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Are You Mentally Practicing Mistakes? Finding Awareness in Mental Practice

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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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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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Effortless Octaves While Lying on the Floor

I originally wrote this post back in July of 2012, and I vividly remember being in New York and practicing in my room on this day! (I don't think I would've remembered it if I hadn't taken the time to write it down here.)

Since I'm currently thinking about octaves and tapers, this felt like the perfect time to dig up this old, but relevant post!

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I decided to really work on tone today until I actually noticed an improvement that I could describe in words.

I have played while lying on the floor in Body Mapping lessons to note how reducing effort can increase resonance and ease for breathing.


Semi-Supine Position

 

Today's revelations while practicing on the floor...

 

  • "Feel air entering through the nose or mouth and let the rest take care of itself."

  • I find myself trying to help my body move to inhale, but it just leads to tension and awkward movements. My body does a better job taking air in when I get out of the way and simply observe the journey the air takes.

  • Alexander Technique teachers suggest placing a book under your head when lying in this position. Without the book, I was very much aware of airway restriction. With the book raising my head a couple inches, I noticed an improvement in breathing and ease in the neck.

 

I was inspired by Jasmine Choi's Paganini Caprice this morning, specifically her flawless octave tapers!

Her playing is always effortless and stunning!

 

While lying on the floor, I used just my headjoint to see how effortless I could make my own octave changes. I noticed that I was the least successful when I used the most effort.

 

  • My habit was to move my jaw forward and pull my lips back.
  • When I inhibited this extra effort, I realized that I made the change in my aperture instead:
    • I noticed my aperture getting smaller and I became aware of the air moving beneath the center of my upper lip. (Never noticed that before!)

 

Simplifying my movements to focus on only the necessary effort of the aperture worked like magic. I stood up and added my headjoint to the rest of my flute.

Octave tapers were now so easy that they actually became fun!

 

Turn inspiration into intention: 

 

  • how effortless can my tapers be?

  • how effortless can octaves be?



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