What skills should we teach in the second year of flute lessons? Is it just a continuation of first year skills, or are there new elements to explore? How do we maintain interest in lessons and motivate our students to continue their practice?
In first year of lessons, we are mainly concerned with establishing a good sound, correct hand positions and posture, learning to tongue notes, learning to read music and so on. In the second year of lessons, we continue with these but working in more detail. For example, improving the position of the elbows and wrists, looking at the angles of the fingers, making sure the student has a relaxed hold of the flute, and checking for unnecessary tension in their posture.
It’s also a good time to carefully re-examine their fingerings, especially if you are teaching online or working with students in large groups. You can play a “Freeze” game with the student/s, where they play some music then you call out “freeze” on the note you want to check, for example the middle octave D, and players have to freeze their fingers while you check if they have the correct keys for that note. Right hand pinky finger is another repeat offender worth checking on from time to time.
The Key to Expression
Probably the biggest addition to skills for second year flute students is teaching them about expression in music. In the beginning year, we are generally happy if the student develops a good sound and can play pieces with the correct notes, secure rhythm, and some different articulations. Second year skills can include shaping the music, learning how to build to the climax of a phrase and the release at the end of the phrase, using articulation and dynamics for expression, and exploring different styles for different pieces or even within a piece when needed.
For my own students, the first skill I start with in the second year is playing with dynamics. I know many teachers introduce dynamics before this, but after many years of trying different approaches, I find it works best to work on achieving a very focused and secure tone in the first year, before you start trying to modify the sound. If dynamics are introduced too early, it can sometimes result in a very thin tone whenever the student plays softly. When I start a student on dynamics, I often ask them to exaggerate the dynamics in the piece at first, then we refine these to maximise musical expression.
Developing listening ability is another important second year skill. Tone exercises are essential for students to learn how to listen carefully to their own sound. Find a note for which the student has a clear, well focused sound and work on expanding that to the notes on either side of the “good” note. It may take many repetitions before there is a difference, but regular work on this will reap rewards both for tone quality and gradual development of critical listening skills.
It’s also time to experiment with different ways to play one note, for example playing a B with a cool sound, a warm sound, an edgy/hard sound, or a fluffy marshmallow sound. Listening to recordings of second year repertoire by professional flutists is also very valuable, not only for the student to hear excellent expression and tone in the performances, but also for them to play along with to highlight discrepancies in their tuning (a topic for another day!).
Speaking of performance, the second year is a good time to encourage your students to share their music with others, if they haven’t already done this. It doesn’t matter whether they are just playing for their family or giving a public performance. If you have studio performances, it’s great to include students as soon as they’re ready. If a student is very shy, perhaps encourage them to play a duet or trio in the concert. Playing duets or ensemble music is crucial for improving the student’s ability to play in time and in tune; you can incorporate duets into their private lesson, or they can play in a school band, orchestra, or flute group.
Where’s the Fun?
Whilst many teachers use games in lesson for beginners, as students progress, these are often dropped as time is needed for scales, studies, and pieces. However, it’s just as important to keep the fun going in the second (and subsequent) years, even if it’s only a small part of the lesson. Games are a great way to keep students motivated and can easily be integrated into the lesson, for example games for learning scales or for improving breath control.
Second year students may also need a nudge to keep a regular practice routine going. My students enjoy doing a 20 -100 Piece Challenge, and this definitely encourages plenty of practice as they are keen to get more pieces on their list. Not only do students enjoy earning the different Challenge Certificates, they are also building their repertoire. An alternative which also motivates practice is a scales challenge, either for your whole studio or for an individual student.
The second year of flute lessons is a time to further develop the essential skills taught in the initial year, as well as to explore the expressive possibilities of the instrument and above all to continue to enjoy making music.
Karen North has been teaching flute and class music for over 35 years. She is the author of the popular flute method "The Young Flute Player" and has commissioned many new works for intermediate flute repertoire in "Lyrical Flute Legends" and "Inspiring Flute Solos."