Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today's Practice Notes: Melting Like a Snow Cone in Phoenix

WARM-UP

What's more fun than warming up with long tones in the morning? Singing and playing! What's more fun than just singing and playing? Playing Ian Clarke's Tuberama while blasting the backing track on surround sound speakers!


Singing and playing is one of my favorite ways to warm up. I play a few test notes, then spend 5-15 minutes improvising with singing, beat-boxing, extended techniques, breathing exercises, and so forth. (Rhonda Larson's warm-up class at the Florida Flute Association Convention featured dancing while improvising to a beat track! Who says you can't have fun while warming up?)


PRACTICE NOTES

THE BODY, THE AIRSTREAM, & THE PHRASE

  • When the airstream has a sense of forward-moving energy, phrases have a sense of forward-moving energy. 
  • The phrase is supported by the airstream, and gives a sense of direction.
  • When the body is tense, frozen, or still, so is the airstream. The phrase lacks direction and life.
  • The airstream has fluidity and ease when the body has fluidity and ease. A phrase has life when the body is free, moving, resilient. Freedom leads to resonance.


RHONDA LARSON'S MOVIN' ON FOR SOLO FLUTE

My first flute teacher and band director is retiring after 27 years at my elementary school, and I have the great honor of performing at his retirement celebration, along with many other former students.
I decided to play Movin' On by Rhonda Larson: It's symbolic, it's beautiful, and it's a less-than-five-minute piece for solo flute!

I recorded myself playing close to tempo after I had warmed up, and felt as though I had a grasp on the sound and body feeling I wanted.

After watching the recording, I noted several things:
  • I noted the places where I stumbled the most, and used this as a guide to break the piece into chunks that I will focus on over the next week.
  • The first note of each measure is a low note, generally followed by higher notes. I observed my embouchure changing in every measure.
  • Because I felt the need to re-set my embouchure for the low notes that started each measure, I failed to blow through more than a measure at a time. It disturbed the phrase, and the notes lacked the "shimmering" quality I was after.

I chose to work on the first section that had a lot of hesitation, which begins on a low F.

"What would I tell my student?" 
Watching myself on the recording put me in the position of the observer, much like I am when I'm teaching. I am able to watch and think about what I could do differently, which is why recordings are an essential tool for speeding up the learning process.
  1. "Play a really tense low F. Lift the tongue in the mouth, tense the lips, jaw, throat, toes..."
  2. "Keep blowing, then melt into the floor. Melt the body around the airstream. Let go of everything. Go through a mental checklist of things let go of: A-O joint, tongue, ankles, fingers, eyelids, tailbone, jaw, eyebrows, ears... Keep going until you've gone too far, then begin to add back." (Try Kay Hooper's "Goldilocks Effort" from the book, Sensory Tuneups!)
Result
  • When my body was tense:
    • I felt overwhelmed and consumed mentally.
    • My sound was muffled and lacked "shimmer" or resonance.
    • I felt that I was not in control.
    • I couldn't hear myself due to the mental cloud that bodily tension caused.
  • After instructing myself to "melt:" 
    • I immediately sensed a mental shift: I became an observer and felt less panicked.
    • I felt that I was in control.
    • I could hear myself better.
    • My sound opened and resonated through the house. 
    • There was a natural vibrato that added life to the spinning sound.
    • There was direction and a sense of phrase in a single note. (See above!)
I went back to the original measure, playing slowly to maintain "melted-snow-cone-status." (I can't help a good Mrs. Doubtfire Reference!)



MORE WAYS TO PRACTICE
I love savasana in yoga, especially when the instructor gently guides you to relaxation from head to toe. (I always say, "Oh, wow!" when they mention "relaxing behind the eyes.")

Practice letting go in savasana, and try a guided meditation video. Observing and releasing tension in the body without a flute makes it easier to become aware of tension while playing.

Try Savasana-Inspired Long Tones to release tension while playing!