This week’s blog is courtesy of The Flute View magazine contributor, Dr. Dr. Tammy Evans Yonce. Enjoy!
As the school year ends, many students are joyously looking forward to some relaxation and perhaps a break from the flute. Some students spend the summer working in order to have enough saved to pay for living expenses for the upcoming school year. While it’s a good, healthy idea to rest and recharge, and it’s often necessary to commit to earning a sum of money, it is also important to not lose the momentum and skills that are the result of many hours of diligent practice over the quickly ending school year. How do we balance the need for respite and work with the desire to keep growing as a musician?
There are a couple of challenges that need to be addressed that often stand in the way of our musical progress during the summer. When school is over and we’re off on summer adventures, we often don’t have the benefit of regularly scheduled lessons with our teacher. The frequent encouragement and support received during those lessons is absent, and that can have an effect on our motivation. There is also much less accountability; if we know we won’t have the opportunity to check in with someone, the temptation to delay practicing is there.
How can we stay motivated if our schedule has suddenly been turned upside down with travel, work, down time, pursuing other interests, and little to no contact with a teacher? Here are a few suggestions:
Find a practice buddy to help keep accountability. Maybe there is a friend in your flute studio who also wants to keep their skills sharp over the summer. Check in with that person once a week to discuss what you’ve been working on and what your plan for the upcoming week is. They will do the same, and you will keep each other encouraged and motivated.
Come up with a project for yourself. Summer can be a fantastic time to explore flute technique and literature. Often we are working for very specific goals during the school year such as juries, recitals, lessons, and so forth. During the summer we can be a bit more exploratory with our practice. Maybe there are several pieces you’ve really wanted to work on but haven’t gotten to yet. Now is the perfect time! Perhaps you’d like to move beyond the major and minor scales; work on blues scales, whole tone scales, or another variety entirely. How is your double- and triple-tonguing? This would be a fantastic opportunity to work hard on that.
Explore the flute repertoire of a particular era. Maybe you’ve worked on a lot of music from the Classical period. Why not take this time to explore the Baroque (or Romantic, or 20th Century, or contemporary) repertoire? If you’re close to your school library, check out as many pieces from the era as you can find. Find high-quality recordings of these works, and follow along with the scores as you listen. In the absence of physical scores, check out those pieces that happen to exist in the public domain on IMSLP.org. Learn how they fit into the historical context; why were they written? What was their function? Are there any particular aspects of performance practice that need to be observed?
Record yourself. Sometimes this can be very uncomfortable for people because the recordings truly reveal every little mistake or deficiency in our playing. That’s ok! How can we improve if we aren’t aware of what needs to be addressed? Challenge yourself to record your playing at the beginning of the summer, and then make additional recordings at various times throughout. Your first recording can be used to help you decide what you need to work on, and the later ones will help you measure your progress. This can be very encouraging because it is often difficult to be objective about our progress. This way you will have evidence of how much your playing has improved.
Plan a performance at the end of the summer. Sometimes people are scared of performance and only give these when they’re absolutely required to. If this sounds like you, I want to strongly encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and plan a performance this summer. The more you perform, the easier it gets. Plan your repertoire early, and then you will have the entire season to prepare. This performance doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or complicated. Consider scheduling something at a church, an assisted living community, a day care, or the local hospital. These are places where casual performances are very highly valued. In addition to developing your own skills, you’re bringing joy and inspiration to a lot of others.
Finally, spend this time thinking of goals you want to set for the next academic year. Based on your summer work, you might be inspired to work on certain pieces. If your technique work pushes you to a higher level, perhaps you can work on more challenging etudes. Maybe you find that you really enjoy performance and want to schedule several over the course of the year. Once the school year begins, you can bring these ideas to your teacher and work as partners to help you achieve these goals.
Best wishes for a summer that includes relaxation as well as productivity! Happy practicing!
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