ArticlesEducationFeaturedFebruary 2022Issues

Dear Dr. Terri

Terri Sánchez is a Miyazawa Performing Artist and the newly appointed Assistant Professor of Flute at Bowling Green State University. Legendary flutist Paula Robison writes, “She has a beautiful presence as a player and her sparkling clear sound spins out and fills the air with poetry.” Sánchez is the top prizewinner in many national flute competitions, author of The Aspiring Flutist's Practice Book Series (published by Carolyn Nussbaum Music Co.) and a passionate advocate for emotionally intelligent practice. Visit her YouTube Channel for practice tips, interviews and more! 


  1. I’ve noticed different flute teachers give different advice about tonguing and tongue position. How do I know which advice to follow?
  2. I know thinking positively is important, but I still think a lot of negative thoughts and beat up on myself when I practice. What can I do to help myself?
Dear Dr. Terri,


I’ve noticed different teachers give different advice about tonguing and tongue position. How do I know which advice to follow?


Gail, Adult Flutist ~ Colorado


Dear Gail,


You are absolutely right that different flute teachers give different advice! This not only applies to tonguing and tongue position, but almost every aspect of excellent flute playing. Most teachers offer advice in lessons and masterclasses based on a blend of what they were taught themselves, what works for them personally and what they’ve noticed works for their students over the years. Since each flute teacher’s experiences vary dramatically, so does their advice!


If you try a specific tip, trick or piece of flute tonguing advice and you notice that your playing is clearer, easier and more beautiful, definitely follow that guidance. If you are confused or struggling however, I recommend a different approach. First, look to the heart of the advice. If the flute teacher recommended using a “tu” syllable for tonguing with the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth, perhaps the point was a crisp consonant, a singular vowel and a forward tongue (that doesn’t get tight or block your throat). Next, keeping in mind the essence of the advice, experiment patiently and try a variety of syllables and tongue positions to find the clarity and ease that works for you. Finally, stay open minded as you practice, using what works the best in this moment, but willing to evolve your understanding of excellent tonguing and tongue position over time.


No matter what the specific tonguing advice (even if it is out of your comfort zone), remember that any flute teacher offering advice is simply trying to help you play with more clarity, ease and flow, so that you can faithfully express the articulation markings that a composer has written. Do your best to connect with these important principles and you may be surprised at how many right ways there are to tongue!


My personal belief is that clear articulation is related to clear speech. If you can say out loud the articulated rhythms in an elegant, expressive way, now you have a guideline for what to do with your tongue when you return to the flute. Alternate saying it and playing it until the music flows beautifully. If you’d like some additional tonguing tips from me, visit my YouTube channel and watch “Dr. Terri’s Top 10 Double Tonguing Tips.” Every piece of advice given in that video can apply equally to single tonguing as well! There are also some specific and helpful guidelines about articulation on pg. 34 of The Aspiring Flutist's Practice Companion.


Whether you are exploring tonguing, breathing, tone, technique, practice approaches or more, remember that collecting flute advice is a wonderful thing, but you don’t want conflicting advice to stop you in your tracks. Instead, enjoy different perspectives and let them inspire you for your own ongoing discovery process of the flutist you are becoming!


Dear Dr. Terri,


I know thinking positively is important, but I still think a lot of negative thoughts and beat up on myself when I practice. What can I do to help myself?
Rosa, Undergraduate Flutist ~ Louisiana


Dear Rosa,


This is perhaps the most common question I am asked about emotionally intelligent practice! Many flutists are intelligent, self-aware and willing to take a positive approach to practicing but find that it is much more challenging than they expect. Sometimes changing your mental mindset in the practice room can feel as daunting as a 5am exercise routine or giving up Starbucks! We are often addicted to our negative patterns of thought and don’t even know where to start when it comes to a more self-caring and encouraging approach to developing our musical skills.


The best suggestion I can make is to start small. It may feel unnatural to think "I sound beautiful" when you are frustrated by a fuzzy tone, but you can absolutely enjoy how nice it is to use your favorite pencil to mark a very neat courtesy accidental right where you need it. Though doing a complete stretching routine to release tension might seem out of your comfort zone, it's easy to take a refreshing drink of water and clear your mind. Focus on the little things like organizing your music in a pleasing manner, wearing a pair of cozy socks when you practice at home or putting your metronome on a slightly more relaxing tempo. Plan to pivot from any practice annoyance into a simple, accessible positive thought that does feel authentic, even if it's about something totally different than the current topic.


After even a few days of saying to yourself, "I may not be good at thinking positively yet, but I am dedicated to appreciating small practice moments," you will find that new ideas pop into your mind about the bigger things. You might be surprised that, after making what would typically be a frustrating error, you notice yourself thinking, "that's okay, I'll just take a drink of water and then try again." It may feel unexpectedly normal to hear your rough tone and then recall a piece of advice you received from a teacher helps you find more tonal clarity.


I am a big believer in "Hocus Pocus Focus." What you focus on magically grows! If you focus on things you can do instead of things you can't do, your mind begins to pick up the habit of moving in a positive direction. So that you can make Hocus Pocus Focus a priority during your practice sessions, I recommend getting a beautiful practice journal that you love to look at. Instead of just writing to-do lists or critiques in your journal, each time you move to a new practice task, write down something you appreciate. You could write, "I am breathing more fully today," "I am excited to learn this next section," "this scale was easier than before" or any other appreciative statement. The options are limitless. This is not about ignoring flaws in your playing or avoiding the work it takes to prepare your music. It's about streamlining your mind into a practice momentum machine that is programmed to give you helpful thoughts (rather than an unprogrammed, random thinking machine that sabotages you)!


A logical perspective may help you as well. Remind yourself that wasting time on negative or self-deprecating thoughts is inefficient, counterproductive and increasingly detrimental to your mental and emotional well-being. None of this will make you sound better on the flute. It is always worthwhile to release negativity and engage in the type of mindset that will create more meaningful practice results! Whether you are starting small, writing appreciations or convincing your mind to take a better approach in general, remember that, just like music, it takes practice to get good at thinking positively!


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