Continual Improvement in Music

By day, I am a Quality Engineer at a company in Casa Grande that makes a raw material for the space, aerospace and aviation industries. We make a unique structurally durable material called honeycomb core that can be found in plane engines, engine flaps, horizontal stabilizers, Apache helicopter blades, and on the top of the SpaceX dragons. By night, I am a flutist/piccoloist with the Maricopa Music Circle and the Central Arizona College (CAC) Wind Ensemble. Other ensembles I have been a part of include the AFS Alla Breve and Desert Echoes Flute Project. I have also broadened my musical horizons by learning oboe as an adult.

I conduct a lot of training for my plant. Part of my Quality Management System (QMS) training includes educating others about various aerospace quality requirements, including "Continual Improvement." The definition of continual improvement is the ongoing effort to improve a product, service or process through incremental or breakthrough changes.

I ask my trainees, "Can you tell me about your favorite hobby?" I have received many responses including fixing up cars, gardening, skiing, cooking, hiking, and spending time with the kids. As we discuss their hobbies, I describe how they are improving a skill with every repetition, whether or not they are aware of it. For example, someone who works on cars always wants their tools within arm's reach, and they want to finish their job to a standard of quality within a reasonable amount of time. The more that individual works on cars or completes the same task with repetition, the more efficient they will become. Simple as that.

I briefly tell the new hire employees about my hobby: I play flute with a few groups, and am now learning the hardest instrument in the world, called the oboe. It is interesting to know how many people do not know what an oboe is, and I have no problem enlightening them.

So how different is it to learn oboe after many years of flute playing? Here are the answers you have been dying to hear.

Understanding the oboe from a flutist’s perspective:

1. Bb on the oboe is similar to C on flute. There is a 60% chance you will also play it incorrectly. Strive to get it right the first time!

2. The F on oboe is similar to F# on flute. There is a 70% chance you will play the wrong one. Just keep trying.

3. Having skinny short fingers is a serious disadvantage to playing oboe. Deal with it!

4. On the oboe, the transition between notes that are all closed (C#) to an open note (C) will result in a "Blip!" or a non-continuous sound if you do not move your fingers together, at the same speed. When learning the flute, if you ever though that transitioning from high F# to high B gracefully was difficult, it’s 20 times harder on the oboe. Coordination and continuous airflow is everything!

Even though I have played music for years, I still take flute lessons in Tempe with Dr. Jenna Daum. Like all students, I have weaknesses and goals. I simply do not have the memory capacity to remember music theory, I do not practice efficiently, and I need to relax my embrouchure and shoulders. My goal is to play many types of flute literature and play it spendidly and accurately. Through repetition (and a lot of practice time), I will continually improve my flute and piccolo playing. In the end, everything takes time! (Learning the oboe will just take an extra amount of time.)

Music has taught me patience, teamwork and that recognizing hard work in others increases their trust and respect for you. All this is done with continual improvement.

Random question: Have you ever walked out of a spa treatment, received an amazing haircut or had a massage and felt absolutely fantastic afterwards? Yes, you have. That is how I feel after having music lessons with Dr. Jenna and Ms. Tiffany Pan (oboist). My teachers do a fine job effectively recognizing their students when they are doing well, as well as communicating key points to improve on for the next lesson. Through effective communication, I build my trust and respect towards my teachers. I walk out of my lessons feeling accomplished and more confident than the previous lesson. It is truly a rewarding feeling as a result of continual improvement.

Realizing that learning a new instrument results in incremental continual improvement, I am constantly working on patience. Results do not happen overnight, and learning transition between notes can take weeks. Just being in an ensemble, a marching band or a board member of the AZ Flute Society is purely teamwork. Ultimately, I truly admire music educators and the talent they have with kids, teens and adults. Some may disagree, but training adults in the aerospace industry is not as rewarding as teaching music for all ages. Sometimes, I lead teams at work, but it is not the same. Continual improvement is a result of repetition, trying and getting feedback. This year, I am showing my appreciation for music educators by volunteering at the Arizona Music Educators Association (AMEA) Convention this winter with the Arizona Flute Society. Thank you, music educators, who have inspired so many people, including myself! Thank you for helping me with continual improvement.

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