Dividing Practice Time

I love how this picture shows the division of the ocean, the waves, and the beach. Yet, at the same time, they also blend seamlessly into each other. This portrays perfectly how you should divide your practice time as a flute player. I call it the Law of Thirds. For example, if you practice for an hour a day, spend 20 minutes on tone and technique, 20 minutes on etudes, and 20 minutes on solos.

Tone Exercises: De la Sonorite by Marcel Moyse is the universal tone exercise. In addition to that, harmonics are helpful and many other tone books such as the Trevor Wye books and other exercises are available. In fact, you can even make up your own exercises. The important thing is that you spend time playing slowly and take the time to listen. Save the fast finger work for later. I once heard that Moyse said he never played above a B before breakfast.

Technique: Piano players have Hanon exercises. Flute players have the Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises for Flute which is a vast collection of scales, 3rds, 6ths, and arpeggios. It is essential to any flute players development to spend a lot of time with these exercises. One of my teachers shared a true story of a friend of his who was part of a professional symphony orchestra. While staying in a hotel one night while the orchestra was on tour, what do you think the principal oboe player was practicing? You guessed it…scales. It is one of the foundations of music and critical for any musician at any level.

Etudes: I have a file cabinet drawer (technically, more than one drawer) full of various etude and method books complete with Altes, Andersen, Berbiguier, Casterade, Gariboldi, Jean-Jean, Kohler, and more. Students that spend diligent time doing etudes have better technique and learn how to phrase. Etudes help improve finger coordination which strengthens technique, provides opportunities to expand your breath control and vibrato, teach you how to play with dynamics, help strengthen tonguing, and improves sight reading abilities. They are another critical foundation block for any flute player at any level.

Solos: If you are preparing for an audition, festival, or recital, you already have your work cut out for you. If not, it’s nice to have two solos to be working on. Perhaps contrasting in style, such as one slow and one fast or one in the baroque style and one in the romantic style. The goal is to have a well rounded feel for different types of solos out there. I’ll be eternally grateful for my teachers, especially Dr. Ted Wight, who did an incredible job of introducing me to the world of flute repertoire!

If you are not currently studying with a private flute teacher, you can still explore solos. A simple way is to visit where they post “A New Score a Day” and you have access to free flute music in a variety of styles. They also have links to scales and arpeggios. With access to the internet these days, you can easily find free music sites and others to purchase more music than you could ever imagine.

I fully believe that incorporating tone, technique, etudes, and solos equally into your practice time create the balance you need to become a strong, well rounded flute player. If you only play solos, you are missing out on a lot and I guarantee that you will be lacking in other areas. I challenge you to make it a habit to divide your practice time using all of these critical elements.

Time Flies

It’s already February! Where did January go? Does anyone else besides me feel like time flies? I had a riddle book growing up that I loved to read over and over. Here’s a riddle for you from that book.


The answer will be at the end of this post… Keep reading.

With the new year beginning (last month), did you set any new goals? As a music teacher, the new year is a great time to encourage students (again) to increase their practicing efforts.

“Did you practice?” That’s what every kid wants to hear from their parent or teacher, right? Haha.

First of all, your teacher can tell if you practiced or not, you don’t really have to say anything. They’ll already know if you practiced. Trust me, they’ll know.

Do you ever think to yourself, “Oh, I have all week to practice. I’ll go do something else right now.” Then all of the sudden you realize that your lesson is TOMORROW right after school and you haven’t practiced at all! Panic! Don’t tell anyone, but I’ll admit – I did that when I first started taking flute lessons. However, over time I learned to love the flute more and more and practicing became fun instead of a chore. Now when I sit down to practice, I enjoy it so much that when I finish and look at the clock, I didn’t realize how much time had passed. That’s when practicing is fun.

You don’t feel that way, yet? I understand. When it comes to practicing, follow the Nike slogan. Just Do It. Half the battle is simply getting your flute out of the case or sitting down at the piano and getting your books out. Don’t argue with your parent for 30 minutes, just go practice for 30 minutes instead.

When my children were younger, they each had their own kitchen timer to keep track of their 30 minutes of practicing. Kids didn’t have smartphones back then. The timers helped them see how much time had passed and how much time they had left.

A word to the wise about setting practice timers. Be careful how you do it. Someone shared a story of how their daughter wanted to go play with firends, but knew she had to complete her practicing first.

She thought she set the microwave timer to 30 minutes and went to go practice the piano. But, she didn’t set the timer button, she pressed the cook button instead!! After practicing about 20 minutes she went into the kitchen to see how much time was left. What did she find? The microwave was on fire!!

In her dad’s words (Kelly R. Johnson), this is what happened next, “She then ran into the backyard where I was doing yard work, yelling that the house was on fire. I quickly ran into the house, and indeed, I found the microwave oven in flames. In an effort to save our home from burning, I reached behind the microwave, unplugged it, and used the power cord to lift the burning microwave off of the counter. Hoping to be the hero and to save the day as well as our home, I swung the flaming microwave in circles with the power cord to keep it away from my body, got to the backyard, and with another swinging motion flung the microwave out onto the lawn. There we were able to extinguish the fiery flames with a hose.”

Now, this is probably an extreme story of a practice timer gone awry. But if it helps, I encourage you to set a timer.

The more you practice, the sooner you will improve. It’s that simple. The more you practice, the easier it gets to be motiviated to do it.

The riddle I shared? HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME FLY? Answer: THROW YOUR CLOCK OUT THE WINDOW. Well, I obviously wouldn’t recommend throwing your flute out the window, and hopefully, you won’t have a need to throw a burning microwave out the door. My point is, that the more you practice and get into a regular routine of practicing, the easier it will become and you’ll find that time flies when you are having fun.

Music Brings Joy

Music can express an expansive range of emotions. One of these emotions is JOY.

You can do an internet search for joyful classical music and you’ll find many lists and opinions of cheerful music. I’m certain that everyone’s opinion will differ but composers of joyful music will certainly include Mozart, Rossini, Vivaldi and Copland, and of course, this list must include the iconic ‘Ode to Joy’ (which every kid plays on every instrument) from the Beethoven Symphony No.9.

Even something as simple as the Happy Birthday song can bring joy. I mean, really, who can’t feel joy when singing that to someone? Even if it’s a stranger’s birthday in a restaurant, have you ever felt compelled to join in singing good wishes through that song?

Especially during this holiday season, we have a whole set of music reserved just for this time of year. How great is that? There are band, orchestra, and choir concerts, Nutcracker performances which always include glorious music by Tchaikovsky, Handel’s Messiah performances, church performances, Christmas caroling, music playing in restaurants and retail stores, on the radio, or your headphones, and more. Holiday music is one thing I thrive on during this season.

When I was in high school, way back in the day, my Christian friends and I would sing Hanukkah songs and my Jewish friends would sing Christmas songs. We weren’t offended by doing that because we were friends; we all loved music and it all brought us joy. We could live together (at school) and sing together (at choir) in love and understanding.

Every time I perform a concert, whether it’s for five people or a concert hall full of five hundred people or more, I feel joy. It’s a natural side benefit of performing. Even if you don’t like performing, you have to admit that at least you feel joy once your performance is over, right? Or maybe for some of you it’s just a feeling of relief. But that’s a form of joy, isn’t it?

My challenge to you is to look around you this week and observe where music is being played and how it makes you feel.

Best wishes for a happy and joyful holiday season, what’s left of it for 2022!! May you feel peace on earth and goodwill to men.

Conquer Fear

How do you define fear?

Here we are again, another Halloween. We are surrounded by ghosts, skeletons, creepy pumpkins, headstones and scary movies. A strange holiday, but I like the happy side of Halloween: happy pumpkins, happy ghosts, happy costumes and happy decorations.

I’m sure everyone has been afraid of something at some point in your life. How do you define fear?

What are common types of fear? Fear of failure. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of spiders or all types of phobias. Fear of being late. Fear of judgement. Fear of the unknown. Fear of unmet expectations. This list could go on and on. As a flute teacher, I frequently see the fear of performing or the fear of making a mistake in students. But what exactly are they afraid of?

Psychologists and therapists use something called The Feelings Wheel to help identify the root causes of emotions.

This is my copy that has been on my fridge for a while. Here is also a link to another Feelings Wheel developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox of The Gottman Institute.

According to this chart, fearful is a word that can include scared (helpless or frightened), anxious (overwhelmed or worried), insecure (inadequate or inferior), weak (worthless or insignificant) rejected (excluded or persecuted), and threatened (nervous or exposed). Dr. Willcox’s wheel also includes bewildered, confused, discouraged, submissive, foolish and embarrassed. Other wheels also use the words vulnerable, suspicious, apprehensive, concern, worried, susceptible, and terrified.

When I think about conquering fear, the words I just listed above are much more descriptive than just the word fear itself. Once you’ve identified the root of your fear, then it makes it easier to address the thinking process. I am not a trained therapist nor do I claim to be by any means. I just know that thinking through things and adjusting thought processes contributes immensely to emotional health.

Many of these feelings listed on the chart are normal. But when these emotions paralyze you, it’s time to address them and turn them around for your benefit. I encourage you to seek professional help, if necessary.

I love this quote from the movie Princess Diaries:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.

Princess Diaries

Recognize that fear exists. What you decide to do about it is the important part. Acknowledge it. Face it. Conquer it everyday.

Also, visit my post from October 29, 2020 called Don’t Be Scared, for specific details on how to address performance anxiety as a flute player or musician.