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Efficient Practice Tips

The Sensible Flutist: Efficient Practice Tips

Monday, July 19, 2010

Efficient Practice Tips

I am a private flute teacher and a freelancer. But did you know I work in a full time management position by day? I got the job fresh out of college when I was burned out, and wanted a steady paycheck and the chance to do something different for a while.

Now I'm working towards a return to school to earn my master's, and hopefully develop more opportunities to do this music thing full time. So with the backstory out of the way, I've been asking a lot of my twitter and Facebook pals for their tips on efficient practicing. I live in an area with a limited number of students and paid freelance gigs. So at my busiest, I'm teaching a couple nights a week and rehearsing on top of that. That leaves me with very little time to practice to get ahead in this rat race.

I've always had problems staying consistent with my practice. For those of you reading this that are still in school, GO PRACTICE! The "real world" changes everything. For full time professionals and those of us still doing it as a part time affair, efficient practicing means we must be mindful of our practice time. Otherwise, we're just wasting time and missing out on family time, other hobbies, and life in general. That isn't a good place to be.

So the tips I got were very interesting. Some I had considered before, others I hadn't. Here's the list:

1) Work on things that require the most control (thanks, @adrenalsenorita). Articulation, speed, intervals, dynamics, etc. all are crucial elements of a good warmup to make sure you're ready to tackle your rep. I wholeheartedly agree with this tip and already integrate into my practice on those days I just have no time. Do these and you'll find yourself progressing quickly. For quick pick me ups on bad tone days, do some vocalizations and whistle tones, too. You'll open up your sound immediately.

2) Another tip I received from @multiphonic was to have a specific plan going in. Knowing what you're going to work on helps you focus on your goals. He also recommends to not do more than one thing at a time, but instead isolate specific tasks. I would add that this strategy requires consistency. If you have just an hour to practice, then practice as much as you can in that hour but come back the next day to build on the previous day's work. If you have lots of ideas to explore, realize that it's going to take you a longer time to explore those same ideas than someone with a lot more time than you. Don't let it overwhelm you, but approach your practice time sensibly and you will begin achieving your goals.

3) @multiphonic also gave me a great reference to @DTclarinet's site ( You can become a member of a practice journal group and share your experiences with other members of the group. This is a great concept and keeps you accountable in the practice room, too.

4) A strategy of mine in order to efficiently practice is to treat each chunk of time in your day that you have the opportunity to practice is to approach it as if that's the ONLY time you have to practice that day even if you think you may have time later on. Divide the time up so that you have adequate time to warm up and save time for repertoire (your "priorities"). For example, I have 40 minutes at lunch time during my day to practice. Instead of using that 40 minutes solely on my "warm up," I take 20 minutes to warm up and the remaining 20 minutes on repertoire or excerpts...anything that needs my precise attention at that time. If I can return to the flute at another point later on that evening, then I will do another section of my "warm up" to include work on issues I noticed in my first practice session and more work on rep. I'm in the process of testing this strategy out, and I think it will help me for several reasons. 1) I like warming up too much...I think all that work has made me a strong technical player, but I could do more with rep and I have less time now and 2) it's all about balance. We must have a healthy work/life balance, and we should mirror that in our practice sessions.

5) Finally, work only on what you have problems with. It's gratifying to play what we already know, but if we're time crunched, stick with what you have issues with. It's not "fun," but it will get the job done. That's what practicing is. As Erica Sipes (check out her wonderful blog at who also recently blogged about this topic) tweeted to me, schedule time to play fun stuff. Erica also points out that in the course of your practicing, if you make a mistake more than two times, something needs to change. It's so true, and I think that's a rule a lot of us like to ignore (myself included).

I came across a book about two years ago called, "Practicing for Artistic Success" by Burt Kaplan ( I just received a copy today, and future blogs will discuss what I learn from this resource. In the meantime, practice with heart and maturity, and you will progress faster than wasting hours upon hours of precious time. And you didn't have to spend all that time holed away in a practice room, either. It's all about devising effective strategies for yourself and/or trying strategies that have worked for others. Now go forth and be productive, practicing members of society!

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At July 19, 2010 at 7:23 PM , Blogger Erica Ann Sipes said...

So many fantastic tips in here, Alexis...and it's so good to check out your blog, read your profile, and learn more about you! You are obviously a hard-working, conscientious, passionate musician and person overall...those qualities, and the fact that you are so willing to network/talk with others will make it so much easier to get where you want to go!

I look forward to reading more. And thank you for the kind mention of my blog :-)


At July 20, 2010 at 2:06 AM , Blogger la rose said...

One more: take ear training seriously and use it. Be able to sing your piece, at the very least with rhythmic accuracy, but go for pitch accuracy, too (obviously, you'll have to let go of register accuracy). Be able to hear the harmonies in your head. You'll get to know your music in a different way and it will make a big difference in your playing.

At July 20, 2010 at 3:45 PM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Erica - Thanks for the kind words. The day I found your blog was the day I found a kindred spirit. We share many of the same views, and I enjoy reading what you have to say.

Andrea - Another great tip. I agree completely.


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