THE FLUTE NERD blog

#FAFQs “Do Other Students Struggle?”

Welcome to my first edition of Frequently Asked Flutey Questions (#FAFQs)! Let’s address this question, which I’m fairly certain every single one of my students has asked me at some point…

“Do other flute students struggle with this?”

I’m always fascinated by this question when it comes up in my lessons… and it does come up often.

My gut reaction is to lecture students on the pitfalls of comparing yourself to others. It’s a horrible musician’s disease… we just can’t stop ourselves! Listening to other musicians is a valuable part of our learning, but when you find yourself filling your ears nonstop with amazing flute players, it does make us notice all the things we still need to work on and the comparisons are inevitable.

But it’s easy to step back from that ledge when we remind ourselves that the flute players we’re listening to – the ones in the famous orchestras, the ones with record deals – are at the top of their game. They are not good musicians. They are outstanding ones.

So when I get this particular question from students, I worry that they’ve swapped that anxiety of comparing themselves to a professional musician for a more reasonable sounding one: comparing themselves to other students. Which is waaaaaay worse!

These other students aren’t always professional, so it’s not easy to see how silly it is to compare ourselves to our peers. If a flute student feels like they’re lagging behind the others, that can be debilitating to their self-confidence.

But the more I sit with this question, the more I think there is to it. I believe there are two reasons to ask about whether other students struggle, and each reason hopes for a slightly different answer. So today’s FAFQ is a two-parter, depending on what you hope the answer to this question will be:

“Yes, even more than you!” Or “Yes, everyone does.”

Let’s dive into why each answer hints at something a bit deeper.

Everyone’s journey is different

There are some who ask this question in the hopes that they’ll get an answer that tells them they’re in the top percentile (“Yes, even more than you!”). For students who wish to hear this answer, there’s a need to know where they rank among the others.

On face value, it sounds a little competitive, wanting confirmation that they’re at the top of the class. But, being a student who used to ask this question myself all the time, I now know it’s really about a need for validation, wanting reassurance that we’re actually doing well. That we’re not just wasting our time.

Here’s the bad news: the truthful answer to the question is: “Some.” Some do. Some don’t. But that answer doesn’t give you that hit of validation. It doesn’t tell you where you stand, and it doesn’t tell you whether you’re doing well or if you should just stop wasting your time and give up.

Here’s the good news: everyone’s journey is different. And that’s OK. I’ll say that one more time: everyone’s journey is different. Just because someone else doesn’t struggle with the same issues as you doesn’t mean that they’re better than you. Chances are that they struggle with something else entirely. We all have weaknesses. We all have strengths. And this is a glorious thing.

It’s why we can listen to the same piece played by different musicians and feel like we’re listening to something new. Those strengths and weaknesses are what make us each singular, and helps us find our unique musical voice.

And as a side note – the only way I’d ever say “stop wasting your time” with the flute is if you’ve stopped enjoying it. It is NEVER a waste of time to do something you enjoy (and if you’re enjoying it, you are getting better, I promise.)

We are all in this together

Thinking about the second group of people who ask this question, I’m reminded of an old housemate of mine. When I would come home from work she would ask how my day was. If I ever happened to say something like, “Awful! What a crap day!” She would always respond with, “If it makes you feel any better, my day sucked too!”

Why would that make me feel any better?? I don’t want both of us to have bad days! It took me a while to finally realise what was happening. We offer others help in the same way we’d wish to receive it. She was someone who wanted to feel supported, to know that she wasn’t alone. If the roles had been reversed, by sharing that I also had a bad day meant that I knew how she felt, that I could truly empathise with her and we could face our bad days together in solidarity. She wasn’t alone.

So I think there are some who ask this question that aren’t look to rank themselves against other students, but hoping to feel a sense of solidarity… that they’re not the only ones in this struggle.

Here’s the bad news: not everyone does struggle with the same things.

Here’s the good news: that doesn’t mean we can’t still support each other. We’re all in this together. Just because other students don’t struggle as much with their high notes as you do, doesn’t mean they can’t empathise and support you in your learning. We’ve all had our own struggles. We all know how hard it is to learn an instrument like the flute.

If you find that you are someone who asks this question in the hopes of finding your support network, spend some time building your flute community. Join a flute studio with a teacher who fosters that support among their students, join a flute choir of like-minded students, or join community groups of other flutists on social media (I highly recommend Etude of the Week on Facebook – it’s such a wonderfully supportive community!).

We’re here for you!

What are your questions?

Have any other burning questions about the flute you’d like me to answer! Get in touch and let me know!

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Alexandra Petropoulos

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