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Spring Practice Favorites: Books + Apps

I'm always on the lookout for new resources to make my life easier and more inspired while practicing. Recently, I've been loving a few brand new and some new-to-me resources.

 

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Books


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The Virtuosic Flutist

by Nina Assimakopoulos

 

Right when I saw the first sample of this book, I knew I'd love it! This book thoroughly explains how to practice and develop important expressive tools, and has inspired me to think in more dimensions with an elevated focus with everything else I'm practicing. I especially love the Grounding and Repertoire sections!

Available in Print and Digital Download!

 



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The 28 Day Warm Up Book for All Flautists.... eventually!

by Paul Edmund-Davies

If you're trying to get yourself back into shape, this is the book to do it! There are four sections, Sonority, Fingers, Articulation, and Intervals with 7 exercises in each. There's a chart at the beginning of the book showing how to divide each section over 28 days. I've been loving this book to challenge myself beyond the typical tone and technique exercises, and it's paying off!

Learn More Here!


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Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique

by Pedro De Alcantara

 

This in-depth book gave me a lot of ideas in the first few pages alone. If you're learning to apply to Alexander Technique to your playing, this book will help you develop a deeper understanding of your thoughts and self-use as a musician.

 

See More on Amazon!


APPS


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Seconds Pro Interval Timer

This app was introduced to me by two musicians on Instagram, and it's designed to assist with Interval workouts. If you read my "How I Practice Using the Pomodoro Technique" post, you'll know I love using a timer and dividing up my practice session into 25-minute chunks. This app lets me customize each task and duration, and will count down and lead me right into the next task. It's much easier to let go of each task and move right along into the next without dwelling or wasting time. If you need help focusing and getting through a number of tasks, give this one a try!

Apple App Store


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Drone Tuner

This genius app lets you tune to the sound of real instruments! I love using a drone to work on intonation, but sometimes it's difficult to blend into the only sound offered by other apps. I like to rotate through several instruments and pitches to prepare to play in tune with a variety of instruments and ranges. (The piano option is helpful to prepare students to tune to a piano!) Plus, you can tune chords and harmonies!

 

Learn More Here!



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What I Learned Judging A Round of Pre-Screening Recordings

I was recently asked to be a judge for a round of pre-screening recordings, and it was my first time being on the other side of a recorded round. Listening through each candidate, I began to think about how I was listening based on the recording, and I made a mental checklist of things to take into account for myself and my students in future recording sessions.

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Here's what a I learned while judging a round of pre-screening recordings:


1. Recording Quality

Recording quality is really important for showcasing your true sound. The listener will have to guess about your tone if the quality is low or the distance from the microphone is off. Your tone is the first basis for determining your level of playing when it comes to competition recordings, and it makes the difference between the listener falling in love with your playing versus trying to decide on your ability in the first few moments. (Don't make them guess, make them love!)

2. Microphone Set-Up

Microphone angle and distance are just as important as a good recording device. Too far, and the quality can seem too low - the intricacies of your sound will be lost. Too close and you'll hear loud breaths and possibly even keys moving. Both things can distract the listener from how great you are.

3. Intonation

Intonation translates no matter the quality of recording! Take the time to practice playing in tune, and tune well on your recording day. A recording with few technical flaws but poor intonation throughout is very distracting to hear. Bring a recording device into your rehearsals - a phone works fine for listening back for pitch issues!

4. Play for the Space

Know the space you're playing in. If it's a dry room, be intentional about creating vibrancy and spin in the sound, and releasing the ends of notes. If it's a live or echoey space, keep things clear and precise.

5. Take a Sample First

Listen to the recording tests for yourself. Are your contrasts coming across? Are you happy with the balance? How's the distance and location of the microphone? Take a moment to make sure you're happy before proceeding.

Thinking back, I never heard the recording tests for myself - only the recording engineer listened. I didn't know how I was coming across in the room through the microphone, and in some cases, I would've played differently had I listened first. This can also help you hear whether you've tuned well or not before you proceed with a full take!

6. Have a Back-Up

Use a back-up recording device when possible. If you had a great take, but the recording device shut off halfway through (or you forgot to hit record altogether), you'll thank yourself for having a back-up device!

7. Don't Forget About Your Collaborator

Don't forget, your pianist is most likely going to be using an instrument that isn't their own. They may have insights or a preference as far as the location of your recording based on the instrument available, so account for this before deciding!



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3 Tips for Effortless Technique in the Upper Register [Video]

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This video was inspired by a flutist who asked for advice for achieving more eveness in the third octave of the chromatic scale. I'm sharing my favorite tips for playing faster with greater precision in the upper register, including practice tips, exercises, and resources. 

Click Below to Watch!

 

1. Stability & Hand Balance [0:09]

2. Even Note Groupings and Anchor Notes [2:29]

3. Practicing Smaller Chunks in All Octaves [4:40]


 

want some more practice inspiration?



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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!


#practiceroomrevelations

@joleneflute / Instagram

facebook.com/PracticeRoomRevelations


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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!) 



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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!

#PRACTICEROOMREVELATIONS

Instagram @joleneflute

facebook.com/practiceroomrevelations


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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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Top 5 Favorite Blog Posts from July

 

"Ultimately, your technique is only as good as your sense of time." 

Great tips for simplifying the process and reaping the benefits of self-recording while practicing!

“Performance presence is born out of a sincere and deep connection to the music you are playing and the desire to share this with your audience." 

"How setting the right practice goal can help us improve more in the same amount of time (hint: practicing for time or number of repetitions is not the answer)."

"Note the acute observation required here: the tiniest hesitation or deviating muscle movement is to Lynne an indicator of further work being required."

Instagram @joleneflute
Facebook.com/PracticeRoomRevelations

#PracticeRoomRevelations

July Inspiration Calendar [Free Download]

Tips for Using Your Calendar

  • While this is not a practice calendar, there are several actions that are to be implemented directly into your practice session, such as the Practice Intention ideas.
  • 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 sources of inspiration or goals.
  • 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! 

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 goals?
  • Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term?
  • 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!


#practiceroomrevelations

I am SO EXCITED to see your calendars and the ways you're staying inspired throughout the month! Use the hashtag #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share!