Focused Fluting – Playing with Intention

Welcome to another Flute Friday! Even though it is already mid-February, I am still holding firmly to the promise that a new year refresh brings. 2023 still holds so many more possibilities in the coming months for growth and rebirth. Of course, a new year does not need to be the only time we can make changes to our lives, goals, or mindsets. Sometimes the need for change comes out of nowhere – Often in the form of a proverbial smack on the back of the head from the Universe. I experienced one of these jolts earlier this week that, in a beautiful moment of clarity, revolutionized my playing and my entire approach to recording my playing for the better. In today’s blog, I am going to share what I learned when I started playing (and recording) with intention. Hopefully my own experience will strike a nerve with other flutists battling with their own perfectionism and hoping for a new way forward.

My relationship with recording has been tumultuous throughout the years. When I was young, I found it fun. Playing the flute was new and exciting and the idea of playing something “well” or “perfectly” was not even on my list of priorities. I just wanted to learn more and excel to the next level. As I advanced in my studies, opportunities to compete against other flutists increased tenfold and it seemed that with each year I advanced, the competition was more and more fierce and I began doubting myself and my own skill. As a professional, I find myself faced with this self-doubt every time I press “record.” Sometimes these recordings are just for myself, other times I am recording for my YouTube channel, and of course there are times when I am recording for a competition. Yet, the general pattern remains the same – The first couple of recordings are okay and then the perfectionist in me takes over and derails my many attempts to create that perfect recording that best represents my playing. Most of the time I find myself settling on recordings that are only “good enough” because my frustration and rage recording create blockages between what I know I can play and what I can actually play under pressure. The internal battle with myself is always there.

Until this week.

After a few days of rage recording for a competition entry, I found myself without a decent recording. Just a collection of five or so not-that-great recordings that I was hesitant to submit. I decided to try something new. Before I hit record, I decided what I was going to do with all of the bits that I was making mistakes on or that otherwise intimidated me. I played through these sections slowly and in chunks. I carefully planned out how fast to make my trills, where I would breathe and where to take catch-breaths if needed, and where I would use rubato and exactly which notes I would stretch and which I would condense. I reviewed these places in my mind carefully, calmly, and confidently. In essence, I was creating intentions. Intentions not based in fear or perfectionism but based on non-judgmental choice.

What happened next was amazing! Those tricky sections where I would normally make mistakes, stop the recording, and start over from the top (after a few choice expletives) were smooth, seamless, and without the typical accompanying nervous energy from the previous takes. I reached that state in performance that we all try to attain – relaxed, confident, and unapologetically on fire!

What I learned was how to play with intention.

Intention doesn’t mean threatening yourself (“If you don’t play this part right, you suck.”) or comparing yourself to others (“I bet James Galway doesn’t play this so terribly) or talking down to yourself because you are not perfect (“Why can’t you play this!!?!”). Intention is about silencing that bully Inner Critic that whispers falsehoods into your ear when you are vulnerable. Intention puts judgement in a time-out. Intention is about making choices and seeing them through. Intention is how we remove those blockages between the player we know we are and the player that shows up on the recording. Intention is how we play from our authentic selves.

There was a moment before each one of my musical hurdles where I experienced a strange moment of calm. My brain knew what was coming next and it was ready for it! It was almost as if my brain shut off my emotions (aka fear, uncertainty) before they had the opportunity to react. My brain was finally in control of a situation that normally felt out of control. I was finally the player on the recording that I wanted to be!

This week I want to encourage everybody reading this to play with intention. What are your musical hurdles? What do you struggle to play when the “record” button is pressed? What can you do about it? What choices are you going to make the next time this section of music is before you? Practice those choices calmly and without judgement. Let your brain know what the plan is and recite that plan to yourself before recording or performing. You will find a closer connection between your authentic flute playing skill and your ability to communicate that skill to others.

How often do you play with intention? Have you had similar experiences? What did you learn and how did this experience effect your future performances? Please comment below!

Happy fluting (and recording)!


One comment

  1. I do not often record myself, but I would say I do practice with intent regularly. I find I don’t always come into my practice session with intent. But as I warm up and decide the order of items to work on, I become more focused. Writing in breaths and chunking difficult passages works well for me. I focus on staying relaxed and on my breathing and that makes my playing better, too.

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