How to divide your practice up -The Skeleton of it all!!!
Many students are in the dark about how to practice effectively and especially how much time to spend on each aspect of their daily practice routine. I often also b find that many students spend too much time daily on their pieces and not enough time daily on what I call the basics of playing the flute…. at least that is what I have observed in many students who have come to me as “transfer” students. Many times I am actually astonished to find that the only music they have worked on are pieces( or as students nowadays call repertoire…. “songs”)!
In my opinion daily practice of only pieces is simply not an efficient way to improve or to get better on the flute. I firmly believe that repertoire should be the “dessert of our practice” and should be approached daily only after one has spent quite a considerable amount of time working seperately first on what I call the basics of practice: that is tone exercises . technique excercises and etudes. Pieces simply should be practiced only after all the rest of these basics have been done! I also believe practice should divided up into sections because I feel repertoire needs to be approached musically and not as fodder for perfecting the technical elements of flute playing. Practincg a piece for overcoming technical elements cannot be helpful in developing musicality because if we have to focus on technique perfection when we pactice a piece….. we cannot also focus on playing musically and epressively. And I firnly believe that the technique of playing the piece should not get in our way of practicing to playi musically !
So, with this in mind below are some suggestions for how to effectively schedule your daily practice sessions in a way that I believe will help you end up improving faster and also end up helping to use your limited practice time more efficiently so that when you do get to your pieces ( at the end!!) you not only will enjoy them more ,but you also will end up playing them much better.
In general, assuming you are planning to practice two hours a day, the regime described below is how I suggest my students divide up their practice time The first half hour should be spent on tone:Here are some suggestions for tone excercises:
a. start with the Moyse De La Sonorite exercise number 1 first in the low register
b.Then add Trevor Wye’s slow melodic tunes in the low register.
c. After that do some harmonic exercises to get ready to move into the midlle register.
d. when your lips and embourchure are ready move into the middle register with some of the Suzuki/Takahashi exercises from the Flute Book #1.
e. Then do the entire Moyse tone exercise in threes: loud and then repeated soft from B 2 down chromatically.
f. finaly move up into the High register with the Moyse excercise #1 going up and finsih up with the Baker tone study for virbrato ( the “high tone study”)
Your second half hour of practice should move you into technical studies such as the Taffanel Gaubert Daily Excercises. (or the Reichert Studies or whatever else your teacher has you working such as the Pares etc studies) Here are some suggestions for those of you working in the Taffanel – Gaubert Studies.
a. First do T-G Number 1 all slurred then double tongued.
b. Then move to number 4 and play through the entire section with as many of the varied articulations listed in the beginning of the excercise. as possible.
c. Finally finish up with the sevenths Arpeggio study from the T-G all slurred and then double tongued.
By now your lips, tone and fingers should be ready for the third half hour segment of your daily practice routine: Etudes: If you are working in Andersen studies, do them now or Altes or Berbiguier etc. I recomend spending at least 30 minutes on this portion of your daily pracice.
And only now lastly should you move onto the final segment of your daily practice routine: your pieces.When practicing your pieces a very effective way to learn how to play more musically is to focus on the so-called “skeleton” of each phrase.
Practicing with this method involves breaksing sections down into melodies based on the most important notes in each phrase. By practicing this way you can then add notes back …. little by little…. onto each phrase so that you end up playing the entire phrase as written but intelligently and don’t end up playing the written phrase randomly or worse…. not expressively. By the time you get all of the notes put back after only playing the most important ones in each phrase first , the manner in which you want to perform that phrase will be totally clear to you! You will know how it should go. By practicing the skeleton first we can therfore learn to play more musically! (BTW, If you have an orchestra concert coming up ( or band) I suggest that you can substitue your band or orchestra parts to this “skeleton” section of your daily practice.) Notice that in order to do this, you cannot and definitely should not have to focus on any technicaly aspect of the piece. That should have been taken care of from your previous practice of tone excerciese, technical excerecises and etudes.. At this point you want to focus completely on how to play your piece expressively and musically. Nothing should interfer with that objective!
Also notice how much time I reccommend you spend on what I call these fundamentals… tone,technique and etudes…. and how little comparatively speaking time, I reccommend you spend on your repertoire… whether it may be pieces, of orchestra/band parts. I firmly believe that we get better by practicing and perfecting our playing in these three technical aspects of the flute daily rather than by playing peices only( or excerpts or orchestra/band parts.)
I also firmly believe that when we practice in the manner desctibed above spending three quarters of our time on those tcchnical aspects of playing , the rest tends to fall into place. This is so because we are perfecting our control of the intrument seperately from our practice of the musical aspects of our playing……and therefore we can focus on the musical aspect of phrasing in the manner descibed above( the ‘skeleton” method ) without worrying about the technical aspects of our pieces….since we have already practiced that in our previous three segments of our daily pracice. So by this point we are therefore ready to work on the music and it’s interpretation…
I know that many teachers and students do not approach practicing in this manner. However, I personally have found that this is the most effective way to get better and I urge all of my students to approach their daily practice in this manner. I also teach all my lessons this way too; Starting each lesson with first with tone studies , then technique , then etudes and only lastly do I hear students playing pieces.
I believe that this is not only the most effective way to divide our practice up daily, it is also the best way to end up playing musically and more imprtantly …….expressively….. Which is surely the point of why we do what we do…..that it to play expressively and communicate our love of music to our listeners!
I am also …. and I am sure you …. are also ….. all for …..as Trevor Wye says repeatedly in his books…. wanting to “spend more time at the beach”……..AND at the same time are all for getting better at playing the flute ……. therefore we all need to be as efficient and as effective in our daily practice as possbile .. and we cannot not waste any time ….which none of us have in abundance for practicing….. so…..I hope these suggestions will help everyone to be as efficient as possible wiht our limied resources for practice time daily ( and will also enable all of us to spend more time at the beach this summer and at the same time also get better at flute playing!!)