This page has moved to a new address.

The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: March 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm ready for Moonstone!

I've been consumed this week with lots of last minute preparations for my first ever self-produced concert in Philadelphia at Moonstone Arts Center! This wouldn't have happened without a lot of help and support from friends and colleagues, notably Sharon Torello, Local Arts Live founder. Add to this the World Premiere of Museum Triptych by composer Peter Amsel and this will be an unforgettable experience.

This is a huge moment for me because it's my first full length concert as a professional flutist and I've never felt more excited about the future. I am taking control of my career and creating my own opportunities. I really do feel like after all the years of talking, writing and dreaming, I'm arriving into a new phase of my career. 2012 has been claimed as the #yearoftheflute and I'm excitedly staking my claim.

I have learned so much about all aspects of producing a concert and although I'm still very much in favor of accessible and affordable events, I have a better understanding of the factors that go into ticket pricing and that is valuable information for future concerts. Given my recent day job experience at a newspaper, I developed a better understanding of the media and it has renewed my focus as a columnist and blogger to highlight smaller local concerts that don't garner coverage. With that experience, I spent a lot of time publicizing and submitting my events to numerous online sites and again coordinating with Sharon to get my concert featured on Local Arts Live.

If you're not in the Philadelphia area and want to tune in via the live internet stream, please visit Moonstone Live. The show starts at 8 PM Eastern Time. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Metronome: to be or not to be?

A simple tweet by Erica Sipes last week, “Something I find myself saying a lot these days: Metronomes are not a substitute for counting out loud. It's that simple.” morphed into a full discussion of how to use the metronome (and how not to use it) that left everyone involved a little smarter and inspired to expand our tweets into a larger commentary.

I thought Erica’s tweet was interesting and responded by asking her about wind and brass players who can’t do this when they’re playing. In my studio, I emphasize the importance of the metronome to my students (especially my younger ones) in order to highlight its purpose as a practice tool in order to help you develop an internal and accurate sense of rhythmic pulse.

I have students that take right to the metronome and those who don’t (and even those who don't take to it still manage to have a decent sense of rhythmic pulse). I had consistent problems with rhythm as a student myself until my 10th grade year of high school. My private teacher made rhythm a math problem, and it all made sense. Students who are strong in math will understand this and will grasp the concept easily, but there are students who will not understand. Describing rhythms and time signatures like a math problem or equation that must be figured out will be as abstract as the abstract music notation system in front of them. So how do we help those students?

When rhythm is a specific issue the student is dealing with, I take away the instrument. Regardless of the issue a student is having with a particular skill or element of a piece, isolating the element and prioritizing and focusing on the issue at hand is essential to mindful practicing in order to fix the problem. For my young students, one of the first ways I teach them to practice is a series of steps for their one line exercises. They first count and clap the passage, then clap alone and then they try the line on their instrument. Another element that I add is to begin having the students extract measures they still have issues with. The more isolated we can make the problem, the easier it will be inserting back into the whole and the student will begin actively listening to themselves and will be able to identify areas that need improvement.

Given that practicing isn’t something that is really taught, it’s my goal as a teacher to change this. I make sure that when I offer suggestions to a student in their lesson that I make clear that I am making helpful practice method suggestions to them. No one is going to learn a piece well by playing it over and over until they have just the notes and rhythms down. What about tempo? What about phrasing? What about the structure? These are all skills students will learn over time if they stay with their instrument, but the metronome gets us back to the foundational building block of rhythm on which these other elements can then be added.

As a teacher, don’t be afraid to not use the metronome. Let the student develop their sense of rhythm naturally and when they’re ready (this was my favorite suggestion from @DLP_DSM (Discover Learn and Play), introduce the metronome back into lessons. If you feel like you can’t do this, read and research (neuroscience research about learning is my favorite reading related to figuring out how to help a student) until you feel you have enough strategies available to be able to help a student develop an internal pulse prior to aligning that natural pulse with a metronome.

Music on the page is a way of organizing various complex elements together in a way that makes sense. The metronome is simply a tool and should not be used as an absolute. Be mindful in your teaching and help your students discover for themselves the power of this tool and how it can help them. Most of all, be patient and give your students the freedom they need to explore and develop into fine musicians.

For those others who were involved in this discussion, please read their pieces below:

Erica Sipes/@ericasipes Bowing to the Mighty Metronome?

Janet Bordeaux/@janetbxyz Metronome: Monster or Friend?

Eugene Cantera/@DLP_DSM #musiced, twitter, and the metronome

Kim Hickey/@hickey_kim Metronome - Friend or Foe?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Stages of Practice: the Taper

Remember my Practice like you Train post last summer?

With my Philly gig coming up in a couple of weeks, I'm quickly approaching my taper which is something I didn't mention in my previous post. In addition to varying your weekly practice into different types of "runs," consider the training stages as well.

In the winter, a lot of runners take time off from training and either build their base mileage (their foundational weekly mileage level) or run their current base mileage at a slower pace. Now that we're less than a week away from spring, a lot of runners I know are in training for their spring races. Training usually consists of easy runs, speedwork and long runs. At the end of training, runners go into a taper. They back off on their mileage and rest in between easy miles.

What does this mean to us as musicians, especially when learning a new recital program?

First off, I haven't prepared a full recital program since my college days. I've caught myself gravitating towards the way I used to prepare in college. It was focused and one-dimensional and I had successful recitals, but I'm curious to see how much more efficient I can make my practicing while incorporating all the other stuff I've learned since then with a full program.

I have found that the more into the "zone" (super focused, worried about technical aspects of the instrument, less self-aware) I get, the more self-doubt creeps in. I don't like this because it leaves me feeling tense and anxious.

Instead, I'm working for a few more days on the music on specific spots and then it will be a process of looking at the whole and really feeling the music flow. What do I want to communicate when I get on the stage on March 31? What is it that I have to say with the music I've chosen?

I'm finding myself doing a lot of listening and assimilating and not so much playing right now. Mental practicing has been especially useful and effective, too.

It feels good to reach this point of preparation and feel secure in the work that I've done. I'm increasingly excited to finally share myself with the world in my own self-produced show.

Listening to your body and mind during the stages of preparation for any performance is crucial for success. Trust that you can move to the next stage of your practice and have the faith to let go in order to freely give your music to the world.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Karg Elert Caprice #1: Finger breaths and finding your effortless sweet spot

Here is my first podcast! One of the ideas I have toyed with is either live streaming my practice or figuring out a way to share some of my practice time with you to see how I do what I do. I have decided to go the podcasting route because I'm able to play and narrate my session. These episodes will have a stream of consciousness quality to them, so expect lots of "uhhhhs" as I articulate my thoughts.

Inspired by two pianists' work on the web, Erica Sipes and her current Pittsburgh Concerto Competition project and Jocelyn Swigger's Chopin etude podcast series, here is my first episode about the 1st of the 30 Karg-Elert Caprices. Since these studies get more difficult as they progress, I thought this would be a worthy project to take on. I've been wanting to study these in depth, but it's been a stop and go effort on my part. I'm hoping this podcast series will keep me accountable.

In today's episode, I talk about using finger breaths to determine the minimum level of effort you can play with to create dynamic contrast. After I finished recording and listened to my playing, I realized that there's very little contrast in my playing upon this initial performance. Being aware kinesthetically, I felt a difference in effort when I played forte passages compared to piano passages but there was no audible difference. This is something I will practice in not only the Karg Elert but also in my recital program repertoire. My plan is to re-record this first study over the weekend and hopefully have more convincing dynamic contrast.

Also, please check out Sensory Tune-Ups, Kay Hooper's book that I reference. It's a great resource to help you develop multi-sensory awareness and it gives you a place to record your observations as you explore.

Listen to this episode

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,