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Overwhelmed? 5 Ways to Simplify Your Practice Schedule

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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:

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Flute Tuning Mythbuster #3: Long Tones are Boring and Don’t Do Me any Good

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Long tones are the key to building muscle control and developing your sound. If you want to have that sparkling sound of great flutists like Galway or Pahud, you have to add long tones into your daily drill.

Preparing for the Race:

Building the embouchure muscles will help develop pitch control as well. If you’re just skipping long tones and technical exercises, diving right into the music, you’re setting yourself up for bad intonation and little endurance. It’s like training for a marathon and deciding to run a lap or two around the track the days proceeding the race, and then being frustrated when you can’t run more than a mile or two of the marathon on the day of the race.

You have to prepare and train those muscles just like an athlete would prepare for their sporting event.

Tips for Successful Tone Building:

* Use a metronome set at 60-72.
* Practice the long tone exercises with repeats.
* Practice with your best sound all the time.
* Use a tuner as you practice tone builders.
* Practice to control your vibrato. Practice in triplet pulses, evenly.

Check out Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for Flute, Volume 1, Tone, or Marcel Moyse’s De La Sonorite for some great long tone exercises.

The Challenge:

Stop making excuses for not having time to practice tone builders. The only way to develop a beautiful sound, brilliant intonation, and sparkling vibrato is to work at it everyday. With focus and intentionality.

Try if for a week. See how much your sound improves, and you may find long tones become fun!

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?

Summer Practice Challenge

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Backward Scale Practice Challenge:

  • Try practicing your scales by starting on the highest note of the scale first. Play down two octaves, then up two octaves.
  • Practice each one all slurred, all even eighth or sixteenth notes, depending on your level.
  • Use a metronome to help you build speed.
  • Try this with all twelve major scales.

Good luck! Let me know how you do!

7 Tips to Surviving the All-Region Audition

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The feeling of crickets hopping around in the pit of your stomach. Secretly wanting to throw your flute out. Wishing you’d miss the bus to the audition so you don’t have to play for the judges.

Sounds like the All-Region auditions are closing in on you.

Everyone goes through those nervous moments. The key to surviving and conquering them: preparation. Check out these seven tips to crush those annoying crickets. And maybe in the process, you might end up with a chair in the coveted All-Region Band.

  1. Practice Today: Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when you win the lottery (wouldn’t that be awesome?). It’s always today. Procrastination never works.
  2. Routine Works: Set a practice schedule and stick to it. If possible, practice during the same time of day. Find a quiet room, free of distractions like Facebook, texting and TV. Use the Musician’s Practice Journal app for iPad and iPhone to help you log your time and activities. And don’t forget to use a metronome.
  3. Technique, Technique, Technique: Play your scales and arpeggios everyday. This will give you confidence and enhance your technique. The etudes are made up of tons of scales and arpeggios.
  4. Tackle the Tough Stuff: Mark the hardest measures, then practice them everyday, at least 5-10 times each. If there’s a crazy hard run, do the same thing. You can even break your etudes into manageable chunks to practice more efficiently. Check out Three Secrets to Efficient Practicing for more tips.
  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. Give Yourself Time: Get a good night of rest. On the audition day, eat a healthy breakfast. Drink water plenty of water. Dress comfortably. And get there early to have ample warm-up time.
  7. Enjoy the Music: Find the beauty in the notes. Try to express the music on the page. Isn’t that what makes the flute so amazing?

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

For more reading:

Upcoming High School Auditions

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Auditions for high school band are coming up soon (April/May depending on your school), so it’s best to prepare for them now. Here’s a scale practice plan to help you. I mixed up the scales so you wouldn’t have all of the difficult scales on one day. If you have more time to practice, try combing groups to practice two groups of scales a day. For best results, play each scale 5 times or more.

For a 5 Day Practice Week:

Group 1: Full Range Chromatic, Gb Major, Ab Major, Db Major

Group 2: Chromatic, B Major, D Major, G Major

Group 3: Chromatic, C Major (3 Octaves), Eb Major, F Major

Group 4: Chromatic, E Major, A Major, Bb Major

Group 5: Chromatic, Review your 3 Most Difficult Scales (My guess is C, B, and Gb)

Always use a metronome as you practice. Each week, try increasing your tempo by one click, and you’ll be amazed at how fast you can play your scales!

Chromatic Scale Challenge

Is the chromatic scale a little scary when it’s mentioned? All those sharps and flats. All those really high notes. They can be a little daunting. So why not make it a little easier to practice? Try this for a week and see how much your scale improves.

Play only two octaves of the chromatic scale at a time. Start on low C and slur up two octaves to C on the second ledger line above the staff, and then immediately back down to low C. Play all slurred, all even eighth notes. Play 5 times every day, slowly at quarter note = 80-100. Work on fingers staying close to the keys and always get your best sound.

After one week, do you see improvement? I’ll bet the answer is yes.

Week 2: Play low C# and slur up two octaves to C#(second ledger line) in the same method as above.

Week 3: Play low D and slur up two octaves to D above the staff. Continue this pattern each week until you reach third space C.

After a couple of months or so, your chromatic scale will dazzle. Try speeding it up as your fingers are able to play smoothly and evenly. Also, you might vary this by proceeding to the next higher note after two or three days instead of one week. It’s up to you. Have fun!