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A Simple Strategy to Boost Your Practice Productivity


Stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of people is a terrifying thought for most of us. But we’re musicians, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? So why is it always so scary?

Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours in practice rooms, but when I’d step in front of the crowd, the nerve-demons always got me. My performance never went as I had hoped. Despite an endless practice road, I still felt unprepared, never knowing what would come out on stage.

My best efforts didn’t yield the results I’d heard in other great performers.

Think About Your Practice Time in a Different Way:
Recently, I stumbled onto Dr. Noa Kageyama’s blog, The Bulletproof Musician. Juilliard faculty member and performance psychologist are just a couple of his accolades. He blogs about overcoming performance anxiety. He shared a new practice strategy by Dr. Christine Carter of the Manhattan School of Music.

I tried the strategy myself and with my students, and I’ve been blown away with the results. Right away, some difficult passages became easier to play, and my retention level increased. The same happened with my students.

We’re encouraged to practice with set goals in mind and a certain number of repetitions on a given passage. But there’s a point when our brain says no more, and it goes into auto-pilot, making too many repetitions fruitless.

Hence, hours of practice does not necessarily mean hours of positive results.

A Simple Change
This simple change to the way you practice can dramatically boost your practice productivity and better prepare you for whatever performance you may have.

I call it the Change-Up Practice Strategy. I’m rephrasing the basics here in my own words and how I applied it in my student’s lessons. Feel free to adapt to your own needs, or read the original post with all the scientific research here.

Change-Up Practice:
Pick three sections of your music or scales to work on. They can be a measure, a portion of a measure, or a small group of measures – whatever your practice needs require.

We’ll call the three sections as A, B and C. Now, start practicing, Change-Up style:

Step 1:

  • Practice Section A, 3-5 repetitions
  • Even if it’s not perfect, go on to Section B, 3-5 repetitions.
  • Even if it’s not perfect, go on to Section C, 3-5 repetitions.

Step 2:

  • Repeat step 1.

Step 3:

  • Repeat step 1 again for a max of 3 rotations.

That’s it. You’re done for the moment. Depending on the amount of practice time you have left, try the same style on a different three sections. Repeat the process on future practice sessions as needed to review and continue building accuracy and speed prior to performance time. Then, start putting those sections into context with the entire piece.

Change-Up practice keeps your brain engaged and focused longer, thus boosting your retention of music and can help you learn the music more efficiently. I’ve seen it in my own practice time. How about you? Did it help?

* Dr. Noa Kageyama, musician and performance psychologist, Juilliard faculty member, blogs at


Overwhelmed? 5 Ways to Simplify Your Practice Schedule


Homework. Marching band practice. Social life. Did I mention homework?

All of those things zap our valuable time to practice. When you feel like throwing your flute across the room…relax. Breath. These five tips will help you get the most of your practice time. Even if you have as little as 15 minutes a day, you’ll still see improvement.

1. Break It Down: Rotate what you practice. For example, play three scales Monday, a different three on Tuesday, etc. until you play them all by the end of the week.

You don’t have to start at the beginning of a piece and play straight through. Break it down into manageable chunks (say a few measures or a couple of lines). Most of us wouldn’t read an entire novel in one sitting, right? We’d read a chapter or two, depending on our free time. Practice the same way. Work one chunk on Monday, the next on Tuesday, review on Wednesday.

Keep track of what you worked on in a practice journal, iPad app organizer or whatever works for you.

2. No Speeding Tickets: Practicing slowly will build muscle memory, finger and embouchure control, as well as endurance and pitch accuracy. If you’re stumbling over a tough run, cut the tempo in half until you can play it accurately at that tempo. Then click the metronome up 3-4 beats. Repeat.

It’s much more difficult to play with control than to let your fingers guess.

3. Practice What You Think You Already Know: You can play your scales. But do you know them? Do you play them so well you don’t have to think about the notes? Do they float out effortlessly? Then practice them some more.

The key to technical virtuosity is mastery of fundamentals such as scales, arpeggios, chromatics, etc. Don’t skip them in your daily drill.

You will be amazed at how much control you gain over your fingers and your technique, as well as ability to read music by practicing scales and arpeggios every day.

4. Be a Time Jedi: Use the time you have wisely. Practice the hard parts – don’t skip them. Do more repetitions than you think you need. Slowly at first, then faster.

If you already know the low octave of a scale, try practicing the upper one by itself. Or even the highest few notes (aren’t they always the toughest ones?).

Use your time in band class to finger through tough scales or passages when your director is working with another section.

5. Routine: Same time. Same place. Carve out your routine and stick to it. You’ll remember more (and grow faster in your flute abilities) if you practice 5 or 6 days a week for 15-30 minutes at a time, than if you wait until Saturday to cram in two hours.

Simplify your schedule by practicing smarter, rather than harder. You’ll begin to master all the stuff that propels your music forward. And your music will take on a new life.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing that makes you good.”~Malcolm Gladwell

More Practice Tips:

Six Strategies to Tackle Your Solo


I recently handed out solos to my students for the Solo and Ensemble Contest. Some took the music, excitement shining through their eyes at the upcoming challenge. Others pushed their chair back, afraid the music would hurt them somehow. “That’s a lot of notes,” they told me.

So what do you do to learn a new piece? There’s no doubt it can be an overwhelming task. Learning a new solo can be like putting a puzzle together. The box has a beautiful picture full of the promise of beauty and enjoyment. But when you open the box, there are hundreds of tiny squares, all shapes and colors and you wonder if it will ever look like that box. Where do we start?

Piece by Piece.

Strategy #1: Set Attainable Goals – If I know that I have three months to learn my solo, I need to set a goal of how much I should learn week by week in order to pace it out. Let your teacher help you set these goals if you’re not sure how to do this. Make sure your weekly goal is not too high. Otherwise, you may get frustrated if you don’t achieve it. For example, instead of saying “I’m going to learn half of my solo by Friday,” say “I’ll learn two lines of my solo by Friday.” For beginning flute players, this may be four measures by Friday.

Strategy #2: Mark Your Music – Always mark accidentals, key signatures, and counts for difficult rhythms straight into your music. You may even want to use highlighters to color code your dynamics or other markings that you are likely to miss during the actual performance. As you are learning the piece, if you miss a note, mark it.

Strategy #3: Break Solo into Learnable Chunks – I’ve found that if I break my solo into learnable chunks first, it’s not so overwhelming. This also includes the difficult passages. Work on them first. Many people procrastinate when it comes to learning the runs or technical passages because, let’s face it, they are the hardest parts. The problem with this approach is that runs take the longest to learn. So if you start them early on, your fingers will develop enough muscle memory to sustain you through the pressure of the actual performance.

After you learn all the pieces of your solo, then you’re ready to start piecing the chunks together. You might add two parts together, then three, etc., until you can play the entire length of your solo.

Strategy #4: Use a Metronome – Always learn your solo under tempo. As a general rule, I teach my students to start out at half speed, and then work the tempo up slowly. Once you can play the entire solo at the slower speed, including the runs and technical passages, then you are ready to move the metronome up to the next tempo setting.

Strategy #5: Polish Your Solo – Allow yourself a few weeks before the performance to polish the piece and perfect it. It’s during this stage that you can continue to build speed if your solo requires it, and enhance the musical elements such as style, dynamics and vibrato. This is where the musical magic takes place.

Strategy #6: Don’t Procrastinate – There’s nothing worse than putting an entire puzzle together, only to find the last piece is missing. If you wait until the week before your solo to learn it or work on the challenging elements, you’ll be nervous when you go into perform and won’t know what’s going to come out of your flute. That beautiful picture you wanted to create in the beginning will most likely be a blurred version of the original and the musical magic will not take place.

Whatever strategies you choose to learn a solo, we have to start piece by piece until that musical image comes into view. Best of luck to you as you put together the musical puzzle of your solo.

*Reposted by Rachelle Harp, RH Music Studio, LLC from 2011

So You Want to Be a Music Major? Interview with Dr. Sydney Carlson

If you’ve been considered majoring in music after high school, what do you need to do to prepare? I’ve asked my former university professor, Dr. Sydney Carlson, to share her perspective on what you can do to be ready for the next level.

Dr. Carlson is currently the professor of flute at Portland State University and a member of the Portland Opera Orchestra. Throughout her career, Dr. Carlson has been on the faculty of University of Houston and Stephen F. Austin. Her students have been accepted for further studies at Yale, Cal Arts, the Curtis Institute, Rice, Baylor, the Paris Conservatoire at Versailles and the Boston Conservatory. She has performed with various orchestras and chamber groups around the world, including 15 seasons with the Houston Grand Opera, and holds music degrees from the Eastman School of Music, East Carolina University and the University of Houston. In addition, she has studied flutists Byron Hester, Bonita Boyd, and David Shostac, and performed in the master classes of Julius Baker, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Robert Aitken, Samuel Baron and James Walker. She has recorded on the Mark, Delos, Albany, Guild, CIEM, and Urtext Digital labels.

What is the difference between a university music program and a conservatory program?

Both have advantages. At a conservatory, you are immersed in a highly charged musical atmosphere. Universities can have more varied opportunities and allow students to change majors easily. Some universities have highly acclaimed music programs, for example, Indiana University, Northwestern University, Rice University or Boston University.

What are the advantages of local music school programs?

Instate tuition and local auditions cost less. You can also meet the teacher and see the school very easily.

Does attending a summer music program have any advantages for prospective music majors?

When you go to summer programs (like flute symposiums or workshops), you can talk to other students about their plans and the teachers they like. You can also get a feel about the teacher and how they feel about you. You will be spending a lot of time with this person, so be sure you “click”!

You may want to take a trial lesson with the teacher as well. Make sure to thank them with a card or email afterwards if you do.

If a flutist is auditioning, what do they need to know?

An in person audition is always best. However, taping the first round audition can save you money in the long run. If you go this route, plan early, secure a location and pianist if necessary, and work with a professional recording engineer. Allow yourself at least two sessions to record your audition.

After your audition, following up with a thank-you note or email to your prospective teacher is a great way to build a positive relationship.

What preparation tips do you have for prospective flute majors?

  • Take private lessons all year. Get used to practicing!
  • Take piano lessons in high school.
  • Take the music theory courses offered at your high school.
  • Participate in your school band and orchestra programs.
  • There are community programs, such as Youth Symphonies, Solo and Ensemble contests and studio recitals you can participate in.
  • Research prospective schools during your Sophomore and Junior years.
  • Attend Summer Programs and trial lessons during your Sophomore and Junior years.
  • During the summer going into your Junior year, choose schools and plan your audition repertoire
  • Start learning your audition repertoire during the spring of your Junior year.
  • Remember, you’ll have auditions early your Senior year and recordings to make, so early is better.
  • During the fall of your Senior year, make audition tapes and perform your repertoire with your pianist.

Full Biography
Highly sought after as a performer and teacher, flutist, Sydney Carlson joined the faculty of Portland State University in 2008. Currently a member of the Portland Opera Orchestra, she has appeared with the Oregon Symphony, Portland Ballet Orchestra and Portland Chamber Orchestra. She is a former member of the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. While in Houston she performed frequently with the Houston Symphony, Houston Ballet Orchestra, and contemporary ensemble, Musiqa.

Dr. Carlson was previously on the faculty at the University of Houston and Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. Her students have been accepted for further studies at Yale, Cal Arts, the Curtis Institute, Rice, Baylor, the Paris Conservatoire at Versailles and the Boston Conservatory.

She has served on the faculties, of the Texas Music Festival and the American Festival of the Arts as a chamber music coach, flute teacher and recitalist.International appearances include concerts in Mexico in the cities of, Xalapa, Veracruz; Mexico City and Merida She was invited to join the American Sinfonietta as principal flute on a tour of Europe and at the Bellingham Festival in WA.  In 2009 she made her recital debut in Guangzhou China.

Sydney holds degrees form the Eastman School of Music, East Carolina University and the University of Houston. She was privileged to study with Byron Hester, Bonita Boyd, and David Shostac. Additionally she has performed in the masterclasses of Julius Baker, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Robert Aitken, Samuel Baron and James Walker. She has recorded on the Mark, Delos, Albany, Guild, CIEM, and Urtext Digital labels.

So You Want to be a Music Major?

Choosing a college or university can be an overwhelming task: tests, grades, applications, auditions… Wait, did you say auditions? That’s right. If you want to be a Music Major, you’ll have to prepare about a 10 minute audition. Each university has their own requirements, so I’m listing some standard information that will help you prepare.

If you want to earn potential music scholarships, make sure you audition early. If you wait until the summer to audition, most likely, all the scholarships will have been handed out. Most auditions take place in the early part of the year (January or February) for the upcoming Fall semester. Preparation ahead of that is vital to a successful audition.

Most Universities Require:

* All Major Scales plus Chromatic for the range of the instrument (Some universities require memorization of scales)

* Two Pieces or Movements in contrasting style from standard repertoire (includes UIL Solo list). Examples include solos you’ve worked on from previous years. (Most require accompaniments.) Some Universities require specifics works such as the 1st Movement of the Mozart Concerto in G Major. Other lists to choose from include movements from the Poulenc Sonata, Hindemith Sonata, J.S. Bach Sonatas, or solo from the “French Music by French Composers” book. Check the school of music website for specific solo requirements.

Not as commonly required, but some Universities do ask:

* Minor Scales

* Etudes

Next week, my post will concern careers in music. What can I do with a music degree and what kind of degree should I get?

12 Tips for a Successful Audition

Auditions for next year’s band placements are right around the corner. The key to a successful audition: preparation! Cramming for an audition never works, so start today and you may find you kill some of those annoying butterflies that keep hanging around.

  1. No procrastination. If you wait until the week of, you won’t be prepared.
  2. Set a practice schedule and stick to it. Try practicing the same time of day and on the same days of the week for best results.
  3. Practice difficult scales or portions of your music for a longer time frame. Try 5-10 repetitions for each difficult scale, or 5-10 extra minutes on that difficult passage.
  4. Turn the TV and cell phone off while you practice to limit your distractions. Texting can wait.
  5. Relax! Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Don’t demand perfection – allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes and keep going. If you start dwelling on the bad stuff during the audition, you’ll wind up making more mistakes.
  6. Get a good night of rest the night before.
  7. On the day of the audition, take a walk beforehand. This will help get rid of some of the nervous energy and get the oxygen flowing.
  8. Eat a healthy breakfast and drink water. Avoid caffeine and sugary meals.
  9. Dress in comfortable clothes (professional if necessary) and bring a sweater.
  10. Allow yourself plenty of time to warm up before hand.
  11. Have fun and enjoy the music!
  12. Did I mention practice????

“Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail.” ~Sir James Galway

2014-15 Texas Flute All-State Music Announced

Check the TMEA website for official listings, errata, and performance guide.


Book: Flute Etudes Book by Mary Karen Clardy, published by Misc Corp. or Schott


Selection 1

Pages: 2-3

Key: C Major

Etude Title: Courante

Tempo: Quarter Note = 100-132

Play from Beginning to End (no repeats)



M. 44 – the 6th note should be a high F (not a G)

Change the articulation of m. 35 to match the articulation of m. 37 and 39 (the second beat should be slurred in groups of 2)

All slurs indicate with dashed lines (e.g. m. 4) should be slurred as usual.


Piccolo: Play low Cs one octave higher (8va) than printed. (m. 8 & m. 72)


Selection 2

Page: 58

Key: Bb Minor

Etude Title: Op. 107/28

Tempo: Dotted eighth note 50-72

Play from Beginning to End



Clarifications: All slurs that end with a staccato note under a slur should be slurred into and released as a short note.

Play the last notes of all slurs this way, with or without the staccato release.


m. 2 – 14th note should be B-flat

m. 2 – last note should be a sixteenth note

m. 4 – 11th note is A-flat (the accidental does not carry across the octave)

m. 6 – 21st note should be G-flat

m. 8 – 17th note should be C-natural

m. 12 – The third slur of this measure should begin one note earlier (on high E-flat) and continue to A-flat as written

m. 16 – The last note is B-flat

m. 16 – Add a sixteenth rest after the last note


Piccolo: play as written



Selection 3

Page: 36

Key: C# Minor

Etude Title: Op. 107/23

Tempo: Quarter note 38-46

Play from beginning to end



m. 9 – omit the dots from the eighth notes in beats 2 and 3. (The resulting rhythm will be an eighth note and four 32nd notes, NOT a dotted eighth not and four 64ths)

m. 11 – the second to last note should be  C-sharp



m. 3 and m. 12 – play the low C#s one octave higher (8va)

m. 15 – play the last 4 notes (G, F#, D, C#) one octave higher (8va)

m. 16 – play the 1st note (B#) one octave higher (8va)

m. 23, beat 3 – play the 1st 3 (D#, E, C#) notes one octave higher (8va)

m. 25 – play the last 12 notes (starting on the B-natural on the 2nd half of beat 2) one octave higher (8va)

m. 26 – play the C# one octave higher (8va)