technique challenge

How I Discovered + Released Tongue Tension for Effortless, Clear Articulation 

flutearticulation

While experimenting with articulation yesterday, I had a moment where I thought to notice how much effort my tongue was exerting. 

I played a few notes, removed the flute from my face, and looked in the mirror.

I was pulling my jaw down too forcefully, which was pulling my bottom lip back, and my tongue was being pulled up and back within my mouth.


I know that letting the tongue lie low in the mouth helps resonance, and I also know that clear, short articulation is possible with the tongue forward in the mouth.

 

My good intentions of creating space within the mouth - dropping the jaw - actually led me to increase tension and compromise space.

My tongue felt tight and heavy as well, but what was most surprising was how much I wanted to pull the tongue up and back!

 

This might not happen as drastically for everyone, as I may habitually try to bring to my tongue down when I bring the jaw down. When I do both of these things in a forceful way, I end up in a place that feels tight and difficult. 

 

I decided to have a look at how and why my tongue moves the way it does, and uncovered some important relationships between the tongue and jaw.


How Does The Tongue Move?

Take a look at how many muscles move the tongue in all directions. 

In simple terms, there are four extrinsic tongue muscles that move the tongue and connect outside the tongue, and four intrinsic tongue muscles located within the tongue that allow us to change the the shape of the tongue. 

 

The extrinsic muscles that move the tongue:

  • The styloglossus muscle retracts and elevates the tongue.

  • The palatoglossus muscle raises the back of the tongue and lowers the soft palate - required movement for swallowing. 

  • The genioglossus muscle lowers the tongue and brings it forward in the mouth.

  • The hyoglossus lowers the tongue and brings it back in the mouth.

(For a quick chart and simple visual of these muslces, click here! It's enlightening to know just where they are and what they do!)

Understanding that there's a muscle that's both pulling my tongue up and retracting it back gives me some insights about what I was noticing.

Gaining clarity about the relationships between the tongue muscles and their origins, insertions, and functions gave me direction in deciding how to use myself in a different way for different results.


Experiment + Observe Tongue Movement

Try pulling your jaw down far but keeping your lips together, actively aiming to create space inside the mouth:

  • Where is the tongue inside your mouth?
  • Watch the back of the tongue - does it become tense? Is it raised?
  • Does the tip of the tongue move backward?  
  • What happens to the bottom lip? How does this position affect embouchure?

Allow the jaw to become neutral and soft, simply hanging rather than pulling down:

  • What happens to the tongue? 
  • Where is the tip of the tongue naturally lying?
  • How does the back of the tongue feel?
  • What about the soft palate?
  • What happens to the lower lip?

 

Discovery

When I re-set and let my jaw release back up towards neutral, I immediately felt my tongue release down and forward toward the teeth.

Where I was before, I had to actively bring my tongue towards the teeth to get a short articulation. The tongue was heavy and effortful in this movement.

Because I was holding it in a pulled back and up position within my mouth, it was naturally wanting to hit the roof of the mouth further back, where we create a "D" syllable, rather than a "T" syllable at the alveolar ridge. (Where the upper teeth meet the hard palate.) This might be good for a legato articulation, but for short, light, and quick, it wasn't effortless.

From a neutral jaw and a naturally relaxed and forward tongue, I didn't have to exert so much effort in bringing my tongue forward, it was already there. My tongue and articulations could more easily become short, light and quick. Beyond that, my lower lip was more available, allowing me greater freedom to angle well.

 



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Are You Mentally Practicing Mistakes? Finding Awareness in Mental Practice

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL (2).jpg

Earlier this week while teaching two separate students, we came across some difficult technical passages. While playing, there were a couple slip-ups.

Before going any further, I asked each of them to mentally read through the passage and absorb all the notes - no moving fingers, just reading.

I did it, too.

 

What did I notice?

 

I was reading it fairly quickly and made mistakes and stumbled in my own head

 

So I asked: "Did your mental run-through involve mistakes?"

 

They responded: "Yes!!"

 

"Isn't that interesting!?"


This really struck me as an opportunity to investigate and gain some clarity for myself and my students.

 

Mistakes and stumbles aren't necessarily directly caused by fingers slipping up.

The fingers slip up because the eyes haven't looked long and closely enough to allow the brain to process the notes that are there, meaning the correct message hasn't been delivered to the fingers.

 

Why did we stumble?

When reading through the difficult pattern quickly, we didn't have time to stop and process every note visually. We only saw some of the notes, so we had to anticipate what note was next.

The fingers took over from patterns we've already learned and muscle-memorized. We then realized the note we wanted to play wasn't the note that was actually written, so we stumbled.

 

Why do we go slower?

To better process, of course! 

It's hard to go fast with confidence until we know it well! Aim to deeply know and understand what's written before trying to play it. 

For example, in order to recite the lyrics to One Week by Barenaked Ladies at full speed, you have to know all the words first, and you'll probably need to spend a good amount of time reading and studying the actual words before you're ready to impress your friends in the car!

 

So, What Did We Discover?

Taking finger movement out of the picture to simply read and process was a simple and powerful means of absorbing the notes.

If we really took the time to process first, we had an easier time playing. 

Beyond simply playing the correct notes, the subsequent times were also accompanied by a deep sense of confidence and clarity in phrasing.


These realizations really got me thinking - am I really utilizing mental practice in a powerful, mindful way every time I practice? 

Do I really take the time to process without playing often enough?


Awareness questions for mental practice:

  • Does my mental read-through contain the same mistakes as when I play?
  • Do I mentally practice at a tempo slow enough to process and absorb all the notes and patterns?
  • What notes do I see?
  • What notes do I not see or process as easily?
  • Does my mental practice seek out an understanding of patterns to assist with processing and an understanding of structure?
  • Do my practice sessions involve reading the music without my instrument, or do I always play?
  • If I do mentally read through the notes without playing, do I move my fingers silently?
  • What is it like to only read and hear the phrase in my head?
  • Is it the same or different when I begin to move my fingers silently? Do I hear the phrase in the same way? 
  • Am I ingraining confidence in my mental practice?
  • Does my body remain easy and effortless while thinking through the notes?
  • Do I imagine a beautiful sound in my mental practice?
  • Is it slow enough to consider all of these things?


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Notes From My Practice Journal: Uncovering Finger Precision

I recently shared The Cycle: Awareness of Ease, a video by violinist and Alexander Technique teacher Jennifer Roig-Francoli, on the July Inspiration Calendar.

If you haven't watched the video, the basic idea is to notice places of ease in the body in a rhythm that prevents over-thinking.

After watching this video and following along with The Cycle, I went ahead with my warm-up as usual, but with a heightened awareness of ease and effort.

I specifically found myself noticing the hands and arms in a way that I typically do not. 


Practice Notes

Here are a few of the statements from my practice journal that I noted during my warm-up:

  • If I observe and perceive the length of the whole arm, my arms and fingers gain a sense of ease and connection that I didn't even realize I was missing before.
  • I hadn't realized that I perceived my arm only in separate parts until surrendering to ease and noticing the connection of the whole.
    • Specifically, my biceps and hands are easily perceived, and I barely perceived the forearms at all!
  • I also noticed the left arm more so than the right. In fact, the right hand was barely in my awareness at all. 

A Simple Change For Greater Clarity

I began by only bringing the flute up with the right arm (letting the left arm relax by my side) so I could focus on really feeling the right arm as a whole first. I aimed to notice the entire length, from the collar bone to the tip of the pinky.

Then, I kept the right arm in my peripheral vision while lifting the left arm, and while playing, I actively kept my awareness open to the full length and connection of both arms.

In making this shift, I was able to feel ease and length of the arms, and more importantly, the hands and all ten fingers felt free and light.

I especially gained a new perception of both pinky fingers which really helped me to navigate the footjoint notes with precision!


powerful finger awareness

A heightened awareness in the hands and fingers brought up a new question:

"Do I perceive the keys beneath the fingers?"
  • Does this question elicit a different feeling than the statement: "Keep the fingers close to the keys?"
  • While the fingers hover over the keys, can you perceive the amount of space below the fingers and above the keys?
  • Can you perceive whether they're directly above the key or slightly off-center?
  • Are some fingers higher or further off-center than others?
  • Do you perceive some fingers with greater clarity than others?

Pausing to observe my perception of the fingers in relation to the keys has provided powerful insight into issues of coordination and excess effort. 

Having a greater awareness of the whereabouts of each finger has immensely improved my ability to problem-solve technical difficulties, including low note issues, trills, and awkward finger exchanges.

 

What is it like to invite each individual finger into your awareness? 


Share your own comments and discoveries below or on social media!

#PracticeRoomRevelations / @joleneflute


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May Technique Workout [+ 3 Free Downloads!]

I am excited to start May off with a boatload of fun ways to re-energize your daily technique workout! I received multiple requests for technique tips and a request for a technique plan or calendar. The possibilities are endless with regards to technique, books, schedules, and so on, but with some careful thought and lots of great feedback from Instagram, here is what I came up with!

There are three main parts with corresponding downloads! The first is my own flute-specific workout plan containing my core technique exercises and a breakdown of ways to practice them. Second, a prompt sheet containing ideas to invigorate your technique workout. Third, a 31-day tracker to view your progress!

A video complete with tips and demonstrations of the exercises in the Workout Plan will be shared soon!


1. WORKOUT PLAN

I have nailed down my top 6 most-utilized technique exercises (and some others that I want to bring back into my daily/weekly routine), and have listed several ways to approach them. Embrace the possibilities within each exercise and enjoy the beginner's attitude each new day!

Scale Game for Taffanel and Gaubert No. 4:


2. Prompt Sheet

In need of more inspiration for your scales? Use the prompt sheet to change the mood, play in a spectrum of colors, and add ornaments and trills to spice up your daily exercises! This is merely a jumping-off point and a reminder to always be musical!


3. WORKOUT TRACKER

If you're a visual person, the bullet-journal style Workout Tracker will break down your technique menu for the month, providing visual motivation to fill in as many boxes and days as possible!

  • Write the name of your exercises in the boxes on the left.
  • The numbers 1-31 represent each day in May. Upon completing an exercise, mark the box! 
  • If you are rotating through exercises, the tracker will make it easier to see which exercise comes next. For example, if time allows only playing the Flat or the Sharp keys, fill in # or b so you'll know which keys to focus on the next day!
  • There are lots of spaces to fill this up with anything you'd like to keep track of!

Following Along?

Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag me @JoleneFlute! 

Be sure to like PracticeRoomRevelations on Facebook!

Fundamentals Workout Plan [Free Download]

One of the things I love most is organizing information into one location and adding color. Another thing I love is having a well-thought out plan for fundamentals!

When I was an undergrad, I would create a workout sheet listing all the fundamental exercises I wanted to work on daily to feel the most well-rounded leading up to an important event. It would include my favorite staple exercises (such as long tones and scales), in addition to some newer ones I'd picked up from master classes, colleagues, or new books.

I would name it the Fill-in-the-Blank-Audition/Competition/Etc. Workout, and seeing it every day really motivated me to have a highly focused and thorough practice session dedicated to improving a range of specific skills. (And for some reason, calling it a workout made it even more enticing!)

See my example below, in addition to a blank template! A free PDF is available for download for both.


TIPS

  • I highly recommend including your goal at the top, naming your fundamentals workout after the school or festival you want to attend, the job you want, or the recital you have coming up. The reminder that working on these skills is directly related to achieving your goal is powerfully motivating! 
  • Be sure to be specific about which exercises or page numbers you'd like to focus on most, in addition to metronome markings. The idea is to include a realistic plan that is thorough but not too overwhelming to put into action.
  • Many of the items listed in the example are there to give you some ideas! Only include the things you feel are the most important to your growth.
  • I've listed Vibrato under the Tone Color category to break up the general Tone category. You can include any exercises that relate to special coloring you'd use in the context of a piece here.


#PracticeRoomRevelations

I LOVE seeing all your inspiration and goal-getting! Share your photos on Instagram using #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute!