"Never Mind Practice"
Don't Just Practice -- Make Music
No matter what your current level of play is, flute playing is about making music. Making music is uplifting, expressive, creative, and a great way to blow off steam. So never mind squeezing your attitude into the heavy mindset of daily "practice" sessions. Instead, cultivate the liberating mindset of "making music" via flute every day you possibly can.
That being said, muscle conditioning and fluting fundamentals are an integral part of playing flute music well. Developing any skill does take time and attention. It may not always be easy, but all the rewards make it worth the effort. I think you'll find that learning to play flute music is a lot like making new friends.
A Word to Beginning Flute Students
During the first few months of beginning your flute adventure, be sure to mindfully develop these basic, essential habits at the start of your daily music-making sessions:
Once these basics are well in hand and automatic, follow the suggestions below to maximize the rewards of your session.
Important Characteristics of your Daily Music-Making Session
Incorporate the following into your daily music-making sessions. These procedures will prepare your mind and body for expressing yourself flute-fully:
Drill and Grill: Making Friends with Difficult Passages
Here's the familiar litany from my students when it is time to play a challenging item during the lesson:
The inevitable response from me (as they will all tell you) is that they'll like it just fine once they have become better acquainted with it!
It's almost like the student is quarreling with the passage and needs to know how to "make up" with it. So the problem at hand is actually: How can one "make friends" with the passage in order to promote harmony in the interaction of player and music? After all, when a person is hard to get along with, who wants to spend any time with him? You may feel the same way about a particularly difficult passage. And as happens with many who at first seem hard to get along with, it's worth the effort to make a new friend.
To this end, develop a "bag of tricks" to help learn unfamiliar and challenging passages. Once you have a vocabulary of techniques to employ that will help you and your fingers learn a passage, you can reach into this "bag of tricks" to help you reach your performance goals.
Note: The "tricks" below are just a small sampling of ways to resolve problems in playing music. However, they are at the heart of a strong musical foundation on which to build.
Trick #1: FORMULATE A CLEAR PERFORMANCE GOAL
Many young musicians set a timer for 30 minutes and proceed to simply try to fill the time by blowing on the flute while moving the fingers! A timer, while it can be a valuable tool, doesn't help much unless you set a particular performance goal for the item you're working on.
For example, for one etude or solo, you might choose four specific measures of difficulty to conquer. Isolate and practice these measures systematically. When you are satisfied with your progress on these measures, perform the whole study (or significant portion thereof) and place the measures in their proper context.
Trick #2: DO NOT TOLERATE WRONG NOTES AND/OR RHYTHMS*
This might seem obvious but it needs constant reinforcement, especially among young musicians. Correct notes and rhythms are fundamental in playing music well, so this trick must be employed frequently.
Are you one who just schleps your way through a piece by continuing on your merry way regardless of sloppiness and wrong notes? What are you accomplishing by doing this? You're actually teaching yourself that it's all right to play the passage incorrectly, and your fingers are conditioned and reinforced into playing wrong notes. Needless to say, this makes no sense and should be avoided.
When the music sounds wrong, or when you know you're "messing up" the music, for heaven's sake stop, back up several notes, analyze the error, and correct your mistake!
*EXCEPTIONS: Do not stop to correct errors if you are playing a sight-reading exercise, playing with other musicians, or are in a performance situation.
Trick #3: FASTER IS DISASTER
Slow down! Discipline yourself to play very slowly at first. A metronome is great support for this, as it will help you put on the brakes consistently throughout the challenge. Once your fingers and tongue can perform at a slower pace with consistent accuracy, speed up the tempo by clicking the metronome speed to a little faster setting. Repeat this process until the metronome is at your target speed and you can perform with consistent and satisfying accuracy.
Trick #4: DRILL BITS: MAKE THE CHALLENGE LESS INTIMIDATING
Instead of trying to learn the whole challenge all at once, break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example:
Make Some Music and some New "Friends" Right Now!
Part of meeting someone new often includes the ritual of saying, "Nice to meet you." If you don't feel that way when encountering difficult passages, proceed to use your newly acquired bag of tricks to make friends with it. This will expand your circle of "friends" every time.
In conclusion, I urge you not to wait a moment longer before continuing on your musical fluting journey. Make some music right now, as soon as you finish reading this article. You'll become greatly enriched with all the new friends you'll make along the way. Once you're well acquainted with each other, you can say, "It's a privilege to know you." And mean it!