Surviving the Warm-Up Room (2 Things That Helped Me Play My Most Confident Audition Yet!)

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In the last audition experience I wrote about, I had discovered the importance of simplifying my pre-performance routine to remove crippling over-thinking in the crucial moment just before beginning an excerpt. It helped tremendously. (Read all about that here!)

This time, however, I wanted to address another issue.


Confidence

...and how it all went out the window in the warm-up room.

Any confidence that I had mustered up on my way to the audition had crumbled once I stepped into the warm-up room and started hearing 20 flawless Peter and the Wolf excerpts from every corner.

It got worse once I heard the flutist in the corner telling someone else she just got her degree from fill-in-the-blank-conservatory and has been playing with such-and-such wonderful orchestra. 

I made my best effort to say: Don't listen...just warm-up...who cares...I'll be fine... but I spent so much energy trying to block out everyone else that I had lost myself completely. 


1. Finding Confidence Earlier in the Process

On Day 79 of #100DaysOfPractice on Instagram, I made an important realization when I started warming up just before going to get lunch one day.

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I had been listening to inspiring recordings by my favorite artists that morning. When I went to play, I waltzed right up to the big window in the living room, started playing, and I realized that I was uninhibited

I was not over-thinking any aspect of my playing, and I realized this is what confident playing feels like.

I knew that performance mode can't thrive when you're still in analyzing-practice-mode, but experiencing it in this moment was illuminating. This was a whole new level of letting go and simplifying my effortful thoughts and actions, and I wanted to access this every day leading up the audition.


2. Headphones

After understanding how I could access confidence through spontaneity and turning it into a daily habit leading up to the audition, I needed a new tactic for holding onto confidence in the warm-up room. 

Several books, articles, and friends told me to wear headphones. (Why wasn't I doing this before?!) I made a playlist of comforting and uplifting songs paired with about 50% Beyonce, and I warmed up with headphones on. 

I was already comfortable using ear plugs while warming-up, but I also made sure to practice warming up with other songs playing to get used to the feeling before doing this on audition day.

In the actual warm-up room, I still heard Peter and the Wolf, but I also heard songs that remind me of who I am and what I enjoy outside of a warm-up room.

This is the part that made a world of difference in allowing me to remain confident: not just blocking out everyone else, but also fueling my own identity and connection to confidence outside of playing an instrument.

 

The Bulletproof Musician just shared an article on the subject of using music to ease anxiety this morning: Click here to read it!


In Conclusion

With each new audition experience, some new part of the preparation process comes into focus, especially regarding the mental aspects of performing under pressure. 

Confidence comes with every new learning experience, and the ability to simplify and trust is key in removing mental obstacles.


How do you remain confident in auditions? Do you use headphones in the warm-up room? Tell me in the comments below!


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What Your Test Notes Are Trying To Tell You

Do you or your students rely on test notes before playing?

If the first test note is undesirable, we play a second or third with the goal of improving. Ultimately, we want our actual first note to be the best. The process often goes like this:

1. Play Test Note

2. Judge and Adjust

3. Play Test Note Again or Begin Piece

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Ultimately, removing the need to play a test note is an important goal:

In a performance or an audition, every note is judged, and the ability to begin a piece confidently without playing additional notes after approaching the stage is a necessary performance skill. 


Test Notes Can Reveal Performance Habits

 

Long tones and isolated tone studies provide a lot of information about how we create our best sounds.

When we remove the other variables of playing in context, we can focus on embouchure, air speed, vowel shapes, and more, and this process involves a high level of awareness.

Quick test notes, however, can tell us how we actually respond under pressure when we're about to begin a specific piece, and how we may change certain things when approaching different musical contexts.

 

That's an important difference!

 

If you begin a piece on a soft high note and go for a test note to make sure it will happen, your body is probably giving you a lot of information before you even begin. 

In my experience, I stop myself and realize that I've lost all sense of my head balance in relation to my spine, my throat feels more tense, and my thighs have started gripping!


Next time you find yourself testing notes, pause and gather some information. 

Here are Some Useful Questions:

 
  • Do my feet change? 

Ground yourself in preparation to play, keep awareness on your feet and their contact with the ground while inhaling, and continue to notice through the first sounds.

Do your feet attempt to leave the ground? Do you feel a sensation of pulling upward caused by excess tension and doing?

Noticing if the feet feel less contact with the ground is a sign of the body gripping and pulling upwards.

 
  • Do I Hold At the Top of The Breath?

During your inhalation, do you attempt to help the body inhale by adding tension at the top of the breath?

I feel the arms gripping over the ribs and a tense feeling near the sternum when I'm consciously gasping in air.

To go from activating to a state of simply allowing optimal breathing, watch the journey of air, beginning with watching the air coming into the mouth. Lay on the floor to get to know the feeling, as the entire body can be supported by the floor while we observe.

*The most important tip for beginning sounds with a free feeling in the body is to move slightly and fluidly while breathing and into creating sound. Holding the body in a rigid position for the breath and before the initial sound can reduce the feeling of ease and increase anxiety.


Cultivating Trust + Alleviating Test Note Dependency

Once the body has given information, notice what information the mind can provide when you play a test note.

 

  • Does the test note involve the same level of mental imagery and preparation as an actual performance?
  • Do you hear the same level of detail regarding the initial attack, intonation, vibrato, and color before playing? 

 

Overall, thinking musically and imagining the sound you want (in all its dimensions) before playing can alleviate the need to test the first. Thinking this way builds trust with your inner performer.

 

If your test notes are aimed at the practicalities of creating sound, considering the intention of always beginning with a musical intention and cultivate trust with your inner performer each time you initiate sound in the practice room!


What have you learned from your test notes?

How do you cultivate trust with your sounds without playing a test note first?


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How I Beat "Bad Tone Days" Using Ear Plugs

You put your instrument together, play a few notes, and things just aren't feeling or sounding right. You're cracking notes and struggling to find comfort. All of a sudden, your tone is gone.

In an effort to sound better, you force your sound to come out. All in all, nothing is working, and it's frustrating.

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Where Did My Sound Go?

There are several reasons why a bad tone day can happen. Here are a few reasons I find to be true for myself:

  • I'm physically tense, fatigued, or congested.

  • I've just eaten something cold.

  • My headjoint is slightly off the ideal mark.

  • My flute has a leak.

  • I've gone several days between practicing and feeling "out of shape."

 

Let's look at that last one...

 

I've gone several days or weeks without playing many times. (Such as that time I slammed my finger in a door and couldn't play for a month.)

I've found that it is possible to come back and feel like nothing's changed. In some cases, I'm so refreshed and excited to play again that I sound even better than before.

 

A Deeper Reason

This week, however, my two days off were associated with guilt and fear because a deadline is looming only a few weeks away. When I came back to playing, I was nervous about having diminished my own progress and worried about how much work I still have to do. 

Before I even played a note, I was imagining my sound as being closed off and stuffy.

I convinced myself I was out of shape, and I played that way.

 

Beating the Cycle of Frustration

  1. Before I began practicing, I told myself I was "out of shape."
  2. I played with the closed off sound I heard in my head before I even started.
  3. I heard my sound and confirmed I was playing poorly and without ease.
  4. I judged myself for taking two days off and began self-loathing.
  5. The frustration extended to my physical use, and I tried forcing sound out.
  6. More tension meant more frustration, more judging, and more self-loathing.
  7. The cycle continued until I became too frustrated to continue.

 

END-GAINING VS. MEANS-WHEREBY

I've recently been reading Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique by Pedro de Alcantara. One of the first Alexander Technique concepts discussed is the principle of End-Gaining vs. Means-Whereby.

As described by Alexander Technique teacher Hilary King:

"End gaining is the tendency we have to keep our mind and actions focused on an end result whilst losing sight of, and frequently at the expense of, the means-whereby the result is achieved." 
(Click here to read the full article on End Gaining by Hilary King!)

I'm discovering that this concept can appear on many levels, from the action of a single note, to long-term life goals. When it comes to sound, I was desperate for the end-result of "sounding better," and I found myself forcing sounds and feeling frustrated. I lost sight of the means-whereby.

 

EAR PLUGS

When I was first learning about the benefits of singing and playing in relation to support and optimal body feeling during grad school, Professor Amsler had me use ear plugs to turn attention to feeling rather than hearing. With the work we were doing to change and improve sound, the dramatic difference in tone from my ears often sounded strange from my own perspective: my sound no longer sounded big to me, because it was projecting and sounding big for the room. 

 

using ear plugs, the emotional response of hearing and judging can be replaced by feeling and observing.

 

Since my sense of hearing caused me to end-gain, adding ear plugs re-directed my reliance on hearing and allowed me to include more senses into my approach.

I could invite my kinesthetic sense (the sense of movement) into my awareness, and observe the movements that would allow me greater freedom:

  • The 6 Places of Balance
  • Can I Release the lower back and abdomen to allow freedom for breathing and support?
  • Where do I lose support from the ground?
  • Where is my tongue?
  • What is the space between the teeth like?

 

Singing + Playing

Singing and Playing naturally encourages me to notice optimal support within the body without forcing. Doing this with ear plugs is a powerful way to observe the body with greater clarity, and the first thing I lean on when I'm bringing my best sound back.

 

20 Minutes Later...

After using ear plugs and lots of singing and playing, I was out of the loop of self-misery and enjoying a more resonant sound with ease! I could move on to a more productive practice session, feeling grateful for having worked through it!

 

Want 20+ Ideas For Bad Tone Days?

One of the first posts I wrote back in 2012 is called How To Cope with a Bad Tone Day.

Reading it again now, I still rely on these same things! (Minus travelling up and down 3 flights of stairs to the practice rooms at the University of New Hampshire!) 


18 Resources for Studying Flute Excerpts

Are you preparing flute excerpts? If so, perhaps you've scoured the internet for resources to find as much information as possible to assist your preparation.

That's exactly what I've done over the past several months! In my search, I've stumbled upon many different videos, articles, and resources that are specifically geared towards flute excerpts.

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Here are just a few of my favorites!

Do you have any to add to this list? Share them in the comments below!


FOR PRACTICING YOUR PART IN CONTEXT

If you haven't performed your excerpts in a full orchestra before, simulate the context with a pianist or round up friends to play the other parts.

Here are some resources to help you practice in context:

 

 

  • Acapella App

    • Record each part and play along with yourself or a friend by reading off the score or using arrangements.

 

 

 

  • OrchestraExcerpts.com

    • In addition to simply playing along with many different recordings, some excerpts on this site feature quality orchestral recordings with the ability to alter the tempo.

Online Video Resources

A small sampling of the many free and paid online video resources!

 

 

  • PRINCIPAL CHAIRS [Paid Subscription]

    • My most-visited site for full-length video lessons on a wide variety of excerpts by Michael Cox, Aldo Baerten, Lorna McGhee, Jim Walker, Denis Lupachev, Paul Edmund-Davies, and more!

 

 

  • MUSIAC (New World Symphony) [FREE]

    • Free video lessons on Bach, Beethoven, Rossini, Debussy, Ravel, Mendelssohn and Dvořák with Mark Sparks, Bonita Boyd, Kelly Zimba, & Joshua Smith

 

 

 


Must-Haves for your Library

If you're just beginning your journey with excerpts, these are the most-loved books to add to your library!

 

  • Orchestral Excerpts for Flute [Book]

    • The must-have book of excerpts! Selected and annotated by Jeanne Baxtresser, Principal Flute, New York Philharmonic, Piano Reductions by Martha Rearick

 

 

 

  • Orchestral Excerpts for Piccolo [BOOK]

    • "This book is a collection of excerpts compliled during Jack Wellbaum's many years with the Cincinnati Symphony. The selection of contents is based on those excerpts most frequently asked for in auditions."

 

 


Add your own favorites to the comments below!

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17 Must-See Resources if You're Preparing for an Audition

In the spirit of audition preparation, I've been collecting various resources on auditions, effective practice, mental skills, mock auditions, and more. There are countless resources available, but here are a few that I've found bookmark-worthy. Many of these resources contain further articles and links to even more resources that you may find useful in your own audition preparation.

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UNDERSTANDING + RE-FRAMING PERFORMANCE STRESS

 

Why I Don't Talk about "Stage Fright" and "Performance Anxiety" by Kate Conklin

  • "They’ve got the idea...that to perform, one should be “calm” or “relaxed.” And so when they experience *excitement, they re-interpret it as “stress” or “anxiety.”

 

Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by A.W. Brooks

  • "Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance."

 

Go Ahead and Sweat It! A Flutist's Unconventional Guide to Handling Performance Anxiety by The Self-Inspired Flutist

  • "When you fight your performance anxiety, you actually give it strength." 

 

What To Do About Performance Anxiety by Barbara Conable

  • "There are four distinct phenomena that go by the name performance anxiety. Each requires a different response, so it is important to name all four and distinguish them from each other so that the appropriate response may be chosen."

 

A Few Things Every Musician Ought to Know About Stage Fright

  • "Have you ever had a performance when everything just “clicked?" ...You may have heard of this referred to as “the zone.” Well, this magical state pretty much requires that you experience some degree of anxiety. No anxiety, no zone."

 

Helen’s Highly Recommended Books for Confident Performance via The Flute Examiner

  • Fourteen resources compiled by Helen Spielman, Performance Anxiety Coach

 

Douglas Yeo, Trombone, on Performance Anxiety

  • "Think about all of this in a different way. Instead of trying to solve the problem of performance anxiety, think a little deeper and work toward putting your performance in context with your broader life. Performance anxiety may not really be a problem, but rather may be a symptom of other issues (such as insecurity, or emotional hurt, lack of preparation and dedication, etc.) which, once addressed in a straightforward, direct way, can lead to a healthier life in all areas."

PREPARING TO PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE + STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE MOCK AUDITIONS

 

Bulletproof Musician: How Can You Create the Feeling of Real Pressure in Practice Situations?

  • "Being clutch under pressure is a skill we can get better at – by practicing under pressure...What are the most effective ways of manufacturing pressure training situations in advance of a big performance or audition?"

 

How Juilliard Teaches Musicians to Handle Stress by Daniel McGinn with Noa Kageyama

  • "In another class, he makes them do burpees until they’re sweaty and breathing hard — then asks them to play for the group. “It’s distracting when your heart is pounding,” he says, but if you practice playing while feeling that sensation, it can become a little less unnerving."

 

Rob Knopper: How to Stop Shaking Snare Drum [Video] + Stress-Inducing Exercises Download

  • "Going through a realistic mock audition forces you to experience the full range of things that you're going to have to get used to and get comfortable with at an actual audition. If you're not practicing like this, then you're not really practicing for an audition."

 

Four Alternative Methods to Make Sure Your Practice Efforts Survive the Pressures of Performance - The Strad

  • "A violist with a background in neuroscience, Molly Gebrian shares some alternative practice methods informed by studies on how our brain processes learning."

 

Audition Practice - Mock Auditions by Toby Oft, Trombone

  • "I want you to consider one thing: The better you get, the less often you perform for just trombonists."

 

MockAuditions.com - An Online Platform to Help You Win Your Next Audition

  • "Mockauditions.com is an online platform that connects and enables users to play for professional coaches and receive valuable feedback." 

ADVICE for Advancing in Auditions + REAL AUDITION STORIES

 

Rob Knopper's Free Mini-Course: How to Advance in an Audition 101

  • A free, 3-video course: 4 Reasons Why Anyone Can Win an Audition, The 3 Vital Phases of Audition Preparation, & What a Winning Audition Sounds Like

 

How to Win an Audition: Advice and Strategies from 3 Renowned Performer/Teachers by The Bulletproof Musician

  • "We all know that success requires talent and hard work, but on some level, we’re also deeply curious about the “secret sauce,” or those tiny, but significant little details that can be the difference between advancing and going home, or winning and being runner-up."

 

New World Symphony Audition Panel Discussion [Video]

  • "NWS Coaches on Auditioning with Craig Morris (trumpet), Marianne Gedegian (flute), David Allen Moore (bass), William VerMeulen (horn), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Jonathan Vinocour (viola), Mark Kellogg (trombone), Robert Davidovici (violin)."

 

Doug Rosenthal's A Tale of Two Auditions

  • "This is an account of a specific time in my specific life.  What I did for these specific auditions worked well enough specifically for me at these specific moments. I hope you find it helpful, insightful, or at the very least, entertaining."

Have you utilized any of the above resources? Share your favorite resources in the comments!

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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