woodwind breathing

Why You Need A Custom Warm-Up Sheet

Most pieces have that one terrifying spot. Can you think of the most difficult spot in a piece you're working on? For me, the third measure of the Firebird excerpt comes to mind. Whenever I go back to practicing that excerpt, I spend a lot of time on that spot. There are many other examples of moments such as this that come up again and again. 

If having an entire piece on your stand makes it tempting to jump around too quickly, take just a few of the difficult bars and add them onto one sheet. 

All the hardest spots on one sheet.

Cut and paste or transcribe the most difficult bars from any number of pieces onto one sheet, and get creative during your warm-up! Approaching only the smallest and most difficult chunk each day will slow down the process of learning and refining them in a way that can turn them into second nature when they appear in context. Consider putting difficult excerpts transposed higher and lower on there, as well. (I'm looking at you, Classical Symphony!) Utilize a variety of extended techniques, altered rhythms, varied dynamics, tempi, and articulations... and so on! 

Here's an example:

Important Tip: Make sure to include the key signature!

Your warm-up sheet can change every week or month, or you may choose to create one using your audition or recital repertoire. Since orchestral excerpts never go away and it's impossible to practice all of them each day, a warm-up sheet (or maybe two or three to rotate between) containing the most difficult spots is a great way to keep those pesky runs or intervals under your fingers!

What's on your custom warm-up sheet? Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share!

Can't Get Enough Air? Try This!

Wind players need to breathe to make sound, and there are many pedagogical methods related to breathing. I have been a part of classes and flute lessons where I've been told to take a deeper breath or get more air, but the whole picture wasn't necessarily included in how to take in more air. When enough time was available to breathe more slowly, I was able to get more air in, but continued to run out of air too quickly. So naturally, when the amount of time available to breathe was minimal, I ended up gasping.

What change has allowed me to take in more air and make longer phrases?

Re-training the brain to associate the inhalation with letting go.

When we begin a piece, we have all the time we need to take a slow, deep breath. However, if the inhalation is accompanied by increased tension in the muscles surrounding the ribs, tightening of the throat, or excess tension elsewhere, we're already starting from a place of panic and discomfort. This can lead to decreased resonance in our sound, which leads to technical difficulties and inhibition in expression and phrasing. When we make it to our next breath, we may feel desperate and gasp for air, and the tension and panic may continue to build.

Many instrumentalists have a habit of moving the arms upwards as if giving ourselves a cue. The extra tension in the upper body can prevent a natural breath that leads to a feeling of tightness. Try tensing the arms and taking a deep breath now. How does it feel?

Replace the instruction of "take a deep breath" with "release while inhaling" while watching the journey of the air. What is it like to take in air while releasing at the same time? 

Practice with an intention to observe what changes in the body when breathing. 

  • Do I add tension when I feel that I'm going to run out of air?
  • Is it possible to continue to let go through the phrase, despite feeling that I may run out of air?
  • What does it feel like to breathe when I instruct myself to "take a deep breath?"
  • What does it feel like when I observe the air entering the nose or mouth?
  • When feeling that I'll run out of air, where do I tense in the body?
  • What is it like when I let the abdomen release continuously when inhaling and through playing?
  • What is it like to release the gluteal muscles upon inhalation?

Having an intention that provides ease and comfort from the first breath can be helpful in alleviating performance nerves. If our thoughts get clouded or anxious as we continue through the piece, we can come back to this intention at any time.



Life-Changing Performances: Never Apologize

Today's post from The Sensible Flutist, 'Enriching your artistry through life experience' inspired me to reflect on my most life-changing experience as a performer. When I consider my most thrilling experience on stage, this is the performance that I think of. It was the first time I truly connected to my own emotions while listening to the piece I was playing. Personal experience truly does enrich one's art.

Last summer, as a part of my Musicians' Wellness research, I attended Amy Porter's Anatomy of Sound workshop at the University of Michigan. The guest artist was Ian Clarke, and I was to play Sunstreams for one of the first classes: Clarke compositions with little or no extended techniques.
After I played it through once, Ian asked me what I thought I could improve upon. I really didn't know what to say, so I mentioned something about giving the piece more character. Then he asked the audience what they enjoyed about it. I was surprised when many participants offered kind, positive comments.

Mr. Clarke hadn't quite made his point yet, so he decided to show me what I needed to improve by taking away my music stand
He asked, "How do you feel now?" 
I responded with a very honest: "Horrified." 
Everyone laughed.
He told me to let go and play. "Just make it up if you have to." Listen to the piano and hear the music.
Panicked thoughts flooding my brain: 
Tim Carey began playing the opening bars. I felt confident in my ability to come in on my first E-natural at the beginning. The first phrase was a success and I started to relax.
I managed to play almost the entire piece from memory. Without having a music stand, I felt an incredible sense of fear and risk, but it was thrilling.
I have never felt more "in the moment."
I was looking out at my audience, and I felt personally connected with each person. Everyone was making eye contact with me, and it helped me to feel more alive than anything. I already knew they were on my side after their verbal comments. I could feel their support and encouragement.
I was hearing the music. I was completely aware of Tim Carey playing behind me. I watched Mr. Clarke run to the middle of the hall to egg me on, and I started to really play to the large recital hall.
I looked to the top seats at the back of the hall while I played, and I pictured an individual that stirred an emotional place in me. I poured my heart out. I vented, expressed anger, sadness, disappointment, asked questions... I said things that I had yet to express verbally. I experienced a feeling of strength and healing.
I filled the hall. I felt huge. I felt powerful. I embodied the "stand-and-deliver" ideal. I was in control and free. I have never felt so connected. To myself. To an audience. To a piece.
The audience demonstrated that I had moved them. Some were actually crying. For me. Because of me. They applauded excitedly when I finished, and Amy Porter let out a "WOOOHOOO!!" (I cried for 3 days after this.)
A recently certified Andover Educator was in attendance, and she offered me a wonderful observation: "After he removed the music stand, you moved more. It was really beautiful."
According to Mr. Clarke, before, during and after my initial performance, I gave the impression that I was apologizing for myself: "It looked like you were saying, 'I'm about to play Sunstreams, I'm really sorry. You don't have to like it. You don't even have to listen. I'm just going to hide until it's over.'"
The thing that I thought was giving me confidence (my music stand), was actually crippling me. Mr. Clarke taught me that I have nothing if I don't believe in myself.
Stop apologizing. You are capable. You have something to say. Be in control, and believe that you deserve to create something amazing.
Lesson: You have everything when you believe in yourself. Show them who you are and what you have to say, and never apologize.