Meet your Online Flute Tutor, Shaina

I'm SO excited to welcome Shaina, joining as a resident flute tutor in 2020. Sweetly spoken and a genuine listener that instantly sets you at ease, I know you'll just LOVE learning from her.... 

So to back up, I've known for a while now, that the studio team was needing to expand, to open up even MORE learning opportunities. And so I began my search for the tutor that would become a trusted guide for my students.  

After a lengthy search, it honestly only took me a few minutes to know that Shaina was THAT person. As I explained the heart behind why I created the studio, and the challenges and goals some of our current students are working on I could just see her lighting up as she could personally relate to a lot of the stories I shared.

A self-taught player herself in her early years, and despite personal set backs and disappointments along the way, she's admirably made her great passion for music into a career she loves.  

And I love her approach to teaching...

She comes to every lesson, prepared to learn something herself from her students.

Getting to know Shaina was so much fun, I organised a fun Q&A session over Zoom call, and here's what we spoke about...(including her other cool day job!)

Can you remember your first years of learning flute? What did you find most challenging?

When I started playing flute, I was hooked! Even though I naturally wanted to pick up the flute backwards, facing left, I was so determined to get it right. Like a lot of beginners, it took me months to consistently get a sound, but once it “clicked” it really unlocked a new confidence in me and an excitement to learn something new! 

It took a lot more work than my peers to get certain things down. But learning slow steady in those early years, actually helped my fundamentals to become very solid, so it was a great investment as everything became much easier as I got older.

What was the first flute you owned and what do you play now?

My first flute was an old Armstrong that my parents picked up from a garage sale. I think the pads were all torn and I even gave it a bath once (cringe!). But incredibly it carried me through middle school. I went on to play an Altus Azumi in High School, and now I play a Burkart & Phelan.

What are your tips for someone about to buy their first flute?

You’ll hear a lot of flutists tell you exactly which make, which model, what material, weight, cut, etc. is the “best” because they all have fallen in love with a certain flute. For people just starting out, the choice does seem overwhelming.

I believe no matter how fancy the specs, it is 100% up to the player what works for them. There is no 'right choice'.

It’s really important to consult with a more experienced player so you can understand the type of sound you want, communicate your challenges on flute, and then try lots of different flutes so you are set up with whatever fits your individual needs. 

What's your favourite piece or genre to play and why?

I like works from the neoclassical era like Prokofiev or Nielsen. The Neilsen concerto is my favorite piece because of the story it tells to portray the 5 different personalities.

I also enjoy learning music from other cultures like African or Cuban because they challenge me to get out of my comfort and work to understand more of the world.

Which flute players personally inspire you?

Sharon Bezaly and Valerie Coleman would have to be my favorite. Sharon Bezaly has the most unique sound because she practices circular breathing, so phrasing is a different ball game for her! It’s pretty incredible.

Valerie Coleman is a flutist and composer and her work on both fronts is innovative. She ties in ideas from different cultures, creating space for lots of exploration and creativity.

What was a big disappointment you’ve had to overcome?

In college I had to end my graduate studies early because of some personal hardships. I stopped practicing and performing flute for about 2 years. By the time I was ready to come back to flute, my playing had declined so much I didn’t even want to hear myself play. It was so disheartening and making a career as a flutist seemed like it wasn’t even an option anymore.

“Musician” is just part of my identity. I had never even considered anything else when choosing a career. So I didn't want to give up. I decided to practice just a few minutes a day to break my goal of a career in music down into achievable bite-sized pieces. I stayed accountable and celebrated lots of little 'wins' which helped to fuel even more practice time and build up my momentum. So slowly I worked up my playing ability again and exceeded even my own expectations. I'm proof that you really can overcome what you might think is impossible.

What are your qualifications?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Flute Performance. I also spent 3 years in graduate school studying music therapy and flute. Those years studying music therapy and working with people who had developmental challenges, or learning disorders helped me to understand how music applies to everyone, no matter their ability to play. 

Additionally, I have maintained a private flute studio for over 11 years, taught undergraduate flute techniques classes at the University of Northern Iowa, and given flute recitals and masterclasses during tours in the Southwest Region of the U.S. Currently, I am a full-time fife musician in the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, which is the official escort to the President.

Was there a teacher who made a real difference to your flute playing?

My flute teacher Debbie Blake set me up for success my senior year of high school. After spending lots of time learning from YouTube, I started studying with her and she introduced me to scales and all the fundamentals of good flute playing. She taught me to practice the basic stuff so I could go on to play anything I wanted!

I didn’t compete with anyone else - I kept to myself and practiced what I loved. By the time I wanted to play with peers, she had helped me gain such confidence and genuine love for my flute that I only had positive feelings toward performance without the intimidation we sometimes face in our early years of music.

What do you do to overcome a slump in motivation?

My biggest motivation slumps have been as an adult when life gets tough. There are times I need to step away from the flute for a few days and accept that maybe today isn’t going to help me reach my goals. Sometimes it just takes having a tune in mind that I really want to learn and keeping that at the front of my mind as the end goal. Chunking and giving myself smaller pieces to work with helps with achieving lots of small milestones more quickly and that can be motivating as well.

What are you learning yourself, right now?

I'm ALWAYS learning something new. But now I'm learning some jazz scales and patterns, and dabbling in improvisation. A formal piece I’m working on is “Be Still My Soul” by Rhonda Larson.

How do you see online lessons, changing the way people learn flute?

Online lessons are an incredible tool to create accessibility for a wider range of people who otherwise may not have access to this type of learning. It allows anyone to learn from their own home without having to deal with traffic or finding someplace to drop off the kids. Online lessons allow you to add flute into your lifestyle however you see fit.

What do you say to people who may be nervous to try online flute lessons?

Online flute lessons may be an unfamiliar format, but it’s just the same as catching up with a family member via Facetime, or having a Zoom meeting. Thanks to technology, lessons have a great quality that allows you to interact in real time almost like you would in person. An added benefit is that some resources like videos and recordings I may provide you will be available to you even after the lesson is over!

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