Jennifer Cluff

Canadian Flutist and Teacher


Information about transferring to

major Universities as a flute major:


Hopefully it won't come as too much of a shock to discover that in major Universities, flute performance programmes are full of very active, very dedicated and very talented flute students.

When you're setting your goals for yourself, and you're picturing yourself making the flute an important part of your career, you should also set your sites on some of the specific talents and qualities that the top Universities are looking for in their interview and audition processes.

Using my knowledge of University of Toronto, as a Flute Performance Major in the 1980s, and as a teacher of students currently auditioning for the larger Univerisities across Canada, I've sketched out the following hypothetical marking system for flutists who may be hoping to continue as professional musicians.

Use the following as a method of determining just what it is that you should personally be working on, and to visualize the life-style and focus that will enable you to become a successful flute candidate. With "time, patience, and intelligent work" (as T. Wye says) you can be an "A" student by the end of a four-year programme.


How a University would rate a prospective flute student:


Grade F

  • Poor tone production; poor physical familiarity with the instrument.
  • Hazy knowledge of scales/arpeggios; stumbling on even simple scales.
  • Irregular or unclear use of articulation (tonguing and slurring not as written)
  • No dynamic variation. No variation in tone colours.
  • Poor sight reading; very small repertoire
  • Rhythmical reading difficulties; lack of pulse.
  • Lack of private lessons; No previous instruction. Self-taught
  • Lack of a daily practise routine.

Grade E

  • Knows some scales but performs them haltingly
  • Tone quality breathy or weak in highest and lowest registers
  • Loud breathing or laboured breathing (too frequent or too desperate sounding).
  • Little or no background in performance. (uncomfortable with audience)
  • Incorrect fingerings (top finger down on D2); slow or messy finger technique
  • Tuning noticeably poor. Flat in low register, sharp in high register.
  • No accumulation of flute solo repertoire and etudes prior to audition (can only play 2 short pieces and no others.).
  • Insufficient private lessons to find out about current standards.
  • Student has not listened to flute CDs or attended live performances before.

Grade D

  • Dynamics (forte to piano) attempted, but tone and tuning often distorted as a result.
  • Last notes in long phrases go flat in pitch. Crescendos go sharp.
  • Upper register passages sound uncontrolled in tone and without nuance.
  • Rhythm and pulse occasionally secure, but rushing/dragging also evident.
  • Finger technique uneven in quality. Quick tempo passages sound fingery and laboured.
  • Tonguing and articulations haphazard in quality. Staccatos all different lengths etc.
  • Sight reading from note to note; Not looking ahead for phrases and patterns.
  • Student has not researched current performance levels of professional flute players.


If you find your own flute-playing level in any of the above categories, you may wish to take private flute lessons for a year or more before reapplying to Universities for 'Flute Performance' programmes.

You may also want to read this article on eradicating the bad habits of the self-taught flutist when starting private lessons.

You'll need and want to study intensively to develop the following flute player's skills:

  • Posture and holding the flute comfortably for rapid fingering
  • Breathing, breath control, musical phrasing.
  • Rhythm, pulse and musical styles (solo repertoire and etudes/studies)
  • Tone production, dynamics and tone colouring.
  • Hand-position, finger accuracy for daily scales & arpeggios and daily exercises
  • How to practice and what areas to cover during practice
  • Articulation clarity; work on etudes (studies) to improve articulation.
  • Sightreading at level just below or same as performance level
  • General music history knowledge of styles, composers and musical terms.
  • Research on flute performances, flute CDs, current standards & techniques/books.
  • Public performance & ensemble experience (chamber groups/orchestra).


If you would like more information on how to progress really quickly on the flute, click here.


Grade C

  • Knows scales and arpeggios by memory and plays with variety of articulations.
  • Playing repertoire at the grade 9 level RCM; see Royal Conservatory Syllabus.
  • Sight-reads with rhythmic accuracy and attention to musical details.
  • Adjusts own intonation in ensembles and in unaccompanied solos.
  • Tone quality acceptable to good in all three octaves
  • Attempts tone colour variations and dynamics, shaping and phrasing.
  • Practices steadily, 7 days a week, between 1-3 hours daily. Completes all assignments
  • Scale speeds and lightness of finger technique increasing weekly

Grade B

  • Uses breath control in executing musical phrases. Has planned breathing.
  • Articulations are clear, accurate and effortless sounding.
  • Playing repertoire at the grade 10 level RCM, see Royal Conservatory Syllabus.
  • Prepares all assigned work fully, and often explores beyond assigned work
  • Researches other flutists, repertoire, concerts to attend, CDs, sheet music to order
  • Dedicated to self-development; has personal and musical goals clearly in mind
  • Sight-reads accurately with a good sense of intonation, tone, style and dynamics.
  • Performs with carefully worked out intonation (studies score/listens to recordings of work)
  • Uses a variety of tone colours; chooses colours for personal expressive purposes.

Grade A

  • Works difficult exercises to perfection; plans performances carefully
  • Flawless tone; captivating sound, beautifully shaped phrases.
  • Playing repertoire at the A.R.C.T. level or higher;see Royal Conservatory Syllabus.
  • Has distinct range of dynamics from ppp to fff and many shades between.
  • Uses tone colours for expressive effect. "Speaks" to the listener with music.
  • Can vary expressive interpretations and musical style on demand (for future conductors).
  • Practises 2-5 hours a day. Self-teaches. Self-motivates.
  • Has a great sense of drive, dedication and focus. Goals very clear.
  • Performs with a compelling personal message within the music.
  • Demonstrates complete ease and freedom while performing.

The purpose of the above "musical skill ratings" is to inspire the student to move forward in their quest to obtain flute-skills.It's always a great motivator to be able to see the level just above your own if you're a C student trying to become an A student. :>)

Pre-University (or Junior College) preparation is geared toward discovering all the above skill areas, and learning the skill of focused, daily practising, in order to make all the important musical skills physically familiar,and "second nature". It also teaches you to use your practice time wisely and to focus on the improvements you seek

Repertoire Levels: See ~ Royal Conservatory Syllabus.

It is advisable for young flutists to be playing flute repertoire at a minimum level of Royal Conservatory Grade Nine before applying to a major University. Grade 10, A.R.C.T. or higher is even better assurance of University acceptance. Each of the grades listed in the syllabus is comprised of advanced repertoire, advanced etudes, memorized scales/arpeggios and standard Orchestral Excerpts, as well as basic Harmony/ Music History and some basic keyboard ability.

Please feel free to print out the above list of skills, and you'll soon find that through dedicated and focused practise, with your goals firmly in mind, that you will continue to be a much sought after young musician.

For Jen’s Favourite flute repertoire click here.

Jennifer Cluff ~ July 2004

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© Jennifer Cluff