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Practice Essentials: Easing in after a break

The Sensible Flutist: Practice Essentials: Easing in after a break

Monday, August 27, 2012

Practice Essentials: Easing in after a break

I think the biggest question we all have when returning to the flute after a hiatus is, "What do I do to get started again?" For some, the fact that they aren't able to resume at their previous level is frustrating and overwhelming. Since this was something I had to do a few years ago, I know that there's plenty of good advice out there; however, I've noticed that very few encourage slowly building up the amount of time you practice.

If you are able to maintain a consistent practice routine, keep doing what you're doing! If life gets thrown at you more than you care to admit, then keep reading.

Even a temporary break of a week or two means you need to take it slow getting back into your regular routine. Here are a few of my tried and true tips to get back to practicing:

1) Be gentle. Don't pass judgment as you begin playing your first notes. Simply notice your physical state, your emotions and notice how you sound. Take lots of mini breaks with stretching. Every time you come back to your flute after a break, notice the same things again and if things seem to be flowing more easily. If not, continue this sequence until you find a place that you're happy. 

Being gentle with yourself and reserving your criticism for later will prevent excess tension from creeping in, and you'll be able to find the freedom in your playing that may be missing after a hiatus.

2) Set a time limit on how much you practice in any given day. In other words, don't try to practice for 3 hours when you haven't been playing at all. My goal for the fall is to consistently practice for at least 2 hours a day. Prior to my break, I was practicing my super efficient hour (see my post about that here). When I came back to the flute this week after taking about a 2 week break due to moving, I started with that hour with lots of extra breaks. I'm now up to practicing for 90 minutes, but with the same amount of breaks.

When setting time limits, the breaks give you time to listen to your body. Don't ignore it. I am still actively working away from the flute when I take my breaks. I stretch or I lie in constructive rest. These activities help me reinforce what I'm doing on the flute, and help me find the ease in my playing without gripping or tensing.

3) Choose materials that allow you to explore without pushing you to your limit. My first day back was spent on nothing but tone. I spent a lot of time in Fiona Wilkinson's The Physical Flute while applying it to Tone Development through Interpretation. Part of holistic practice is to cultivate the mind-body-instrument connection so that it's a free flowing cycle that's completely integrated. When this begins to happen in your practice session, amazing things begin to happen and your self and instrument begin to merge into one.

To choose appropriate practice material, ask yourself these questions: what were you working on prior to the break? What was most challenging? Leave that on the shelf for the time being and take a step or two back. Choose one thing to draw your awareness to. This is also a great way to minimize the destructive criticism that can make your practice session less effective.

The bottom line is this - ease in to your practice in order to cultivate the mind-body-instrument connection. Release any blocks in this cycle with gentle, focused and efficient practice. You'll find it doesn't take hours to get back to feeling like your old self again.

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At August 27, 2012 at 8:27 AM , Blogger Olya said...

Thank you for the post. Very timely! I was away from the flute for two weeks (we just came back from vacation) and the first day back I was afraid to put it together, let alone play. It was the mental image of going to my lesson (that was going to be two days later) that finally made me just do it. And you know, it was better than I had imagined. Yes, lots of breaks help (never thought I would be grateful for the pile of vacation laundry. LOL) Hot tea helps. And realistic expectations help the most.

At August 29, 2012 at 6:17 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Excellent additions! Nothing like laundry to make you take breaks :) Thanks for commenting!


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