practice blogs

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 Learned to Put Paralyzing Perfection Aside and Improve A Little Bit Each Day Instead

Recently, perfectionism and procrastination have come up in one way or another for myself, my colleagues, and my students, and it has encouraged me to take a look at my own patterns and find real solutions to break out perfectionist habits.

What is Perfectionist's Procrastination? 

Have you ever thought about the immense amount of work standing between yourself and your ideal perfect self, and been paralyzed or discouraged from taking any action at all?

Here's what it sounds like for me:

I should really improve A, B, and C, but I'll tackle all that next time when I feel really ready and focused and have lots of time.

I'll wait until I can dedicate a full hour to tone exercises, then I'll finally work on those tapers I need to improve. 

Perfectionist's Procrastination Latches onto ideas like these:

  • Waiting for Ideal Conditions 
  • Waiting for "Enough" Time
  • Waiting to Sound Good
  • Waiting for More Energy

Ultimately, my mind creates an unrealistic to-do list in an effort to fix everything all at once, and when I think about the amount of work ahead of me, I tell myself: next time, next time, next time.


Perfectionist's Procrastination can be deeply rooted in fearing failure and mistakes.

For example, a more honest inner dialogue to the above example might sound more like this:

I could work on my tapers today, but I don't know what I'm doing. I know I'm bad at it, and I don't want to face my weakness.

In addition, the fear of not doing enough leads to fear of not being enough. And that's paralyzing.


Perfection-Oriented vs. Process-Oriented

For at least the past eight years, I've been organizing my practice sessions in the order of tone first, technique second, and repertoire after that, and attempting to do at least an hour of each thing.

However, I often spend most of my energy and focus on the initial stage, losing motivation before I've given the next stages any attention. 

Why do I keep falling into this rut so often? 

  • Perfection in the Practice Room

Perfection wants to finish everything immediately and achieve perfection now. Our faults can give us tunnel vision, and we can throw all our energy into one task, like tone work. While we're giving tone good attention and improving, we can burn out out entire supply of energy and focus, and we have nothing left for anything else.

And musicians need all the skills. Perfection knows this, too, and feels like a failure when giving up before moving on.

Perfection doesn't like to Let Go.

  • Process-Oriented Practice

Process-oriented practice puts in the highly-focused practice that perfection loves, but it comes with permission to let go and move on to the next task.

 

The following two ideas led me to break out of perfectionist mindset and find breakthroughs in process-oriented practice in the past two weeks.


A. "Improve A Little Bit Each Day"

I recently raved about Dr. Terri Sanchez's Epic Flute Warm-Up, which ultimately led me to purchase her book, The Aspiring Flutist's Practice Companion.

In her book, the smallest phrase came up in the Epic Warm-Up 2.0, and it really struck me:

"Improve a little bit each day."

I've consistently been doing her Epic Warm-Up almost every day for three months because it's fun and manageable, only taking 15 minutes total to feel thoroughly warmed-up. And you know what? I've improved a little bit each day in those three months! 

This was a huge lightbulb moment.

B. Set Yourself Up for Success To Prevent Early Practice Burnout

Now that I've given myself permission to improve a little bit each day, I've created room to realistically invite more tasks into my practice session without feeling overwhelmed.

My next goal involves organizing my tasks in a way that ensures I don't burn myself out too soon, as I was consistently doing before.

I came across a video on Facebook by Denise Tryon, Adjunct Horn Professor at the Peabody Conservatory, on practicing. 

Essentially, she separates her day into three separate sessions, practicing in the morning, afternoon, and evening with ample time in between.

Right away, I realized that I could be improving a little bit, three times a day.
Lightbulb moment number two.

Tips for Beating Perfectionist's Procrastination + Improving a Little Bit Each Day:

After re-approaching my practice mindset based on the above ideas, I implemented a few more ideas to really help motivate me towards consistent, well-balanced, process-oriented practice experiences.

1. Get yourself excited for tomorrow's practice session tonight

  • Re-set your practice space: Tidy up and re-organize your materials, placing tomorrow's first to-dos on your stand so you're ready to go! (Or, place your materials in your bag in the order you're going to use them to make it easier on yourself once you arrive at your practice space.)
  • Listen to recordings, watch videos, or read words that inspire you.
  • Write down or e-mail yourself your schedule for tomorrow, which leads to the next tip!

2. Give yourself a completely reasonable to-do list

  • It is way too easy to prescribe yourself an 8-hour practice session, because your perfectionist self would love that, but I've never executed anything I've planned for myself when it's unreasonable and unattainable.
  • Set yourself up for success! If your to-do list allows you to easily complete every task, you'll feel accomplished and begin craving more rather than feeling burnt out.

3. Use a timer (And actually listen to it!)

  • Many times, I've put a timer on while practicing certain exercises, and have continued on long past the buzzer. When this happens, I usually end up feeling frustrated, exhausted, or both.
  • If your inclination to work past the buzzer comes from feeling antsy or incomplete, learn to give yourself a pat on the back for really focusing and putting good work in, and move on! It'll still be there tomorrow. And the next day. If you leave it feeling like there's more to continue on with, that may motivate you to pick back up and put more work in the next day!
  • In addition, you can now channel all that energy into the next practice task!
  • Timer Tips:
    • Try 3-minutes for one-measure chunks within a piece, 5-minutes for shorter exercises, and 10-minutes for longer ones as a starting point.

In Conclusion

  • I've come to realize that I'd rather put in a highly focused 10-minutes-each on six aspects of my playing every day than one hour of work on only one area. 
  • The best way to improve your weaknesses is by working at them daily. Put your timer on and put in the work!
  • Make the most of your minutes, and keep yourself feeling fresh and focused for each aspect of your practice session.
  • You don't need to "finish" everything. You don't need to solve every issue every time you practice. In order to be sustainable, there must be a point at which you let go and move on. If you feel like you're not done, you'll know right where you need to go tomorrow, and you'll still have energy left to focus on the next tasks on your list. 
  • If you find it difficult to move on before achieving perfection or completion, just remember that there is no end to the possibilities of improvement.
http://media.boreme.com/post_media/2013/pablo-casals-cellist.jpg

Here's permission to put perfection aside and enjoy the process!


Finally, I came across this video the other day, and found it particularly fitting in the context of doing a little bit of work each day with a lot of focus and care. A few months later, the results are beautiful

#practiceroomrevelations

Top Picks: Online Video Resources For Musicians

In honor of last week's Inspiration Calendar activity of researching online video resources, I am rounding up some of my favorite videos and channels for flutists and musicians!

Best Channels To Follow For Master Classes:

1. Musaic - Curated by New World Sympyhony, America’s Orchestral Academy 

Also on YouTube!

2. Carnegie Hall Series Master Classes YouTube Channel

Flute Master Class Playlists

3. The Master Class Media Foundation YouTube Channel

Worth-The-Subscription:

Principal Chairs

I highly recommend the subscription to Principal Chairs if you are preparing for an audition or working in depth with excerpts! There are a wealth of quality, in-depth, full-length video masterclasses covering many excerpts. 

On Performance Anxiety

1. How to Stay Focused During Performance: Carnegie Hall Master Class with Emmanuel Pahud

2. Your body language shapes who you are | Amy Cuddy

3. TEDxBloomington -- Jeff Nelsen -- "Fearless Performance"

4. The Healthy Musician: Dealing with Nerves & Performance Anxiety by Annie Bosler

5. Pre-Audition Meditation for Dancers

The Alexander Technique and Constructive Rest

1. Posture awareness with the Alexander Technique by Carolyn Nicholls

2. Alexander Technique Lie Down by Pyeng Voice Coach

Favorite Channels for Flutists

1. Flutings with Paula By Paula Robison

2. Mimi's Flute Tips by Mimi Stillman

3. NinaFlute - Nina Perlove

4. BevaniFlute - Bevani

5. JustAnotherFlutist - JustanotherFlutist

Inspiring Performances

1. Amy Porter: Poem by Griffes

2. Jasmine Choi: Paganini Caprice No. 24

3. Karl-Heinz Schütz: Mendelssohn Concerto

4. Marianne Gedigian: Liebermann Concerto

5. Alain Marion: Boehm Grande Polonaise

 

What are your favorite videos? Check out my YouTube Channel for more playlists!

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

image.jpg

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

image.jpg

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.

Two Breakthrough Reminders

Have you ever experienced a frustrating, stifled, and uncomfortable practice session, followed by a free, effortless, and resonant experience only a few hours later?

Having the entire day off, I was excited to tackle some personal projects and spend time practicing. Early on, I found myself feeling frustrated and limited. My sound felt muffled and my airstream interrupted.

After spending the remainder of the afternoon away from my flute, I came back in the evening to work on etudes. Right away, I had an easier time due to reduced stress (from checking things off my to do list during the day), and my body feeling naturally warmed up from moving throughout the day.

Feeling a sense of clarity, I remembered two important cues that accelerated my progress and led to breakthroughs in sound and expression.


Balance the Head on the Spine

One of the first things I learned in my initial study of Body Mapping is that the head weighs as much as a bowling ball and balances on top of the spine at the atlanto-occipital joint. The base of the skull meets the top vertebrae of the spine at a central point internally. I re-invited the idea of balance at the A-O joint into my practice session by palpating the base of the skull and mapping the location of the top of the spine. Once I had a clearer picture of where the A-O joint lives, I turned my head left and right with ease. Turning the head to the left and bringing the flute to meet my face (versus compromising balance by bringing the head to the flute) led me to enjoy ease that was missing from my earlier practice session.

 

Aww, Not Eeee

I frequently remind myself and my students to maintain space in the mouth, allowing the soft palate to release and lift upward, especially when sound begins to feel stifled. While practicing, I reminded myself to maintain an "aww" shape in the mouth, inhibiting my habit of an "eee" vowel shape. Additionally, I noticed that I tend to change to the "eee" vowel shape on right hand notes in all octaves (D, E-flat, E), and on almost all notes in the high register. Allowing the "aww" shape consistently allowed an effortless resonance that turned my frustration into excitement!

 

Action Plan Part II: Repertoire Plan

@joleneflute

@joleneflute

While part one of my Action Plan for Improvement provides a guide for focusing on aspects of our playing we'd like to become more aware of and consciously improve, part two is all about focusing in on a repertoire plan. My repertoire library began in high school and has moved with me from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, New York and Florida, and now resides in Texas. I have plenty of pieces that I've worked on all the way through one or more performances, and brand new pieces I've never even opened. I have studies and exercises from numerous teachers that I've accumulated over several years, in addition to tone and technique books I've picked up along the way just for fun. When I jump between these things sporadically, I always end up putting my flute down and saying, "Yep. I should really work on this. I'll work on this next time." So I'm taking myself back to University life, where, with the help of my professors, I maintained a specific. focused plan of attack, especially with fundamentals.

1. Extended Techniques: I LOVE Robert Dick's Tone Development Through Extended Techniques. I enjoy utilizing extended techniques in tone work and warm-ups for several reasons. 

  • Extended techniques are beneficial for my action plan because they naturally encourage focus. They create sounds that are so different than our usual sounds. With multi-phonics, for example, there are an array of special fingerings with varying degrees of difficulty that immediately require focus and make us observe and experiment to get the sound.
  • We tend to play our favorite regular notes when improvising a warm-up because we know what to do: habits can take over to let a the sound come out naturally. We sometimes rob ourselves the same beginner's experimental attitude with long tones, and judgement can step in when our minds aren't occupied on a task in this way. With extended techniques, many of us don't have to try at all to adopt a beginner's attitude! 
@joleneflute

@joleneflute

2. Taffanel-Gaubert #1: This was one of my first technique assignments as an undergraduate, and some time has passed since this has been routinely involved in my go-to series of technique exercises, which mainly involves #4.

Benefits and Focus Areas for TG #1:

  • Things we don't get in TG #4 is the opportunity to repeat a shorter series of notes. Moving through each repetition allows more chances to observe and make micromovements. In addition, TG 1 allows us to focus in on one register at a time, slowly progressing higher and higher. 
  • A variation to find relationships between octaves, play all octaves for each key back-to-back.
  • Also, fingers close to keys. Make a list of the most difficult keys/note transitions to spend more time on, making the most difficult parts my new favorites!

3. Taffanel-Gaubert #4: This has been a staples for years, along with the huge array of varied rhythms and articulations.

So what do I want to improve in TG 4?

  • Supple tone throughout, creating space in the mouth, soft palate rises. Noticing tendencies to alter mouth space as I move through octaves. (The previous exercise will provide some insight into these tendencies.)
  • Translating ease in finger movement and closeness to keys in TG 1.

4. Etudes

  • Robert Dick's Flying Lessons for more Extended Techniques. In addition, finding performance focus despite challenging material.
  • Mary Karen Clardy's Etude Book for variety. It contains some familiar etudes and some new ones. In addition, my goal is to pull these etudes apart to better assist my students in seeing the big picture as well as the small details in these festival etudes.

5. Read-Through Pieces: I'm prescribing myself time for playing through pieces I love and a time for sight reading new pieces. Rather than pulling things off my shelf to put on my to-do list, leaving me feeling overwhelmed with an impossible mountain to accomplish, my focus goal for Read-Through Pieces is allowing spontaneity, self-trust, letting go and simple enjoyment. 

What areas are you focusing on? Maybe this is repertoire assigned by your teacher, required pieces for a competition, or, if you're like me, repertoire you're prescribing for yourself to find improvements as your own teacher.