"So, you want to become a flute player?"
The Art & Technique of Practising
by Larry W. Krantz
Having decided to take on the task of becoming a player of the flute, you have taken the first two important steps; You have a shiny new instrument and you have engaged the services of a qualified teacher. You have heard some beautiful playing on recordings and that is the kind of noise that you would like to make yourself. Flying fingers creating millions of notes that flitter like bird song from the highest to the lowest notes and emulating the emotionally charged sound of a beautifully turned phrase are now on your list of things to do. The problem now is: How do you make it all happen? Like any other skill acquisition, it will take much practice. Knowing just how to go about that practice is quite possibly the most important aspect of getting off to a good start. The following suggestions are based primarily on the teaching methods of Geoffrey Gilbert.
The Practice Room
Since a good practice session requires complete concentration at all times, it is usually a good idea to announce your intent to practice and request solitude during the time you are working. Beginning with a pre-determined idea of how long you will practice is a good idea. As a rule of thumb, you should consider a minimum one hour per day of practice to develop your skills. Don't limit yourself to this arbitrary time frame. If you are having an extremely good session and time permits then continue your work. If, on the other hand, your concentration wanes then stop the session and try again later. Prolonged unfocused practice will only damage your progress.
Flute Practice - Stage One
Flute Practice - Stage Two
"Almost every student aspires to be a virtuoso but they don't have virtuosic technique. Too often students try to learn the flute by just playing pieces. If they would spend more time acquiring technique by playing articulated scales in all possible forms and arpeggios before they come to a piece, it would save them hours of time." (The Gilbert Legacy, Angelita Floyd, pp123)
The task now is to begin work on speed and clarity of motion from note to note. At no time should you lose sight of the fact that the quality of each note must remain good. In this portion of your practice you will learn major and minor scales; major, minor, dominant, augmented, & diminished arpeggios; whole tone scales; chromatic scales; and various published technical patterns. All technique should be memorized as quickly as possible so that your attention can be devoted entirely to tone quality and evenness of finger motion. Various articulations and rhythmic groupings can be used to increase your flexibility in the technical arena. Use of a metronome can greatly help in the controlled development of rhythm and evenness in the fingers. Always begin at a tempo slow enough to be well within your current abilities and then gradually increase the speed demand. Once again, you must not be in a hurry to go too fast too soon. With each increased speed of your technique, try to replicate the same tone and ease of finger motion that you acomplished at the slower tempo. Be very patient. Thirty minutes of technique would be an acceptable portion of a one hour practice session.
Flute Practice - Stage Three
Having devoted one hour each day to developing the important basic skills, you will now be ready and able to commence learning the flute solo repertoire and a wide range of chamber music and orchestral excerpts. Using repertoire suggestions as presented by various examination boards is a wise idea.The flute syllabus of either the Royal Conservatory of Music or the Western Board of Music will assist you in selecting pieces that are generally progressive in difficulty. These collections of works are drawn from a cross section of styles and represent the past three hundred years of musical composition for the flute. At no time should you allow the learning of new pieces to interfere with your daily attention to the continued development of the basic flute skills [tone, technique, & studies].
The following table can be used as a guideline in determining how to divide your practice time:
The Importance of Listening
"When practising, try to do it right for just one bar - that's progress. Then the next time try to keep it right for two bars." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp 20)
"Remember, you're not practising for next week, you're practising for next year." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp 123)
Remember to place trust in your teacher and give each new idea a chance. It is rare that new skills happen instantly so patience and determination are a sure route to success. Try to maintain a positive attitude and focus often on those things that you already do well. Never stop listening intently to every sound that you are creating. Try to maintain a clear idea of the specific problem that you are about to work on during your practice sessions. If you can fix one little thing each day then you will establish a pattern of being a better player today than you were yesterday. Frustration and anger are not positive motivators so it might be a good idea to stop your pracitce when these feelings begin to emerge. Put the flute down and return later in the day when you can be more positive about your playing.
"A most important factor in playing the flute is one's attitude towards practising. One must take great pleasure in playing and enjoy it." (The Gilbert Legacy, Floyd, pp20)