Thursday, November 8, 2018

Mastering Your Practice, part 2: Controlling Your Time

Last week I shared some tips for thinking creatively about how to schedule all your the necessary practice each day. But once you get into that practice room, it can be difficult to know how best to spend your time. Here are my thoughts in part 2 of "Mastering Your Practice":

Step 2: Control Your Time

1. Develop necessary categories of playing that you must exercise every day; consult with your studio teacher on this (mine are sound, technique, and repertoire). For myself, and for my students here at University of Wyoming, I suggest the Practice Triad of Triumph, which I've also shared here before. You can review it here, and feel free to sub in your own favorite sources for each category. 

2. Create a to-do list under each category. Under sound I have tone in each register, flexibility, articulation, vibrato; technique includes scales, arpeggios, chords, and high register fingerings, etc. Again, this comes from the Practice Triad.

3. Decide how your budgeted time blocks, above, will correspond to your to-do lists for each category every day.

4. Insist on maintaining your focus (which is hard after a while!).  Consider the Pomodoro Technique: 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break.  Give it a try for a couple of days and take stock--when do you start to space out? That's how long your work session should be.  How short can you make your break, and what;'s the best way to spend that break so you feel refreshed quickly? (I like to stay off social media, which can suck me in for far longer than 5 minutes at a time!)

5. Keep a practice diary with problems you're tackling and the solutions you're currently testing. Keep lists of practice tempos for different passages you're wood shedding (more on that next week). And if you're a student, keep track of questions you would like to bring up in your next lesson. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mastering Your Practice, part 1: Finding Time

Crunch time is here for fall juries, concerto competitions, and recitals here at UW!  Of course, one can never successfully "cram" with such an ongoing process as mastering your craft, but there's always room for growth. And as those performance dates get closer, the subject of how to practice effectively always seems more compelling to my students...

In this three-part series, excerpted from my workshop, "How to Become a Practice Wizard", I'll cover everything from finding the time to the nitty gritty of polishing difficult passages. This is a presentation I have given at numerous high schools and colleges across the country, and if you'd like me to come to your school, you can contact me about scheduling  here.

Introductory thoughts…
Ø  Effective practice habits are the result of discipline and time management skills
Ø  Practicing, not performing, occupies the vast majority of our time as musicians
Ø  In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. This specific number has been debunked (if only because hours differ based on the person and the specific task), but it’s still true that many hours of repetition are required to achieve the “next level” in any area of your playing.
Ø  Honing your practice skills will not only help you become a better performer, it will make you a more effective teacher, as well. You are the guinea pig for your future students!

Step 1: Find Time

1. Go through your schedule with a fine-toothed comb, placing ( ) around any non-essentials (like watching t.v.) and a * next to moveable items, like meals. Don’t know what exactly you do all day?  Spend one week keeping a detailed log of everything you do, including specific times when you begin and end each activity. Be honest!

2. Now, take your required daily practice time and sprinkle it into your schedule wherever you can.  Be realistic about how long it will take you to find a practice room, get to and from classes, etc. Your practice blocks may be an hour or longer, or they may be as short as 20 minutes.  Work with what you’ve got, and prioritize having every required minute accounted for every day in your written schedule. Replace ( ) items with practice, move * items as needed…be creative!

3. Follow your schedule, tweaking as necessary without sacrificing required amount of practice time. Keep a log of exactly what you do in each practice session and thoughts on what was effective, when you started drifting off, etc. Read this log every night and devise remedies for challenges. You can further break down long practice blocks of 30 minutes or more into smaller chunks with 1-2 minute breaks to maintain your focus.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Great new chamber music selections for fall

Some great new materials have come in at the NFA office, and I was lucky enough to snag them for review! Here are my favorites from this fall's treasures:

Klezmer Flute Duets by Michael Lösch (Universal Edition)

Traditional Klezmer songs in this collection include Mazel Tov, Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym, Klezmeron, and L’Chaim. In total, there are thirteen duets, all of which engage both flutists equally. They would prove somewhat technically challenging – and quite rhythmically challenging—for advanced high school or early college students, but they are also entirely enjoyable to play as a professional. Harmonies are generally tight, with a lot of the parts written in 3rds and 4ths to each other, and the overall range of the book spans from C1 to G3.  Everything lays well under the fingers and has been intelligently arranged for two C flutes.

Album for Flute Quartet or Flute Ensemble; Band B: French composers – Impressionism
Arr. Raphaëlle Zaneboni (Edition Diewa)

This album includes arrangements of Ravel’s Suite Ma Mère l’Oye and Daphnis et Chloé Suite, and Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”: Golliwogg’s Cakewalk and The Little Shepherd. Instrumentation varies by piece, but overall the album calls for 1-2 piccolos doubling flute, two addition C flutes, an alto flute, and up to two possible bass flutes (both of which can also be played on C flute). Designations in the score advise on how to condense each piece into a convincing quartet if a minimum of six people are not available to play every part. There is no simplification of parts in these arrangements (even the opening material of Daphnis includes all those traded 32nd notes from the original!), so all players must be musically as well as technically mature to really do the album justice. Voicing is intelligently arranged on every piece, and the result is sheer beauty in color and depth, regardless of ensemble size.

We have had great fun working on these arrangements in my college flute ensemble, and I greatly appreciate the wonderful musical exercise they represent for my students, in addition to the artistic merit of each as a concert piece. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.

Waltz of the Wolves by Wil Offermans (Musikverlag Zimmerman)

In Waltz of the Wolves, Wil Offermans has written a clever and humorous duet appropriate for advanced students looking to begin exploring the world of extended techniques.  Timbral trills and a “howl” (in which the performer covers the embouchure hole with the mouth and howls into the headjoint) imitate wintry winds and the wolves outside, respectively, and are easy to execute. This piece was commissioned by the Netherlands Flute Academy for its founding faculty, Suzanne Wolff and Emily Benyon.

Parts are evenly traded so that both flutists play everything that has been written, from the slinky waltz melody at the top of the staff to the “oompah” part written into the low register.  The range spans from low C to third octave A. There is some very manageable mixed meter (6/8 to 4/4, maintaining the eighth note) and one tempo change in the middle. Offermans employs good tone painting in both his melodic writing and his use of minimal extended techniques, and the howling sound is sure to get a chuckle out of an audience. A sight-readable treat for a professional recital or a fun challenge for a pre-college student, I find Waltz of the Wolves utterly charming and highly recommend it as an addition to your libraries.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Wyoming All-State Audition Etudes, 2018

It's once again All-State and Honor Band season across the country, and I am always eager to try to create something of value for our auditioning Wyoming students.  (If you're also trying for All-Northwest Wind Symphony, check out my post with videos here.) I have recorded myself performing this year's etudes, which you can find on my You Tube channel and in this post.

A few thoughts about the value of taking these auditions: Every time you challenge yourself to learn a new, difficult piece of music to the best of your ability, you get better as a musician! You also get a chance to practice getting nervous--and getting past those nerves-- in performance, which makes the next performance less terrifying. And whether or not you get the chair you want this year, you can be happy in knowing that you stretched yourself and grew both as a flutist and as a musician from the experience. There's no punishment for not getting in, and potentially great reward if you do make it, so it's the easiest gamble you'll ever make. Given all you'll learn about yourself and how to learn music, you'll win no matter what. 

You can download all three excerpts (two for flute, one for piccolo) and scales here. Scroll to the end of the download for the optional piccolo excerpt (it's after the scales).

Etude #1: 
  • Although there is no indication of articulation length, you'll notice I make mine a little on the short side in the video.  I think it fits the march-like character better than legato would (and displays more variety in your abilities, since you'll be playing legato in #2). Keep it light--we often have a tendency to pound the high notes with heavier tongue, but that will produce a very harsh, unpleasant sound. 
  • Each phrase has a clearly marked dynamic, and they must all sound different. Map out your dynamic range on a single stable pitch: piano is the quietest sound you can make with a focused sound and excellent pitch, mezzo piano is one obvious notch louder, mezzo forte another step louder, etc. Fortissimo should still be in tune. To get louder, you drop your jaw (it should naturally go down and back at the same time) in increments for each louder dynamic. Conversely, to get quieter, your jaw will come up and forward slightly, like saying "oooo". Remember you'll have to do some shifting within each dynamic to ensure that every note is your chosen volume (in the first measure, shifting down for the second, third, and fourth notes and then shifting back up to the high F so you don't sound like you're screaming, mumbling, then screaming again, respectively). 
  • Make sure your fingers are all working as a team on each note! Always practice with a metronome, and alternate very slow practice with woodshedding/looping techniques (minimum 10 perfect repetitions or 1 minute per day on each short difficult passage) daily. You'll see a link to my post describing these practice techniques in "scales", below. 
Etude #2:
  • It is highly unlikely that you will be able to do the phrase from mm. 8-downbeat of 12 in one breath while performing a convincing crescendo to fortissimo. Prioritize the crescendo. In the video, you'll notice I breathe between measures 10 and 11--see if you can make this work for you. Just maintain a resonant ff on either side of the breath and it will still sound good. 
  • Choose one goal note per phrase to help you keep a sense of forward motion; every note leading up to that goal note should have a slight sense of growth, and any notes after your goal will recede slightly. Your goal note should happen pretty late in each phrase--see if you can hear mine in the video! 
  • If q=72 is too slow for you to play beautifully, start by practicing at the slowest comfortable tempo you can do, then gradually slow it down in increments. You haven't perfected a tempo until you can play in tune, with clear tone and correct dynamics ten times in a row. 
  • Your default articulation here is the slur, but be sure to clearly articulate repeated notes, legato style.
  • Be sure your vibrato depth/speed matches your volume--shallow and slow for piano, deep and fast for forte. Practice whole notes crescendo from piano to forte, then decrescendo back to piano ("diamonds") and experiment with your vibrato to fill up, but not go beyond the borders of, your sound at every volume. 
  • Be sure your E to F# slur sounds clean every time--no accidental grace notes!
  • As with etude #1, map out your dynamics
Piccolo Etude:
I encourage all flutists to practice piccolo enough that they feel confident on it. It's part of our instrument family, after all, and affords another opportunity to get into any ensemble, whether it's an honor band or a professional orchestra! Here are some tips to get started.
  • Dynamics work the same way on piccolo as they do on flute (briefly described under "Etude #1"), but the range is more limited. Figure out how quietly you can play on the second line and don't try to go below that threshold.  If the notes don't speak, your audition won't sound very inspiring.  As you are finding your forte, be sure you've shifted down enough to keep from going sharp; check everything with a tuner. 
  • Variety in articulation is important here, and the piccolo is very sensitive in this regard.  It takes very little work to articulate, so be sure you're keeping the staccato light enough to avoid sounding violent. Legato is accomplished mainly by threading steady, generous air through the line and lightly interrupting with a "du" tongue. 

Scales: Visit my blog post, "Tips for Creative Practice" to keep things fresh (and accurate). As per the new procedure this year, specific scales to be played for the auditions will be announced on this website on Friday, October 19th, 2018

Deadlines: check in with your band director early and often about getting everything recorded and turned in on time! 

Good luck, and enjoy the process!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Saxofluticon 2018 registration is open!

The flute choir at Saxoflutison '15
Saxofluticon Flute Choir '15

To all Wyoming and Northern Colorado flutists!:

Flute choir repertoire for this year is JS Bach/s Air on a G String and Gossec's Gavotte, and the mass flute-saxophone ensemble piece is our beloved traditional encore, the Sousa Liberty Bell March! We hope you can join us this year!

Saxofluticon '18 is on October 27 at Kelly-Walsh High School in Casper.  
Register HERE for free by October 8 to be part of the Mass Flute Choir!

Wyoming Saxofluticon (formerly Wyoming Flute Day) is a day-long celebration of all things flute and saxophone!  Run by Dr, Nicole Riner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Flute at University of Wyoming, and Dr. Scott Turpen, Professor of Saxophone at University of Wyoming, this annual fall semester event includes individual master classes on All-State and All-Northwest audition material for each instrument and general workshops for all, with topics ranging from practicing effectively to conquering performance anxiety and wellness issues like breathing and physical health. Rotating locations ensure that every corner of the state is reached. UW faculty and students perform and serve as mentors throughout the day, and all participants have the option of performing in the flute choir or saxophone ensemble for the gala concert. For ages 13 and up; registration is free.

Saxofluticon is generously sponsored by University of Wyoming Department of Music and Cultural Outreach Programs

Flute choir repertoire for this year is JS Bach/s Air on a G String and Gossec's Gavotte, and the mass flute-saxophone ensemble piece is our beloved traditional encore, the Sousa Liberty Bell March! We hope you can join us this year!