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!


Making an Action Plan for Improvement

I first started this blog during my summer before grad school as a means of focusing ideas and personal discoveries to continue the process of improvement before moving on to a new studio. Since graduating from FSU, I have had ups and downs in finding similar focus. Lacking the structure of school leaves me wondering: What should I do now? At the same time, everything feels like a possibility. Having no real goal in sight leaves me standing in front of an abyss. I'm constantly pulling pieces off my bookshelf saying: I'll learn this next! However, I have reached a point of feeling so sporadic (with everything from my bookshelves landing in piles around my room every week) that I'm ready to focus back in on improving mindfully with the bigger picture in mind.

I always tell my students to approach their practice sessions with this goal: Leave having made a specific improvement that can be described in words, regardless of how much time was spent.

Here's what I'm committing to in my own Personal Improvement Journey

Decide to Improve in 20 Minutes: Instead of letting time pass by while playing through the gamut of exercises assuming progress will occur, decide to practice on purpose. Don't let your practice session happen to you. Stay present and do work.

1. Make a decision. Focus in on what you're going to practice and commit.

2. Where are the issues? Record yourself for a fresh perception of areas to be improved. This can be an exchange of several notes in a scale, certain middle register notes in tone exercises, or technically difficult passages in a piece. The big picture and context within a piece are crucial points to be aware of when making musical decisions. Understand the big picture first, then extract the difficult spots for examination. To avoid the urge of straying back to the easier spots, cover the rest of the page with paper or sticky notes.

3. Why is it hard? Articulate what specifically makes this area difficult. Maybe the issue is a series of difficult fingerings. Why are these fingerings difficult? The more fingers that need to travel to change to another note, the more difficult coordination can be.

4. How can I address these difficulties? What action steps can I take to improve now that I know the 'What' and the 'Why?' To address the above example, put a spotlight on how you're moving your fingers. Observing which fingers tend to lift high off the keys allows the choice to keep them closer. Slowly and precisely move fingers exactly together to improve coordination.

Decide to fix the issues. Put a timer on and spend 3, 5, 10 minutes working through each step of your action plan. Observe, experiment, learn, and make an improvement you can describe in words when you're done.

Get your planner:

Download my Improvement Action Planning Template and commit to making more improvements every time you practice!