tone development

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?


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...

 

 

 

 

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!)


Copy of Copy of Flute Advent Calendar.jpg

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!



You Might Also Like...

Don't Forget About The Legs! 5 Awareness Exercises For Today's Practice Session

Does your awareness have a tendency to narrow as time goes on while practicing? I often begin with good intentions of feeling my feet grounding my entire body, but at some point, I lose full-body awareness and become only aware of what feels uncomfortable in the upper body or the notes on the page. 

Perhaps you've never considered the way your lower half influences the entire body while playing! Try the five exercises below while playing, and scan the body carefully for changes in tension and release, holding, or ease. 

1. Shifting Weight Forward and Back

  • Are you habitually standing with more weight on the heels or the balls of the feet as you play?
  • Scan the body for changes as you slowly shift forward and back from the heels to the balls of the feet.
  • Do you feel a change in the legs, the back, the abdominal muscles? Does the sound change as you play?
  • Notice your breathing as you do this:
    • I recently realized I felt quite locked and without breath, so I rolled from my heels to the balls of my feet, and felt a tremendous difference in my ability to play with freedom once I rolled forward from my locked position on the heels!

2. Shifting Between Left and Right Legs

  • Uncover which leg habitually receives more of your weight while playing.
  • By slowing shifting your weight side to side while you play, you may notice changes all the way up the body. 
    • Do you notice a release and increase in space in the opposite side body?
    • How do the ribs feel?
    • Does the opposite arm change in effort?
    • Does anything happen in the neck?

3. Standing on One Leg

  • Take it one step further by standing on only one leg, lifting one leg behind and leaning forward to maintain balance. (Something like this image of a Modified Warrior 3 Pose.)
  • Do you notice a change in your sound? Breathing? 
    • This elicits a change in resonance for me, and naturally allows the abdominal muscles to release, making breathing easier!

4. Walking in Place Along with the Tempo

  • Invite ankle movement by lifting the heels off the ground to the tempo. 
  • Embody the tempo beyond listening to the metronome or tapping one foot, while avoiding a locked-in-place stature. (Try this if you're prone to locked knees!)
    • What is it like to watch leg movement while you play?

5. Bend the Knees

  • Take the knees from locked to generously bent.
  • Notice the relationship between the abdominal muscles and the muscles of the back. 
    • Going from the extreme of locked knees to bent knees, I notice just how much my torso and abdominal muscles release and allow easier breathing and resonance.

 

Are you aware of your lower half and the relationship to the whole body while playing? Take the time to observe changes in the body while trying these 5 ideas during your practice session! 

#PracticeRoomRevelations

Leave a comment below to share your own discoveries, or use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute on Instagram!

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!