Some Practice Ideas

A few thoughts after some days of intensive practice. My focus has been awareness of tension, since I have a few sore points on my hands due to an old injury. One concept from yoga has helped me. According to what I have learned, the arm structure is considered an open system, whereas the legs are a closed system due to the fact that they end with the feet on the ground (at least when standing). In flute playing, the arms are also sort of closed system; they end with the fingers on the flute. But I like to imagine that in spite of that, they are open systems. Just that feeling that they could continue to extend if they wanted. Same with the legs while performing, even though they are grounded, I like the idea of them being an entire structure that could extend if needed.

It is very important for me to think of extension not only as motion away, but with a twist. Pretend you have a knob that’s straight in front of you and just beyond your reach. Bring your right arm out to reach for the knob. Bring your shoulder blade from the back with you while reaching out, but make sure the shoulders are not raised. Rotate the entire arm outwards (as if you want to turn the knob to the right with your whole arm).  Then, leaving your upper arm (the part nearest the shoulder above the elbow) as is, rotate only the lower arm and your palms in (as if turning that knob back to the left). Then bring the arm into playing position (let the shoulder blade come back with the arm). When I do this, I have a better feeling of security and freedom. Repeat with the left arm, first turning the knob to the left with the entire arm, then back to the right with only the lower arm.

The other thing I have to tell myself is not to get tense about tension. If at the end of a phrase I notice my leg is stiff, so what? Just unstiffen it and get on with it. The point is, I noticed it. I have to remind myself this is a process. If there is time, repeat the passage with better awareness, to find out which action made me try to support with my leg. And then hopefully laugh at my ridiculous notion that a locked knee can help with my high note. Better than beating yourself up.

And Mula bandha really helps! (It is NOT the squeezing of those other cheeks that some refer to.) Awareness of the pelvic floor is a positive way to exercise awareness, to get away from being too vigilant about the negative or unproductive things. I once had a male flutist tell me “but I don’t have a pelvic floor” and I was gullible enough for a microsecond to actually look down to see if his insides had spilled out onto the ground from between his legs. Guys, you do have pelvic floors. It is part of the blueprint for human anatomy.

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Getting Back in the Saddle

I noticed a strange thing about getting back in shape after the last winter break. I was frustrated and, to be honest, a little frightened at how long it took to retrieve my “norm”, and wondered if it was a dire sign of things to come. I decided to blog about it, not only because most of us have a winter break before us, but to find out if I am the only person to have come up with the solution that I did.

My problem was sound, so I worked on all the “sound” things I was taught. Sonority, harmonics, melodies, whatever I could think of. Even articulation exercises, as sometimes if I to some forward tonguing, my lips are really encouraged to focus and relax. But that didn’t really help. Nothing seemed to really get the fuzz out. However, after a week or so (yes, it was that long!) I decided to ignore my sound and at least not let my fingers lose their condition as well. So I worked slowly on 2nd and 3rd octave chromatic exercises (from P. Edmund Davies’ book) and strangely enough, focusing on really coordinating my fingers somehow got my mouth to do what it had to do to get a good sound, and ping! I could play with my normal sound again.

Today*, due to delayed travels and chaos, I picked up the flute for the first time in a few days. Same yuckiness, but I remembered last year’s trick and it worked again. Was it my imagination, or could I actually feel the neural network involved in coordinating complex fingering activity actually communicating with and instructing my breathing apparatus and embouchure network on how to make an optimal sound. That is really what it felt like. Is there some neurological explanation for this, or is it psychological?

*Actually today is Christmas day for many, but here in Russia, it is just another Monday.

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