After your first year of undergrad, there is an abundance of time to practice (not). However, there is more allocated time to practice, and efficiently using this time to practice is a skill that is most useful post-grad.
In this week’s entry I will set a baseline for general practicing habits as a college student (from both the perspective of undergraduate and graduate) and then the transition to full time teaching whether that be private lessons or public school.
Collegiate Practice Time
As an undergraduate student, there is a fairly inflexible block schedule that your practice time has to fit into. Gen Eds, Core Requirements, Lessons, Ensembles, Electives….
As far as practice time goes, it is more or less built into your schedule as “free time”.
This time gets spent on lesson material (scales, etudes, repertoire), ensemble repertoire and chamber music. There isn’t much time for exploration and playing things outside of school music aside from part-time gigs.
Towards the last year of undergrad, but more so during graduate studies, there is A LOT more “free time”. Classes run into the night – if you are working part or full time that may vary how much time you have allotted to practice. However, this variability leaves a few open ended questions:
How much time do you need to practice? School material? Outside school?
What do you practice? What are you working towards?
Grad school is where you have the freedom to hone whatever skills you prioritize.
One of the secrets of adulting 101 that most graduate students and full-time workers will tell you is that you have to schedule a social life. The same becomes true for practicing. If you don’t make time for it, it can slip through the cracks and before you know it you have missed a week a practicing.
There is not set # of practice hours. Everyone is different: work/school schedules, physical and mental health, upcoming projects, etc. However, being consistent and seeing through that you practice when you tell yourself you are going to practice. As well as having a plan for what you want to get better at each time you play – or if you are playing for fun (set time aside for that as well!) – but those times that you are practicing to journal it and reflect every week or so on the small achievements you’ve made.
Post-Grad – Working Full Time:
When you are teaching, the freedom that you had in graduate school is altered. Life changes, workload, etc. However, the key differences is now you are in the driver’s seat. Without regular lessons, you have the freedom to decide how you practice and maintain your skills.
Preparing and planning lessons – ideally you would be working on the repertoire your students are doing, so any personal projects are put on hold to review and refresh for teaching.
Finding balance between maintaining personal goals versus teach goals can vary; and it is important to model a viable career that blends both teaching and personal growth.
How do you practice? Let me know in the comments below!
Unpopular opinion: I love flute warmups… if that was not abundantly clear by my extensive collection of flute warmup resources.
I think quarantine is a great time for people who normally don’t prioritize warmups to step away from repertoire, and find something that resonates with them. My philosophy regarding warmups are that they are not a one-size fits all plan – everyone lives different lives. Some people have more time to practice than others, some people having certain restrictions regarding space and time they can play, etc. I am here to share what my current resources and warmup plan are – DO NOT feel less than or pressured to have a warmup that is exactly like mine. I will also take the time here (as this is my first post about warmups) to discuss HOW I got to this plan.
What you need to keep in mind regarding practice planning:
Time – both how much time you have AND the amount of time it takes for you to learn and process material.
Introspection – you need to reflect and BE HONEST with yourself that is the only way to improve. You must be active, not passive, during practicing. And you are only competing with yourself and no one else, don’t feel like you are racing against anyone else.
Practicality – know your limits and what you are capable of. Like any goal or plan, don’t set yourself up for failure; and this also goes with time, you will learn what works for you. Experiment, trial and error, and don’t give up when you fail.
What Is My Current Warmup?
Breaking down what resources I am currently using*:
George and Avidan Louke – The Flute Scale Book
Variations on scale patterns
Paul Robison – Flute Warmups
Singers Warmup – tone and resonance in scales
Radiating Arpeggios – arpeggios with extended range and varied rhythm
Bells Warmup – long tones
Nightingale Trills – coordination and balance
Kujala – The Flutist’s Vade Mecum
Moyse – 24 Little Melodic Etudes
Simple melodies focusing on honing techniques (dynamics, articulation…)
Moyse – Scales and Arpeggios
Variations on scale and arpeggio patterns
Taffanel and Gaubert – 17 Daily Exercises
Versatile simple scalar patterns
*I DO NOT practice all of these every day, I vary my warmup (following a general plan) to avoid injury and to tailor to what I need to work on depending on the day.
My warmup plan – what do I practice and why do I practice?
Harmonics – Tone/Focus
Control – being able to get a clear pitch (on whichever partial I play) and move with ease
Resonance – being aware of what I’m using to get a particular sound (regarding my nose, chest, tongue, vowel, etc.)
Lips/Apperture – finding and experimenting what works and what doesn’t.
Dynamics, articulations, etc.
Being active in my warmup and having to assess whether something sounds different or the same.
To move air, get it spinning.
Get fingers and mind coordinated.
Experimenting with what I need to do to make all registers sound even – tone quality; as well as balance and blend.
Finger coordination for extreme registers.
Stability and consistency – make playing seem as effortless as possible.
Challenge myself with tricky finger changes while maintaining balance.
How I got to this point of structuring my warmup?
When I was in high school I was a violinist that started flute on a whim to be in the marching band with my friends. I didn’t start taking lessons until a year after I started playing when I knew I was going to take college auditions for music. During this early period, I mainly focused on scales (Major and minor) and maybe arpeggios. The book I picked up from my local music shop was actually the “Foundations For Superior Performance” book for wind band.
In my undergrad I was exposed to A LOT of warmups… I was given warmup after warmup (because I really had and still have this love for doing them – so much so that, during my undergrad, I would actually spend more time on warmups than on actual repertoire), but for the warmups I did in my studio I was rarely every told WHAT I was actually working on when given a PDF. I have filled in the gaps now as a Masters student, so here is the wide range of things I worked on in my studio as an undergraduate Music Education flute student:
Taffanel and Gaubert*
Moyse Exercise Journaliers*
Moyse De La Sonorite
Paula Robison Warmup Book
The Flute Scale Book
Andersen Op. 33
Berbiguier 18 Etudes
*These first two were the STAPLE books for our studio – our technique class really hinged on the patterns from these books.
Now in graduate school, I have a lot more (if you can believe it) books that I have used. I tend to cycle through books to keep things interesting. This is what I have studied on my own and with my teacher as a Master of Music Performance student:
All of the above
Moyse 24 Little Melodic Studies
Andersen Op. 15
Paul-Edmund Davies 28 Days Warmup Book
Kujala Vade Mecum
Trevor Wye Omnibus Edition
An example of a typical warmup (July 2020):
Every time I take my flute out I do the same thing: I get my KORG tuner/metronome and set it to A440 drone. I take a moment to listen to the A, and try to match my first notes to that drone. I’ll play that same A4, the As above it, and then a bit of noodling until I feel like my ears are discerning where I am for that day. By that I am referring to intonation (am I sharp or flat today?), resonance (am I playing too forward and shallow or am I supporting the sound?), and focus (do the notes speak and what am I doing to get them to speak).
This takes no more than 2 minutes, there are good days and bad days – I do this drone every day I practice as a gauge to figure what I will need to focus on for that day. So for this example of a typical warmup let’s say I am having a bad day – my pitch was very flat, I am playing too forward and tense, and the notes are not speaking right away. I move onto 2 exercises (the order can be reversed, as I use these exercises for the same reason):
(1) Harmonics – this can be stacking harmonics (C4, C#4, D4) or following the patterns in the “Flute Scale Book”. Here I am focusing on getting that deeper resonance and support. I reflect on what I am doing internally and externally with my body to get sound – usually my shoulders need to come down and I need to unarch my back when my resonance is too forward and shallow. By making these adjustments, the harmonics begin to sound more focused, in tune and come from a better place.
(2) A 5 note stepwise patterns – examples of this would be Taffanel and Gaubert “17 Daily Exercises” #1 and 2; or the Singers Warmup in the “Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book”. Again, I am focusing on achieving that deeper resonance and support. Here I may hum while playing the 5 note pattern to bring my resonance backwards in my mouth and nose. The 5 note patterns are great because they are taking out the complications of registers (particularly evenness) so I can focus on getting small groups of notes to all have one sound.
This part can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Say that after all of that work I have only slightly improved my tone quality, still playing forward and tense, I will move onto to a full register or full scale exercise and will do chromatic, Major and minor (depending on how much time I have – I will either play all forms or if I do not have much time I will just do harmonic) scale patterns:
Examples include the Moyse “Exercise Journaliers” extended Major and minor scales; a B3-D7 chromatic scale; Taffanel and Gaubert #3 or 5; “The Flute Scale Book” Major and minor scale patterns; the Maquarre chromatic exercise; or the “Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book” Orange Juice warmup. This is usually where the most improvement happens (in my own experience – my learning style is understanding a concept but it taking awhile for my body to catch up) because I am now mostly in the right mindset; and focusing finger coordination distracts my mind enough that the issues with tone quality will resolve themselves.
The scales can take 5-10 minutes. By this point, I will switch to a short easy piece or etude. Examples include “Andersen Op. 15”; Moyse “24 Little Melodic Pieces”; or duets from the Voxman books. I take this time to enjoy the sound and be less critical than I had been in my earlier warmup. Here I focus on dynamics, articulation patterns and musicality – looking more at contrast rather than trying to be ‘perfect‘.
The piece or etude will take another 5-10 minutes depending if there are variations or if I want to isolate any part of the exercise. The final part of my warmup is technique – I will focus on more precise or tricky articulation patterns, extreme dynamics especially with register, or tricky fingering patterns. Examples include Kujala’s “Vade Mecum”; Moyse “Scales and Arpeggios”; and or Taffanel and Gaubert #4, 10, 12. This final part of the warmup taking anywhere from 15-25 minutes.
This quarantine warmup can take about an hour, whereas, before quarantine I might not have had a full hour to spent just warming up I can take advantage of this time to focus on my weaker areas.
Let me know in the comments how you warmup, has it changed significantly since quarantine started? And what resources are you using in your warmup?