Thursday, December 27, 2018

The doctor is in: from my inbox

After working with students at our yearly UW Saxofluticon or Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive, I often hear from them with follow-up questions. Having received permission to anonymously post this question from the author, I think this query hits on some great challenges we all have at times. And with winter break looming, many students are left on their own for several weeks in a row without their teachers' weekly reminders to practice intelligently and efficiently.  So, consider this my early New Year's present to whomever wants it! 

Q: I continue to have inconsistent tuning, embouchure, flexibility and posture. My question is if you have experienced this or have an idea of some things I could do to control this.

A: I am a fan of compartmentalization, so if that doesn't fit the way you think (if you need to integrate more), then you'll have to adjust this advice.  But I like to make sure I'm doing something every day that helps me develop good habits in each of the categories you listed; if I do something that only focuses on one problem at a time, I feel like I can tackle it more efficiently, and then it's easier to incorporate and apply to combinations of tasks.  Make sense?  And while I have a variety of exercises I can practice for any given challenge, I only do one exercise per challenge, and then I rotate when I get bored or feel like I've hit a wall (maybe once a month). The Practice Triad of Triumph that I talk about with my UW students is getting at that; don't do a different exercises every day or you'll never master any of them, but know when it's time to try something new because you're sick of what you're doing. So, click on that triad link and you'll see plenty of suggestions for sound production. Additionally,

Tuning: always practiced with the tuner on, try the Daily Embouchure Warm-Up, Drone exercise, or "diamonds" (whole notes, p-f-p)

Embouchure: everything about tone is related to this!  But particularly flexibility: Daily Embouchure Warm-Up, harmonics, or whistle tones

Posture: This is where a good daily stretching routine without the flute comes in handy. It's so super dorky, but I like the Essentrics videos on You Tube the best:

Additionally, here are some blog posts that you might find informative: 

Obviously, you can master each of these exercises and then not apply them to your solo playing, making all of this a waste of time. So, you still have to remember what you worked on for each challenge and stay vigilant about doing it while you're working on your Chaminade, etc. 

Finally, this is something I often do with my UW students.  You may not always be staying focused or making the best use of your time when you practice.  It happens to all of us, because the level of focus we need to really achieve something extraordinary is so intense. So, I recommend keeping a diary/log of your practice sessions for a few days.  It can be quite simple--just write down every starting and stopping time when you practice, and write down what you worked on.  You can get more detailed by writing down when you moved on to a new technique, as well (so, timing for tone exercises and what you did, then timing for scales and what exactly you did, etc.). Then, after a few days, take a look and audit yourself--what did you avoid practicing?  When did you just play the same thing over and over without it getting you anywhere, etc.?  What kind of simple reward system could you set up to motivate yourself to do the things you are avoiding?

I hope this is at least somewhat helpful; happy practicing! 


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