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By Kathy Blocki
Sometimes you need to travel half way around the world to open your eyes to new perspectives. Prior to the covid lockdowns, I had the privilege of presenting a KinderFlute Teacher Training class to a large group in Taiwan. Interestingly, most of these teachers taught both piano and flute to young students. When they saw the length of our books (about 90 pages long), they said they were too long for their students. Their students were accustomed to piano books that were 32 pages long. Flutist, and class organizer, Nina Vaughan had already translated our books into Chinese.
So, I was a bit stubborn and thought, we have had thousands of students in North America and Europe use the Blocki Flute books, and this was the first time I had heard of a complaint about its length of the Blocki Flute books.
Though at first, I was reluctant, the thought of creating a new series of books started to consume my mind. The well-loved Blocki books would remain the same, but we could also design a new series. During covid, we began in earnest, transforming the Blocki Flute Method Book 1 into four shorter books. It was also an opportunity to include the animal art work of flutist Molly Shortridge (the title of Flute Zoo was her idea.) Her artwork is loved by flutists of all ages, and we especially like that all these animals play the flute! Most of all we wanted the artwork to inspire students’ musical imaginations.
While most of the world was shut down because of covid, we began an amazing collaboration between, our talented intern Maria Clegg, graphic designer, Audrey McKenzie, and myself. We wanted each two-page spread to conjure up ideas that would capture the students’ imaginations in a way that would result in musical expression.
One of my favorite examples is the jungle theme on first two pages of Flute Zoo book two. The first piece, Rounds of Tropical Rain encourages strong low notes and good finger action with the trills. The mood shifts dramatically to, Treetop Slumber with a picture of a cool looking sloth with his flute. The Perilous Python sounds downright dangerous, but students love it. Probably the favorite is the playful Jungle Clown represented by a spider monkey.
Since many of the pages have a background color, we consulted with a vision therapist. Background colors can be calming and can make it easier for some students with disabilities to read. Having less than perfect eye sight, I was especially sensitive to creating a page where the staff size and position are as readable as possible. This is one reason adults also enjoyed the Flute Zoo books.
Most importantly, we wanted the pictures to work in tandem with the music so students would be eager to practice. Those who have taught flute know how much pieces like Jingle Bells spur students on to practice diligently. Our passion was to try to make every piece just as exciting as Jingle Bells. Our goal was to make the Flute Zoo books the equivalent to an action-packed, page-turning story that is difficult to put down.
The most difficult aspect of creating the Flute Zoo books was the beginning of book one. We wanted to have more head joint exercises than the Blocki Flute books to ensure a great tonal foundation, but these exercises and songs needed to be so appealing that students would not be bored using just the head joint. First, we added Lego® themed head joint rhythms where students can create their own rhythms to practice. After a much thought, two note songs with a rock beat were created using colored coded notes. When playing with the drum tracks, students can really “rock” on the head joint.
Also, our passion was to create captivating flexibility songs that were irresistibly fun to play on the head joint. Once students master these songs, a strong foundation for a beautiful tone will have been laid. The first piece features the magic of a unicorn and serves as warm-up piece throughout their first year of playing.
Online lessons due to covid inspired the second piece called Kooka-Birdie. Probably the saddest part of playing online was the inability to play together. Of course, you can mute students so they can play along as you play the second part of their pieces. But we all know how impossibly difficult it is not being able to hear how well your students played along with you.
Kooka-Birdie (and other Flute Zoo pieces) were created so that the seemingl impossible could be done. Since the piece is rhythmically free, each person acts as an independent bird chirping away high and low—much like birds in the wild. No need for muting! Most importantly, students are learning to play between the lowest and middle octaves with ease.
This past summer, I welcomed several high school students into my private studio. They were bright kids from an amazing band program who had played the flute for about five years, but their tone and embouchure flexibility were less advanced than my younger students who have played for only a year.
Why the huge difference?
The high school students began with a band method book that did not emphasize embouchure flexibility, but instead jumped right into some of the most difficult finger changes on the flute. So, as many flute teachers have experienced, we had to spend much time unlearning bad habits and retraining the embouchure. In comparison, the younger students had spent much more time developing their tone through Flute Zoo books 1-3, and now surpassed the high school students who had played four times longer than they had played! When you lay a great tonal foundation, the result is great success.
Once you have a solid tonal foundation, it is much easier to lay a foundation for excellent technique. Because of our strong emphasis on five-note patterns many of my students have faster fingers than me!
As a final note
We were thrilled to find out that the Flute Zoo book series won the 2022 National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music Award in the pedagogy division. We are both honored and humbled to receive this prestigious award.
Kathy Blocki’s passion for excellence in teaching is demonstrated by the consistent success of her students. Her zeal to help every student reach their fullest potential is unmistakable.
In 2022, her new Flute Zoo series of books won the National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music Award. Previously, the Blocki Flute Method books won the same award. Her latest book will be published in August of 2022: The Wind Player’s Breathing Book: Hands-on Exercises, Activities and Games for Beginner through Advanced Wind Players.
She was awarded the “Best Tools for Schools Award” at the NAMM convention for the creation of the Pneumo Pro® Wind Director for teaching air speed, direction and developing breath support.
Her clinics on teaching the flute have been enthusiastically received in Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and throughout the United States. She frequently presents at the US National Flute Association Conference. Her approach to teaching beginning students has pioneered many new ideas, which has led to the creation of KinderFlute® where even young children excel in playing the flute.
Her pedagogy for teaching and playing the flute has been featured in the National Flute Association Pedagogy Anthology Vol. 2, School Band and Orchestra magazine, the Dutch “Fluit” and the German “Flöte Aktuell” journals.
Previously, she was a member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Chautauqua Festival Orchestra, and the American Wind Symphony. As a past faculty member of Goshen College, she taught flute, flute choir, and developed their aural skills program. She graduated with high honors from IU Bloomington, Jacob’s School of Music and highest honors from Arizona State University, and has had the privilege of studying with Eric Hoover, James Pellerite, Samuel Baron, and Bernard Goldberg, and Dr. Amy Hamilton.
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