• t.seguritan.abalos

"How long does it take to master flute?"

Below is an email I received yesterday from the student of a workshop I taught 2 years ago. Next is my reply, and a brief reflection it prompted on my own journey as a musician:


Hi Theresa!

I had a question. I'm in a band, and there are a lot of flute players. How long does it take to "master" flute?

Thanks, ---


I replied:


Hi ---! It’s really nice to hear from you. My reply’s a bit long – let me know if anything’s confusing.


Yes, flute is one of those instruments many people like to learn! My best advice is: (1) do your best to avoid comparing how you sound to other flutists in band, (2) listen to as many recordings of professional flutists as you can, and (3) focus on quality, not quantity of time.


What does “quality time" mean? When you practice, find ways to make it fun & interesting, and have specific goals that you can see yourself reaching. The more quality time you have with your instrument, the closer you get to “mastering” it.


(I noticed you put “master” in quotation marks. If you feel comfortable sharing, why?)


While countless people become extremely good at flute, every professional flutist – no matter how famous – has something they’re still practicing, because they believe they can do it better.


How long does it take? Everyone has their own timeline. Some people figure out a flute skill – like how to make a beautiful sound – within months, while others spend years figuring out that same skill. That’s because everyone’s body works a little differently with the instrument. Great musicians come from both groups!


The important things are: be patient, be strategic about how you practice to reach your goals, and have fun. If practicing ever becomes more frustrating than creative & fun, usually that means it’s time to take a break! After all, the whole reason we learn to play instruments is to find a way to express ourselves :)


I hope this helps. Feel free to ask me any other questions!


All my best,

Theresa


As I wrote this reply, I danced around the assumption of her question – that I’ve “mastered” the flute. I winced at my own use of the words “professional flutist” – I don’t gig enough to fit the description implied by those words.


From when I started playing flute, I was considered “talented.” Classmates called me a prodigy. All I wanted to do was practice. Part of me worries this student wants me to give her a formula to that experience.


But I no longer see that experience – being perceived as the “best” – as desirable. Yes, some musicians race all the way to the top. However, that path can be laced with so much toxicity. Not only is it not for everyone, but it isn’t essential to a healthy connection with music-making.


At this point as a musician, I don’t try to be the “best” in relation to others. My playing can still grow by leaps & bounds, but when I work towards that growth, I do it for my own purposes as an artist, not to stand out.


Last week, I recorded this clip of myself practicing – something I used to share on this blog frequently & haven’t done in months. It’s weird watching myself play. Weird to see my body engaging with this craft that has been present in my life for something like 14 years.

When I watch this video, it’s clear I don’t practice as much as I used to. But I’ve poured enough of the past 14 years into practicing that even when out of shape, I still sound good.


Sounding “good” – floundering in the murky waters of an early music career, this has been my north star: my sound. My dream is to meet musicians of diverse backgrounds who align with me creatively, to form a collective of eclectic instruments & create music that’s surprising, moving, transcending genres & cultures.


In the meantime, I push myself to experiment with sound, harmony & rhythm through “sound doodles” – brief clips of multi-track improvisation. I create about 1-3 a month and share them on Patreon – a platform I use as a monthly tip jar for people to support my work as an independent creative.

Over the years, I’ve reached a point where being a musician isn’t about being “the best” or “good enough.” I know I’m capable, know I’m enough. I’m at a place where it’s a matter of continuing to care for & expand my craft, while cultivating connections with other musicians – and, as I wrote to this student, to have fun.


~


Hi there! Thanks for taking the time to read and/or listen.


If you find the content on my blog meaningful, please consider sharing on social media or supporting my work on Patreon.


That way, I can continue to create all of this for free, while balancing part-time jobs to pay off rent & student loans.


Thank you for considering! Take care. ~ Theresa