Friday, October 07, 2011

The Wiggley Road to Success

Recording your Practice & Outlining

Dear Flutey Readers,
I had a student who suddenly became aware of her progress, and began to worry about how her efforts so far on the first ever year of flute lessons now measured up to all the other University flutists around her.
I responded that the entire trick of it is to only compete with yourself.

I would also heartily suggest: Self-recording
Record your lessons, record your rehearsals, and defintely, record yourself at the beginning and then again, at the end of a week of practice, and actually analyse for yourself what you're doing right and what you need to improve.

For example, can you dance to the rhythm of your recorded etude or solo?
Or does your rhythm make you groove, or do you find you have to hop skip and jump and even stumble a bit as you dance to your playing?

Does that tell you something about your need to work on the meter or rhythm?

How about intonation? What do you hear when you listen back?
Why not record your etude or piece with the The Tuning CD playing the tonic drone for each section?

And even if a piece isn't quite up to speed yet, you can still record it as an outline, playing a simplified version of the piece, even at full tempo.

Here's an excerpt from my own description of Outlining:
What is outlining?

Outlining is playing only one (or more) notes per bar of music, in order to simplify it.

This is a very useful technique when the music demands large intervals
and fast fingerings.

It still outlines the basic motion of the melody, but it simplifies it
down to a more manageable practice routine.

In this way the flutist can simplify their embouchure, their air use,
and their phrasing.

Often when a flute player is trying to practice or learn a new piece, they:

- use too much air (get out of breath after a few bars)
- use the wrong tone quality for the piece
- have flying and flapping fingers because the note reading is complex
- use far too many over-estimated embouchure changes
- get tired and start producing a tense or constricted tone quality
- make mistakes in the same places due to rebalancing the flute
wrongly during finger switches
- keep going back to the beginning over and over again, when the
problem area is NOT at the beginning.

Outlining allows simpler embouchure, great tone, comprehension of
breathing spots, allows faster tempos from the start, and allows the
finesse of the piece to be begun right away, even before learning all
the complexity of the "fast notes".

It's the musician's greatest invention.
Plus it allows the musician to understand the piece in depth since
only one facet is worked on at one time.

Outlining Example

At first, you can outline any piece by just playing only the main notes, and leaving everything else out, but in time, and rhythmically. Later fill in the missing faster notes bit by bit.
Here are a few bars of the Andante of J.S. Bach's C Major Sonata:

Click on jpeg to enlarge. Use back button to return.

The circled notes in the sample are the notes used to create the outline
for easier and more comprehensive practicing.

Later the outline can be made to include every eighth note, instead of
every quarter (2nd outline in sample above.)or every first and fourth note of four sixteenths, for example.

Or you could outline only low notes, or only highest notes.
Each outline creates a variation on the main melody; all are valid.

You can hear me outlining Chaminade's Concertino and other fun recording experiments in coversation with author/pianist James Boyk in a 2009 interview here: Outlining explained on Jen's Fluteloops radio show no. 10.
(James Boyk Interview)

And one more thing to help us all feel better when or if we get the blues ( :>), check out what a wonderful quote I just found today.
Quote - Artistic Success

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners.
I wish someone had told me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap.

For the first couple of years you make stuff,
it's just not that good.

It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have.

We all go through this.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.

It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met.

It's gonna take a while.
It's normal to take awhile.

You just gotta fight your way through.

Ira Glass

And here is the source of the quote:
This is also oh so so true about music studies, as in any art form.

We don't want to compete with others, but wish to find the best quality of work that completely engages us in our creativity and understanding. And when we find that, we can reach out and engage with other musicians, and then the growth becomes exponential.

It was serendipitous that I found this quote through David Cutler's excellent "Saavy Musician" blog, where he had addressed a similar topic for young musicians in a blog post entitled "The Best in the World".

You just have to see that it's the more squiggly line that is the true line of success.

So hopefully my very artistic student will feel more relaxed knowing that we all go through this stage, and the answer is to create your own artistic standards for yourself.

My gosh, I remember that stage extremely well from my own stages of flutey challenge.

So, glad to share, and happy to help.
(updated Jan 22nd 2012)

Best, Jen
Comments (2)
Anonymous Zara Lawler said...

So true! And I love the line drawing of success...I may have to use it myself some time! As for the taste/skill gap, I refer to that with my students as your brain being ahead of your body. Of course, that's where you want it to be, but it can be frustrating at times. I think that's especially true for adult amateurs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 6:56:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Zara. So true indeed. The book called "101 Inspirational Flute Stories" is one book that all of us read with relief. Yes it's true; the dips and drops in the success line are "normal" that's for sure. I have some great stories of my own about this, which I'll share sometime.
Yes, adult amateurs often have tremendous taste and fantastic musical ears, but they can be parallizingly self-critical. It's a fine balance to have great ears, and yet patience and perserverance.
A delicate art.
Thanks for your comment!
Love to hear stories too!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:17:00 AM


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