Audition Preparation

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?



 

 

 

The Priorities of Good Sound for Flute & Piccolo [+ Free Download]

 

Several band directors have recently asked for my thoughts regarding flute embouchure:

  • What should the embouchure look like?
  • How would I help a student with a tight embouchure?
  • How do I help students develop sound?

 

My answer:

 

Most often, attempting to fix an embouchure is like fixing only the surface-level symptom of a deeper problem.

 

Many students (including my younger self) put a lot of focus on the embouchure because it's the one thing we can see clearly, and our band directors can see, too.

 

I didn't come to understand and refine the fundamental aspects of sound until I came to understand the anatomy involved in playing.

 

When all three aspects are refined and prioritized, sound becomes full and resonant, and students can begin to gain control and flexibility.


1. Airstream

Airstream is at the base of the pyramid because of course, without air, there's no sound. The most important element of this foundation is the understanding that:

  • An exhale creates sound,
  • Our inhale determines our exhale,
  • Our self-use a whole determines the quality of the breath, and therefore the quality of the sound. 
    • To experience the difference, stand on your tip-toes and take a big breath. Then, stand on both feet and take a big breath.
    • Which is more comfortable? Is there a difference in how each feels between these two different ways of using yourself?
    • There are subtle habits of use embedded in our playing that can affect breathing in the same way.
    • Therefore, looking at the whole can improve breathing, and thereby, sound.

 

Posts to Refine Breathing + Self-Use

 

Resources for Refining Breathing Anatomy


2. Internal Set-Up: Jaw, Tongue, Mouth

So, we've mentioned embouchure and airstream, but the structures between the lungs and the lips play a crucial role in developing sound, as well. As before, understanding the anatomy of these structures can lead to a more refined and effective means of use.

Statements like "open the throat" or "drop the jaw" are well-meaning tips to help students create openness and fullness to the sound. If the foundation of breathing or anatomical knowledge isn't there, attempting to open the throat may turn into forcing and lead to throat tension or noise.

 

Refine Your Knowledge

Have a look at this video.

Although it's about swallowing, in the first 60 seconds, the narrator points out just how large the tongue is, and that the base of the tongue is in the oral pharynx.

She'll also point out the hard palate and soft palates.

 

  • The tongue is the floor of our mouth, and the palates are the ceiling.
  • Increasing the amount of space in the mouth creates resonance.
  • Therefore, tongue down, soft palate lifted will increase the space in the oral cavity.

 

  • Understand that the tongue is large and dome shaped, and the base of which sits in the jaw and the oral pharynx. Therefore, the jaw and the tongue are closely related.
  • If "dropping the jaw" leads to pulling or forcing the jaw down, the freedom of the tongue is affected. (Jaw tension is a culprit of poor articulation and tongue speed, as well!)
  • The back or base of the tongue, as seen above, is essentially the front of the beginning of what we might consider to be the throat. Therefore, the tongue heavily influences our airsteam, and how "open" or "restricted" it is.
  • We use these structures to ensure airflow hasn't been restricted, and to create vowel shapes that add depth to the sound. 

 

Where's My Jaw in Relation to the Whole?

 

How to Practice?

  • Singing and playing is my favorite way to practice both airstream support and set-up:
    • Singing adds speed and volume to the air stream, allows the mouth to create vowel shapes, and allows "open the throat" to occur in a natural way. Intentionally creating sound by singing can help alleviate throat tension and throat noise.

3. Embouchure

Embouchure comes last because this is point at which we add structure and finesse to the airstream. When the fundamental elements are adequate and refined, the embouchure can begin to let go. A smiling, or tight embouchure with corners pulled back is a compensation for inadequate air, a closed throat or both.

Uncovering the bottom lip and allowing the corners to mush forward towards the lip plate is now possible when air and space are adequate. From here, flexibility and seamless intervals are possible. (Insert your favorite flexibility exercises and etudes here!)

 

Here's one more video to see the muscles that move the mouth and the lips.

The muscles below the the lower lip are important - often, the flute is too high on the bottom lip, and we can't use the lower lip for finesse and structure.

If we try to lower the flute on the lip without the foundations of the pyramid, students won't have the tools ready to begin supporting well, and they'll lose sound, which is a scary experience! One more reason to look at the whole to make effective changes to the embouchure.

 

Adequate support will also allow students to begin rolling out or uncovering more of the lip plate.

 

In addition, the angle of the embouchure and flute-to-face are also the final elements to refining sound.

 

Here are three experiments for making adjustments and finding the right angle!


Free Download!

Here's a free visual aid with some important reminders to use for yourself or for your students! Click the image or the button below to download a PDF.



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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


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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!