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Practice is the only skill you really need!

Suggestion on how to make your practice sessions more efficient

PRACTICE – What is “practice” exactly? The verb practice means “perform an activity or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency”. As musicians, we know that practice is necessary to learn a piece and to improve all aspects of playing the flute. Sometimes we really enjoy our practice because the piece we are working on is amazing and fulfilling. Sometimes we know we have to practice tone exercises to sound better or practice endless scales and patterns to improve technique. We must also practice improving our intonation and ear so we play well with others. Every part of practice can be boring and mundane, but it can also be fun and rewarding.

Over the years, I have changed my approach to practice. Most of my students are in middle or high school. Practice time is limited for them, so I have had to figure out an efficient way for them to practice, to keep improving, in a short amount of time. My adult students enjoy practice more because there is no outside pressure, just their own personal pressures. I also practice on a daily basis. For a while, I was practicing to regain my ability to play. Then I began practicing to move beyond where I was before I quit. The tips outlined below are the result of very little time to practice, but big dreams of playing well.


Organize your Practice Session

Practice sessions can be broken up as follows:

1st quarter - Warm up and tone –

Long tones and intonation work with tuner and/or drone. Work on tone using simple melodies, like Trevor Wye Tone studies or excerpts in Moyse – Tone Development through Interpretation.

If you don’t sound good, it’s hard to focus on anything else. Warm up on a slow scale, middle register, forte. Get the air going, the fingers moving and begin your focus. Intonation and dynamics - Once you have established your tone, listen to the intervals, pull out the tuner or “tuning cd”, and listen. Listen to pitch and intervals in soft dynamics, as well as loud. Learn to control the pitch, but most of all LISTEN.

2nd quarter – Technique and scales –

Taffanel & Gaubert EJ 1 & 2. Daily staples. Practice all articulations, not every day, but change up the articulation each day. Practice scales for speed and accuracy. Reichert #1, is great for 2-octave practice. Maquarre is great for pattern practice. I also use these for phrasing practice.

Scales, arpeggios and patterns – pick from one of your many technique books, Taffanel & Gaubert, Reichert, Maquarre, Power Exercises, etc. and work. Set a metronome goal and try to reach it. Make sure the technique is clean and no intervals are rushed for the sake of the tempo. Remember to change your articulation when practicing technique. Change slurred groups and make sure you add double tonguing.

Personal preference – I love Maquarre!! I will practice these fast and with a metronome. I will also make each key a musical statement and play them slowly and musically.

3rd quarterEtude and/or Challenging Passages

Etudes are necessary no matter what your level. Short Etudes (1 page or less) can be worked on in its entirety, every day. Longer, more demanding etudes should be broken up into sections. Work on one section per day, for 5 days, then put it all together on day 6 and/or 7. See example attached. During this time, pick a very difficult section in your solo and make it into an etude. Work on this short section for 5-10 minutes/day. Keep track of your progress (i.e.: metronome markings, rhythms, articulations, # of beats that are comfortable, what is the group of notes that is still difficult).

Long, complicated Etudes – Section them off. If you work on chunks instead of plowing through the whole thing, you will accomplish more. Plan to learn the Etude in 5 days, which means five sections. Put them all together at the end of the week. SIMPLE!!

Challenging passages – Small chunks!!! I cannot stress this enough. There might be one beat that contains 30 notes. Play it slowly until the notes are automatic, and then section them off. I like triplets. Three or four notes at a time until solid, then move over one note and repeat the pattern. Play an example

4th quarter - Solo - Finally!!!

This is the part we all love, the music. If we do the work above, this will be much easier to tackle. Section off the solo, not just by movement but also by phrases and musical ideas. No one has enough mental energy to go 100% into the entire solo every day. Some sections will be easier than others will. You can use rehearsal numbers as your sections, or even split those sections.

Preparing a solo for performance is a long process. Learn the notes and rhythms. Do not omit or gloss over notes, they are all important. Section off your solo. It may need more than five sections. Maybe it needs sub-sections. Always start with the hardest part first. You have already practiced challenging sections, now you can put it back into context and play the piece.

NOTE - Record your progress from the beginning of the week to the end. You'll be AMAZED!!


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