Back in 2018, I was fascinated by the various 30-day challenges making their way through social media. One of my most popular blog posts at the time, the 30-Day Taffanel & Gaubert Exercise #4 Challenge, was based on this idea and has since inspired many flutists to jump-start (or at least reimagine) their T&G scale practice game. This year, as you begin to take action steps on some of your most important new year’s flute playing resolutions, I encourage you to consider adding a 30-day challenge to your to-do list. Incorporating a 30-day challenge can be like a flute boot camp not just for your scale game but also for a number of other facets of flute playing (ex. tone studies, repertoire, sight-reading, etc.). This may be the very thing you need to quickly get to the next level in your flute playing! Also, who doesn’t love a challenge?!?! In today’s blog, I offer suggestions for various 30-day challenges to tackle tone studies, improve technique, conquer super intimidating etudes, master new (and old) repertoire, and work on various other challenging elements of flute playing that allude even the best of us. Dare yourself this month to break out of your comfort zone and try something new. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much better your flute playing is by the beginning of February!
30-DAY FLUTE CHALLENGES
- One Register per Week – Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Flute, Book 1 Tone, is perfectly set up for a 30-day challenge. For the first week, practice only the exercises listed for the low register (approx. pages 7-12). For Week 2, practice only the exercises listed for the middle register (approx. pages 13-17). During Week 3, grab a bottle of water and some ear plugs, and work on only the exercises listed for the high register (approx. pages 18-21). For the final week, work on the flexibility exercises on pages 28-33, which will combine all of the work you have done previously in the month with increasing embouchure flexibility throughout all of the ranges. Your tone will improve tenfold during this program! Success stories are encouraged below.
- Slow Movements Only – If you are sooo over tone books, you may want to switch up your tone studies for examples from standard repertoire. Pick four slow movements from your favorite works (for example, Poulenc Sonata – Movement II; Mozart Flute Concerto in G Major – Movement II; Burton Sonata – Movement II; Prokofiev Sonata – Movement II) and play through each one over the course of a week. Concentrate on retaining the same quality of sound and power of projection from note to note. Connect all of your notes as if they are all on the same string. How beautiful can you make each movement? Four movements, four weeks!
- Tone Color Challenge – This is a great challenge to help you think more creatively about sound. The first step is to create a color spectrum (please see my article in The Flute View, Rainbow Score, for a simple color how-to). Once you have your color plan in place, select a few of your favorite slow orchestral excerpts (Brahms 4 and Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun are good examples). Play through these excerpts each day with a different tone color for 30 days. You may discover along the way that your Debussy sounds a lot better with a purple tone color than it does in yellow! This is a great way to master your unique tone color plan and experiment with new ways to organize your sound.
- 30-Day Taffanel & Gaubert Exercise #4 Challenge – Select a new articulation each day to use with your Taffanel & Gabuert Exercise #4, #1, or really any of your favorite exercises from this book. You may even want to create your own articulation plan for the 30 days. Go for it! Add some extended techniques or harmonics for a bit of a challenge.
- Taffanel & Gaubert Challenge #2 – This is a bit broader of a challenge for your Taffanel & Gaubert game! Practice one study per day (ex. #1 on Monday, #2 Tuesday, etc.), alternating the articulation each day. There are excellent suggestions at the top of each exercise, but you may also create your own articulations (ex. slurs on Mondays, slur two/tongue two on Tuesdays, coos on Wednesday, etc.). When you get to the end of exercise #17, start again with exercise #1. Remember: Use a different articulation each day.
- The Flutist’s Vade Mecum by Walfrid Kujala – This book is perfect for a 12 (or 24) WEEK challenge! There is already a challenge outlined at the back of the book (thanks Wally!). If you are an advanced player (college and up), I recommend playing through one key per week, cycling through all of the studies gradually throughout the week. If you are a less experienced player (or a player with less available practice time in general), cycle through a new key set every two weeks. These exercises require a lot of mental flexibility and stamina but will gradually whip your technique into great shape.
- Karg-Elert’s 30 Studies (Opus 107) – Easy peasy! 30 days, 30 studies. Practice one study per day. Some will be easy. Some will be super challenging! At the end of the 30 days pick one or two (or more!) to record yourself playing on video. Share on social media if brave (or just use for yourself to identify ways you may improve).
- Kohler’s Virtuoso Studies for Flute (Opus 75) – Since these are a bit more challenge than the Karg-Elert, I recommend learning (or re-learning) one study per week (extending the challenge of course from 4 weeks to 10 weeks). Video record yourself playing each etude at the end of the week. Like the Karg-Elert, share on social media if brave.
- Paul Jeanjean’s Etudes Modernes – These etudes are super challenging (and have tormented a lot of us for decades). Start by practicing one new etude per week. You will likely want to give up on these halfway through the book. Your 30-day challenge is simply to keep plugging away even when you’d rather ditch Jeanjean for Karg Elert. Jeanjean teaches us how to have grit in the face of challenging repertoire!
- Bach 12 Sonatas Challenge – For the first 12 days of this challenge, practice the opening movement of each of the 12 standard Bach Flute Sonatas (Book 1, Book 2), one movement each day. For the next 12 days, practice the slow movement from each sonata (again, one movement per day). For the last six days, select either your favorite dance movement or final movement from the sonatas in Book 1 (#1-6). This will give you a nice introduction to the Bach flute sonata style and structure. You may even discover some interesting parallels and/or themes between movement types.
- Telemann 12 Fantasies Challenge – This is similar to the Bach challenge outlined above. Start by practicing the opening movement (or section) of each fantasie for the first 12 days. Master it! Then move on to the slow sections or movements for the next 12 days. Finally, record yourself playing your favorite six fantasies (one fantasie per day) for the remaining six days. Post your recordings to social media (even add a hashtag if you’d like: #drgs30daysoftellemannchallenge).
- Memorize (or Re-memorize) One Piece Per Month – Pick out your favorite 12 pieces (even if they are just single movements from standard repertoire). Concentrate on playing from beginning to end without stopping. Playing along with a recording or an AI system such as SmartMusic will be very helpful as you learn cues in the music surrounding the flute line. At the end of the year, you will have 12 pieces memorized to be performed whenever an opportunity arises.
- 30 Days of Improvisation – Challenge yourself to improvise for at least five minutes a day at the end of each practice session for 30 days. You may improvise over a simple drone or using clever improvisation programs such as Walter White’s improvisation tracks: https://walterwhite.com/product-category/wwshop/walterwhitelongtoneaccompaniment/
- 30 Days of Sight Reading – This is a fun way to involve the others in your life! Gather up all of the etude books you’ve purchased but never had the time to practice, old books that you hadn’t played all the way through, or even head to your local music library to check out etude books you have never even heard of. Pick one book each day and let your family members or other non-flutist colleagues decide which exercise you will sight read that day. Place it on your music stand, hit “video” on your smartphone’s camera, AND GO! You don’t have to share the video if you don’t want to – but it will come in handy as you review what happens to you and your flute playing under pressure. You will get great sight-reading experience and learn a lot about yourself during this challenge!
- Sunday Night Living Room Recitals – This is another great way to involve your family in your flute playing! Prep a set of solo works, etudes, and pieces with AI accompaniments during the week. The duration and complexity of the program is up to you! For the next four Sundays, schedule a time in the evening for a mini-recital in your living room with your family and/or friends in attendance. Record your performances for an extra bonus! Play different repertoire each week. I find it most intimidating to perform for loved ones, because playing well for them means far more than playing well for an audience of strangers.
Which one of these challenges are you most excited to try? What areas of your flute playing could use a 30-day challenge? Share your stories below! I would love to know how any/all of these challenges go for you (the ups, the downs, the struggles, and of course the triumphs!).