Welcome to Your Summer Vacation! In some ways, I like to think about the summer as a chance to make a fresh start, almost the musical answer to New Year's Day. Do you have any New Year's - really, summer vacation! - resolutions? One thing to consider is the day-to-day demands we put on ourselves to survive as a busy instrumentalist. Is it time for a technique make-over in your playing? Now's a great time for it! Getting around the instrument with mechanical confidence and comfort is essential to a long and enjoyable life as a flutist (or any instrumentalist!). Here are some thoughts to personalize your own make-over and develop a workout. Some of this is from one of my great flute mentors and inspirations, Trevor Wye! As Trevor notes, if we solidify how we relate to the technical demands of the instrument, rather than the challenges of a particular passage in a piece, we'll have more time for the beach!
1. Start with the fundamentals. In my approach to playing, this relies on developing a strong body awareness away from the flute as well as when we play. Watch how you carry yourself throughout the day, how you balance your head, how much you rely on your core, and how you treat your back. Do you carry a heavy backpack, slump you shoulders forward, or other habit that doesn’t promote a balanced and centered stance? Consider taking a dance class, Alexander Technique lessons, or yoga to build a connection.
2. Your tone is your calling card. Spend quality time building a rich, resonant tone while in as balanced a state as possible. Examine how you can best “ring” while releasing unnecessary tension. Have a battery of your favorite “go to” tone exercises that help you lock into your sound quickly, while introducing new tunes or melodic sequences to keep things fresh.
3. Amass different technical exercises in these areas: scale forms, arpeggios, thirds (etc.), trills, different chord patterns, chromatic/whole tone/modal patterns, and finger patterns or sequences. Try to hit some (if not all) of your major and minor keys per day in each of the categories, while playing some materials from the other categories. You could make a chart to progress through all the keys over the week (scale, thirds, arpeggios). The next week you could change the pattern (improvise a new form or jump to a new set). Over time you will be able to cover more material in one session. You may find you’ll have more fun and confidence combining some exercises you feel comfortable playing with others that are new, vs. all new ones.
4. Make a list of your technical strengths and aspects you wish to improve. These could include low register articulation, upper register facility, middle register right hand coordination, the “Little Devils,” balancing the flute, double and/or triple tonguing, soft attacks, diminuendos, or other areas. Consider these qualities when you make up your chart so that you practice some things that are comfortable and others that challenge you. Do this until you are ready and in shape to push yourself a bit.
5. Use a metronome to touch base and track your progress. This will keep you honest. Try to move it up just a touch beyond what is completely comfortable.
6. For optimizing technical development, mix things up. Try to play different exercises or in different ways from one day to the next. If you play all of your major and minor scales one day, choose a different scale exercise the following day (ex. – Taffanel & Gaubert Monday, Reichert 1 on Tuesday, Moyse extended scales on Wednesday, etc.). Try to add “doodles” to basic fundamental exercises, such as T&G 1 and 2.
7. Start on different keys – not always C Major! Play them in chromatic order, descending chromatic order, parallel majors and minors, etc. Anything to make your brain work a little harder will help you in the long run!
8. Try practicing sequentially. Once we get in the “groove” of a pattern, it becomes much easier. Try practicing Reichert No. 2 for 5 minutes, then Reichert No. 1 for 5 minutes, then Reichert No. 4 for 5 minutes. Return to the key you stopped at for Reichert No. 2 for 5 minutes, etc.
9. Create exercises out of any technical challenges in your etudes and pieces, rather than just woodshedding your piece. Mozart concerti: T&G 4 slur two/tongue two, etc.
10. End with a round of finger patterns to try to move with ease. Avoid stopping and correcting – you’ll do better tomorrow!
11. Reward yourself! Improvise, sightread, or play your favorite piece for two minutes – whatever helps you regroup and feel connected to music making!
*Key points to remember: strive for best body use and awareness, full breaths, a full tone, and a sense of ease.
So now, make a list and include today's date. Take a personal inventory of your playing to identify your strengths and your weaknesses. Be sure to play some of both each day, especially as you start your make-over. After you've built confidence and stamina, it can then be time to really experiment, push the envelope, and take things a notch higher with the metronome. That way over time, you'll have even less work to do on the technical challenges of your repertoire - more time to focus on music making, and more time for the beach!