How Wobbly Trills Led Me to a Revelation About Flute Stability

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While teaching a student recently, we noticed that certain trills had a tendency to cause the flute to wobble on her face.

I asked her how much her left hand was anchoring the flute onto her chin - she was using as much left hand anchoring as possible, but the wobble was still happening, especially during the right hand trills.

Later that week while practicing with a mirror, I noticed something similar happening to myself.

No matter how much I anchored with the left-hand-to-chin balance point, there were still some finger patterns that caused the flute to move on my face.

Just like my student, it was especially the right hand finger movement that was bouncing the flute.

I realized then that when my fingers closed the keys, they were also pushing the whole flute down, and my right thumb was doing nothing to counter the motion.


My right thumb doesn’t operate a key, so I had forgotten that it has an important job!


I decided to push up with the right thumb to counter the motion, and BOOM. Stable trills.

It seems so simple now, but the effort level of the right thumb just wasn’t something I was taking note of in this way before. 

At our next lesson, I instructed my student to “push the right thumb up” to counter the motion of the fingers closing keys in the right hand, and it made all the difference in her wobbly trills!

Not only has this helped trills, but it’s helped finger technique in general!


  • Do you notice the action of the right thumb while playing?

  • What is it like to trill with the right hand while bringing the right thumb closer to the tube?

  • What is it like to bring the right hand forward and up toward the tube?

  • How much effort is necessary to maintain stability, and is it needed at all times?



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Life-Changing Productivity Tools for Overwhelmed Musicians

The past few months have required me to really step up my own systems of productivity, efficiency, and self-care to feel effective, balanced, and inspired.


I’ve been on the hunt for tools and resources to help me feel energized and productive.

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Below are the most life-changing ideas that I’ve implemented into my routine.


1. Morning Pages

Morning Pages originates from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.

In her own words, Morning Pages are:


“...three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.”


Essentially, this brain dump first thing in the morning allows me remove the mental clutter that could lead to an anxious day. This also provides me with a chance to remove the mental to-do list that I allow to live in my head and overwhelm me throughout the day.


The most important part of Morning Pages for me comes after the To-Do list dump - Writing out goals, affirmations, wins, and gratitude.


(Too often, the only things we think about are “to-dos” and “shoulds.” Try writing down what you're already crushing and give yourself credit before moving ahead with the day, and see what changes!)


2. Calendar Blocking > To-Do List

I have a confession - I’ve relied too heavily on Post-It notes to hold onto important dates, to-do list items, and scheduling changes...and sometimes, I lose them...which adds stress.

I finally made the switch to a Google Calendar a couple months ago so I could have a fully up-to-date schedule in my hand and on my laptop at all times, and I am so happy I did.


Amy Landino’s YouTube channel is full of inspiring content about productivity, and her video called “Get More Done With Calendar Blocking” confirmed that I absolutely needed to start using a Google Calendar - not just for my schedule, but for my to-do list.

She says that your to-do list means nothing if it doesn’t have a scheduled time and place in your day to make it happen, and Google Calendar makes it easy to block out time for everything you need and want to do.

Being a visual person, (and one that is THRILLED to color-code anything and everything), this has been life-changing.


3. Remove Physical Clutter


In my search for productivity inspiration, I found myself watching “Decluttering Videos” on YouTube. (Watching YouTube is sometimes the opposite of being productive, but not this time!)

 The 10-Drawer Cart from Michael’s has been a game-changer for music piles! Finding the right system makes all the difference!

The 10-Drawer Cart from Michael’s has been a game-changer for music piles! Finding the right system makes all the difference!

Watching other people go through rooms in their homes, getting rid of things they don’t need anymore, and having their spaces professionally organized motivated me to immediately get up and purge my own closet. (I ended up donating 7 trash bags worth of clothes and shoes.)


Then, I purged the Flute Room and completed cleared out my closet and shelves. (I removed at least two trash bags worth of old paperwork and things that I haven’t touched or unpacked since moving out of Florida!)

Removing the physical clutter renewed my energy and made me feel 20 pounds lighter. Less physical clutter means less mental clutter which means more energy and clarity for better things!

From there, it led me to understand how important it is to have the right systems in place for staying organized. Only have what you need and love, and have a system that makes it simple to stay organized - everything needs a home, otherwise it becomes clutter! (Especially paper!)


4. The 5-Second Rule



I saved the best for last.


The most important thing I’ve learned is that when we’re in a struggle to achieve the things we want, we can sabotage ourselves by overthinking and waiting for motivation.


According to Mel Robbins, if we have an impulse to do something, we have exactly 5 seconds to marry the impulse with an action before our brain talks us out of it and we betray the impulse.


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“The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.

The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.

When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action.”


Read more here!


The act of counting down backwards from 5 shakes up the thought-betrayal process and changes your brain to help you take action rather than second-guess!


The 5-Second Rule has made it possible to change my habits and overcome motivation and dread issues, and the more I take action in the moment, the less mental clutter I have weighing me down.


Impulses that I Did NOT Betray Because of the 5-Second Rule:

  • Practicing

  • Answering emails before they pile up

  • Doing the dishes

  • Taking the trash out

  • Anything related to cleaning and being tidy

  • Getting out of bed without snoozing

  • Writing this post

  • Even issuing compliments to strangers!



Do it now, do it anyway, don’t wait to feel like it. 5-4-3-2-1-GO!


Mel Robbins’s Famous TEDxTalk explaining self-sabotage and the 5-Second Rule:



How do you stay organized?

What tools or ideas have changed your perspective on productivity?



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Effortless Projection: Wide Back, Soft Front, Free Sound

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This past week, I decided to pull out Fiona Wilkinson's book, The Physical Flute: Creative Techniques for the Development of Tone, Vibrato, and Pitch Control for some fresh perspectives during my warm-up.

 

Reading through the first page, I was committed to approaching my physical self before making any sounds.


Finding Spring-Like Poise from the Ground Up

 

The first part is called, The Body - Alive and Well.

She provides thoughtful descriptions for taking a look at the body from the ground up to find areas that can be un-stuck and better aligned for a rich sound:

 

Here are the specific words that jumped out while I slowly processed:

 

Legs:

  • "Elastic Knee Joints" - Not Locked

  • "Feel the life in your legs."

Hips: 

  • "Lift your weight off your pelvis, elongate the sides of the torso."

Back:

  • "Draw your weight up from the floor creating a feeling of length and width in the back."

  • "Imagine as much space between the shoulder blades as you can while remaining relaxed."


Freeing the Torso for Effortless breathing

 

Whenever I digest thoughts like these on physical ease and balance, there's always a reminder in there that helps me re-discover ease in a new way each time. (And it never gets old!)

 

This time, it was the thought about lifting weight off the pelvis and life in the legs.

 

Freeing the hip joints:

 

Following the instructions from the ground up, I took a moment to balance at the knees, finding that place where the thigh muscles release their grip and the legs feel both free and stable, with the weight moving straight into the floor via the feet. 

 

I moved up towards the hips as she instructed, tilting the pelvis on top of the legs and observing.

I noticed just how connected the movements of my knees, hips, and back are:

 

  • When I tilt the pelvis to lift weight off of it, there's a resultant effort felt in my lower back and the core muscles - they begin to grip.
  • If I bend the knees first, I can find freedom in the lower back and abdomen. If I then bring the knees into balance while remaining free in the back and abs, I can then find movement at the hip joints without adding back/core tension.

 

 

The Result

 

As I began to play, I noticed that this felt different than normal:

 

From here, the torso was finally balanced on top of the pelvis and delivering weight through the legs effectively. 

 

I normally have more effort and holding in my torso when I'm not balancing the pelvis on the legs like this!

 

Enjoying the ease of the back, I could effectively let the shoulder blades remain wide and free, and I felt a wonderful ease and length for the arms as I continued to play. 

 

Breathing became easy and not forced, and I could feel that my abdominal muscles weren't engaging with the breath as they often do!

 

Free, wide back. soft front.


Connecting the Back to the Whole

    he latissimus dorsi connects at:

    • Spinous processes of T7 – L5 vertebrae.
    • Iliac crest of sacrum.
    • Inferior angle of the scapula.
    • Lower three or four ribs.

    The first 60 seconds of this video demonstrate an important connection between the back and the arms. He points out how large the latissimus dorsi is, and part of its functioning in moving the arms. Its connections to the spine and lower ribs mean it's involved in our breathing movements, too!

     

      The latissimus dorsi:

      • Adducts the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.
      • Medially rotates the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.
      • Extends the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.

      Life in the Legs

       

      Finding Power via the Legs: Soft Front, Strong Back (of the legs)

       

      After all of this, I was playing with more awareness on my back than on the front of my body. I normally direct a lot of focus on the front of the body, always watching the abdominal muscles to see if they're gripping, because I know I want them to stay free to breathe and resonate well.

      With my awareness on the back, the front just remained natural without having to tell it to. (!!)

       

      I went back to the idea about "Life in the Legs."

       

      I know that effortless projection comes from ease and coordination of the whole self, depending on the ability to feel supported by space and the floor below.

       

      Having the knees and pelvis aligned well, I noticed a different presence for the back of my legs while playing. (Normally, I don't notice the back of my legs at all, especially if my knees aren't in balance - they're just not a part of my awareness while playing!)

       

      I imagined a sense of power and projection stemming from the support of my legs while playing.

       

      This instruction led me to a full, embodied sound that was projecting from below and behind me into space. I felt free and effortlessly powerful. No forcing anywhere. Front remained soft. (!!!)


        "Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart" -  Braving the Wilderness  by Brené Brown

      "Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart" - Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

      The Takeaway

       

      Awareness of the back led me to the feeling of being supported by the space behind me - I was no longer forcing or squeezing in the abdomen or shrinking into a smaller space. I was projecting with easy via soft front, wide back, supported legs.

       

      We don't project with ease by becoming smaller, we soften into space: Occupy all of your space!

       


      Intentions

      "Wide Back"

      "Weight off of pelvis"

      "Arms lighten and lengthen from the lower back"

      "Elastic knees, supported by the back of the legs"

       

      Sources:

      Get Body Smart: Attachments & Actions of the Latissimus Dorsi

      AnatomyZone: Back Muscles in a Nutshell



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      Inspiration for Sound, Presence + Repertoire: YouTube Playlists for Flutists

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      A while back, I shared my favorite recordings for listening inspiration. Today, I wanted to share my favorite YouTube videos!

       

      (Click here to open that in another tab for after this post!)

       

      I'm often referring my students to listening inspiration on YouTube, so I've created several public playlists on my channel to share and constantly update with my own personal favorites.


      The benefit of videos is that we have a chance to observe and absorb the physical presence of some of our favorite artists.

      • Are they grounded and easy?
      • How do they interact with their collaborators or the audience?
      • How do they bow and enter and exit the stage?

       

      While most of these artists have exceptional poise, I have a separate playlist dedicated to a few examples of refined poise, effortlessness, and commanding or captivating stage presence.

       

      These examples may have higher quality video or angles that showcase the artist as they play, so we can observe things like eye contact with the audience, interactions with collaborators, elegant movements and effortless breathing, remaining grounded while floating up and out into the space... and so forth.


       

      Try On Inspiration

       

      As I mentioned in my favorite recordings post, we can try on a sound and find new possibilities when we listen to high quality recordings.

       

      We can do the same thing with videos - try on a presence, movement pattern, or stance.

      What is it like?


      YouTube Playlists

       

      Click the image or button below to head on over to my YouTube Channel to find my created playlists, or go directly to each playlist via the links below! 

       

      I'll be continuously updating and adding to these lists, and would love to hear some of your favorites or suggestions in the comments below!



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      Top Tips For Improving Articulation [Video]

      Scale Game Tracker [Free Download]

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      I love the Scale Game.

       

      If you're unfamiliar with The Scale Game, it is a list of sixty articulation/rhythm/tempo variations to accompany Taffanel and Gaubert's Exercises Journaliers, No. 4 by Michel Debost. It can be found in his book, The Simple Flute.  

       

      The idea is to play all keys in T&G Number 4 each day, (including six 8va scales), rotating to ultimately play all keys in all styles at the end of a full 30 or 60-day rotation.


        via Flute Talk

      via Flute Talk


      There are a couple ways to do it.


      Rotating Keys

      To Begin:

      1. Play C Major in the style of No. 1
      2. Play C Major 8va in the style of No. 2
      3. Play A minor in the style of No. 3... and so on.
      • Once you've played the last scale in the left column (E minor) in the style of No. 30, begin with C Major again on style No. 31, going through 31-60 following the order on the left. (Stop at Style 30 if you're playing 30 scales per day, or go on and play all 60 in one day!)
      • After completing C Major through E Minor on Styles 1-30, and then again on 31-60, you'll re-start on the next day with C Major 8va (the second key on the left) in the style of No. 1, going down the list again.

      Rotating Styles

      Rather than playing the articulations in the same order and rotating through the keys as above, you can keep the keys in the same order and rotate the articulations. 

      • Follow the same steps as the above to begin.
      • Once you finish all sixty styles (playing all 30 keys 2x each), begin again on C Major the following day, beginning on Style. No. 2.
        • C Major 8va on Style 3
        • A minor on Style 4... and so on.

      Keeping Track + Staying Motivated

      One of my biggest issues with attempting to rotate through the full Scale Game over 60 days is keeping track of where I am. I have yet to successfully complete a full rotation, because at some point, despite writing down notes, I get lost and start over. 

       

      To remedy this, I've created a Scale Game Tracker to list out the full 60-Day rotation (following the Rotating Styles method), so I can simply check off each day without having to question where I'll need to start.

       

      Plus, it's motivating to keep track in one place, seeing a clear visual of my progress!


      Free Scale Game Tracker Download



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      How I Discovered + Released Tongue Tension for Effortless, Clear Articulation 

      flutearticulation

      While experimenting with articulation yesterday, I had a moment where I thought to notice how much effort my tongue was exerting. 

      I played a few notes, removed the flute from my face, and looked in the mirror.

      I was pulling my jaw down too forcefully, which was pulling my bottom lip back, and my tongue was being pulled up and back within my mouth.


      I know that letting the tongue lie low in the mouth helps resonance, and I also know that clear, short articulation is possible with the tongue forward in the mouth.

       

      My good intentions of creating space within the mouth - dropping the jaw - actually led me to increase tension and compromise space.

      My tongue felt tight and heavy as well, but what was most surprising was how much I wanted to pull the tongue up and back!

       

      This might not happen as drastically for everyone, as I may habitually try to bring to my tongue down when I bring the jaw down. When I do both of these things in a forceful way, I end up in a place that feels tight and difficult. 

       

      I decided to have a look at how and why my tongue moves the way it does, and uncovered some important relationships between the tongue and jaw.


      How Does The Tongue Move?

      Take a look at how many muscles move the tongue in all directions. 

      In simple terms, there are four extrinsic tongue muscles that move the tongue and connect outside the tongue, and four intrinsic tongue muscles located within the tongue that allow us to change the the shape of the tongue. 

       

      The extrinsic muscles that move the tongue:

      • The styloglossus muscle retracts and elevates the tongue.

      • The palatoglossus muscle raises the back of the tongue and lowers the soft palate - required movement for swallowing. 

      • The genioglossus muscle lowers the tongue and brings it forward in the mouth.

      • The hyoglossus lowers the tongue and brings it back in the mouth.

      (For a quick chart and simple visual of these muslces, click here! It's enlightening to know just where they are and what they do!)

      Understanding that there's a muscle that's both pulling my tongue up and retracting it back gives me some insights about what I was noticing.

      Gaining clarity about the relationships between the tongue muscles and their origins, insertions, and functions gave me direction in deciding how to use myself in a different way for different results.


      Experiment + Observe Tongue Movement

      Try pulling your jaw down far but keeping your lips together, actively aiming to create space inside the mouth:

      • Where is the tongue inside your mouth?
      • Watch the back of the tongue - does it become tense? Is it raised?
      • Does the tip of the tongue move backward?  
      • What happens to the bottom lip? How does this position affect embouchure?

      Allow the jaw to become neutral and soft, simply hanging rather than pulling down:

      • What happens to the tongue? 
      • Where is the tip of the tongue naturally lying?
      • How does the back of the tongue feel?
      • What about the soft palate?
      • What happens to the lower lip?

       

      Discovery

      When I re-set and let my jaw release back up towards neutral, I immediately felt my tongue release down and forward toward the teeth.

      Where I was before, I had to actively bring my tongue towards the teeth to get a short articulation. The tongue was heavy and effortful in this movement.

      Because I was holding it in a pulled back and up position within my mouth, it was naturally wanting to hit the roof of the mouth further back, where we create a "D" syllable, rather than a "T" syllable at the alveolar ridge. (Where the upper teeth meet the hard palate.) This might be good for a legato articulation, but for short, light, and quick, it wasn't effortless.

      From a neutral jaw and a naturally relaxed and forward tongue, I didn't have to exert so much effort in bringing my tongue forward, it was already there. My tongue and articulations could more easily become short, light and quick. Beyond that, my lower lip was more available, allowing me greater freedom to angle well.

       



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      What I Learned (+ Changed) About My Relationship With Self-Trust From a Golf Book

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      Back in my most recent audition preparation experience, I bought a book called: Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. I first heard about it in Rob Knopper's interview with Matt Howard on his strategies to win his audition with the LA Phil, where he discussed his elevated mental strategies and focus on his pre-shot routine. 

       

      I recently picked it up again and started over from the beginning. 

       

      Dr. Rotella is a performance consultant who specifically works with pro golfers on the mental side of their game.

      There are some general, common sense ideas in there, and Dr. Rotella even attests that his simple methods often surprise his clients. 

      The thing about reading and processing these concepts again and again is that every time, a new light bulb goes off. I can digest it in a new way that allows me to really become aware of my mindset and try something new.


      My Relationship with Trust: Doubt Comes First

       

      "Many weekend golfers don't even wait for a bad shot to stop trusting their swing. They step onto the first tee thinking of a dozen mechanical concepts...Without realizing it, they're doing everything possible to undermine their own game." (pg. 48)

       

      "The hot streak represents the golfer's true capability. It results, essentially, from trust. The golfer trusts his abilities. He steps up to the ball knowing that he can pick a target and hit it there. He does things unconsciously. The swing repeats itself. It feels effortless." (pg. 49)


      I initially realized how often I direct the mechanics of my own playing thinking about my recent recordings for Etude of the Week.

       

      I always think about the "what-I'm-doing" portion in practice. Of course, it's important to observe oneself and make corrections. 

       

      I also know that thinking about what to do hinders a performance, but I have continuously obsessed over self-directing while recording my etudes due to fear of failure:

      I want to create the best possible outcome, so I hang onto all the little instructions that steered me well in practice.

       

      Ultimately, this becomes exhausting.

       

      My intentions are always to let go and direct myself to freedom, but I often end up adding tension when it comes to performing or recording. I physically feel the weight of it.

       

      Self-directing is a form of self-doubt.

       

      I am not exercising trust.


      TRUST IS A HABIT. (And So Is Doubt.)

       

      Great golf players trust themselves. They put in highly effective practice, and then let go and trust on game day. They trust no matter what happens - they keep locking in on their targets, and going for them.

       

      Thinking about the amount of time I spend over-thinking, especially in practice, I recognize that my habit is doubt:

       

      On a deeper level with how I think and act, I am doubting that I can create a beautiful sound without telling myself all the steps first.

       

      I spend so little time cultivating trust with my mindset during practice and in life, that it's almost impossible to fully access trust in a performance. Starting to think about cultivating trust comes way too late in the process for me.


      Embodying Trust as a Habit

       

      After this revelation, I recorded my Etude of the Week, and I dove in without overthinking.

       

      I didn't analyze myself first. I didn't double check how to play all the low notes, or the short notes, or the trills.. I gave myself permission to trust and not direct anything.

       

      Not only was it more fun to play, it went better than I expected.

       

      My only goals were to think in terms of targets:

      I imagined myself hitting them, and then I did. 

       

      More importantly, I didn't spend an hour recording take after take, physically exhausting myself. I felt light and free without instructing myself to feel light and free.

       

      I carried this into my fundamentals practice, where I am almost 100% of the time living in careful instruction mode. My default this time was to choose to trust and live affirmatively in the moment, and if anything went wrong, I could go back and fix it. 

       

      Trust first, not doubt: Play affirmatively, not with a question mark.

       

      This eased an enormous amount of the frustrations I felt earlier that day. This also made it possible to have a pretty successful sight-reading session, as well! 


      Here are my reflections for the week:

       

      • Do I play, practice, and think with a question mark of doubt over my head?

       

      • What happens if I stop waiting to ingrain trust?

       

      • What happens if I decide I'm worthy of trust right from the beginning?

       

      • What happens if I embody trust as a habit, as my default?


      What is your relationship with trust like? Do you notice when you're trusting vs. doubting? What is your default? Do you cultivate trust every day?



       

       

       

      Are You Mentally Practicing Mistakes? Finding Awareness in Mental Practice

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      Earlier this week while teaching two separate students, we came across some difficult technical passages. While playing, there were a couple slip-ups.

      Before going any further, I asked each of them to mentally read through the passage and absorb all the notes - no moving fingers, just reading.

      I did it, too.

       

      What did I notice?

       

      I was reading it fairly quickly and made mistakes and stumbled in my own head

       

      So I asked: "Did your mental run-through involve mistakes?"

       

      They responded: "Yes!!"

       

      "Isn't that interesting!?"


      This really struck me as an opportunity to investigate and gain some clarity for myself and my students.

       

      Mistakes and stumbles aren't necessarily directly caused by fingers slipping up.

      The fingers slip up because the eyes haven't looked long and closely enough to allow the brain to process the notes that are there, meaning the correct message hasn't been delivered to the fingers.

       

      Why did we stumble?

      When reading through the difficult pattern quickly, we didn't have time to stop and process every note visually. We only saw some of the notes, so we had to anticipate what note was next.

      The fingers took over from patterns we've already learned and muscle-memorized. We then realized the note we wanted to play wasn't the note that was actually written, so we stumbled.

       

      Why do we go slower?

      To better process, of course! 

      It's hard to go fast with confidence until we know it well! Aim to deeply know and understand what's written before trying to play it. 

      For example, in order to recite the lyrics to One Week by Barenaked Ladies at full speed, you have to know all the words first, and you'll probably need to spend a good amount of time reading and studying the actual words before you're ready to impress your friends in the car!

       

      So, What Did We Discover?

      Taking finger movement out of the picture to simply read and process was a simple and powerful means of absorbing the notes.

      If we really took the time to process first, we had an easier time playing. 

      Beyond simply playing the correct notes, the subsequent times were also accompanied by a deep sense of confidence and clarity in phrasing.


      These realizations really got me thinking - am I really utilizing mental practice in a powerful, mindful way every time I practice? 

      Do I really take the time to process without playing often enough?


      Awareness questions for mental practice:

      • Does my mental read-through contain the same mistakes as when I play?
      • Do I mentally practice at a tempo slow enough to process and absorb all the notes and patterns?
      • What notes do I see?
      • What notes do I not see or process as easily?
      • Does my mental practice seek out an understanding of patterns to assist with processing and an understanding of structure?
      • Do my practice sessions involve reading the music without my instrument, or do I always play?
      • If I do mentally read through the notes without playing, do I move my fingers silently?
      • What is it like to only read and hear the phrase in my head?
      • Is it the same or different when I begin to move my fingers silently? Do I hear the phrase in the same way? 
      • Am I ingraining confidence in my mental practice?
      • Does my body remain easy and effortless while thinking through the notes?
      • Do I imagine a beautiful sound in my mental practice?
      • Is it slow enough to consider all of these things?


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