austin flute studio

My Top 17 Inspirational Flute Recordings

When I first became serious about playing, I was in high school and had started taking lessons with a great teacher, Donald Zook.

 

We were working on festival audition pieces, and one of them was Mozart's G Major Concerto! He gave me a list of flutists, orchestras, and orchestral repertoire to listen to, and stressed that listening and playing A LOT was essential for growth.

 

I got myself a James Galway's CD of Mozart Concerti, and let me tell you, listening to James Galway helped me develop a bigger sound.

 

I listened to that recording in the car with my mom everywhere we went. It was winter in New England at the time I was preparing for the audition, so every time I hear that concerto, I picture us in the car driving by snow-covered trees. 

 

Of course, I started adopting some of the little nuances of that recording, leaning on the same notes, attempting to open my sound and use vibrato the way he did. There were things my teacher had me change from the habits I adopted, but all-in-all, listening allowed me to create new possibilities.

 

I tried on a sound and a style, and it helped me learn how to achieve new possibilities.

 

To this day, I still listen to recordings for inspiration, and my tastes have continued to develop and change over time. At this stage, I have a better understanding of how I want to sound as an individual, and I've been able to refine this by hearing what kind of sounds are possible as heard in others.

 

My high school flute teacher was absolutely right to have me listen and play as much as possible, and ultimately, I developed a genuine love for the repertoire and was overjoyed to play as often as possible.


Listening Inspiration

 

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite albums and flutists that inspire me. (Many listed have inspired me since high school!)

 

I'd like to share this list for younger students beginning to explore recordings and repertoire, and introduce them to some of the wonderful flutists and masterworks for our instrument, as well as advanced players! (I know I'm always curious about what others' favorites are and why!)

 

(This list is by no means complete, and narrows in primarily solo flute repertoire. There are countless other flutists, pieces, orchestral recordings, chamber works, and non-flute recordings that inspire me, too!)


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1. Elizabeth Rowe with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players: Profanes et Sacrées: 20th-Century French Chamber Music

  • Ravel, Introduction and Allegro for harp, accompanied by string quartet, flute, and clarinet
  • Debussy, Sonata for flute, viola, and harp

2. Marianne Gedigian: Voice of the Flute

  • Hüe, Fantaisie
  • Copland, Duo for Flute and Piano
  • Taktakishvili, Sonata for Flute and Piano
  • Foote, Trois Pieces, Op. 31
  • Boehm, Grand Polonaise, Op. 16

3. Amy Porter: Passacaglia

  • Rózsa, Sonata for Solo Flute
  • Karg-Elert, Sonata Appassionata in f-sharp minor for Flute Solo, Op. 140
  • Hindemith, Acht Stücke für flöte allein
  • Dohnányi, Passacaglia for Flute Solo, Op. 48, No. 2
  • Karg-Elert, 30 Caprices for Solo Flute, Op. 107

4. Jasmine Choi: Claude Bolling Suite for Flute & Jazz Trio

  • Bolling, Suite for Flute and Jazz Trio
  • Schocker, Winter Jasmine for Flute and Piano
  • Schoenfield, Four Souvenirs
  • Yiruma, Wait There for Flute and Piano

5. Karl-Heinz Schütz: Prokofiev Sonata, Op. 94

  • Prokofiev, Sonata for Flute and Piano in D Major, Op. 94
  • Hindemith, Sonata for Flute and Piano
  • Lauber, Grand Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 52
  • Martin, Ballade

6. Emmanuel Pahud: Paris - French Flute Music

  • Poulenc, Sonata
  • Dutilleux, Sonatine
  • Sancan, Sonatine
  • Ibert, Jeux
  • Milhaud, Sonatine
  • Ibert, Vocalise
  • Messiaen, Le Merle Noir
  • Jolivet, Chant de Linos

7. Mark Sparks: French Album

  • Saint-Saëns, Romance, Op. 37
  • Gaubert, Berceuse
  • Lefebvre, Piece Romantique
  • Gaubert, Sur l'eau
  • Roussel, Joueurs de Flute
  • Caplet, Reverie & Petite Valse
  • Faure, Morceau de concours
  • Gaubert, Romance
  • Roussel, Aria
  • Gaubert, Divertissement grec
  • Gaubert, Sicilienne
  • Gaubert, Soir sur la plaine
  • Taffanel, Andantino
  • Taffanel, Andante
  • D'un matin de printemps

8. Alexa Still: Alexa Still Flute

  • Barber, Canzone
  • Copland, Vocalise
  • Burton, Sonatina
  • Porter, Blues Lointains
  • Copland, Duo for Flute and Piano
  • Rochberg, Between Two Worlds
  • Muczynski, Sonata
  • Bloch, Last Two Poems

9. Alexa Still: Matthew Hindson Flute Concerto "House Music"

10. Barthold Kuijken: The Artistry of Barthold Kuijken

  • Telemann, Fantasia VII in D Major
  • Couperin, Concerts Royauxm Premier Concert
  • J.S. Bach, Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034
  • C.P.E. Bach, Sonata for Flute and basso continuo in D Major, Wq. 131/H 561
  • Mozart, Flute Quartet in D Major K 285
  • Schubert, Introduction and Variations on "Trockne Blumen"

11. Ian Clarke: Within...

  • Clarke: Orange Dawn
  • Clarke: TRKS
  • Clarke: The Great Train Race
  • Clarke: Spiral Lament
  • Clarke: Tuberama
  • Clarke: Within...
  • Clarke: The Mad Hatter
  • Clarke: Maya
  • Clarke: Sunstreams
  • Clarke: Sunday Morning
  • Clarke: Zoom Tube

12. Susan Milan: Virtuoso French Flute Repertoire

  • Grovlez, Romance et Scherzo
  • Gaubert, Fantaisie
  • Enescu, Cantabile et Presto
  • Sancan, Sonatine
  • Taffanel, Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino
  • Gaubert, Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando
  • Faure, Morceau de Concours
  • Busser, Prelude et Scherzo
  • Faure, Fantaisie, Op. 79
  • Ganne, Andante et Scherzo

13. Paula Robison: Borne: Carmen Fantasy

  • Borne, Carmen Fantasy
  • Faure, Sicilienne
  • Delibes, Morceau de Concours
  • Massenet, Morceaux de Concours
  • Taffanel, Andante Pastorale et Scherzettino
  • Faure, Morceau de Concours
  • Dutilleux, Sonatina
  • Gaubert, Sonata No. 1

14. Julius Baker in Recital

  • Poulenc, Sonata
  • Muczynski, Sonata
  • Debussy, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • Franck, Sonata
  • Faure, Après un rêve, Op. 7, No. 1

 

 

Last but certainly not least, I'm grateful to have CDs from my teachers. There is nothing more heart-warming and inspiring than hearing your own teachers - I keep these CDs in my car at all times!

 

15. Eva Amsler & Karl-Heinz Schütz: W.F. Bach, 6 Flute Duets

  • W.F. Bach, Duet No. 1 - 6

 

16. Peggy Vagts: Persistence, Works by Women, 1850-1950

  • Boulanger, Nocturne
  • Boulanger, D'un Matin de Printemps
  • Bonis, Sonate
  • Clara Schumann, Drei Romanzen, Op. 22
  • Arrieu, Sonatina
  • Glanville-Hicks, Sonatina
  • Beach, Romance, Op. 23

 

17. Donald Zook: The Last Rose of Summer

  • Paggi, Rimembranze Napoletane
  • Mouquet, La Flute de Pan
  • Rheinberger, Rhapsodie
  • Kuhlau, The Last Rose of Summer
  • Demersseman, Sixieme Solo de Concert, op. 82

Please share your own favorites in the comments!



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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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8 Ways to Practice Effectively Without Your Instrument

I recently sent my flute to the shop for a COA, and in the midst of preparing for upcoming events, I began thinking of all the ways I can continue to improve while it's away.

Perhaps your living situation limits you to quiet hours, or you've slammed your finger in a door and cannot hold your instrument for a month. (I can speak from experience.) 

Instead of considering the limitations of being unable to play your instrument, consider the ways it can be beneficial:

  • You won't feel distracted or discouraged by a "bad tone day."
  • You'll be able to focus purely on the composition and musicality.
  • You'll have the opportunity to practice being mindful, present, and focused.
  • You won't feel the temptation to mindlessly repeat passages and risk learning mistakes.

Here are 8 ways to practice effectively without your instrument:


1. Research

Spend time researching your repertoire. Dig deeper into the life of the composer, important influences, the history of the instrument at the time of the composition, and so on. This is a crucial step is that is often cut short when tempted to get started learning the notes. There are boatloads of articles and resources available online. Even in five minutes of searching, you can learn something new! A heightened awareness of the background and context of a piece allows for an informed interpretation. 

2. Pre-Record

If you're anticipating being without your instrument and can pre-record at least one performance of your piece, use your video as a tool for self-study. Watch yourself practice and take notes. Be your own teacher. This will be immensely useful in Step 3!

3. Listening 

Find as many recordings of your repertoire as possible, in addition to related works. Listen first as a whole, then on a granular level. 

Go phrase by phrase listening to all of your recordings back-to-back, taking specific notes. Oftentimes, we limit ourselves to only a few possibilities when playing. Hearing many possibilities from others opens your ears to fresh perspectives, and gives you the chance to determine which is the most effective.

Once you've determined the way you'd like a certain phrase to be played, listen to your own recording if you pre-recorded yourself. Are you already playing it exactly as you want? Great! Now you've confirmed that you should keep playing it that way! Are there areas to improve? Great! Now you have a detailed plan. 

I've written a whole post on this process! Click here to read: Maximizing Improvement with Video Recordings.

4. Visual Aids

Make a copy of your music for personal note-taking. Write notes on your own playing while you listen to your own recordings, and add notes and ideas from your favorite recordings.

Most importantly, add reminders throughout: Anticipate where you'll need to remember to "stand tall and sing" or "remain soft," for example.

Use color to enhance the visual road map of your piece, and gain a visual of the bigger picture. You can also add color to imagine the tone color you wish to use in each phrase. 

5. Staying in Shape

Do you notice when you first play your instrument in the morning, the muscles tend to tight when taking a full breath? After warming up, however, the muscles become more mobile and breathing feels more free. Without your instrument, you have the opportunity to shift awareness to the full-body experience of warming up, rather than simply listening to your sound. Try stretching and movement exercises, notice patterns of tension in movement, and uncover an effective full-body warm-up to use before playing your instrument.

6. Breathing

Take the last step further by laying on the floor and observing the experience of breathing as a whole. Notice patterns of tension in the abdomen, the neck, the arms, the legs, and replace holding with subtle movement. Feel the movement of a full, efficient breath, and maintain effortless expansion while exhaling. Breath is the foundation of sound, so this is essentially tone practice without your instrument!

7. Sing

Sing your part! Oftentimes, singing a note with a feeling of space in the mouth just before playing it on your instrument translates a beautiful, natural singing quality. Attempt to sing your parts with ease and beauty, and imagine how this feeling relates to your instrument. You can also practice hearing and singing intervals in tune!

8. Mental Practice

Actually practicing through imagination only. In addition to mental practice with the goal of learning notes and patterns, try a mental performance as well. Practice increasing your heart rate through jumping jacks or jogging in place, then come to a focused, grounded, and accepting state.

The benefit of practicing mentally is that you can imagine yourself playing your best. Imagine physical ease, clear musicality, a luminous sound, and captivating presence. You can even attempt to memorize the notes and rhythms through mental visualization.


How do you find ways to improve without your instrument? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

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!

 

In A Rut: Replacing Guilt with Inspiration

When it comes to motivation for growth, music majors come to thrive on the structure provided by music school. We have a calendar full of auditions, solo or class recitals, weekly studio classes, ensemble rehearsals, performances and more to keep up with. With the line-up of goals and weekly guidance from our teachers, we can get into a groove and stay in it for a long stretch. (And our favorite practice room. We can stay in there, too.)

When school's out or we've graduated and are on our own for the first time, it is easy to feel lost, overwhelmed, or uninspired if no clear goals are in sight. 

CORE EXPERIENCES VERSUS SMALL JOLTS OF INSPIRATION

When thinking of what inspires me to keep going, it. Attending festivals, master classes, and committing to personal projects have been the crucial moments in my own development. (If you've seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, these core memories keep Flute Island going strong!)

What I've learned about the in-between times is that they provide an opportunity for a core learning experience to occur. The continuous stream of education during school is crucial and highly influential, but the moments we seek on our own, outside of our norm, are significant as well.

My own Core Experiences

During most of my summers as a student, I was fortunate to experience breakthrough master classes and accomplish personal projects:

In the summer after the first year as an undergraduate, I attended my first master class with Gary Schocker. This was a turning point for me, because I was introduced to the Alexander Technique. The positive experience was a huge burst that stayed with me through my degree.

The following summer, I attended ARIA, a more intensive class with greater challenges. A repertoire list was provided with a list of excerpts, pieces, and etudes, some I was unfamiliar with. I took it upon myself to learn as many as possible. 

My third summer, I received a research grant to study Body Mapping, a huge turning point for my playing and teaching that influences me today. This decision led me to attend FSU as a graduate student. (Another crucial core experience that led me to my exact path!)

Summer before graduate school, I started this blog! This began as a means of continuing to improve on my own. In the summers between undergrad, I knew what to expect each year, and knew what I could work on. Before grad school, I had a repertoire list as a guideline for auditions, which spent a lot of time preparing. (Another source of structure that was fundamental to my motivation to continue growing.) I also used this blog as a means of turning my experiences into coherent ideas for teaching, in preparation for becoming a teaching assistant.

Attending FSU and delving into my interests in working with body awareness and teaching are the culmination of my summer experiences, and continue to inspire me to practice and teach with intention.

SMALL JOLTS 

While we cannot ignore the monumental, life-changing experiences, they can be expensive and harder to come by. Sometimes, we think about about practicing, decide we don't want to, then feel guilty. We get into a rut, and the more days in a row we feel the guilt, the deeper we get. There are small decisions we can make that jolt us out of a rut, and lead us to an inspired practice session.

The following things motivate me to take my flute out:

  • Browse Musicians on YouTube
  • Find new pieces on Spotify
  • Listen to fellow musicians on SoundCloud
  • Go for a walk
  • Attend a concert
  • Dance to 90s music
  • Organize your practice space
  • Take a lesson
  • Come up with your musicians' bucket list (Pieces to Learn, Hear, Perform...)
  • Drink Water 
  • Power Nap
  • Try a new instrument, then go back to your own
  • Constructive Rest
  • Yoga
  • Polish your instrument
  • Teach a lesson
  • Do Cardio
  • Listen to old recordings
  • Get dressed up and play a recital for yourself
  • Visit a Musem
  • Play along with a recording of your favorite symphony
  • Sing in the car
  • Read memoirs of musicians
  • Make a painting based on a piece
  • Watch master class videos or audit a live workshop

Or, open this book up and hear from a flute hero!

Overcoming guilt

When I began feeling overwhelmed with the work-life balance after graduate school, I simply wouldn't practice. I did not want to know what I would sound like, and I felt extreme guilt. I no longer deserved to play my instrument, and I had lost time. I ultimately needed to accept my new environment, carving out a space to return to practicing.

Time away is okay. I have heard many teachers and musicians state that time away is beneficial, and when we return, we're often refreshed and better than before. (I now believe them because I've experienced this myself more than once since then!) It is okay to feel guilt, it is okay to be frustrated - it is normal. It is an emotional process to go through a rut, but it is a pivotal time to uncover what truly motivates you. Trust in the journey of acceptance, and trust that you're simply in-between. There is always something new on the horizon, and when it happens, it will mean that much more.

Slower Practice with Greater Impact

Back in 2012, I wrote this post on practicing slowly: Making Slow Practice Meaningful.

Many of the ideas of integrating a full scope of movements and observations still ring true for me, and guide every one of my practice sessions. 

  • Slow practice should always include more than simply playing the correct notes with the correct rhythms. Even in the stages of learning the notes, greater musical intentions should be included. Take the time to decide how it should sound, what is being said, and what ingredients to include.
  • Slow practice gives a chance to watch how we're producing sounds, and therefore we can experiment and uncover greater possibilities for achieving our desired musical interpretation.

Quality Over Quantity

Principal Chairs shared a wonderful interview with Elizabeth Rowe, principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and her thoughts on practicing efficiently are noteworthy:

"I am a huge believer in quality over quantity. So often, I see musicians working on just one element of the music at a time. For example, I might see someone slowing down a difficult passage and repeating it a number of times to clean up their fingers, but all the while they’re using a relatively poor sound and not inflecting the music with much shaping or character. They then have to circle back to add those elements in later on. I always try to layer on as many musical elements as possible when working. So I don’t just play scales, I try to play beautifully shaped scales with a singing sound, perfect intonation and some sort of interesting rhythmic element. I don’t just work on playing the Firebird with excellent rhythm, but while I’m working with the metronome I ask myself if those rhythmic figures are conveying the character I want. In other words, use your whole mind and soul when practicing. This is the quality part! If you do this at all times, the work will be very intense, efficient, and tiring!! Twenty minutes of this sort of in-depth work accomplishes much more than an hour of drills. I also advocate practicing without the flute if you can’t find a practice space or only have 2 minutes to spare—our minds are powerful tools, and simply thinking through a phrase or imagining a certain quality of sound can produce results later on."

- Elizabeth Rowe via Principal Chairs, 2015 - Read the Full Article Here

Slow practice doesn't just provide an opportunity to get the notes right, but an opportunity to practice with every element included. I find that I have to go even slower when practicing with heightened observation, emotion, intention, and efficiency, and I always learn more when doing so.

Detail-Oriented Practice

Select a short, difficult passage and commit to learning about every detail:

  • What is the overall character or mood of the piece, specifically this part?
  • How does that influence the shape and sound quality of my notes?
  • What indication does the composer give for tempo, style, dynamics, and articulation markings, and what effect do these elements provide?
  • Uncover phrasing and structure related to the bigger picture.

Make these choices, put a timer on, and practice slowly.

Just how much detail can I practice with?

Yoga Poses to Incorporate into Your Practice Session

I recently came across some old practice journals, and found a page I'd written after a yoga warm-up. I was reminded of several poses and breathing exercises that are especially beneficial for musicians.

It is no secret that yoga is beneficial for musicians, especially for the foundations of breathing, awareness, and the mind-body connection. Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate yoga into my practice session, along with some favorite yoga videos courtesy of YouTube.

If You're Anxious...

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing will encourage slower breathing and has a calming effect. If you're seeking greater focus or mental clarity, try this first.

 

Guided Savasana (Corpse Pose)

One of the first notes I made in my yoga warm-up entry came after laying on the floor in corpse pose. I allowed myself to watch the journey of the air into the nose or mouth, and watched for any tendencies to help, force, or tighten at any point during the inhalation and exhalation. A crucial point is allowing a natural wave-like flow between the inhalation and the exhalation, avoiding any urge to hold at the top of the breath. Understanding tendencies such as these outside of playing provides greater awareness of anything that could interrupt a natural breath while playing.

 

WIDE-LEG CHILD'S POSE

Child's Pose provides an opportunity to observe the movement of the spine while breathing: Upon inhalation, the spine gathers. Upon exhalation, the spine lengthens. Additionally, I allow the abdominal muscles to release during the exhalation in this pose. When playing, releasing the abdominal muscles allows for greater ease in breathing and improved breath capacity!


To Energize...

 

SUN SALUTATION

Moving the entire body as a warm-up before practicing is a great way to feel energized before practicing, especially if you're feeling tired. The more warmed-up my muscles feel, the easier it is to play! 

 

Pigeon Pose

I love hip-opening poses, and Pigeon Pose is my favorite! Hip openers bring awareness to the lower body, and this pose provides an opportunity to feel the movements of the breath and their relation to the legs and hip joints. In addition, this provides another chance to allow the abdominal muscles to release, inhibiting a habit of gripping while enhancing the stretch. 

What are your favorite yoga poses or stretches? Does your warm-up include a full-body warm-up?

(*Note, guidance from a certified instructor is recommended for proper pose execution to prevent injury. Always consult with a doctor if you experience pain or injury.)

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.

Can't Get Enough Air? Try This!

Wind players need to breathe to make sound, and there are many pedagogical methods related to breathing. I have been a part of classes and flute lessons where I've been told to take a deeper breath or get more air, but the whole picture wasn't necessarily included in how to take in more air. When enough time was available to breathe more slowly, I was able to get more air in, but continued to run out of air too quickly. So naturally, when the amount of time available to breathe was minimal, I ended up gasping.

What change has allowed me to take in more air and make longer phrases?

Re-training the brain to associate the inhalation with letting go.

When we begin a piece, we have all the time we need to take a slow, deep breath. However, if the inhalation is accompanied by increased tension in the muscles surrounding the ribs, tightening of the throat, or excess tension elsewhere, we're already starting from a place of panic and discomfort. This can lead to decreased resonance in our sound, which leads to technical difficulties and inhibition in expression and phrasing. When we make it to our next breath, we may feel desperate and gasp for air, and the tension and panic may continue to build.

Many instrumentalists have a habit of moving the arms upwards as if giving ourselves a cue. The extra tension in the upper body can prevent a natural breath that leads to a feeling of tightness. Try tensing the arms and taking a deep breath now. How does it feel?

Replace the instruction of "take a deep breath" with "release while inhaling" while watching the journey of the air. What is it like to take in air while releasing at the same time? 

Practice with an intention to observe what changes in the body when breathing. 

  • Do I add tension when I feel that I'm going to run out of air?
  • Is it possible to continue to let go through the phrase, despite feeling that I may run out of air?
  • What does it feel like to breathe when I instruct myself to "take a deep breath?"
  • What does it feel like when I observe the air entering the nose or mouth?
  • When feeling that I'll run out of air, where do I tense in the body?
  • What is it like when I let the abdomen release continuously when inhaling and through playing?
  • What is it like to release the gluteal muscles upon inhalation?

Having an intention that provides ease and comfort from the first breath can be helpful in alleviating performance nerves. If our thoughts get clouded or anxious as we continue through the piece, we can come back to this intention at any time.

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