Notes From My Practice Journal: Uncovering Finger Precision

I recently shared The Cycle: Awareness of Ease, a video by violinist and Alexander Technique teacher Jennifer Roig-Francoli, on the July Inspiration Calendar.

If you haven't watched the video, the basic idea is to notice places of ease in the body in a rhythm that prevents over-thinking.

After watching this video and following along with The Cycle, I went ahead with my warm-up as usual, but with a heightened awareness of ease and effort.

I specifically found myself noticing the hands and arms in a way that I typically do not. 


Practice Notes

Here are a few of the statements from my practice journal that I noted during my warm-up:

  • If I observe and perceive the length of the whole arm, my arms and fingers gain a sense of ease and connection that I didn't even realize I was missing before.
  • I hadn't realized that I perceived my arm only in separate parts until surrendering to ease and noticing the connection of the whole.
    • Specifically, my biceps and hands are easily perceived, and I barely perceived the forearms at all!
  • I also noticed the left arm more so than the right. In fact, the right hand was barely in my awareness at all. 

A Simple Change For Greater Clarity

I began by only bringing the flute up with the right arm (letting the left arm relax by my side) so I could focus on really feeling the right arm as a whole first. I aimed to notice the entire length, from the collar bone to the tip of the pinky.

Then, I kept the right arm in my peripheral vision while lifting the left arm, and while playing, I actively kept my awareness open to the full length and connection of both arms.

In making this shift, I was able to feel ease and length of the arms, and more importantly, the hands and all ten fingers felt free and light.

I especially gained a new perception of both pinky fingers which really helped me to navigate the footjoint notes with precision!


powerful finger awareness

A heightened awareness in the hands and fingers brought up a new question:

"Do I perceive the keys beneath the fingers?"
  • Does this question elicit a different feeling than the statement: "Keep the fingers close to the keys?"
  • While the fingers hover over the keys, can you perceive the amount of space below the fingers and above the keys?
  • Can you perceive whether they're directly above the key or slightly off-center?
  • Are some fingers higher or further off-center than others?
  • Do you perceive some fingers with greater clarity than others?

Pausing to observe my perception of the fingers in relation to the keys has provided powerful insight into issues of coordination and excess effort. 

Having a greater awareness of the whereabouts of each finger has immensely improved my ability to problem-solve technical difficulties, including low note issues, trills, and awkward finger exchanges.

 

What is it like to invite each individual finger into your awareness? 


Share your own comments and discoveries below or on social media!

#PracticeRoomRevelations / @joleneflute

A Simple Trick for Better Breathing

Have you ever stopped to notice whether your breathing experience is different when your instrument is in playing position versus when you're not about to play?

The key physical difference for me is a tighter feeling in my chest and abdomen when my flute is on my face.

When I'm not about to play and my flute is down, my breathing goes back to being natural and automatic. 

Why do I experience these symptoms when I'm about to play?

Fear, expectations, perfectionism...

The feeling of tension comes and goes in varying degrees depending on how I'm feeling, what's on my stand, or whether or not I'm about to play on camera or for another person. 

I've also noticed that visually, having a flute up seems to block my view of anything below my chin, and this has a way of clouding my awareness of anything below my chin.

Suddenly, the easy, whole-body feeling becomes restricted, and I'm hyper aware of my upper body when the fear that I may not get enough air takes over.


The Quest for a Natural Breath

In order to translate naturally free breathing to my ready-to-play position, I've utilized a variety of poses while practicing to find comfortable, free breathing:

  • A generous bend in the knees
  • Bent over at the hip joints to free the abdomen
  • Standing on one leg, bent forward
  • Laying on the floor
  • Squat or Dugout Position

All of these encourage my abdominal muscles, back muscles, and arms to feel free, allowing efficient breathing, open sound, and the ability to play longer phrases with ease.

However, they aren't necessarily something I can call upon in a performance when I'm likely to need them the most.

(But if I could lay on the floor in the middle of an orchestra for the Afternoon of a Faun solo, I probably would!)


The Simple Trick

In order to translate the naturally free breathing that occurs when the flute is down, I decided to simply breathe while lifting the flute to my face, and once it was there, just start playing. 

I am certain this idea has been shared with me before, but I just recently realized how significant this is for maintaining a more naturally free experience.

I didn't need to actively free my chest and abdomen, they were simply free to begin with and stayed that way as I began playing!

Inhaling felt like no work at all.

I was no longer doing, taking, sucking in air. It was naturally a full-body experience, and I had plenty of air and great sound while playing.


Give it a Try!

Have you noticed a difference in how it feels to breathe? 

  • Take a breath without your instrument in playing position.

Notice the chest, the arms, the neck, the jaw, the abdomen, and so forth.

  • Next, bring the instrument up as normal, and take a breath as though you're about to begin playing. 

Is there a difference? What do you notice in comparison to the first breath?

  • Finally, bring your instrument back down, then inhale while lifting to playing position.

Is this a different experience? Has your awareness shifted? Does the length of you inhalation increase? 


Share your own experience in the comments below or on social media!

#PracticeRoomRevelations / @joleneflute

 

August Inspiration Calendar [Free Download]

THIS MONTH'S THEME

August means the end of summer and the last chance to accomplish summer goals before the fall. For a lot of us, it also means fall auditions! 

This month's actions are geared towards preparing you to perform your best under pressure whether you have an upcoming audition or not!


TIPS FOR USING YOUR CALENDAR

  • The actions provided are meant to serve as inspiration to think outside the box while practicing. 
  • 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 goals and sources of inspiration.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. 
  • Items with an asterisk (*) have corresponding links and explanations that are available below the calendar at the end of this post! Follow the link at the bottom of the calendar to come back to this post at any time!

SET YOUR NEW GOALS

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask the following questions:

  • Am I on track with my overall, long-term goals?
  • Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term?
  • Have I been putting off improving any specific areas of my playing?
  • What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

HERE YOU GO!

Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!


CORRESPONDING LINKS


#PRACTICEROOMREVELATIONS

I am so excited to see your own revelations and the ways you're staying inspired throughout the month!

Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share your printables in action!

Holy Grail Packet [+ Free Download]

I'm relatively organized when it comes to keeping my sheet music collection in order. I have everything separated by type into labeled magazine boxes and keep them in alphabetical order. 

That's not to say that half my bookshelf doesn't end up in scattered piles each and every week.

But at least everything has a place!

HolyGrailPacket

Some of my most-used, most-cherished items, however, live in their own, disorganized pile.

These are:

  • Handouts and exercises given to me by teachers during lessons, workshops, or master classes.
  • Exercises that have been generously shared online by their authors, such as those by the Self-Inspired Flutist.
  • My own hand-written notes on exercises that have been passed along through word-of-mouth by various teachers.

They are so special and so loved because of the memories and associations attached to them.

For this reason, I decided to compile them all into one, protected packet.

I can easily have them with me in my bag or on my stand with no worries of losing one of the sheets or wrinkling the pages.

What's in my Holy Grail Packet?


Get Started!

Do you have a collection of treasured handouts? Are there exercises that live in your head that you'd like to have on paper?

1. GATHER

Compile your handouts, write or type out notes, and transcribe exercises that aren't yet on paper. You may wish to scan and re-print handouts onto a new sheet of paper.

2. LIST

Write or type them out in order on the Contents sheet. You can even number the pages or add tabs to make it easier to find what you're looking for.

3. bind

Use a standard binder with a three-hole punch or page protectors, or have your packet spiral bound with a protective cover and backing.

4. SHARE & enjoy!

Share on Instagram using #PracticeRoomRevelations and tag @joleneflute!