Language is important

Whether we are talking with teachers or students, fellow musicians, conductors, etc. we are constantly talking about playing. The language that we use is extremely important to how we think and feel about playing. I’m not talking about terminology here; what I’m talking about is much more subjective.

The words we use when talking about our playing can have a huge impact in how we think about what we are doing. We all know the effect that using judgmental language, especially negative words, can have on a player’s attitude. This is actually pretty simple to address by just avoiding negative words “no”, “not”, “bad”, “wrong”, etc. Other words have a more subtle, sinister, effect, and while they do not sound like negative words, they can have negative effects. For me one of those words is “control”.

I have spent years working on breath “control”, “controlling the air stream”, etc. and, while I have had some success, in general this practice ties me up in knots. To “control” something really means to inhibit it in some way, keep a tight rein on, or hold it in check. These ideas are all antithetical to what we need to do to make any sound at all on the flute. The air has to get out before we can make any sound, so why am I trying to restrict it? I now substitute the word “manage” for the word “control” and immediately the air flows more freely and I am able to accomplish the things I wanted to do when I was trying to “control” the air. Neat, huh?

Different words affect different people differently, and maybe this example doesn’t do anything for you, but unless you are the most positive, balanced person on the planet, it is likely that there are words that affect you negatively as well. Take a look at your practice journal, listen to your conversations about playing, and pay attention when a word causes you to tense up or groan a little, anything that is less than positive. A teacher at a masterclass I attended made a similar point with this little test. She asked us to notice what happened to our bodies when she said different words, like ‘ice cream’, ‘sunshine’, then she said the word ‘flute’. Immediately everyone in the class gasped and some even groaned a little. (What reaction did you just have?) We all had an ah-ha moment when we were made aware of the tension that one little word could cause in us. And this word represented something we loved! Many of us had come to associate the word ‘flute’ with tension and strain. For me, working on ‘control’ magnifies that tension, so I don’t try to do it. Rather than trying to hold things in, I work on managing them as they are happening.

Of course, some things are just wrong, terrible even, and it’s OK to acknowledge that. Just make sure your approach to fixing what’s wrong is as benign and productively oriented as possible.

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Try Gary Schocker’s trick of using a wine cork to improve flute tone

I’ve been concentrating on improving my tone lately, and came across these videos from Gary Schocker. He demonstrates how he used a wine cork to develop and improve his sound. It sounds totally off-the-wall, but it makes good sense! And since Schocker does have a glorious sound and amazing air management, this technique must be doing something good for him!

The basic idea is that positioning the cork helps you open inside your mouth and create a freer path for your air to move through. Take a look and give it a try!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=36X5xlrPzg0

Intrigued? Here is more!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IvvKXxm3r4

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Practice Diary 7/27

Back at it! Maybe I should move these posts to a different section of the blog, I could make another page to post on. I’m afraid the main page will become too cluttered.

On to the practice:
– kind of rough beginning with EJ4, CM
– did Cm and am both slurred to get settled in
– the sound is good, takes awhile to get comfortable physically, though, if I ever get comfortable!
– feet not too angled, 90 degrees does not work for me, almost feel like my backside is sticking out
– let shoulders both be back so right shoulder does not engage
– breathe in through nose, etc, etc, and blow!!
– aim air at that very small strike zone rather than wandering all around
– new articulation pattern to add, pitched pops, all articulation, no tone, really hard to not make a tone, eventually have to expel some air since none really goes out
– end GbM

sound is more consistent overall, meaning that I have to spend more time ironing out the inconsistencies, which takes longer

played 3rd mvt of CPE Bach solo sonata
– biggest fix, on the leaps down, the first low note is not speaking quickly or clearly enough, work on smoothing that out with a lot of breath attack practice and ‘target’ practice
– neck is good, especially after doing yard work, organizing the upper back is the biggest thing

ready for more!

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Practice Diary 7/24

started with EJ4 at CM
– focus is good, D#’s are much better today, must not be much of a leak
– air attacks and clipped articulation are pretty crisp, appropriately aggressive
– remember the good physical set up!
– arms are getting better
– tkt ktk is really awkward, I’m not always sure I am doint it, maybe should slow it down so I can be more mindful?
– Db’s in Gb M are so high! have to play it slower to add fingers and bring it down, errr…

Moyse triads CM to DM with tuner, up to DR
– keep root pitch in ear, match it internally, actively pursue the intonation
– keep good posture! bring flute to face!!!

wanted to play some music, so blew through the Sarabande and Badinerie of Bach Partita

I may be a bit Romantic on the Sarabande, but I belied that Bach was a very passionate man, and I like to indulge in making the gestures as clear and noticeable as possible

should try recording these things to see if they sound as rough (or polished) as I think they are, something to check out on the new Smartphone

feels good to just blow so openly, once I can add some time to practice, I will be able to do some serious work, maybe next week add a secont, shorter session, neck felt good all day, yay!

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Practice Diary 7/23

Neck was stiff this morning, enough to be bothersome but not enough to inhibit movement. After my stretches it was better, so we’ll see how today’s practice affects it. From reading this, you might think that I am in some sort of rehab for an injury. I have arthritis in my neck and sometimes I do things in my playing that aggravate it, like pushing my neck into weird and completely unnecessary configurations. I’m taking a cautious, mindful approach to getting back in performing shape because if I overdo it, I won’t be able to do anything for awhile, let alone play. No pity called for, it’s just another challenge on the journey. You’ll see a lot of comments about posture, alignment, and observations on how different parts of my body feel as I am playing. This is how I monitor and minimize unwarranted physical stresses in my practicing. If I don’t, I injure myself, it’s that simple. Maybe some of the things I try can be helpful to you in working on your own challenges.

– tone warmup from Trevor Wye’s tone book, page 11 or 14, I can’t remember which, I have it memorized. It’s about energizing the air to make smooth leaps
– sound is nicely smooth and steady
– I’m letting my head turn more to the left rather than looking so straight ahead, don’t push it, let it turn!

harmonic on C up to Bb3
– unusually good expansion of ribs, all the way down into pelvis, is this what it means to feel the support in the pelvic floor? hmmmmm….
– right arem is still feeling strained
– air is nicely full and direct

Paganini Caprice #11, the staccato section to end
– all breath attacks, combining exercise with sight reading
– not really separating the air sufficiently for crisp attacks, but have no problem navigating the leaps
– tone is pretty good, air is moving forward well

I seem to have found a really good set up from the floor up where the expansion is really good and free, and the music can really flow out (if I were playing any music!) My right hipbone feels a little out of place, but it seems to work; I can maintain a good alignment all the way up. Can I do this sitting? If I can remember how to do this consistently, will have to translate it to a sitting position, that is where my real posture problems lie.

Right arm and elbow want to fly away from my body (come back, elbow!), creating stress, but that can be worked on

EJ4
– timer went off, but finished to dt on single pitches, G#m to CM
– have to keep air focused on single (good) spot on the strike wall, otherwise the tone goes splat all over the place
– double and triple tonguing are already better, less air disturbance on the articulations
– what is with the D#’s!!? better check for a leak

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