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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:

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?

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.

You Can do that on the Flute? A YouTube Look at Extended Flute Techniques

Flute music isn’t just for your grandma these days. With extended techniques such as circular breathing, singing through your flute, and beat-boxing, modern flute music looks a lot different than Mozart and Bach days. So how do you create these cool effects?

Check out these videos by some amazing flutists to learn how.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these cool flute techniques. Feel free to comment below. Happy practicing!

Tongue Stops – video by Zara Lawler


Flutter Tonguing – video by Zara Lawler


Singing Techniques, “Throat Tuning” – video by Robert Dick


Singing Through the Flute – video by Nina Perlove


Multiphonics (Playing more than one note at a time) – video by Robert Dick


Beat-Boxing Flute – video by Greg Patillo


Pizzacato, Beat-Boxing, Clicks, Jet Whistle, and Beat-Boxing – video by Nicole Chamberlain


Circular Breathing – video by Helen Bledsoe


Breathy Flute Sounds – video by Zara Lawler


Air and Percussive Sounds – video by Helen Bledsoe

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