What I've Learned In 6 Weeks Of Sharing Videos

About a year ago, I decided that I needed some sort of motivation to accomplish something new every week, specifically with etudes. I decided that I wanted to record one video every week with the goal to share it online. I recorded and shared one etude video as a result of this promise to myself. (This one!) Fast forward to January, when the Etude of the Week group on Facebook began a new book, Altes 26 Selected Studies for Flute. I decided to challenge myself and follow along!

The biggest challenge in recording these etudes in full is remaining focused and clear-headed to avoid slip-ups, but not forgetting to take musical risks to make for a more compelling performance. In the past six weeks, I've made several important discoveries about the process of recording myself and the weekly challenge of hitting the share button.

Self-Talk Determines the outcome

The number one discovery I've made in determining whether or not I'll complete a good performance in one take is 100% related to mind-chatter.

Here are some of the things I've said to myself that led to a less-than-desirable outcome while recording:

  • Wait, where am I going to breathe?
  • I'm going to run out of air before the end of this phrase.
  • I hope those low notes come out this time.
  • Here comes that spot that I might not get.
  • I should've prepared this next section a little more.
  • I forgot to eat lunch!
  • I wonder if the next etude in this book is more fun.

Self-doubt and mind-wandering have not yet served me well. To remedy myself before the next take, I look at any moment where I doubted my preparation and spend considerable time planning and practicing. When I'm ready to record again, I turn to positive self-talk.

The following are things I've said to myself before and during my best takes:

  • This is the take where I will be focused.
  • I am completely prepared.
  • I am confident to give a musical performance.
  • I can remember to move while breathing.
  • Before a difficult moment: Soften, stand, and just play.
  • When beginning to feel anxious: My feet can go back to feeling grounded.

You Need To Be Brave

More difficult than the etudes themselves is sharing them on the internet. I've challenged myself to not only share them on the very supportive Facebook group, but also on YouTube for anyone to watch. The commitment to sharing recordings has forced the perfectionist in me to let go and feel courageous enough to hit publish. I absolutely suffer with the idea that I am not good enough to share anything I produce with the world, and I must wait for special permission to be granted by some authority before I am allowed to share anything. This project has turned ruthless courage into a weekly requirement, and that has led to some really important and exciting growth. (If this resonates with you, I highly recommend reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown!)

I Still Judge Myself Once I Hit Publish

I re-watch my videos once I hit publish with a critical eye and feel a little bit of misery about things that could be better, along with a twinge of fear that my permission-to-share-videos will be revoked. (Really. Is someone in charge of that??) Then, I let it go and move on to the improvement phase. Watching my completed performances has motivated me to make very specific changes to improve for the next video. For example, if my articulation was unclear this week, I will spend more time practicing breath accents. Did I take too long to breathe and interrupt long phrases? I'll spend more time looking at the bigger picture next time. I can begin to see different improvements from one video to the next, and that has been an exciting result of this project so far.

So What Have I Learned?

In short, it's an exercise in careful preparation, focus, positivity, and courage.

In the first weeks, I would blindly turn the camera on and hope for the best. Now, I take more time to prepare and work on a plan for breath marks, phrasing, and technical challenges. 

Feeling prepared helps me focus my thoughts and be in the present moment, and it takes constant awareness to feel the insecurities as they arise and turn them into positive statements.

My desire to improve after submitting a video is far greater than when I do not release a video of myself into the world. Having clear goals and a supportive group has given me great motivation to improve!

How 5 Days of Constructive Rest Improved My Playing

I've been in a slump. My playing has not felt as natural or comfortable recently as I've experienced before. Although my good intentions of feeling grounded, aware, and free are always with me, they have faded into habits that are not completely efficient.

I'm taking my own advice about being in a rut. I'm using frustration as a chance to be curious and excited for the opportunity to improve, and taking action steps to begin climbing out. 

In searching for a means of reconnecting with positive habits and natural alignment, I turned to constructive rest, a practice utilized by teachers and students of the Alexander Technique. 

If you're unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique and constructive rest, read about it here!

After sharing my excitement, I decided to commit to five days of constructive rest, utilizing the free 30-day Constructive Rest Challenge from BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone.

Day 1

I got on the floor with a book under my head and began observing. In true case-of-the-Mondays fashion, I fell asleep moments later. When I woke up, I remembered to feel the movement of my ribs with my hands while on the floor. I discovered that I am trying to make movements happen, rather than watching them. To me, it felt that I was adding tension to the abdominals and ribs to "puff my chest out" in order to get air in. I instead began to watch the journey of the air going into my mouth, and appreciated the movements that followed. In playing afterwards, I experimented with the my habit of abdominal squeezing upon inhalation and the watching-the-air method. I was able to get more air, but more importantly, I could play longer phrases with greater freedom when I stopped adding tension right from the beginning of the breath. I utilized the dugout position, dugout-to-standing, and standing on one leg, and I found much more ease in breathing and resonance!

Day 2

I forgot to do it. And after my two-hour rehearsal left me feeling uncomfortable and fatigued, I set a phone reminder so I stop myself on busy Tuesdays and remember to do it!

Day 3

I recorded Altes #5 for Etude of the Week on this day, and noticed myself getting nervous and uncomfortable during early takes. I was rushing myself to get a good take before the sun went down so I could have natural lighting near the window, but the pressure to get it done quickly was not helping me in any way. I decided to pause for Constructive Rest before continuing on, and Imogen Ragone's 30 Days of Constructive Rest e-mail contained the focus words: "I have time," which were appropriate to say the least! I stayed awake this time, and I focused on feeling the movements of breath through the pelvic floor, allowing movement at the hip joints and freedom in the legs. When I came back to record, I felt more of an effortless uprightedness and had an easier time re-focusing as thoughts of doubt came and went. I even remembered to move while breathing. Strangely, I also noticed how intensely my knees were shaking and gripping! My awareness has been too small to realize this was happening before! Keeping the knees in my awareness allowed me to notice that the shaking occurs when the thoughts of doubts creep in, and I could choose to move to feel more grounded!

Day 4

Today I spent time practicing natural inhalations during constructive rest, observing what I'm doing once I reach the top of the inhalation and proceed to exhalation. I noticed that I tense my knees and ankles, for one! (No wonder I was doing it while recording my etude yesterday!) Secondly, I found myself tensing the abdominals just as I transition to exhalation. I can let go once I begin exhaling by reminding myself of length from the sternum to the pelvis. (A cue from Laura Dwyer's Yoga sequence!) I also found myself tensing my upper ribs and chest when trying to inhale, just as I found on Monday. Changing back to observing the journey of air entering through the nostrils or mouth allowed the inhale to occur. The result is that I feel less muscular action, and it feels strange to be doing less! However, I get the most air, and the most regulated exhalation when I do this. (Another example of something I re-learn over and over again!) This time when I came to standing, I was able to better perceive all the points of balance, including my hips, knees and ankles. I found my right knee feeling very unstable compared to the left, and experimented with my right hip joint. I found that I am tucking a bit on this side! When I come into balance at the hip joints, my knees and ankles feel free and stable! 

Day 5

Today's cue of being "without compression" prompted an immediate release in my neck and upper body. I was able to release upward while feeling a release in the back of my head, as well! This was my first prompt when I was originally introduced to the Alexander Technique at Gary Schocker's summer master class in 2009! I was happy to experience this again, and was reminded of the clarity and calm it brings. I also find that cues reminding me to release anywhere in the head, face and neck also encourage freedom in the throat.

Here's What I Learned Overall

1. Committing to Constructive Rest was as simple as remembering to lay on the floor. (Or as simple as setting a phone reminder.) It did not take tremendous effort for me to begin observing once I was on the floor, and I discovered (or re-discovered) something important that helped my playing every time. More importantly, I had a chance to pause without my instrument in hand, and discovered what I am actually doing versus what I think I am doing.

2. The act of doing constructive rest led me to make positive choices through the rest of the day, not just related to posture and practicing. I found myself considering nutritional choices, feeling inspired to exercise, and engaging in positive mental thoughts more often.

3. Having a new cue or helpful phrase made a tremendous difference in allowing me to experience a fresh perspective each day. Click here to learn about BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone, and to sign up for the free 30-Day Constructive Rest Challenge!

 

Books PictureD

ADDITIONAL BOOKS ON THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Free Download: February Inspiration Calendar

Happy February! I am excited to share a new resource to boost your inspiration in the new month! If you're looking to have more breakthroughs by changing up your practice behaviors, this is for you. The Monthly Inspiration Calendar for Musicians disperses ideas or actions towards inspiration throughout the 28 days of February, and I have personally utilized these actions to great success any time I have needed help getting out of a rut. (Consider these the "Small Jolts" mentioned in the post on Replacing Guilt with Inspiration.)

How to Use It

  • While this is not a practice calendar, there are several actions that are to be implemented directly into your practice session, such as the Practice Intention ideas.
  • There's no need to do every action in the order specified. If you're one to print out calendars like this one, then stop using them after one day if you haven't done everything as listed perfectly, here's permission to use it however you'd like
  • Half the days are intentionally left blank, and you're encouraged to fill them in with actions that are very specific to your own personal sources of inspiration or goals.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. See my example below!

Setting Your Monthly Goals

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask: "Am I on track with my overall goals? Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term? What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

Here are my own:

Observations

In the past month, I have had a positive experience with recording Altes etude #2. I am learning to stay focused, pacing myself while recording these etudes. I have thought about the balance between making an effort musically without falling apart before completing. 

Many times, I felt quite closed or without flexibility. I realize that I have not been breathing fully and efficiently, and the video camera (and long etude ahead) have me closing in and overthinking my movements. I also notice that my articulations are not always as clear as I'd like when listening back.

Changes to Make

In recording etudes, I feel that I can play more musically through making greater preparations and outlining intentions for each and every moment, avoiding questions and doubts creeping in that take me out of the moment. 

I have the resources to remember efficient breathing as I once did, and can spend more time moving and in constructive rest, noticing the involvement of the legs and balance in breathing.

Goals

  • Prepare Etude of the Week etudes carefully, including every breath mark and specific notes on dynamics and mood.
  • Implement a daily constructive rest habit to check in with the movements of breathing, translating them into my practice session.
  • Practice Intention: Allow the ribs to move upon inhalation, and maintain buoyancy upon exhalation. 

Calendar

Without further ado, here is your Inspiration Calendar! Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!

CORRESPONDING LINKS

 

I would love to see your calendars in action! Use the hashtag #practiceroomrevelations and tag @JoleneFlute so I can share in the excitement!

Happy Practicing!

The 9 Things I Did Before Every College Audition

In the spirit of college audition season, I am reflecting on my own audition experience for masters programs. In general, I had a really positive experience at each of my four auditions, due in part to each of the steps I took to ensure it was positive and low-stress!

Here are the things I did before every audition for graduate school:

1. Travel Plan

The first step to avoiding added anxiety was to avoid stress while travelling. I know myself well enough to realize that I get nervous while executing an elaborate travel agenda, especially while traveling alone. I planned out every step of transportation, and stayed organized with audition information, directions, reservations, and music. 

2. Scope

Arriving the day before the audition gave me time to walk the route to the music building and scope out the practice rooms and audition space. Knowing exactly where I needed to go the next day eased any anxiety I had about finding my way around on the day of, plus, I could begin to mentally envision the actual audition. (See number 5!)

3. Sleep

Staying in hotels or with family meant being away from my the comfort of my own bed. I was prepared to make myself as comfortable as possible with lavender and sleep essential oils, chamomile tea, ear plugs, white noise, and comfortable clothing. 

4. Meditate

My preparations of the audition repertoire involved quite a bit of mental practice and meditation, and following along with a guided meditation to clear the mind and relax the body has helped me tremendously with feeling positive and grounded. In the night before the audition and the morning of, I could envision myself walking the route to the building and performing well in the actual space.

5. Eat Breakfast

Scrambled eggs, green tea, and a banana nut muffin. Quite simply, I ate foods that I knew would not upset my stomach or leave me feeling hungry too soon. Many people swear by bananas before an audition to assist with nerves!

6. Wear Lucky Pants

I always joke about my lucky pants, because they are the black dress pants that I wear for every audition and concert. (Express Editor Pants!) I have several pairs of them because they are comfortable and help me feel like myself. I also wore the same pair of broken-in black flats to each audition (after changing out of snow boots in snowy climates), and had gloves to keep my hands warm. 

7. Smile

As cheesy as it sounds, smiling at every person I encountered once I entered the audition building kept me feeling positive, and tricked me into feeling confident about being alone in a new place with strangers who were about to judge my playing. I also used some of Amy Cuddy's Power Posing ideas to feel even more confident.

8. Dance

If you were to ask me for the one thing I did to make my auditions better, it was this! I carved out considerable time to warm-up through exercise before every audition. I decided that adding in a 30-minute dance party to 90s boy bands would put me in a good mood, and it definitely did! I didn't want to take myself too seriously or find myself being overly-cautious in my every move before I was to play, so choosing to be ridiculous was the way to go. I followed this with some yoga to ground myself.

9. Have a Plan

Know the order in which you prefer to play pieces, because you may get to choose! I knew I wanted to get the Mendelssohn Scherzo out of the way early, but I wanted my strongest excerpts to come first to ensure I made a good first impression and felt the most confident. Adding labels to the sides of your music to easily find the next piece can help reduce stress as well!

 

How do you keep your auditions low-stress and fun? Tell me in the comments below!