"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:

  1. Establish a routine time and place. Making music around the same time and in the same environment helps reinforce the "time for fluting" mindset you want to cultivate.
  2. Gather accessories and materials you need to support your session. These include things like instrument (duh), good lighting, music stand, metronome, music, mirror, etc.
  3. Check for good body and hand position to minimize unnecessary strain and to maximize freedom of movement and air flow.

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:

  1. Begin with a warm-up routine. Familiar long tones encourage deep full inhalation with open, free-flowing and well-supported air stream. These also help develop and maintain habits that support good flute tone and intonation. Follow long tones with some scales and/or scale studies to limber up those fingers. (No death grip, please!). You can always proceed through the circle of 5ths that include major and melodic minor scales. Also suggested are exercises from one or more of the following collections:
    • Wye's "Complete Daily Exercises for the Flute"
    • Taffanel and Gaubert's "17 Big Daily Finger Exercises for the Flute"
    • Marcel Moyse's "Daily Exercises for the Flute"
    • Marquarre's "Daily Exercised for the Flute"
  2. Develop technical skills through the study of etudes appropriate for your level of play and to reach specific skill-acquisition goals.
  3. Play solo or other performance literature.
  4. Work on school music.
  5. Celebrate with familiar favorites. This is a fitting reward for all you have just accomplished. Choose pieces that you truly love and can play very well with appropriate tone and expression.
  6. Swab excess moisture that has collected on the inside of your flute with a soft, absorbent, lint-free cloth. This helps to protect the integrity of the pads. Wipe finger smudges from the exterior with a similar dry cloth.
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:

"Ooooo, I don't like this one!"
"This one is EVIL!"
"This one didn't go very well.". . . .etc.

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:

  1. Select the two notes that you're having the most trouble switching smoothly and accurately between.
  2. Drill this two-note combination until the switching is well-coordinated with embouchure, tongue, and fingers. The switching should feel easy, sound clean, and be achieved with consistency.
  3. Add the note behind these and drill all three notes together. Use the same goals for these three notes as for the two-note combination.
  4. Add the note in front of the selected two notes and drill all of this subset of notes together.
  5. Continue adding notes on either side of your original two-note selection until they all fit together smoothly and consistently.
  6. To these "drill bits," add a few notes that come both before and after the selected challenge and drill accordingly. This helps you "make friends" with the entire passage in the context of the piece. A most satisfying and rewarding process.
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!


FluteKeys Studio:      (217) 355-9498     info@flutekeys.com