When I first started college as a music major, I had no idea how to practice. It was always easier to work on ensemble music or solo repertoire for the next deadline because it felt "real." Because warm-ups, exercises, etudes, and other repertoire didn't feel as real, it was always easy to put them off until "next time," "sometime," or "later."
Even when I was determined to have a great practice session with a challenging piece of music, I couldn't easily figure out specific practice plans and would often resort to just "running through" the piece. When I was done running through it, I felt (mistakenly) like my choice was to run through it again or put my flute away.
You or your students have probably had some experience with feeling stuck because there is too much to do or not enough to do.
Use the following list of ideas as a kick in the pants or just a simple answer to the question, "What do I practice next?"
What to Practice Next
1. That hard part that's been secretly bugging you.
If you're honest with yourself, you know there are moments in your current assignments (from a teacher or self-assigned) that are not up to par. Enjoy the self-esteem that comes from conquering your challenges!
2. Any solo or exposed parts in your ensemble music.
The next time you're in rehearsal and get a chance to shine in special musical moments that you've practiced in advance, you'll thank yourself!
3. Tricky tuning spots.
Instead of blaming other musicians or feeling frustrated, work on playing beautifully in tune with yourself, the piano, a tuner, and drones, so that next time you need to tune with others you will have more confidence and clarity.
4. Fast passages that need rock solid muscle memory.
Even if you feel like you've "learned" all of the fast passages in your current musical projects, odds are that you could still achieve faster tempos, more clarity, more familiarity, and more confidence!
5. Warm-ups that help you play your best.
Don't be shy about spending a ton of time on warm-ups before or even in the middle of a practice session. The more you develop your tone, breathing, embouchure flexibility, vibrato, dynamic range, and color palette, the more polished your overall flute playing will become!
6. Exercises that address fundamental skills you want to improve.
Flutists don't get good at advanced skills like tapers, gorgeous vibrato, dramatic dynamic contrast, etc. by just thinking about them. You have to actually do these skills over and over again to gain mastery!
7. Etudes to keep your mind sharp and your reading skills in shape.
Contrary to what some flutists may think, etudes are not just instruments of torture :-). Think of practicing etudes like video games, daily physical exercises, or practice versions of solo music. The more you play, the easier they get. The easier it is for you to play etudes, the easier it is to play all of your music!
8. Orchestral excerpts you may play in future auditions.
If you're a young flutist without orchestral auditions coming up soon, you can still listen to great orchestral works and print orchestral flute parts from imslp.org to play along! If you are aspiring to create a music career, you definitely want to become more familiar with orchestral literature.
9. Scales, scales, and more scales!
Scales can be used to practice every kind of flute skill and also help you gain total comfort with all the major and minor key signatures. Play your scales staccato, legato, fast, slow, loud, soft, and in any other form that helps you improve areas of your flute playing that you know need improving.
10. Music that you love now or would love to play in the future!
No music is off-limits to you. Play music from your favorite soundtracks (Disney included!), music you've loved playing in the past, or music you've dreamed of playing. Life is too short to feel like you are limited in your musical choices. There are so many wonderful things to play... enjoy unlimited freedom of choice!
P.S. Most people spend $40 or more on Starbucks each month. Would you consider donating $40 or more to the Maverick Flute Choir GoFundMe Campaign? If you do, you'll receive a beautiful copy of The Musician's Inspirational Practice Journal!