Sunday, March 21, 2010

Practice Modes

I divide practicing into six modes. Here is a brief overview of each.

1. Required Practice Mode (RPM): In this mode, you practice dutifully to get your required amount of hours in (or a certain number of scales, etudes, tasks, etc.). This can be very effective if you are the kind of person that likes routine and structure. Within this structure, you can experience any of the other practice modes. (If you're like me, RPM is not your cup of tea).

2. Emergency Practice Mode (EPM): This is NOT a desirable mode of practice. EPM occurs when your lesson is tomorrow, your concert is in a couple of days or your audition is next week and you feel like you are not ready. The characteristics of EPM are negative thinking, panic mentality, and bad habits. Squeezing the flute too tightly, not breathing well and "forcing" are all symptoms of EPM. Good news! There a way to practice at the "last minute" and not resort to EPM methods. Though it is ideal to be prepared well in advance of a deadline, it doesn't have to be the end of the world if you aren't. Try using the other modes...

3. Neutral Practice Mode (NPM): This mode is quite handy and a neat little trick to stumble into a more positive mode of practice. In NPM, simply go about your warm-up, technique practice and even your repertoire practice in a casual, almost nonchalant mode. Make no judgments whatsoever! Though it is normal and helpful to listen critically, in NPM, you are freed of the responsibility. If you feel like going back and correcting things, then do - but it might be fun to simply play your flute freely, completely separate from "right and wrong." What's great about NPM is that you might stumble onto a new sound color or method of playing a challenging passage that you never noticed before in RPM (and especially not in EPM!). If you truly let go of ALL judgment and allow yourself to simply go through the motions of playing (in a care-free way, not in a robotic way), you might find that sooner than later you have found a way to transition into MPM, DPM or even IPM!

4. Discovery Practice Mode (DPM): DPM can sound a little strange to someone listening outside the door of your practice room. DPM is that mode in which you might try a certain phrase or mini-phrase 20 times, emphasizing a different note each time. DPM is basically "experimental repetition." Experimental repetition is not at all like "drilling repetition" (of which I am not a very big fan). When you experiment as you try something many times, there is always a subtle change. DPM is a very flexible kind of practicing and centers around listening, exploring and being very open to the limitless choices and possibilities in any piece of music.

5. Motivated Practice Mode (MPM): MPM is when you are pumped up by some external motivator. Maybe you are fired up to get first chair at your next chair test or win a prize your next competition. This mode is a powerful tool that can really bump up your skill level and help you to polish your interpretation of the piece you are working on. It's a wonderful practice mode if you keep a few ground rules in mind. The ground rules are as follows. 1) Remember that music is the MOST IMPORTANT THING. Awards may come and go, but digging deep into what a piece means to you and what it can give to your audience is a reward that will last forever. 2) Be extremely careful not to slip into EPM. Remember, bad habits are one of the symptoms. If you sense yourself slipping into EPM, take a break, do some stretches, some inspirational listening, or maybe some slow warm-ups to get your head on straight. 3)Remind yourself that only when you truly let go of the outcome (of the competition, chair test, etc.) will you even have a chance of giving a brilliant performance. Be okay with not winning the prize and ironically, you will have a much better chance!

6: Inspired Practice Mode (IPM): This is by far the most lovely mode to practice in! IPM occurs in a number of different situations. I am in IPM after I've had a great lesson with my teacher and new light bulbs have gone off. I am in IPM when I've heard an amazing, "goosebumpy" performance on youtube (or even better - live!) and I can't wait to get my flute out. When I've put in my time with DPM and MPM, IPM seems to come a lot more easily. The older I get and the more I learn about music and music performance, I find more and more ways to achieve IPM. The following are symptoms of IPM. 1)You find yourself spontaneously smiling after playing a certain passage. 2) You actually give yourself goose bumps. 3) You feel connections in your brain (oh! I never realized that before... or oh wow! That seems so easy now...). 4) You feel your sense of self-confidence on the rise. 5) You begin looking forward to your performance, visualizing how a certain phrase will sound when you are dressed up and your audience is on the edge of their seats, captivated by every note. 6) You wouldn't trade places with anyone in the world right now. It's just too much fun to be you, playing this piece, right here, right now. You are "in the moment."

by Terri Sanchez