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The Secret to Fast Flute Playing

imageSure, everyone wants to play fast on the flute. Sir James Galway does it. Emmanuel Pahud does it. Even the first chair flutist in your band does it. So why can’t you?

If you’re like I was when I was younger, I thought you had to practice fast in order to play fast. I’d play a run in my music dozens…no hundreds of times, but it still didn’t sound right. Missed notes. Uneven rhythms. Out of tune notes.

And I could never play it consistently until I learned the secret professional flute players have used for years.

Slow Motion practice.

I know, that’s completely opposite of what most of us think. In order to build good habits and accuracy, slower is better. With thoughtful, deliberate practice, your technique will improve so that your ability to play fast will develop. And you’ll sound amazing at the same time.

5 Tips to Successful Slow Motion Practice

  1. Practice Slower Than You Think, Longer Than You Think: This allows your muscles and brain to coordinate all the details of the music, which is a very complicated process. You wouldn’t expect to drive a car for the first time at full speed. That would be crazy. When you’re learning a new piece, it’s the same idea. You’re familiarizing all the muscles and senses you use to perform with the new piece. As you’re ready, you’ll gradually speed things up. Depending on the level of complexity and your abilities, how long will vary greatly. If you’re not used to practicing Slow Motion, it’s good to allow yourself at least double the time you normally use.
  2. Use a Metronome: Always practice with deliberate tempo in mind. Keep track of your metronome markings in a practice journal so you know what tempo you have been practicing at. Start by cutting the marked tempo in half. Then, after you can play the piece all the way through with no mistakes consistently, move the metronome marking up one click. Repeat the process.
  3. Practice Slowly Until Your Fingers Know It: This is what is commonly known as muscle memory. If you’re thinking too hard about the music, you’re still in learning mode and not ready to go faster. In a performance, you need to trust your fingers. It’s not time to be reading the music and figuring things out. Slow motion practice will build the necessary muscle memory to let your performance sparkle.
  4. Practice Early: Procrastination doesn’t work. More practice sessions spread evenly through your week will produce more accurate, more consistent results. Five 30 minute sessions throughout the week does not equal a 2 1/2 hour marathon the night before the performance.
  5. Record Yourself: As you practice in Slow Motion, you must ask questions. Am I playing the note too long or short? Is my tone clear? Am I playing accurate rhythms? The only way to know for sure is to record your session and evaluate your work. Recording yourself is a great troubleshooting method.

Always practice deliberately, with your brain and senses engaged. Unfortunately, there’s no Instagram for practicing, but with the right practice tools, like Slow Motion technique, you’ll be more successful.

Photo Credit: Ian Britton, freephoto.com

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