Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to Learn New Flute Repertoire: Results Guaranteed! (Part 3: Unlocking the Music)

How to Learn New Flute Repertoire: 
Results Guaranteed! 
Part 3: Unlocking the Music

After listening thoughtfully to different recordings of your piece and building a strong foundation with all of the technical passages, it's time to truly unlock the music in your new piece of flute repertoire. If you haven't yet completed the first two parts of "How to Learn New Flute Repertoire: Results Guaranteed!" click on the links below to go back. 

Begin with your "Ta-Da" list and look at the items you wrote down having to do with lyrical passages, intonation challenges, tone/breathing work and anything that you didn't tackle during your patient technical practice.  I recommend starting at the beginning of the piece and working forward or starting at the end and working backward (my favorite). 

Use any or all of the following practice methods on each project:

Tempo Therapy

1. Tempo Therapy ... for breathing and overall interpretation

Just like psychotherapy and even aromatherapy can lift your mood and improve your health, Tempo Therapy can give you a renewed connection to the character and style of a melody, ease your note to note transitions, reveal phrase structure and bring natural destination notes to light.  It helps a lot with breathing, intonation and vibrato, too! Tempo Therapy is ideal for slow, lyrical passages and passages with long, sustained notes.

To use Tempo Therapy as a practice tool, play a lyrical passage at an extremely fast tempo (way faster than would ever be appropriate in a performance of the piece) and keep working until all notes, rhythms and articulations are accurate and clear (if this is challenging, use the techniques from Part 2: Patient Practice to accomplish this). Now, just as you would normally start a fast passage slowly and "work it up" start at the fast tempo for this lyrical passage and "work it down."  

10 metronome clicks, 5 clicks, or my preferred method of 7 clicks slower each time, try the passage again and again, each time refining your approach. As you arrive at performance tempo for your slow, lyrical passage you will feel the benefit of having a "bird's eye view" rather than feeling stuck in a note to note mentality.  Trust me on this, I know you will love Tempo Therapy once you give it a chance!         

Flute Loops!

2. Flute Loops ... for intonation and connection to harmonies

Loops are a wonderful practice tool for attaining effortless technique with challenging runs (I like to play any ascending or descending patterns forward and backward, slurred, three times in a row, making one time forward a breeze!). To aid with excellent intonation and familiarity with harmonies, however, I like to use loops in a slightly different way.  

Select a passage of music (as large or small as needed) that poses intonation challenges.  Either with pencil and staff paper or simply in your mind, rearrange the pitches so that they form an ascending or descending pattern (this will often end up feeling like a scale with extra notes, a scale that is missing notes or just a familiar scale!).  Play slowly up and down the pattern you've assembled with a beautiful tone.  

If you've chosen a small section of music, I highly recommend adding the piano into the mix!  Either play all of the notes in your selection (in the order you created) on the piano at the same time and hold the right pedal down OR play notes from the piano harmony you find in the score and hold the right pedal down.  While the chord or cluster is still ringing in the air, play your beautiful Floot Loops, taking care to blend your sound with that of the piano. 

Patience and dedication with Flute Loops yields wonderful results.  Rather than trying to deal with tuning on a note to note basis and/or using a static tuner or even drone, you can hear the notes of your passage in relationship to each other and actual harmonies from your piece!  I believe you will find a great increase in your ability to play the passage in tune when you return to playing the notes in their original order. 

3. Close Your Eyes ... for connection to the music

This may seem like a simple practice technique and... well... it is!  It's simple and also very important.  Take each melody or lyrical passage in your piece and be sure that you can play through it at least once or twice with your eyes closed.  If you are having trouble doing this, try my technique of standing close to your music stand while you read the phrase and then taking a step back before playing it again.  Each time you take a step back, the music will be farther away and harder to read, yet your mind does a wonderful job of "filling in the blanks."  After 10-15 steps back, it should be relatively easy to close your eyes and imagine what the phrase looks like on the page. 

Another option is simply to give Close Your Eyes a try and then keep referring back to the page for reminders until you are able to play through a couple times without looking at all.

Don't stress out about this practice technique.  You don't necessarily have to play the whole piece from memory at one time.  Just work on one phrase at a time and give yourself the experience of listening rather than looking.  You will feel much more of a connection with the music when you are not entirely dependent on the page. 

Memorize and Walk About

4. "Memorize and Walk About" or "Rinse and Repeat"
... for refining interpretation and accuracy

In order to truly connect with each melodic passage and begin to play the music "like you mean it," you have to internalize many things.  If playing the music with your eyes closed was pretty easy for you, I recommend doing a Memorize and Walk About. Memorize a melody or lyrical passage and walk around the room, playing the music many, many times.  You could play your selection while:

- Sitting on your bed
- Looking out your window
- Standing on one foot
- Looking in the mirror (lots of benefits to this one!)
- Dancing with the musical gestures
- Marching to the beat
- Walking across the room
- Sitting cross legged on the floor
- Looking at a painting

... and anything else you can think of!

Rinse and Repeat

Whether or not you would like to try this step memorized, you should definitely Rinse and Repeat. I like to think of rinsing and repeating, rather than just straightforward repetition, because each time you repeat a musical passage, you should take care to clean up at least one thing.  It could be your technique, your dynamics, your gestures (going to a destination note), your breathing, your vibrato, anything!  If you repeat something one hundred times just for the sake of repeating it, you have basically cemented yourself in at exactly your current level.  If, however, you take care to clean up a little each time you repeat, a hundred repetitions could create something truly beautiful and far more mature and elegant than your original version. 

Sing, Sing, Sing!

5.  Sing, Sing, Sing! ... for so many things!

If you've read other posts on my blog, I'm hoping the concept of singing and flute playing being incredibly related has begun to stick with you.  Whether singing your piece correct octaves and all (in the privacy of your room), humming your music along with a wonderful recording in the car, or actually singing AND playing your flute at the same time (a truly miraculous way to clear up tone, note transitions and melodic contour), you should strive to Sing, Sing, Sing your new piece!

For a very effective method of using singing to connect to your piece, try Making Up Your Own Lyrics to suit different melodic passages. 

Make up your own lyrics!


I hope you have enjoyed trying these approaches to learning your new piece for flute.  If you have sincerely tried each of the steps I described in Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Patient Practice and Part 3: Unlocking the Music, taking care to apply multiple steps to each section of your solo, I guarantee that you now have much more familiarity and connection with the music, which will allow you to incorporate the entire work into your daily practice routine.  Use any or all of the practice techniques you find on this blog, in your private lessons, during orchestra/band rehearsals (and on your own) to continue working toward your soon to be amazing performance of this piece!

Before, during and after you are in the process of learning a new piece of music, I hope you will be enthusiastic about including many other elements of excellent music preparation. You can (and should!) be reading everything you can about the composer, soaking up everything you can about the time period and style in which your piece was written, listening to recordings, attending concerts and more! 
Have you read all three parts of "How to Learn New Flute Repertoire: Results Guaranteed!" and are still having trouble actually getting started?  Try reading Steps 1, 2 and 3 to get you going!