Flute competitions – yes or no?

This is probably the most debated topic in flute/music forums, so I thought I would write a blog based on my experience, both as a competitor and jury member.


Competitions can provide participants with a great experience of performing under pressure.  Being scrutinised by a jury on every aspect of one’s playing makes one “up their game” and elevate their standard of playing to a whole new level.  Like when recording oneself, the participant strives for a high level of precision and puts their best foot forward in presenting their interpretation of music.  Preparing a whole programme of music in such a detailed way is also beneficial for future recitals.

Competition in music is everywhere.  Auditioning for orchestras is another type of competition, so the more one gets used to performing under pressure, the more chance they will have of playing their best and perhaps getting a job.  Even teachers have to compete with each other these days to get a pool of students.


Music was never meant to be like a sport and it should never be.  Music is art and how can we possibly judge one against another and decide who played better or whose Bach partita should win first prize.

People can take a huge blow to their confidence if they “lose”, or “fail” to progress to the next round.  Feedback can be very useful for further learning if given in a nice way, but can be very damaging if the jury member writes/says something without any care of how it may affect the participant’s emotional well-being.  My friends and I have received comments that were frankly horrible.  These comments can stay with the person in the back of their mind for a long time and can take away the joy of music making.  Thankfully we laugh about it now and try not to let negative comments bother us.

I have been lucky enough to win and reach the final stage in some competitions, but there have been an equal number of competitions (well, more!) where I haven’t passed the first round.  One must be prepared to accept the jury’s decision and not take it personally.

If you have prepared your repertoire to the best of your abilities and you play well and musically, you can be proud of yourself no matter the result.  On the many occasions where I haven’t won, I have managed to take away something positive – whether it’s a nice comment from a player I admire or an audience member saying “you made me cry”, or even being proud that I played the piece (or section of a piece ) better than I have before.

Every competition has a different atmosphere and jury, so even if you win one, it doesn’t mean you will win them all.   One should be humble in winning and in defeat- congratulate the winner instead of gossiping.

Go to a competition with an open mind and thick skin- if you do well, it’s a bonus.  If not, you can be proud that you gave it your best.  Also, don’t try to second guess a jury- it’s impossible!  When I judged a competition recently, some of my favourite performances were another jury member’s least favourite and vice versa.  The winner can sometimes be the player who offends the jury the least, but is it necessarily what we want to listen to on repeat at home on our CD player or computer?

So, in summary, if you enter a competition, do it for the right reasons and never sacrifice your musical integrity.  Give a performance you would be moved by. Even if you don’t win, you might make somebody’s day, or get a concert opportunity from an important spectator.  Also, be respectful to your fellow competitors- make music, not war!

Thanks for reading and happy fluting!


5 thoughts on “Flute competitions – yes or no?

  1. I only ever participated in one international flute competition, and was lucky enough to be a prize winner, but the experience certainly put me off ever participating in another. When I asked for feedback on my playing, instead of critiquing my playing, I was told “nobody here knew you”…! What that meant, is anyone’s guess.

    On a dissimilar note, one well-known pianist, who was once on the panel of an international competition, told the tale of when he gave a consultation lesson to one of the competition candidates. The candidate accidently overpaid him by several hundred pounds, and so he made sure that he transferred the extra straight back to him. When he told the rest of the panel about the story, he apparently saw a very large number of faces turn white. Coincidentally, the candidate who paid the extra money, also happened to end up winning the competition.

    I’m not suggesting that every competition is dishonest, but plenty of today’s top musicians failed to win a competition. Something to remember!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think your note that music is not, and was never meant to be, a competitive sport is an important one. Twenty years ago, I entered, and won, a lot of competitions – local, national, and international. Do I remember *any* of the critique I received from those competitions? Not a word. I remember the state juried solo & ensemble festival in which a local professor told me that I should take up typing if I wanted to do something with my hands. He said this, not because of my performance, but because I had been upset and flustered when my accompanist failed to show up and he said I needed a thicker skin. I was 15 at the time. I did grow a thicker skin over the years, but his comment damaged me for a long time and completely broke my confidence for years, despite all the other awards I received in the years that passed after that. Your perspective is an important one to emphasize to students that the critique is valuable to a point, but ultimately, it is the experience of performing, and moving forward, that is important, not winning, not losing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you think so. And sorry to hear you had to deal with that comment at a young age. Sometimes jury members lack a sense of tact. They fall into the problem of end-gaining– trying to rectify a “problem” without using the appropriate means whereby. Perhaps a more useful comment would have been “be prepared for all situations so you can react well”. I think I shall write about end-gaining in a future blog post.


    2. “I remember the state juried solo & ensemble festival in which a local professor told me that I should take up typing if I wanted to do something with my hands.”

      I’d have told him, “And you should have taken up a job as a call boy if you wanted to do something with your mouth, because it sure isn’t up to giving advice.” Needless to say, I infuriated many a local tosspot/”teacher” with my own mouth, when given unnecessarily negative remarks, and more students should stand up to them. There’s a world of difference between constructive criticism and insults. Unfortunately, certain individuals within the previous generation of teachers, never quite worked out the difference.

      Liked by 1 person

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