8 Ways to Practice Effectively Without Your Instrument

I recently sent my flute to the shop for a COA, and in the midst of preparing for upcoming events, I began thinking of all the ways I can continue to improve while it's away.

Perhaps your living situation limits you to quiet hours, or you've slammed your finger in a door and cannot hold your instrument for a month. (I can speak from experience.) 

Instead of considering the limitations of being unable to play your instrument, consider the ways it can be beneficial:

  • You won't feel distracted or discouraged by a "bad tone day."
  • You'll be able to focus purely on the composition and musicality.
  • You'll have the opportunity to practice being mindful, present, and focused.
  • You won't feel the temptation to mindlessly repeat passages and risk learning mistakes.

Here are 8 ways to practice effectively without your instrument:


1. Research

Spend time researching your repertoire. Dig deeper into the life of the composer, important influences, the history of the instrument at the time of the composition, and so on. This is a crucial step is that is often cut short when tempted to get started learning the notes. There are boatloads of articles and resources available online. Even in five minutes of searching, you can learn something new! A heightened awareness of the background and context of a piece allows for an informed interpretation. 

2. Pre-Record

If you're anticipating being without your instrument and can pre-record at least one performance of your piece, use your video as a tool for self-study. Watch yourself practice and take notes. Be your own teacher. This will be immensely useful in Step 3!

3. Listening 

Find as many recordings of your repertoire as possible, in addition to related works. Listen first as a whole, then on a granular level. 

Go phrase by phrase listening to all of your recordings back-to-back, taking specific notes. Oftentimes, we limit ourselves to only a few possibilities when playing. Hearing many possibilities from others opens your ears to fresh perspectives, and gives you the chance to determine which is the most effective.

Once you've determined the way you'd like a certain phrase to be played, listen to your own recording if you pre-recorded yourself. Are you already playing it exactly as you want? Great! Now you've confirmed that you should keep playing it that way! Are there areas to improve? Great! Now you have a detailed plan. 

I've written a whole post on this process! Click here to read: Maximizing Improvement with Video Recordings.

4. Visual Aids

Make a copy of your music for personal note-taking. Write notes on your own playing while you listen to your own recordings, and add notes and ideas from your favorite recordings.

Most importantly, add reminders throughout: Anticipate where you'll need to remember to "stand tall and sing" or "remain soft," for example.

Use color to enhance the visual road map of your piece, and gain a visual of the bigger picture. You can also add color to imagine the tone color you wish to use in each phrase. 

5. Staying in Shape

Do you notice when you first play your instrument in the morning, the muscles tend to tight when taking a full breath? After warming up, however, the muscles become more mobile and breathing feels more free. Without your instrument, you have the opportunity to shift awareness to the full-body experience of warming up, rather than simply listening to your sound. Try stretching and movement exercises, notice patterns of tension in movement, and uncover an effective full-body warm-up to use before playing your instrument.

6. Breathing

Take the last step further by laying on the floor and observing the experience of breathing as a whole. Notice patterns of tension in the abdomen, the neck, the arms, the legs, and replace holding with subtle movement. Feel the movement of a full, efficient breath, and maintain effortless expansion while exhaling. Breath is the foundation of sound, so this is essentially tone practice without your instrument!

7. Sing

Sing your part! Oftentimes, singing a note with a feeling of space in the mouth just before playing it on your instrument translates a beautiful, natural singing quality. Attempt to sing your parts with ease and beauty, and imagine how this feeling relates to your instrument. You can also practice hearing and singing intervals in tune!

8. Mental Practice

Actually practicing through imagination only. In addition to mental practice with the goal of learning notes and patterns, try a mental performance as well. Practice increasing your heart rate through jumping jacks or jogging in place, then come to a focused, grounded, and accepting state.

The benefit of practicing mentally is that you can imagine yourself playing your best. Imagine physical ease, clear musicality, a luminous sound, and captivating presence. You can even attempt to memorize the notes and rhythms through mental visualization.


How do you find ways to improve without your instrument? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

Top Technique Tips for Flute [+ VIDEO]

As a part of my May Technique Workout, this video will break down my top technique tips for faster fingers, better sound, and easier double and triple tonguing!

Here are my Top Technique Tips:

1. Hand Position (0:30)

Should include ease beginning in the entire body and the entire arm. The hands and fingers can move freely as a result. 

2. Keep Fingers Close to the Keys (2:30)

Precision and speed are diminished when fingers need to travel a long distance to close the keys. In addition, the fingers require more effort to move. Fingers must move at exactly the same moment with exacting precision. Keeping them close to the keys allows them to be light and precise.

3. Airstream (3:00)

An airstream that encourages smoother fast playing is one that can remain constant and adequate. In a long run of notes that spans several octaves, play the highest note and the lowest note. Find an airstream that can accommodate both to use throughout: The high register needs a faster airstream, but the low register can accommodate this faster speed when the mouth and embouchure are positioned low and with openness. 

4. Singing & Playing or Flutter Tonguing (4:45)

To encourage the adequate airstream throughout your technique exercises, try singing and playing or adding a flutter tongue. This is especially useful when practicing double and triple tonguing, as the airstream typically wants to slow down when we begin tonguing. Transition from singing and playing into double tonguing and feel the speed of air traveling through the mouth. 

5. Flute Balance (5:35)

Utilize the repetitions in Taffanel & Gaubert Exercise No. 1 to determine if your flute balance becomes unstable during fingering exchanges that alternate between hands. Middle C to D is a good example of an exchange that may cause the flute to rock forward and back. Find a comfortable, balanced hand position that prevents rocking while still encouraging ease in the hands.

6. Use Good Habits in Slow Practice (8:19)

Put all your best habits into slow practice. When breaking down a difficult technical spot, think of it as a tone exercise. Use your best airstream, resonance, tone color, expression, and effortlessness in the body and fingers. Repeat several times with a heightened level of performance at a very slow tempo to ensure you're not ingraining mistakes through faster, but lower quality repetitions. 

May Technique Workout Plan Exercise Demonstrations (9:15)



MAY TECHNIQUE WORKOUT


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How I Upped My Mental Game For Auditions

The last time I took an audition, I prepared thoughtfully, recorded myself a lot, and learned about centering and mental focus. The day of, however, I under-performed.

This time around, I spent even more time working on my mental game. Here are a few of the key resources I turned to:

One crucial aspect of a strong mental performance that came up in all three was developing a Pre-Performance Routine, or a Pre-Shot Routine.

Pre-Performance Routines

A pre-performance routine is the idea of having a moment of simple, optimal mental programming that is consistent.

While I had specific ideas for how I wanted to approach each excerpt previously, I did not have a thought-out and consistent plan for my thoughts and actions. As a result, my mind ran wild with all the ideas I've collected from lessons, master classes and practice sessions over the years. Was this helpful? In the practice room, yes! On stage during an audition? Definitely not.

Instead, I followed the guidelines and advice from each of the three resources and came up with my own:

1. Breathe in for 6, Out for 8

2. "Feet, Peripheral Vision"

3. Hear it First

4. Move & Take the Leap!

In the moment, it became easy to sweep through these ideas, and I could efficiently clear my head and come to a place that felt grounded and confident.


Centering Breath

The Centering Breath was a part of my last audition preparation, but my mistake the first time around was way over-thinking it. I ended up adding tension as a result.

This time, I kept it simple and adapted the easy instructions from 10-Minute Toughness: A 15-second breath, counting 6 in, holding for 2, and out for 7. Focusing on counting alone means less room for mental chatter, and it prevented the issue of overthinking a "good" breath. According to 10-MT, a 15-second breath is also long enough to slow the heart rate.

Letting Go

While exhaling, I let go of tension in my abdomen and lower back. This was a far more simple "letting go" process than my previous one, where I tried to cram in a full body scan and get every muscle to be free and every bone perfectly positioned. While a full body scan is useful the day of an audition while laying on the floor, trying to do this in the moment before beginning each excerpt is far too overwhelming. The simpler answer is remembering to move as a whole. (See the last step!)

Reminder Statement

In 10-Minute Toughness, this concise, consistent statement is a key component of a pre-shot routine for athletes. For me, it was:

"Feet, Peripheral Vision"

That's it. I opened myself up to the room, remembered to feel my feet grounding me, and allowed myself to feel the confidence these ideas provide.

Hear It First

You're more likely to produce the sounds you hear mentally! Hear the most optimal, beautiful sounds, and the whole orchestral part in your head just before beginning to achieve the appropriate character and get your ideal sound concept.

Move & Take the Leap!

Taking the plunge to actually start the excerpt was the last part of the process I was overthinking before. I finally thought about the fact that if I simply take my flute of the case and begin wandering around the house playing Mozart or excerpts, it goes well because of the inhibition. I don't warm up, I don't stand in one spot and try to perfectly set myself up to play. I just go for it, move freely, and enjoy myself!

After going through my concise pre-performance routine this time, I knew I was ready to play, I felt calm and grounded, and I was able to take the leap of faith and just start. Allowing movement through the breath was the key to starting with ease and using the body as a whole. This ensured I would breathe naturally and freely, and tricked me out of overthinking my initial inhale, ultimately risking a tense breath.


Do You Have a Pre-Performance Routine?

Use a video camera and allow yourself only one chance to play through an excerpt or a piece you're going to perform. Identify the thought process you go through in preparing to play.

  • What do you instruct yourself to do?
  • What do you tell yourself not to do?
  • Does your process feel efficient in optimizing yourself for performance?
  • Is your process the same or different from how you approach a practice room mindset?

The Bulletproof Musician's Pressure Proof Hacks provide a guideline for developing your own pre-performance routine.

This is a commonly utilized concept, and there are many resources out there for both athletes and performing artists to check out!

In Conclusion

I can't begin to tell you how much this helped me. Doing it every time for every excerpt made an enormous difference when I went in front of a video camera for a mock audition, and again the day of the actual audition. Not having this mental plan the first time left far too much room for overthinking and trying too hard, and ultimately, I was inconsistent. 

I knew I could allow myself to take as much time as I needed before beginning each excerpt, but this time, I was able to use the time in the most efficient manner.

Keeping it simple and consistent is the key!


May Technique Workout [+ 3 Free Downloads!]

I am excited to start May off with a boatload of fun ways to re-energize your daily technique workout! I received multiple requests for technique tips and a request for a technique plan or calendar. The possibilities are endless with regards to technique, books, schedules, and so on, but with some careful thought and lots of great feedback from Instagram, here is what I came up with!

There are three main parts with corresponding downloads! The first is my own flute-specific workout plan containing my core technique exercises and a breakdown of ways to practice them. Second, a prompt sheet containing ideas to invigorate your technique workout. Third, a 31-day tracker to view your progress!

A video complete with tips and demonstrations of the exercises in the Workout Plan will be shared soon!


1. WORKOUT PLAN

I have nailed down my top 6 most-utilized technique exercises (and some others that I want to bring back into my daily/weekly routine), and have listed several ways to approach them. Embrace the possibilities within each exercise and enjoy the beginner's attitude each new day!

Scale Game for Taffanel and Gaubert No. 4:


2. Prompt Sheet

In need of more inspiration for your scales? Use the prompt sheet to change the mood, play in a spectrum of colors, and add ornaments and trills to spice up your daily exercises! This is merely a jumping-off point and a reminder to always be musical!


3. WORKOUT TRACKER

If you're a visual person, the bullet-journal style Workout Tracker will break down your technique menu for the month, providing visual motivation to fill in as many boxes and days as possible!

  • Write the name of your exercises in the boxes on the left.
  • The numbers 1-31 represent each day in May. Upon completing an exercise, mark the box! 
  • If you are rotating through exercises, the tracker will make it easier to see which exercise comes next. For example, if time allows only playing the Flat or the Sharp keys, fill in # or b so you'll know which keys to focus on the next day!
  • There are lots of spaces to fill this up with anything you'd like to keep track of!

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