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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


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,

Dealing With Braces: 5 Steps to Reclaiming Your Flute Tone

20120830-151544.jpg You just got braces and your mouth hurts. Your teeth are sore. When you pick up your flute, only airy sounds whimper out. Relax. Don’t panic.

It’s going to be okay.

With enough patience and diligent practice, your beautiful sound will sing out once again.

5 Steps to Reclaim Your Tone

  1. Be Patient: Don’t try to practice lots of technical exercises right off the bat. For the first week, play lots of low notes. Slow and slurred. Add the middle register the second week. When you’re ready (probably the third week), add the high register.
  2. Practice in Shorter Intervals: Start out in 10-15 minute intervals. Take breaks in between to rebuild your embouchure. Do this several times a day for best results.
  3. Tone Builders: Don’t worry about sound quality right now. It will improve over time. Just play! Start with the low register, then build higher. You may not want to even try high notes for a few days after you first get your braces on. (see tip #1)
  4. Octave Slurs: Add octave slurs when you can play both low and middle register notes. Start with low E. Play low, then high without tonguing. I recommend half notes or whole notes. Repeat several times on each note, then go to the next higher note (i.e.  F, F#, G, etc.).
  5. Use a Mirror: Chances are, your aperture location has shifted since you now have a further distance between your lips and teeth. Use the mirror ever day to see how you need to readjust your aperture with so it’s lined up with the center of the tone hole. You may also need to adjust your angle of air down into the flute more.

For some, adjusting to flute life with braces can take a few months. Others, only a few weeks. It really depends on how much you practice, and how smart you practice.

You may have to repeat these steps after future orthodontist visits. Most likely, they won’t be as difficult as the first time. Cool thing is, braces are only temporary. In the mean time, these tips will help your tone sparkle, even with braces.

* For further reading, check out this article on Jennifer Cluff’s Flute Blog. She has a cool idea of how to use masking tape on the embouchure plate to improve tone.

Alternate Flute Fingerings for the 3rd Register

If your third register is screaming at you, sometimes you may need a little extra help to bring the pitch down. Don’t throw your flute. Check out these alternate fingerings for the third register instead.

With a great embouchure and controlled air, these should make those sharp notes lose their edge.

  • Alternate E3:


  • Alternate F3:


  • Alternate F#3:


  • Alternate G#3/Ab3:


Check out Larry Krantz’s Flute Website for more options:

7 Apps Every Musician Should Use


Who says practice time has to be inefficient and take our entire day? With so many technologies available to musicians, we can hone our craft more productively. And save tons of time in the process. These apps have helped both me and my students to find success on the flute.

Check them out:

  • ForScore: The digital age of music is here. Keep all of your printed music stored and organized on your iPad or other device so you don’t have to lug tons of bulky books around. You can even sync recordings from your iTunes account to a particular piece of music. And you can write notes on the music, including accidentals or other directions for performance. There’s even an optional blue tooth foot pedal you can purchase if you want hands-free page turns.
  • Tonal Energy: By far the best metronome and tuner app I’ve found. It’s easy to use and has so many features. You can adjust it to work for you. The tuner settings allow you to adjust the sensitivity from low, normal or high. There’s a visual graph of your sound so you can see if your tone or vibrato is steady. Plus numerous other features, including a metronome with sub-division capabilities.
  • Musician’s Practice Journal: Record your practice times and activities to track your musical progress. You can even view charts compiled from your data to monitor your practice habits and see what you’re spending your time practicing.
  • Notability or Evernote: If you want to keep track of your progress on an etude or solo, try Notability or Evernote. You can take a picture of your embouchure and record segments of your playing and plug the recording right into the note you created. Evernote and Notability both organize your files so they’re easy to recall later.
  • Pandora Radio and YouTube: Listen or watch hundreds of thousands of flute recordings – all for free! Search terms like flute, James Galway or Emanuel Pahud (just a few examples) and watch or listen to the pros. Anytime you want. Many give professional advice and tips for success through the videos they’ve recorded. Did I mention it was free?

What apps have you found to help you as a musician?

Gift Ideas for Flutists

Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re like me, you may be a little behind in your shopping. But, have no fear. Check out these awesome gift ideas for the flutist at your house.

  • Solexa Thumbport: Aids in right hand position and balance of the flute. Perfect for flutists with longs fingers.


  • Collapsible Flute Stand by K&M: Folds up for easy transportation.


  • P.E.T.E.: This Personal Embouchure Trainer by Warburton helps condition the muscles for a stronger, more reliable embouchure. Make sure to get the one for woodwind players.


  • iTunes Gift Card To download music or music apps.
  • Flute Gig Bag: To carry all your flute stuff in style.
  • Flute CDs: Some of my favorite flutists are Emmanuel Pahud (“Paris” CD), Sir James Galway (“Music for my Friends” CD) and Mark Sparks (“Recital Works” CD), but there are dozens of other fabulous performers out there to choose from.
  • Flute Music Books: Publishers put out hundreds of flute books, with everything from classical to your favorite movie themed books, to Christmas, Broadway, Country, Pop or more.
  • Manhassett Music Stand: So many cool colors are available!


  • Crystal Flute: For the fun of it!


  • Flute Jewelry: Earrings, necklaces, bracelets and more!


  • Flute Figurines


Check out these trustworthy music stores: (I have no affiliation with them, I’ve just ordered from them all many times through the years!)

Flute Fingering App for iPad and iPhone


Finally, an app for flute and piccolo that is easy to use, and is helpful when you forget which trill key to use for C to D. Or when you wonder, how do I play a tremolo from D# to F#?

Check out Fingering Woodwinds by Patrick Q. Kelly for iPad and iPhone, available for download on iTunes.

Outstanding Features Include:

  • Easy to read graphics and note selection.
  • Touch screen interface.
  • Standard fingerings for C1-C4.
  • Frequently used alternate fingerings.
  • Trills for major and minor 2nd.
  • Tremolo fingerings for major and minor 3rd.
  • Note play back so you can hear the pitch of the note or trill/tremolo.


  • The range for piccolo has not been adjusted, so disregard the low B, C, C# fingerings listed.
  • There are no fingerings listed for flute above High C.

Overall, this app is the best I’ve seen for flute and piccolo fingerings. I am not familiar with the fingerings for the other instruments included, so I can’t speak for those. This is a great app, worth the price for fast, portable reference.