Month: June 2017

Dear Diary

Greetings and welcome to another Flute Friday!

Journaling has been around for centuries and is widely considered a healthy way to confront some of the difficulties in one’s daily life. Often, just the act of writing down your goals or challenges may help you to think critically about the next course of action or how you may be incorrectly interpreting the world around you. Journaling, in a nutshell, is a an excellent way to incite change. It is also a good way to document successful vs. unsuccessful approaches to virtually anything. Including music! I am sure at one point or another, a well-meaning music teacher has asked you to keep a music journal without much of an idea about what that journal should look like or how you might use it to better your musical goals. Perhaps they wanted to understand your specific interests, talents, or insights to help guide you down the path most suited to your individual strengths. That’s great! But you can also use this journal to simply learn about yourself and explore ideas that perhaps are only brewing within the basements of your mind. Today’s blog is devoted to music journals and how to use them to your best advantage. Journals come in many different forms that speak to a variety of learning styles. Find the one that best fits your life and a journal will become a tool you use often to organize your career and develop concrete goals for the future.

Before I discuss the different types of journals to explore, it is important to explain what the general purpose is of keeping a journal. For a performing artist, for example, keeping a daily practice journal helps us record what we worked on in our practice session, what challenges we faced, possible solutions to musical difficulties, and a plan for the next practice session. These entries do not need to be article-sized explanations (in fact, do not spend a ton of time working in your journal – prevent burnout before it starts!). Simple 1-2 line bullet points are sufficient. If you had a particularly difficult practice session, you may want to use your journal simply to vent your frustrations. Write it down. Get it out of your head. When you are removed from the situation, reexamine your journal entry from a more critical perspective. What was the core challenge and what can you do to work on the skills necessary to overcome that challenge? Keeping a journal like this will keep you thinking forward toward solutions and goals rather than remaining stagnant, only playing things that are easy and safe. Creating art is not about being easy and safe. You may also keep a journal for musical observations that can be translated into your own music making career (I like to do this whenever I visit a conference). Keep a record of performances you attend and record what worked and what did not work. Use what worked in your daily practice and try to reinvent what didn’t work into something new. The whole point is to reflect on your observations and experiences to both troubleshoot and dream of new ideas that nobody has ever tried before. Write it down. Test it out. And dream big.

Journal Suggestions

Practice Journal – Write down the repertoire you worked on during your daily practice session, what challenges you faced, what obstacles you overcame, ideas for future performances, how long you spent practicing, and your goals for the next practice session. You may even use this journal to graph the time you spend practicing and the effectiveness of certain practice techniques. A practice journal helps you record your progress and allows you to set concrete short and long term musical goals.

Performance Journal – Use this journal to record your thoughts from each performance and your goals for the subsequent performances. This is particularly useful for those of us that suffer from performance anxiety. How did you calm your nerves before the performance? What worked? What didn’t work? Why were you nervous in the first place? How did your playing change while under pressure? Did you have breathing issues? Explore these issues and make a plan for the next time around.

Informational Interview Journal – Who do you idolize? Is there a musician whose sound you wish you had? Do you know someone who performs in an orchestra that you’d love perform with? Is there a performer who’s technique literally blows your mind? Is there another musician in your orchestra that truly inspires you? Contact them! Ask them how they practice or what their most important experiences have been. Ask for simple advice to help you get to the next step in your career. Keep track of all of their answers in a journal and reflect on how you can best incorporate their advice into your own music career.

Observational Journal – Every time you attend a concert, use this journal to record your impressions of that performance. What was successful and what just did not work? What can you try in your own practice? What did the performance make you think about? What inspired you? Compare and contrast the quality of the performances you attend. Set goals based on your impressions and inspirations.

Journal Formats

The Gold Standard: Paper Journals. This is by far the easiest type of journal to use. Simple pen and paper. Nothing fancy. You may use a small notebook or invest in a beautiful moleskin version, bedazzled with glue-on gems or brightly colored embellishments. You may also easily change the structure of your paper journal whenever you want, depending on what goals you wish to emphasize.

Online Journals. No, I am not talking about LiveJournal (does this still exist somewhere on the internet????). There are online journaling platforms that will save your content in the cloud for only you to access via login. This is a good option if you do not want to carry a journal around with you and want to update on the go. Uptothesky is a great option because there is a handy preview menu on the left side of the screen. If you type the most important information in the first couple of lines in each entry, you will have a great way to compare small bits of information over the last few entries.

Word Journal. This is similar to a paper journal but in an electronic form. Type your entries and save them as a word document. This is relatively straightforward and will allow you to add graphs, pictures, and links to articles or videos to help document your ideas. Be sure to save!

Video Journal. Calling all Millenials! Would you like to share your musical experiences with the world? Are you curious what others have to say about your ideas and would you like to connect to other musicians far and wide about shared thoughts, ideas, and experiences? A video journal is perfect for those of you who value collaborating and connecting with others. The easiest way to do this is to set up a YouTube account and create a VLOG. I have not experimented very much with the vlogging platform, but countless other musicians consider vloging as a way of life. Challenge yourself to put your ideas out there and connect with musicians all over the world.

Excel-Based Journal. This is my favorite method to record and organize small bits of information into a usable and easily measurable format. Create columns for your observations, goals, and measurable units of information such as practice time, repertoire, metronome speeds, and so forth. Using Excel demands that you keep your entries very susinct but also makes it easy to compare daily experiences and goals to numerous previous entries and chart your progress.

Whichever journal and format you choose to use, always remember that your main objectives are to reflect, problem-solve, and create new goals and ideas for the future. Keeping a music journal is a very useful way to think creatively about who you are as a musician, where you would like to go, and how you are going to get there.

Do you maintain a music journal? What types of journals do you update? How do you use your journal to develop your goals. Please comment below!

Happy fluting!

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Mario vs. Flute – On Hand-Eye Coordination

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday!

HE 1

My husband and I are children of the 90s. Most of the music on our respective iPods originates from circa 1991-2001 and our movie collection is filled with feel good, cheesy 90s movies such as Forrest Gump, Clueless, Airheads, Titanic, and Hook. Recently, in good 90s kid fashion, my husband purchased a vintage style Nintendo preloaded with many of our favorite childhood games (Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Bubble Bobble, etc). This little box has become one of our newest obsessions, providing us with nostalgic games we have loved to death and many that we never had an opportunity to play in the days of yesteryear. My game of choice at the moment is the Adventures of Link (I am stuck on Death Mountain, so if any of you reading this have any tips to help me pass this level, please share below). A funny thing happened, however, the other day when I ended my game of Link and began practicing my flute. After a few warm-up exercises and scales, I launched into my practice of Dutilleux’s Sonatine for Flute and Piano. Fast-moving technical passages that were only so-so in past practice sessions now flew through my fingers with minimal effort and, by some wonderful Harry Potter-type magic, were graceful and even. How could this be? I had not isolated these passages with slow practice or chunked the groupings into smaller bits… And then it dawned on me. Hand-Eye Coordination. When we are young, adults yammer on and on about the importance of developing “hand-eye coordination” (not that we know or care what that means at the time) but as adults, we often see just how crucial a role that hand-eye coordination plays in the functioning of our daily lives. We just do not practice these skills as much as we did when we were kids.

HE 2

For many musicians, particularly instrumentalists, hand-eye coordination is the foundation of our technique. We are the masters of hand-eye coordination! But, even the best of the best can always be better, and when our craft is based heavily on a single skill, doing what we can to improve our foundation is vital. My technique had improved by playing Nintendo because I was essentially practicing hand-eye coordination away from my instrument. Fortunately, playing video games is not the only way to work on this skill set. Today’s blog is devoted to the some of the activities that we can do away from our flutes to strengthen our technical ability by improving hand-eye coordination skills. With summer just around the corner, it is a good time to get outside and enjoy some of the more sportier suggestions below, or simply enjoy some time under the shade with a coloring book. And, yes, by doing so you will be indirectly improving your flute playing outside of the practice room.

HE 2.5

Video Games. I am starting with this one due to my personal experience with our Nintendo. It is true – playing video games improves your hand-eye coordination for obvious reasons. You are literally controlling the game with the buttons on the controller. That sounds a bit familiar……sort of like controlling the variety and types of notes you create with the buttons on an instrument…. One caveat here is that game systems such as Wii or others that are based more on creating larger movements with your body rather than buttons on the controller may not strengthen hand-eye coordinator as well as traditional button controllers. Don’t have a Nintendo? No problem! There are online emulators of classic Nintendo games that use keyboard buttons in place of typical controllers (I spent Christmas 2008 playing Zelda on such a platform). One such emulator can be found at http://emulator.online/nes/ . Go ahead, pull up a seat next to your weird nephew or nerdy little brother (or husband) and enjoy a Saturday afternoon playing Mario. You will still be improving your flute playing without even having to take your flute out of its case.

HE 3

Ball vs. Wall Exercise.  Want to get away from your couch? It’s a beautiful day! Why not? In this exercise, you will need a basketball and a wall (outside, away from valuable furniture, appliances, and instruments). From about 6-8 feet away, throw the basketball against the wall with your dominant hand and, without catching it, push the ball back with the fingertips of the same hand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat. When you are ready, repeat the process with your non-dominant hand. Whoa. *head explodes* For the final challenge, step in closer to the wall, shortening your available reaction time. This is a great exercise to improve hand-eye coordination. Just be extra careful to not hit the ball too hard with your fingers. You do still need your fingers to play the flute….

HE 4

Make friends with the Speed Bag at the Gym.  Like musicians, boxers have exceptional hand-eye coordinator due to many hours spent practicing on these terrifying bags at the gym (and also because their craft, like ours, is based on quick hand-eye reflexes). I know what you are thinking – I too run screaming in the other direction when I see these. I am a klutz and have nightmares of going to the ER after an inevitable bag to the face, but what would the world be like if we didn’t face our fears, amiright? Start slowly and wear proper boxing gloves with lots of padding to protect your fingers. You may even want to consult a trainer to guide you on proper, and safe, stance and technique. Added bonus – Boxing, like performing, requires excellent posture. Not only are you strengthening hand-eye coordination by using the speed bag, but you are also practicing maintaining a balanced stance that can be translated to your flute playing.

HE 5

Play catch.  My husband is going to read this blog and immediately want to go to the park. Remember the good, old, days when you played catch with your dad in the back yard? Did you know that by doing so, you were actually improving your hand-eye coordination and developing important skills that you would use later in life? Like the ball vs. wall exercise, simply playing catch trains your eyes to anticipate the ball and quickly react (much like when you read a score and react to the notes on the page). Recruit your family and go play a game of catch! Everyone will have fun and you will further develop skills to strengthen your flute playing at the same time.

HE 6

Enjoy a game of Tennis, Badminton, Ping-Pong, or Golf. I think Donald Trump might want to take some flute lessons because with the amount of golf that he plays, he probably has a well-developed sense of hand-eye coordination and may be very good at executing difficult passages on the flute. Like playing catch, these games train your eyes to react to a ball or birdie, but unlike catch, each sport includes an additional stimulus such as a racket or club, making reactions a bit more challenging. Dealing with this stimulus is very similar to dealing with a musical instrument. Although our eyes know what to do, there is still a physical obstacle that we must negotiate with to achieve our goals.

HE 7

Juggling. If you think about it, juggling is sort of a fancy way of playing catch by yourself. Juggling is a great way to practice hand-eye coordination as you can control how simple or complex to make your routines and you can essentially practice anywhere. Like other sports, you are training your hands to react to a ball (or bowling pin, or flaming torch – please do not juggle flaming torches around your instrument!). Entertain your family and friends at parties! You will not only be the most popular person at most gatherings but you will also be indirectly improving your flute playing skills. When Grandma blows out the candles, you will be able to easily improvise impressive cadenzas on the theme to “Happy Birthday” (this juggler has done lost their mind….).

HE 8

Coloring. Pick up that fancy Adult Coloring Book that you saw at that cute mom and pop bookstore downtown, invest in colored pencils or borrow your child’s box of 64 Crayolas, kick your feet up, and color like it’s 1984. Yes – You are improving your hand-eye coordination with every crayon stroke. This is also a great break-time activity during your typical practice sessions. Next time you head to the practice room, bring your crayons and your coloring book. Even on your break, you will be improving your flute playing technique.

HE 9

Puzzles. This is another great family activity that improves hand-eye coordination! Break out a puzzle and challenge your brain to find the right pieces to place in the right parts of the picture. For a wonderful added challenge, bring home one of those scary 3D puzzles. Who knew that doing something fun away from your flute would actually help you strengthen the very foundation of your technique? It isn’t all scales, after all!

 

Now it’s your turn. What activities do you practice to strengthen your hand-eye coordination skills? How does your playing improve after participating in these activities? How often do you practice hand-eye coordination skills? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!