Don’t Let Your Failures Define You…Or Do?

Dear Readers,

I apologize for my incredibly long hiatus from this blog! This semester has been a busy one, and an emotionally challenging one. But through it all, I have learned something, and that something is the art of failure.

Every time something does not work out the way I want it to (i.e. a failure), I always resolve that I am above said obstacle. “I don’t deserve this treatment.” “It simply was not meant to be.” “I can’t let this define me.

But what if we did use our failures to help define ourselves?

This past weekend I took an audition for a per-service orchestra that REALLY did not go in my favor. Heck, I didn’t even advance past the first round. Coming off of the high of advancing to the finals of a major orchestra audition earlier this year, I immediately started to worry that something was wrong. “My playing has slipped.” “I am doing something wrong.” “I can’t let this define me…”

To add to the worry, I have a fiance who is also a flutist who currently holds a number of flute jobs with various orchestras out west. This job would have been “perfect” for me to have as I could have had a stable life living out west, and getting to play in an orchestra out that way as well.

After rationalizing my failure at this audition with the help of some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and some Trolli sour gummy worms, I came around to the age old saying “Don’t let your failures define you.”

But then I thought: “What if I did define myself by my failures?”

Certainly there is something to be learned out of every loss! Can you imagine a world where one can only do things right, or everything goes your way? Sure, coming from a world where we all must experience the inevitability of failure, this might seem like a wonderful world. But soon we would have nothing to measure our successes by, and we would not all grow as human beings nor would we grow in our respective fields.

After grieving, which is a necessary part of healing from any failure or loss, look at what you have gained out of this experience.

For me, I push myself very hard in preparing for auditions. I am always learning new things about my playing (new tendencies, developing more musical ideas, knowledge of the orchestral repertoire I never had before). And after this audition, I can honestly say that my orchestral excerpts have never been in a better place!

Sure, if I would have won a position with this particular symphony I would be in a happy place. But I also would have set my flute down for a few days and halted my learning process because I would have “known that I could have.” Instead, I am taking my flute up like never before with more determination than ever. Because I know, that regardless of success or failure, I will learn something. And if I learn something from my failures, you better bet I am going to let that define me!

Also, congratulations to the winners of this audition! You all deserve it, and I wish you all the very best going forward!

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Resolutions and Goals and Projects, OH MY!

Dear Readers, 

First, I would like to welcome myself back to the realm of social media!  I had recently taken an almost 2-month hiatus from social media in an attempt to be more productive.  Well let me tell you, I certainly WAS more productive.  I made it to the final three of an international audition for a principal flute position!  Warning: future hiatuses are imminent!

Now that I am back in the realm of social media, I have been meaning to post to the blog, but I was having a lack of inspiration.  That is, until I bought and read Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project.” First of all, this book is a wonderful way to evaluate how happy you truly are with your life and your situation.  

But more importantly (at least to me), it has a TREASURE TROVE of information about forming resolutions as well as the smaller goals and projects that go along with them!  I would HIGHLY recommend the book!

While I was reading the book, I thought “Wow, some many of these concepts can be applied to the idea of playing and practicing.” Below are a few wonderful quotes for all of us to ponder over:

“People are more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete, measurable actions, with some kind of structured accountability and positive reinforcement.” – Gretchen Rubin

“Happiness, is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

“…take pleasure in the ‘atmosphere of growth,’ in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.”

I recently gave a presentation, as part of being a guest artist at the inaugural Montana Flute Festival, about “Practicing Efficiently.” In it, I advocated for everyone to have long-term goals and short-term goals.  While I still wholeheartedly believe in the success that creating goals will bring, even the idea of having long-term and short-term goals can seem a little vague without having anything to back them up, like a PLAN, or something that will make you stick to your goals. 

In “The Happiness Project,” Gretchen goes as far as a chart that she rates her daily progress based on whether she upheld her resolutions that day or not.  I LOVE this idea! And I believe there are some steps that will help in forming your resolutions, goals and projects.  

1.) Go from broad to specific. Pick a resolution or a broader goal, then put smaller goals in place that will get you closer to your ultimate goal. 

2.) Identify any resources that your resolution or goals may require.

3.) Develop a system that will help you stick to your goal (like a chart, a journal, etc.) I prefer a chart where I either give myself a gold star or a red X.

4.) Constantly monitor your progress, and reflect upon it! (i.e. “…take pleasure in the ‘atmosphere of growth,’ in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.”)

In case you are wondering, I DO have a goal in mind while writing all of this.  

My goal, is to strengthen the artistic expression in all aspects of my playing.  To do this, I am going to be using Marcel Moyse’s “Tone Development Through Interpretation” book.  I will go cover to cover, working on and recording one exercise a day until I am finished (I may even post these to SoundCloud to keep myself true to my goal.  I also will make my calendar each day with a gold star (for when I record and upload my exercise) or a red X (for when I fail to meet my goal).  I LOVE getting gold stars and HATE seeing red X’s so that to me is almost motivation enough!  

By recording myself, I am able to constantly evaluate myself.  Also, it allows me to keep track of my progress over time.  This way I can, again, “…take pleasure in the ‘atmosphere of growth,’ in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.”

I hope that this post will entice you to read Gretchen Rubin’s book and develop resolutions, goals, and projects of your own!  Keep an eye out for a link my SoundCloud profile, I need some listeners that will keep me true and honest to my goal!  

 

Distractions, Distractions…SQUIRREL!

Dear Readers, 

Let me start off first by apologizing for my lack of blog posts over the winter holidays!  I had everything getting in my way, from 17+ hour road trips, to illness, to audition prep, to writing a musical!  

But fear not, for I now return to the land of blogging!  

Speaking of things getting in the way, let’s talk about DISTRACTIONS!

 

Distractions are a difficult topic to address without sounding like someone from many generations ago saying “Well, you know, in my day we didn’t have smart phones, or THE internet…”  Instead, I am coming at you from the perspective of a young, twenty-something whose New Year’s Resolution it is to make this year the most productive one yet!  

Now, we all get distracted, and things come up that are sometimes out of our control.  While situations like these, more often than not, can not be avoided, this makes it even more important to use our time that is free of hassles to be productive!  FOR EXAMPLE, I was “preparing” for an audition in the weeks before winter break.  I use quotes because this “preparation” included me playing excerpts over and over and dismissing many mistakes because “I will have time to practice over the winter break, right?”  WRONG.

What was supposed to be a 12-hour car trip home turned into nothing short of an incredibly frustrating, 17-hour car trip.  Needless to say, I did not practice that first day of break.  Then it was the Christmas season which means lots of socializing, family gatherings, and FOOD!  Shortly after Christmas I came down with something weirdly reminiscent of the flu.  While the flu did not stick around long, a wonderful double-ear-infection soon replaced it.  Fast-forward a week when I am making a three-day car trip across the country to my audition location.  This journey included me practicing for thirty minutes a day in various hotel bathrooms.  

While my situation may seem extreme, this like this DO happen.  And before you know it, your lovely 3.5-week break for practicing turns in to a 1-week CRAM SESSION for a professional audition.  Needless to say, I did NOT win that audition.  

While I could not have avoided most of what happened to me over break, I definitely could have been more productive in the weeks leading up to it.  Here are a few pointers for getting a head start on your productivity:

1) Make sure you are practicing in an environment that is conducive to productivity!  While this may seem like a giant “DUH” for some, I have had students tell me that they practice in the kitchen while their mother is making dinner, and trying to feed their 6-month-old, younger sibling.  Try, for starters, choosing a space that is QUIET, CONTAINED, and FREE OF DISTRACTIONS!

2) Speaking of distractions: address your cell-phone situation.  These days, most people have a smart-phone which puts much of the world at your fingertips.  While this luxury has many benefits, one thing it is NOT benefiting is your practice time.  Try turning your phone COMPLETELY off (as in NO POWER).  If you use your phone for apps such as a metronome, tuner, or as a recording device, they most likely do not require a connection, so put your phone in Airplane Mode.  This way, you are not tempted (and can not for that matter) browse the internet, or just casually check Facebook for that minute that turns in to an hour.  If you need to start with baby steps, just start by silencing your phone!  I, for one, actually leave my phone outside of my practice space.  Cut off the temptation at it’s source!

3) Try placing something in your practice space that you think promotes productivity.  I read an article recently saying that people who have plants on their desks are more productive than people with no plants on their desks.  Basically, the plants provide “attention restoration.”  In the article, it also says that inanimate objects can have the same effect.  SO, if you have a favorite artist (musical, visual, etc.), try hanging up a poster of them or their work.  You will be surprised, when you look at your “attention restorer,” how quickly your brain will snap back to attention!  

I know there are only three suggestions listed above, but once you become aware of your not-so-productive habits, your can address those habits, and oftentimes cut them off at their source!  As with all of my blog suggestions, HAVE FUN and BE CREATIVE!  

Let me know how your productivity progresses!

Just Be Yourself

WHOA! Has it really been this long since my last blog post? Well, this is a topic very near and dear to my heart, so hopefully this blog post will prove to be SO special it will make up for 3 weeks worth…sorry about that!

So, with all of the school auditions coming up, and for those of you who are about to audition for anything, I have a GIANT piece of advice for you: JUST BE YOURSELF.

Now I know you are probably thinking “Wow, Tyler. How profound.” You have only heard that mantra, what, one million times? Well, there is a reason: IT’S TRUE!

Imagine you are a lawyer going in for a big job interview with a corporate law firm. The only problem is, you are more of a family lawyer. You are still a lawyer, yes, however your priorities (and perhaps values) lie elsewhere within the broad scope of the law. You really want this job, so you start trying to talk and act like how you think a corporate lawyer should talk and act. You leave thinking, well, that wasn’t so bad. I think I gave them what they really wanted. I REALLY HOPE I GET THIS! Fast forward about a week. You don’t get the job. You are devastated.

LET’S BACK UP!

First of all, why are YOU, as a person experienced in family law, applying to a corporate law firm? Is it for the money, the prestige, because all of your lawyer friends work in corporate law? Second of all, why didn’t you just be yourself? I believe a law firm would respect a lawyer who knows their own strengths and weaknesses over someone who is pretending to be something they are not.

Regardless of how great a comparison that was, do you see my point?

Sometimes, we as musicians, put so much effort into trying to be like someone else or trying to appeal to what WE think are SOMEONE ELSE’S tastes. There are quite a few problems with this:

1) How do YOU know what SOMEONE ELSE’S tastes are?

2) Why would you be applying somewhere, or studying with someone that does not share your goals and visions? If you are trying to be like them, then that is what they will constantly expect of you. And hopefully you can deliver, or else it may not end well.

Let me share with you a personal story. I applied at an institution for grad school last year with the hopes of studying with one particular flutist who is quite well known. I went to have a lesson with this flutist as a prospective student, to see if we were compatible. I respected this flutist’s opinion so I tried to do everything I was told. This particular way of playing did NOT work for me, and to be honest, it ruined my playing for about 2 months until I was finally able to find my way back to my own personal style.

For some reason, I still applied and auditioned at this institution for this particular teacher. The day of the audition came, and knowing the preferences of this particular teacher, and I tried to play like I was told. It. Was. A. Disaster. Needless to say, I did not gain admission into that institution, and for good reason.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let me share with you another personal story. I applied at an institution for grad school last year with the hopes of studying with one particular flutist who is quite well known. I went to have a lesson with this flutist as a prospective student, to see if we were compatible. I respected this flutist’s opinion so I tried to do everything I was told. This particular teacher did not try to change the fundamental way I play the flute, and gave me very helpful and constructive feedback about my playing, as well as ways that I could build on what I was already doing quite well.

Needless to say, I applied for this institution. What is unique about this institution is that there are 3 flute professors. That is to say, you most likely are not going to be able to play 3 different ways at once in an effort to please everyone. So, I went in thinking “Screw this, if they like it, they like it. If they hate it, at least I showed them ‘me.'” I played my heart out!

I got in to this institution, and it is where I am currently studying. And I could not be happier with my situation.

Let me sum it up this way:

Be yourself. Why spend so much effort trying to be something or someone you are not, when you could spend just as much effort making who you are even greater?

Practicing in Rhythms

Let me give you a little taste of what my week was like:

5 dance performances, 3 dance rehearsals, 1 orchestra concert, 4 orchestra rehearsals, 3 work-study shifts, 1 lesson, 1 studio class, 2 papers, a video review and going to various classes each day.  Needless to say, I was in a bind with my practicing.  Try as I might, I simply not able to fit in as much practice time needed to prepare my assignment of 6 etudes, the Sancan Sonatine and the Devienne’s Concerto #7 for my lesson.  

I go in to my lesson, and Mr. Langevin, per the usual, asks me to play my etudes.  “Let’s start with the Casterede” he says. Up until this point, I had planned on faking my way through Casterede’s sixth etude, UNTIL Mr. Langevin turns the metronome on to the tempo written in the score (dotted half-note = 60).  For those of you who do not know this particular etude, it is challenging, with its relentless triplets outlining every tonal triad in about a minute flat.  

At this point, I decide to come clean.  “Mr. Langevin, I was not able to get any of my etudes up to tempo this week…I’m sorry.  I have had all of these [insert excuses here] this week.”  “Ok” he says “What tempo were you able to work this one up to?”  “108 to the quarter” I replied.  Just for reference, that means my tempo was 36 to the dotted quarter, just a little over half tempo.  I struggle through the etude, even at this severely reduced tempo, as Mr. Langevin calmly listens off to the side.  

When I was finished. he simply said “Why don’t you try practicing this in different rhythms for me.” Since this entire etude is comprised of triplets, Mr. Langevin had me practice the entire etude using dotted-eight and two thirty-seconds.  I had practiced using a similiar method using an eight and two sixteenths, however Mr. Langevin explained that the goal with practicing in rhythms, is to make the faster notes as fast as possible while still remaining “clean” or without finger mistakes.  He then also had me practice the same rhythm in reverse, explaining that the long note can be as long as you need, just as long as the fast notes are as quick as possible.  

“Whenever I am in a bind” he explained (which I imagine he would be given the number of services the philharmonic has per week, combined with his teaching at both Juilliard and MSM) “I practice using these different rhythms. It is the quickest way to learn something [technical].”  

After having practiced the etude using the two rhythmic variations mentioned above, Mr. Langevin turns the metronome on again and has me play the etude through.  I was able to get through the etude with minimal mistakes, and little to my knowledge, he had bumped the metronome up from my original tempo of 108 to the quarter, to 120.  So in those 5 minutes, I was able to bump up my tempo by 12 clicks, simply by using two rhythmic variations.  

If you are in a bind, and let’s be honest, who isn’t???  Try practicing using different rhythms.  I have included some of my favorite rhythms to use while practicing below.  Have fun, be creative with it, and watch your productivity increase ten fold!

Rhythmic Variations for Practicing

Passages of eight-notes: Try using a) dotted-eight sixteenth or b) double dotted-eight thirty second.  

Passages of triplets: Try using eighth two sixteenths, or dotted-eighth two thirty seconds. 

Passage of sixteenth-notes: Try using a) dotted-sixteenth thirty second, b) double-dotted sixteenth sixty fourth, c) an eighth note with triplet-sixteenths or d) a dotted-eighth note with triplet-thirty seconds.

Note: All of the above rhythms can be reversed!  Please see the photo below for a notated version of the above descriptions!

Image

Recording

Let me present you with a little scenario:

You have to record a sample of your playing for a summer festival application, a college application, or you are about to play a recital that will be recorded (and perhaps even archived, yikes!). You practice like mad, trying to ensure that everything surrounding this performance or recording session goes as planned. Your playing is recorded and you get some pretty good takes, maybe even a few that you say, that is the PERFECT take of the Mozart Concerto!

THEN…you go to listen to the recording and the first thought that comes into your mind as you hear the recorded sounds being played back is “WHAT?!?!”

I have had this very experience more times than I care to remember, and I am sure that many of you have too. The night I recorded my college prescreenings in high school, I had to leave the room and cry. My high school teacher, Nancy Stagnitta can even attest to this. But DO NOT FRET, there is a way to avoid this rather unpleasant situation!

My advice to you: record yourself AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE!

Many of us nestle ourselves into a comfy little corner in our playing, often becoming used to our own aural perception of our playing. Odds are, you don’t sound very much like you think you do from 5, 10 or even 50 feet away. This is what causes that dismayed reaction when we hear ourselves for the first time since our previous recording session, which, if you are not recording yourself regularly, could be once a year…

But if you record yourself regularly, you discover what you actually sound like, or you can at least gather how your playing might be being perceived by others. Fun fact: when you record, you are at a heightened awareness. I am sure we have all discovered that when we are recording, we notice small mistakes or inconsistencies that seemed to never be present before. This is not you all of a sudden making mistakes you have never made before, but now that you are at a heightened awareness, you are noticing mistakes that have been there all along, you were just not aware of them in the wash of everything else going on during your practice sessions.

Now, if you are like me, you might feel the need to record every single thing your play. If you do not have access to a recording device (see links and suggestions below) regularly, or simply don’t think you have the time to record, I would recommend setting aside at least one day, every week to record yourself.

Now let me present you with an altered scenario, where you have recorded yourself at least once a week over a longer period of time.

You have to record a sample of your playing for a summer festival application, a college application, or you are about to play a recital that will be recorded (and perhaps even archived, no problem!). You practice like mad, recording yourself regularly, trying to ensure that everything surrounding this performance or recording session goes as planned. Your playing is recorded and you get some pretty good takes, maybe even a few that you say, that is the PERFECT take of the Mozart Concerto!

THEN…you go to listen to the recording and you the first thought that comes into your mind as you hear the recorded sounds being played back is “THAT is exactly what I wanted.”

Now doesn’t that sound pleasant?

Good luck, and happy recording! See the links below for my recommendations on recording devices!

Recording Devices:

Recording devices of quality often come at a heightened expense, but if you can swing it, they are one of the best investments that one can make in their playing.

The H2n by Zoom is a wonderful, relatively low-cost recording device: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_7_5?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=zoom%20h2n&sprefix=zoom+%2Caps%2C116

The H4n by Zoom is an even more wonderful recording device for a little more of a price (this is my recording device of choice): http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_7?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=zoom+h4n&sprefix=zoom+h4%2Caps%2C115&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Azoom+h4n

The Edirol is a recording device of comparable quality to the Zoom, for just around the same price: http://www.amazon.com/Edirol-R-09HR-High-Resolution-WAVE-Recorder/dp/B0016MLUKU/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1384876684&sr=8-5&keywords=edirol

The smartphone is also an option! The recording quality will not be of the same quality as the recording devices above, but they can still be used to listen for technical mistakes (critiquing one’s sound using a smartphone is not advised!). Try apps such as Recorder Plus or other apps designed for recording material aside from voice memos!

Mixing Up Your Mixed Up Practice Session

Greetings again!

I have been practicing using the “Mix Up Your Practice Session” idea for the past 2 weeks now, and I must say, I notice my weekly requirements (etudes, bumping up scales and exercises to their designated tempi, etc.) happening much sooner into my weekly practicing! Although I am definitely stamping this idea with a “Plight of the Flutist APPROVED,” I have made some slight adjustments to the routine since my last blog post thanks to good old trial and error, as well as the insight of my teacher Robert Langevin.

So, if you have read my previous blog post, you know that the basic gist of the “Mix Up Your Practice Session” idea is to only spend a few minutes on one specific task, before moving on to the next. You cycle through these tasks, repeating some as needed, or practicing in different rhythms. In this way, it reminds me of the secret behind popular work-out routines such as P90X, which is muscle confusion (i.e. not letting your muscles get used to a particular work-out routine) so it never becomes “easy.” So this got me thinking “How can I really get the MOST out of mixing up my practice sessions?”

After consulting with Mr. Langevin, we came up with the idea of mixing up the mixed up practice sessions! Let’s say, for example, you are practicing scales for 5 minutes. Instead of practicing these scales in a straightforward manner, why not change them up by practicing your major scales in one dynamic (piano or forte) and your minor scales in the other dynamic? This sort of suggestion is already built in to the long tone routine that Mr. Langevin asks all of his students to do (non-vibrato the first time, both forte and piano, then a second time on the same long tone(s) with vibrato, forte then piano). So this is just ONE example of how you can mix up your practice sessions even more to reap the most benefits!

Another way to mix up your practicing is to develop a new routine from time to time. For me, I chose to change my routine from week to week. Practicing the same material, in the same order every day for weeks on end, no matter how much you “mix it up” can become just as tiresome as practicing one piece or exercise for hours at a time. Just a small example: the first week, I chose to start out with long tones. The second week, I chose to start my daily practicing with a set of scales. Just this simple change can be enough to revitalize your practice sessions and throw your mind and body into something NEW.

In other words, don’t be afraid to mix up your mixed up practice sessions! Have fun with it since after all, practicing is supposed to be FUN, right?

Avoid fatigue and boredom and MIX IT UP to really get the most out of your practice sessions!

Mixing Up Your Practice Sessions

Yesterday, a wonderful little bird by the name of Nancy Stagnitta (a former teacher of mine at the Interlochen Arts Academy) told me about another lovely blog called “The Bulletproof Musician” (see link below). This blog has a few tasty morsels to keep you going strong as a musician! As I was taking a look as this blog, I happened across a post about getting the most out of your practice sessions and making sure what you practice sticks with you from day to day. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

Since I have started my studies with Robert Langevin at Juilliard, my practicing has been largely focused on Scales and Etudes (with much work on sound and repertoire, but that is a given). While I recognize the EXTREME importance that scales and etudes have on keeping my playing at a high level, I must admit that sitting in a room by myself, practicing an etude slowly and inching up the metronome every 3-5 minutes is NOT how I would ideally like to spend my time. To add insult to injury, I was finding that this method of practicing was not sticking. I would inch up the tempo from quarter equals 72 to 80 for one etude in a practice session, only to come back the next day and only be able to play the etude successfully at quarter equals 74. Going 8 steps forward and 6 steps back is NO way to make progress!

When I happened across this article, it could not have come at a better time. Basically, this article says that it is OK to mix up your practice sessions! NO MORE practicing long tones for 20 minutes at a time only to ignore every long tone at the first 5 or so. NO MORE practicing an etude for 30 minutes straight in 20 different rhythms, then inching up the metronome click by click by CLICK. Instead, after just a few minutes spent practicing one thing, you move on to another, giving your brain a break from one task and allowing yourself to focus 100% on EVERY task at hand without tuning out due to the monotonous nature of practicing everything in large blocks of time!

Here is what a “Mixed Up” practice session might look like:

Length / Material to Practice

2 minutes – Long tone, scale, long tone, scale… (I do B down to E)
3 minutes – Excerpt A (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio… (Full range scales C Major to C minor in the circle of fifths)
3 minutes – Excerpt B (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Long tone, scale, long tone, scale… (Now E down to A)
3 minutes – Excerpt A (using second rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio… (Full range scales Ab Major to G# minor in the circle of fifths)
3 minutes – Excerpt B (using second rhythmic variation)
Etc.

From “The Bulletproof Musician Blog”: “The permutations are endless and the exact division of time is not important. What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented (you have to be if you only have 3 minutes to accomplish something), and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.”

I encourage you ALL to try this just for a week and track your progress. I would LOVE to hear comments on how it worked for you, modifications you made to the proposed “schedule,” etc.

I am still trying this method out, but from what I have done so far, I already notice a HUGE improvement in my focus, in meeting my practice goals, and in maintaining an upward trend with the material that I am practicing.

For the FULL details, visit “The Bulletproof Musician” blog: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/why-the-progress-in-the-practice-room-seems-to-disappear-overnight/

The Daily Routine

Let me give you a scenario that I experienced yesterday that I am sure we can all relate to.  

I worked all morning, came home, napped, watched a few episodes of my favorite sitcom, all in an effort to delay my practicing.  When I FINALLY took my flute out of it’s case, I noodled around for approximately thirty minutes, had a pretty good tone, and my fingers were moving with enough ease to where it didn’t raise any red flags.  

As I was about to put my flute away, I thought to myself: “Wow Tyler, how much did you actually get accomplished in that practice session?” The answer: absolutely nothing.  LUCKILY, I have a daily routine scribbled down in my practice journal that I can fall back on in times such as these.  

It only makes sense to have a daily practice routine, right?  I mean, we all get out of bed in the morning and have some semblance of a morning routine.  It’s not as though we can wander around doing nothing and suddenly be prepared to head out to work, or school, or what have you.  We have a routine that we go through to ensure all the essentials are in place before we head out the door.

Practicing, in my mind, should be the same way!  I am not saying the routine needs to be elaborate or laborious in any way, but a daily routine is beneficial for a number of reasons. 

1) It ensures that you are practicing the same amount in both duration and repertoire every time you should sit down to practice.

2) A routine gives you something to measure your progress by.  If you are constantly playing different material from session to session, how can you track your progress?

3) As stated above, a routine gives you something to fall back on for those days where practicing is on the bottom of your to-do list.

I have been using daily routines for a few years now, and I think it is one of the few things that has actually kept me going in my flute playing!  My daily routine goes through periods of adjustment, from big to small, week to week, but it is ALWAYS there when I need it to be.  

Now, I have something of a prescribed routine from my teacher Robert Langevin, but I will give you a dose of what my routine looks like, at least for this week!

15 min – Long Tones with a tuner (1st time: no vibrato, forte then piano, no breath between) (2nd time: with vibrato, forte then piano, no breath between) 

5-10 min – Moyse articulation/low register exercise (all 9 articulations)

20 min – Scale packet (as many as you can get through in the allotted time)

5 min – Trevor Wye, right hand ring finger exercise. (This exercise changes from week to week)

10 min – Scales in Octaves (This exercise changes from week to week)

20 min – Etude No. 1

20 min – Etude No. 2

15 min – Etude No. 3 (this weeks 3rd etude is shorter)

10 min – Etude No. 4 (this etude this week is very lyrical and is to exercise breath control)

Then I am able to move along to repertoire.  

As you can see, this ensures that I practice approximately 2 hours each practice session (and this is without repertoire in the mix…)

I highly advise every flutist, students especially, to come up with a daily routine.  Now, you may ask, “but what should a routine include?”  That is a great question!  For those of you who have a private teacher, you can work with them to come up with a routine that suits your needs.  

For those of you who are reading this and do not have a private teacher, don’t fret!  Try including some of the following things in your routine:

– Long tones, scales, articulation exercises, technical exercises (etudes), harmonic exercises, etc.  

The timing is up to you, but my general rule of thumb is to practice each part of your routine until YOU feel like you have reaped the full benefits for that session.  

I hope this helps to solve another “Plight of the Flutist.”  Happy practicing!!!

The Checklist

Let’s be honest: we all have days where we pick up our flute and the hideous noise that comes out is reminiscent of the first few days we started playing flute when the tone was anything but beautiful. Try as we might, we are not able to find anything wrong with the flute that warrants the awful sound being emitted. These moments are the moments that we simply want to grab our flute with both hands, and snap it angrily over our knees.

We have all been there, I certainly have. But the more I play flute and the more I try to work through these “bad days,” I find them rearing their ugly heads less and less. I believe that we can almost learn more about our playing through these “bad days” than on days where we pick up our flutes and something other-worldly comes out making us forget the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis.

That is why, for these “bad days,” I have made myself a checklist as both a tool to get my playing back to it’s usual place and as a tool for learning. I have found the checklist not only to be a useful tool for myself, but also for my students in an effort for them to address their own problems and learn from them as well.

What should be on a checklist? Well, this is where expert guidance comes in to play. Over the years, I have had lessons where I go in to the room barely being able to produce a competent sound, and, with what seems like the flip of a switch, my teacher is able to get me playing at or above my usual level. It is in THESE moments that we need to take note (mentally or physically on paper) and add these things to our checklist.

This way, when one of our infamous “bad days” pops up, we can reference what we have learned in the past, incorporate it ourselves in the present, and make whatever future challenge with which we are faced become increasingly smaller until it is no longer a challenge, without a constant reminder from our teacher or mentor.

Just for reference, here is what my checklist looks like:

Tyler’s Flute Checklist

1) Am I simply blowing? (Most often I find with my students that bad days are simply caused due to lack of support to the air stream, or the follow-through of the air).

2) How is my posture? Are my head, neck and spine in their proper alignment allowing for ease of playing? How is my stance, are my feet firmly planted on the ground? Is my chest open or collapsed?

3) Am I relaxed? Are my shoulders down, away from my ears?

4) How is the alignment of my flute? Is my headjoint rolled in/out more than usual? Am I covering more/less than usual?

5) Am I doing something differently in my oral chamber? (Try experimenting with different vowel shapes, namely “AHH” and “OOH”).