Wild confessions of a professional flutist.

Posts tagged ‘practice’

Flute Students, Read This Post!

Ah, practicing. . .  It’s the thing we hate to do but are completely dependent upon.

What an interesting problem – in order to be successful at something we love, we must consistently do the practicing we do not love so much (to put it politely).

There is good news, however! Learn to practice well, and the results will be so fabulous you will become hooked on the process and practice time will become something to look forward to. It happened to me, and it happens to my students!

How does one find the time to practice?  For starters, please understand that no one can do everything (an unpopular viewpoint in this 21st century). Anyone who attempts to be on a varsity sport, and in the school play, and in another club, and in a youth group, AND play the flute, will only be able to scratch the surface of each of these activities, and they all will suffer. It is essential for each of us to prioritize our activities based on our personal goals and time requirements.  If you love softball, but want to become a professional flutist, perhaps the weekend softball club at a local gym is the best answer. If you hope to compete on a college level swim team, be realistic about how much time you can commit to flute lessons and practice.

Once you have evaluated your schedule, figure out how much practice time is necessary.  My recommendation is SOME EVERY DAY. It is more important to get used to a daily routine than it is to fret over specific time allotments.

That having been said, a great guideline for your daily practice amount is the length of your private lesson. A student who takes a half-hour lesson will do well by practicing thirty minutes per day. Students who take longer lessons should generally practice longer. But remember, the first goal is to get into the routine of doing SOME every day.

What should you do with this time once you have found it? Good question! I like to teach students to break practice sessions into four parts: Tone, Technique, Repertoire, and Other. I could very easily write entire articles (books, even!) about each of these categories, but in the interest of time, space, and the potential reader’s attention span, I will make one or two suggestions per topic:

TONE: Do five long tones in a row EVERY DAY. Even if you only have five minutes available for practicing, this exercise is the one that should never be skipped. A good long tone should be done on any note which is easy for you (I like low G), very quietly, for as long as you can possibly hold it and then some. Time them.  Then, do a few quiet octave slurs – that will get your embouchure moving.

TECHNIQUE: Figure out the chromatic scale (three octaves) and every major scale in chromatic order. Do not try to learn them from the written page – just close your eyes and figure them out. Even if you learn only one or two per week, you will memorize them permanently if you figured them out in your own head, and the finger patterns will be mastered. Play every scale every day. Be as virtuosic as possible.

REPERTOIRE: You and your teacher will choose the repertoire (and etudes!) which are most appropriate for your level. I will give you one tip for clearing up any tricky parts. Circle (with pencil) the spots that are difficult, messy, annoying, etc. The next time you practice your repertoire, DO NOT start at the beginning. Start by drilling everything located within a “nightmare circle.” This routine will actually clean up problems. And if you have only a few minutes available, solving one of the circles will be much more beneficial than playing the pretty parts or staring into space.

OTHER: This category contains any other projects that you may be tackling with your teacher – double-tonguing, rhythm, vibrato, sight reading, etc. There are many, many variables in this category, so instead of specific advice, I will take this opportunity to recommend Trevor Wye’s Practice Books for Flute. They are absolutely indispensable.

Practice time can be a challenge, but learn to do it efficiently and the work will pay off. As Mr. Wye says in all of his books, “It is a matter of time, patience, and intelligent work.” And it will all be worth it when you hear that applause.

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Photo by Kathy Joyce Photography.

 

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A Little Lift

A Little Lift

Since slamming my hand in a door last month, my first finger just does not want to press its key down. I got tired of being patient, so my husband created this little lift. Now the key is at the perfect height and I can practice as much as I’d like!

Student Breakthrough

“It seemed so hard at first, but now it’s EASY!  And, it’s REALLY FUN!!”  – flute student, Joselyn Allin

YES!

This embouchure octave slur breakthrough happened during a  young student’s recent lesson.  She started as a beginner in the middle of this past summer because she wanted to join band with her friends.  These friends have already been in band for two years. . .

Practicing has been difficult and boring for her thus far.  And, when band class started, she discovered that the other kids know much more than she does.  She brought her band music to her lesson that week and told me she was scared.

That’s when I told her that if she practices my way, not only will she catch up to the other kids, but she will end up being one of the best ones.  She seemed skeptical, but I told her to trust me, and she did.

A few weeks later, she proudly announced that the other kids don’t know how to play a B natural.  Last week she was excited to learn notes lower than the ones the other kids know, and informed me that the other kids “don’t even do long tones.”  And, this week she learned to control high notes with her embouchure, and discovered that it sounds “way prettier” to do it that way.

She laments the fact that she can’t play the band music.  “YET!”  I interrupted.  “Never say that you can’t do something.  Say that you can’t do it yet.”

“I can’t play the band music YET.”  She announced.  Then she flashed me a gigantic smile.

She gets it!

I Quit Flute

An amazing young colleague recently had this as her Facebook status:

  • I quit flute.

Her friends responded with comments like, “Oh, no, you are SO GOOD!” or, “Don’t quit!!!” and “Nooooo!”

My response?  Do it.  (But, it’s not what you think. . .)

The late, great, Ed Gobrecht – bassoonist, conductor, educator, master inspirer – once horrified a group of undergraduate music majors at Ithaca College by recommending that we all take a month off from our instrument every summer.  His point was that no other professionals practice every day for their entire lives and everyone needs a break in order to avoid boredom, stagnation, and injury.  Professional athletes take a break in the off-season.  Surgeons, lawyers, and engineers take vacation time.  Writers and artists take time off to seek inspiration.  Why should musicians be compelled to never take a break, or feel guilty for leaving their instrument at home when going on vacation?

“But, my tone will go out the window!”  Or, “I’ll lose my technique!!”

Gobrecht said that it will all come back and will very likely end up being better than before.  Why?  Because the break was refreshing, invigorating, perhaps even inspiring.  And, returning to your instrument will feel like reuniting with an old friend.

One month before taking graduate school auditions, I travelled to Mexico for a week with my husband (and no flute!).  I planned my practicing prior to the trip so that I would be ready to audition before I left.  I planned a week of embouchure exercises and regrouping when I returned, and that gave me three weeks to polish my auditions.  I returned refreshed, excited, and on a mission to have some amazing auditions – then got accepted to my top two schools.

So, my amazing young colleague, do it.  Quit.  Go hiking with friends or roll in some sand.  Eat a fancy meal and visit a museum.  Give yourself a few days of not being a flutist.  Then, pick the thing back up.  You will be excited to get back to work, and your practice time will take on a whole new enthusiastic meaning.

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(Here’s a photo of me with Ed Gobrecht at the Ithaca College band reunion, just one year prior to Gobrecht’s death.  His inspiration lives on.)

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“It’s really fun…

“It’s really fun to play when you know you are getting so much better!” – flute student, Kiersten Flodman

She just blurted this one out in the middle of a flute lesson. . .

We Just Want to Have Fun

Parents often seek me out to teach their child how to play the flute, but then give me some version of this caveat:

We want him to study with you because you come highly recommended and your students do really well. However, we don’t want serious lessons. We just want our child to have fun.

I used to try to be diplomatic, but now I give them a speech similar to this. . .

First of all, it is not fun to play badly. And, there is no need to take lessons, if playing badly is your goal. That can be done on your own.

I think it is fun to work hard and then be really good at something.

I think it’s fun to strive for excellence and reach it.

I think it’s fun to be among the best and to be known for doing great things.

I think it’s fun to win stuff.

I think it’s fun to walk on stage and know that I can nail a piece of music I thought I would never be able to play.

I think it’s fun to get a standing ovation – or any applause, for that matter.

I think it’s fun to have self-confidence and to know that I have the skills to overcome any obstacle.

I think it’s fun to play with high-level musicians and to be thrilled with the results.

I think it’s fun to know how to set goals and reach them.

If you would like your child to have my kind of fun, I will be happy to get started. If you are asking me to compromise my principles and not provide the very best for your child, then I am not the teacher for you.

They always sign up. Would you?

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“Smile and nod….

“Smile and nod. Maybe she’ll go away.” – flute student, Madison Butler

This was Madison’s response to my very earnest, upbeat, and somewhat lengthy pep talk during a flute lesson.  She even smiled and nodded while she said it. . .

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