.

ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Dec-12 10:34:29

that's a good idea. If you can arrange it so that the school lessons are theory which she will need at some stage anyway, that might be a solution for you.

Wafflenose Wed 19-Dec-12 11:56:29

Music Through Time Book 1 (famous classics)

What Else Can I Play? Flute Grade 1 (popular/ musicals)

ebutcher88 Thu 10-Jan-13 22:08:24

We had the exact same problems with school music and changed to private tuition and found an amazing music school and would recommend them to anyone we are in Surrey so not sure where abouts you are my two now go to the surrey sound of music for their lessons and the teachers come to us! Perfect!

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