Flute pedagogy

How My Philosophy On Warming Up Has Changed (And How It Helped Me Learn To Love Long Tones!)

I just completed my first Instagram Live session which was All About Exercises! In preparing for the discussion, I began to sort out the what, why and how of each of the initial steps of my typical practice session.

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In doing this, I realized that I’ve come to value my warm-up, tone, and technique studies as independent tasks with specific goals of their own. Viewing them as separate tasks that build upon one another has helped me to find more freedom and enjoyment while practicing.

Let me tell you why...

Up until the past year, I never truly distinguished a difference between warming up and working on tone and technique exercises. I would jump in and start warming up with scales, long tones, harmonics… and by the time I had completed several exercises, I would feel "warmed up."

Some days I would love long tones, and sometimes I would dread them. It felt like the thing I was supposed to do first to warm-up *slash* work-on-tone, but it often felt frustrating to jump in and try to make my best sound right out of the gate. I was missing a step.

 

What Changed My Mind About Warming Up?

I finally realized the benefits of distinguishing my warm-up from my tone studies when I discovered Dr. Terri Sanchez's Epic Flute Warm Up! In doing this warm-up each day, I’ve come to realize that I have one primary goal for warming up:

 

It's All About Getting Air Moving.

 

We normally take shallow, automatic breaths during the day, but when it comes time to play, we need to begin to breathe deeper and with greater intention to make sound. Just like we need to stretch our arms and legs in the morning, we need to stretch the muscles surrounding the structures of breathing to prepare to play.

Think Of It Like This...

When we warm-up at the gym, we're preparing for our workout. The first 5 minutes on the treadmill are about loosening up and getting the heart ready (Warm-Up). Then we're ready to strength train (tone), and jump into more cardio (technique). When the basics are refined, we can use these tools to enhance our artistic choreography (repertoire).


Messy Sounds = Less Perfectionist's Tension

The first page of the Epic Warm-Up provides the perfect opportunity to begin breathing deeply and flowing through notes without forcing to transition from not playing into playing. I don’t analyze my sound or try to perfect anything.

I especially love the singing and playing and breath kicks, because opening up with messy sounds is a great way to start off a practice session - it’s freeing and fun! I add in even more “air movers” with jet whistles and beat-boxing syllables.

Dr. Sanchez strategically includes a warm-up for the lips, fingers, and tongue towards the end of the warm-up once you’ve had a chance to open up the sound with freer breathing.

Warming up in a fun way that addresses what the body needs to transition from not playing into creating a beautiful, resonant sound has been key for allowing me to enjoy long tones and subsequent tone studies!

 

I Can Achieve More When I've Prioritized Air First

My mind is ready and I’m no longer dreading how I’ll sound. I’ve invited more of my whole self into breathing, and from here, I can refine the focus, resonance, and projection of my sound, and translate this to all register with long tones. I can work more in depth on lip flexibility because I’ve prioritized air first. I can more easily practice phrasing with shapes, dynamics, and colors because I can support efficiently from the start of my tone practice.


In Conclusion

I was missing out on really digging in and refining all the good stuff when I was using my exercises as my warm-up! Now that I’ve made the distinction, I’m enjoying my warm-up, and I'm diving in to bigger and better goals and improving with intention each day!



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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!

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!


Why You Need A Custom Warm-Up Sheet

Most pieces have that one terrifying spot. Can you think of the most difficult spot in a piece you're working on? For me, the third measure of the Firebird excerpt comes to mind. Whenever I go back to practicing that excerpt, I spend a lot of time on that spot. There are many other examples of moments such as this that come up again and again. 

If having an entire piece on your stand makes it tempting to jump around too quickly, take just a few of the difficult bars and add them onto one sheet. 

All the hardest spots on one sheet.

Cut and paste or transcribe the most difficult bars from any number of pieces onto one sheet, and get creative during your warm-up! Approaching only the smallest and most difficult chunk each day will slow down the process of learning and refining them in a way that can turn them into second nature when they appear in context. Consider putting difficult excerpts transposed higher and lower on there, as well. (I'm looking at you, Classical Symphony!) Utilize a variety of extended techniques, altered rhythms, varied dynamics, tempi, and articulations... and so on! 

Here's an example:

Important Tip: Make sure to include the key signature!

Your warm-up sheet can change every week or month, or you may choose to create one using your audition or recital repertoire. Since orchestral excerpts never go away and it's impossible to practice all of them each day, a warm-up sheet (or maybe two or three to rotate between) containing the most difficult spots is a great way to keep those pesky runs or intervals under your fingers!

What's on your custom warm-up sheet? Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share!

3 Lessons In Teaching Awareness

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In a recent lesson with one of my students, we spent a great deal of time playing simple arpeggios followed by questioning: 

"Did you notice what your cheeks felt like that time?" 

 "Is one side more tense than the other?"

When I first ask students questions of this nature, they sometimes smile and say, "What are you talking about?!" 

Others feel discouraged that they aren't sure how to answer, since they've never been asked to consider such questions. 

With this question, the student is given the opportunity to say "I don't know," free of judgement, to which I respond, "Great! Let's try it now!" 

In our lesson, I asked the student to play her simple arpeggio as many times as needed to articulate a clear picture the shape and location of her tongue while slurring, and any tendencies to move during the arpeggio. Each time she played, she was able to add in more detail about the exact location and shape of the tongue in her mouth. 

I asked her if she'd ever thought about it before and she said she had not. 

This reminded me of several things.

 

Perception

First, not everyone has the same experience with self-perception. A similar exercise with another student, regardless of age or experience level, might look very different. The degree of detail and quickness to respond is not something available to everyone, but can improve with practice. 

 

A Clearer Basis For Teaching

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What else did I realize? As a teacher, I cannot see what is going on inside the mouth of another musician. We can see shifts visible on the outside and make assumptions about changes our student can make to improve, but asking the student what her current set-up is like before offering a suggestion for improvement can provide great clarity for both the student and teacher. We were both on the same page and speaking the same language. I could speak in very specific terms knowing the student would understand.

We Are Not Clones

I also tried to mimic her set-up myself to gain more insight into her experience, but the shape of our mouths are not the same. The size and width of our tongues and spacing of our teeth prevent us from creating the exact same experience. (Another important realization: our differences provide an even greater opportunity to express our individuality. No one else sounds or plays like you, and that is exciting to remember.)

The Takeaway

Everyone is different. Guiding students to explore and patiently observe can lead to greater understanding from both parties.

Perhaps the inside of the mouth is difficult to perceive at first, but the fingers or the feet are easier for the student. Gauging self-perception in the student is key.

The student is an important part of the lesson! It's my job to help them improve. I always aim to lead my students to improve the foundations of their playing by finding easy, natural movement, but the specifics of this do not translate exactly from student to student. Once awareness is accessible, more is possible, and more exacting and specific instructions can replace vague ones. The entire experience is more vivid for the student, and exploration and experimentation become a tool available to them at any time.