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”).