Saturday, September 15, 2018

How to practice when you have two weeks between lessons:

Hint: don't just stare off into the afternoon, waiting  for tea to be served with your mangoes. :>)

Dear Jen,
 How can I make the most of my two lessons monthly?
I have difficulty staying focused in my practicing, for the two weeks between lessons. H.
Dear H.

There's a great illustration in Burton Kaplan's book: Practicing for Artistic Success.
The Pie-graph shows four parts: Expression, Tone, Intonation, and Rhythm. You listen to yourself (record yourself!) and decide where you would shade your pie-graph. What is your weakest skill today?

Click on jpg to enlarge; use BACK BUTTON to return here.

The above "Pie" graph  helps you analyse what needs working on in your playing everyday.
You can also record your lessons (on your phone or mp3 recording device) and listen back to the entire lesson, listening closely. Or you can simply take notes immediately after your lessons, and read back over them, and/or email your teacher for help or more direction, if you need clarification.
For example:

What volume of work will you be covering?

For a weekly lesson, most flute teachers expect you to prepare and polish:

A Solo piece (for flute and piano, or flute alone), or single movement of a solo work.
This is repertoire that teaches skills. The accumulated learning of solo repertoire is vital for any developing flutist, so your teacher is likely to expect dozens of flute solo works covered in a year. (note to highschool flutists; this is not three pieces per year like in your band, this is dozens of works per year; be prepared to learn quickly as you may only have 2-3 lesson on each work, or less!)

An Etude (from your grade or level) per week, that shows a constrasting technique to your last week's etude or an improvement of the techniques of your last etude. If the last was about staccatos, this week's should be about a different skill (wide leaps all slurred for example.)
 A flute teacher will expect you to cover some two dozen etudes in a year, or more. Often preparing two contrasting etudes per lesson is considered normal etude coverage.

Technical exercises
Perhaps you're working on double tonguing, or dynamics, or wide interval slurs concurrently?
Every grade level has it's skills that will need to be experimented with and brought into your playing.

There are lots of interesting flute skills that will come up through your etudes and solos.

Examples of technical flute skills areas are:

Tone (getting amazingly beautiful tone in all musical circumstances.)
Tone Colour as it relates to Expression
Smooth Slurring between ever widening intervals
Keeping the tone during demanding breathing
Breath use in accents: Staccato, legato, martellato, accents, breath pulses etc.
Dynamics (playing dynamics as the composer intended/acoustics of space demand)
Tone & tuning in dynamics
Note endings; tapers, shimmer, feathering off etc.
Vibrato use choices, blending with unlike instruments, accompanist vs. soloist, tuning chords.
Articulation (playing articulations that suit the composer's style & fellow musicians.)
single, double, triple, combinations
combining articulations with breath accents effectively
Special Effects (Contemporary sound effects or extended/tech)
Finger position and action (finding the easiest way to achieve finger fluency)
Super smooth legato fingers
Fast and rhythmic fingers
Crossed fingerings worked carefully for relaxation and co-ordination
Unusual fingerings (trill fingerings/aternate fingerings)

You may also be preparing:

Finger Pattern Familiarity for Sight Reading/Arpeggio & Scale Fluidity
If there is time in a lesson you may also be preparing to play for your teacher:
Scales, arpeggios and other basics-of-music. (see flute scale info here and here).

Ensemble Music or Orchestral Excerpts:
You may also have: Chamber music, band music, and your trio/quartet/duet music.
Serious flutists will also be interested in Orchestral Excerpts.

So be sure on work on each of those items that your teacher has given you, in turn, preparing slowly and carefully for:

Intonation (use The Tuning CD) and
as shown in the Kaplan diagram above. Listen for distinct and self-directed improvements everyday.

 Expression includes the musical ideas, the rhythmic vitality (speed up, slow down, stay steady, stay light and bouncy? stay martial and detached?), the printed dynamics, the chosen dynamics, the phrasing, the energy, the mood, the architecture and design of the musical work and of course, the musical message that the composer is conveying. Obviously our musical expression can always be slightly improved. :>) But not all at once. Listening back to your own playing is key.

The absolutely most straightforward way to work is to use  pure audio.
Seriously. I kid you not at all. :>)

Record yourself when you practice at home, and quite seriously listen back and make notes about what you hear. Then you will honestly be your own best teacher in between lessons.
Practicing is most effective in focused 20 minute sessions, followed by listening back and taking notes. Use the metronome, AND the Tuning CD for a really accurate point of view.

You will get more done by listening back and taking notes than you think, because it will laser-focus what you want to change in your playing, and you will engage with your own developmental successes.

Lots of advice on how to practice flute here, if you haven't found all these articles before:

How to get back into flute after a long break

How to practice flute

Technique with a Purpose

Soul Satisfying (summer style) practicing

What do I do about very short amount of practice time?

Just one lesson: How much can the teacher hear in just one lesson?

How to Warm-Up, before practicing flute:

And one more pointer, I know it's hard, because we love to socialize, but:

Be sure to keep chatting to a minimum during your lesson as you'll be needing to cover double the normal amount of items in half the amount of time. Chatting can be done anytime, but lesson time is kept for playing and hearing the flute.
In the same way, prepare your presented work with the minimum of fuss. Have your books well marked with sticky notes so you can quickly place the music on the stand and be ready to play in seconds. Your teacher will have alot of help to give if you're well prepared, and have already observed your own playing, and done your best. Be prepared to make the most of each lesson and it will spur you on by becoming more and more inspiring and fun.

Comments welcome.

Best, Jen