Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back to School!

Packing, moving, unpacking, upper respiratory infection, auditions, buying a new piccolo, getting to know a new city, new school, new people, hurricane panic...

A lot is happening. But mostly, I'm thrilled to be starting the semester as a teaching assistant at Florida State.

Because the practice rooms at FSU do not have music stands in them, I've felt encouraged to spend more time working in front of the mirror.

Today, I decided to open my mouth, stick my tongue out, and take a look at the back of my mouth and throat. The photo from the Soft Palate post is helpful.

In doing so, I realized that there's more space back there than I realized. I consciously know that the back of my tongue is the front of my throat, but in observing it in the mirror, I was able to understand how air moves up and out of my wind pipe and into my mouth. I could envision air spilling up and over my tongue. Additionally, I was able to relax my tongue, knowing that only the tip is necessary for articulation. After experimenting, I was able to double-tongue faster and with more "support." 

What does "support" mean? My next post will identify what "support" is and is not.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Soft Palate

Another quickie:

While attempting to play fluidly in the low register at a warm mezzo-forte, I found myself wanting to adjust to avoid cracked notes. I found myself pulling my embouchure back, which forced me to adjust within my mouth.

I know that being aware of the soft palate and the volume inside the mouth can increase resonance, so I reminded myself to "notice the soft palate," "allow the soft palate to lift."

(The soft palate is the "back" of the roof of the mouth. Trace your tongue along the roof of your mouth moving backwards. Towards the front, the roof of the mouth feels hard. As you move back, you reach a point where it becomes softer, almost squishy. This is the soft palate.) 

Upon bring the soft palate into my awareness, I felt less need to pull my embouchure back. I had more control over my lips to shape the more fluid airstream that I was producing.

I find it helpful to picture the journey of the air while I breathe and play. I remind myself what movements are necessary to breathe, and I inhibit anything that could interrupt a natural breath, such as tension within the mouth.

Air comes first because it creates the sound. The lips shape the air. 

This simple equation reminds me of the fundamentals while practicing, and helps me resolve issues such as cracked notes and lack of resonance.

Relaxed Ears = Better Double-Tonguing?

Goodbye, Hamptons. I've ended work at the golf club and moved back home for a week. This time next week, I'll be in my new apartment in Florida!

I have four days at home to practice and pack, and my flute is like new after a COA. (My repairman is like a therapist. A new cork in the headjoint and I'm smiling once again.)

In my mad rush to feel confident with all of my audition repertoire, I came up with a new, helpful direction to avoid tension while double-tonguing.

I am practicing the third movement of CPE Bach's Concerto in D Minor. It is meant to be incredibly fast: every recording I've heard is a blazing prestissimo. While playing it up to tempo, I noticed tension in my head. It felt like I was tensing my ears.

So, I give myself a healthy intention: "Play with relaxed ears."

Big surprise: Tension reduction led to faster, smoother double-tonguing. (Who knew?!)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Making Slow Practice Meaningful

Is it just me? Or am I being haunted by slow practice?

Tons of articles are popping up about slow practice. A stranger visited and discussed it with me in my kitchen. People discuss practicing golf slowly at work. I swear I saw a commercial about it:
Erica Sipes from Beyond the Notes graciously shared these quotes on her Facebook page:

"One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly.
-- Camille Saint-Saens

"....You cannot achieve speed by speedy practice. The only way to get fast is to be deep, wide awake, and slow. When you habitually zip through your music, your ears are crystallizing in sloppiness." ....Pray for the patience of a stonecutter. ....Pray to understand that speed is one of those things you have to give up - like love - before it comes flying to you through the back window."
-- The Listening Book by W.A. Mathieu, p. 101.

Slow practice is consuming my thoughts. So how has this influenced my most recent practice sessions?

A quote from Bill Plake sums it up nicely: "The main aim of slow practice: to learn how to move from note to note through release and balance."
Slow practice has become a wonderful opportunity for me to really integrate body mapping techniques. I've become aware of how I change from note to note. I find that I tense my neck at certain moments, my arms at others. It's like turning a microscope on: bad habits jump right out.

It is important to practice with intention. Therefore, a high level of awareness is necessary to observe, experiment, discover, and memorize healthy performance habits. And there are many things to become consciously aware of when practicing. 

When I practice slowly, I'm memorizing how it feels to play with... inclusive awareness, balance, freedom at the joints, awareness of spinal movements, a grounded feeling/equal contact of feet on the floor, freedom of the jaw and face, space between the teeth, freedom of the tongue, effective volume of the oral cavity, ease of vision, a feeling of release in the arm structures, awareness of rib movement, inhibition of my habit to maintain expansion by tensing...

And I used to think slow practice was boring.

While practicing with physical awareness, I'm naturally finding a greater musical awareness.

I continuously find that performing with ease of the body leads to easy, natural expression. Logical phrases feel intuitive. Interpretations become more compelling. Breathing is not a concern. All of it feels easy. 

That's why I'm practicing slowly.