The Flute Show - flute expert

Why you Shouldn't Practice Music Like a Video Game

Discover the right way of practicing your flute.

In this video, Florence talks about practicing and how to avoid doing it like playing in a "Video Game."

Released on February 3, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert: Hi. Welcome to the Flute Show with Florence Estrin, and I'm Robert Estrin and here at Today's subject is why you shouldn't practice flute like a video game. Now, you might think it would be fun to make it like a videogame, but why shouldn't you do that. I guess you've got some insights on that, Florence. Thanks, and tell us about this.

Florence: Okay. One thing that I notice with a lot of especially young flutists who are starting off, they start a piece, and then they get to something, it goes wrong, and then they go all the way back to the beginning of the piece. And I say that this is mostly with people that are fairly beginner because maybe their piece isn't that long. Well, certainly if you're playing a piece that's two pages long, if you make a mistake on the second page, you're not going to go back to the beginning hopefully.

But I actually had a flute student whose piano teacher would make her go through metronome speeds for an entire extended advanced work, one notch at a time, go through the entire piece, then up one notch. And it was like... And I said to her, "And isn't the biggest challenge just that you're bored out of your mind?" And she said, "Yeah, and then I make mistakes because I can't concentrate." So that's a very big mistake. If you're going to use metronome speeds on something, it should be a section.

Robert: Absolutely.

Florence: Okay. Now that being said, you may get your sections together, and then you want to see if you can play the whole piece, and it's important to be able to play the whole piece at the same tempo. So yes, you can...but If you're going to go way back to slow and work up incrementally, you're not going to want to do that with like a five-page long piece. And I think this was Rhapsody Blue they were talking about or something. I don't even know how you could do because there's too many tempo changes. But anyway, so it's very important to focus on the difficult part. And I think part of the reason why nobody wants to do that is because it's so much more fun to be playing when things are going well, and then you get to the part that you can't play, and you don't want to play it because it's...

Robert: I think another part is that sometimes you mess something up and you feel, "Oh, I should have gotten that." You feel like you could have gotten it, so rather than practice, you go, "I'm just going to try it again. I'm sure I can get it." And sometimes then if you waste that much time, it almost becomes like the Vietnam War thing. It's like when do you pull the plug on that approach?

Florence: Oh, gosh. Yeah. No, it's really true. So what you want to do is isolate the hard sections and work up just the part that you really can't play. Now having said that, then you must realize that you might be able to play this hard little section right there by itself, but you can't get into it. And that's another mistake a lot of people make.

I actually remembered, and this was a very fine oboist, and we were playing Darius Milhaud's Creation of the World. And it has these big oboe rhapsodic solos with big leaps and stuff, and the piccolo has it also. And I was playing the piccolo, and she was playing the oboe. And at the rehearsals, there was one place where every time she got to a certain interval leap, she would cack it, basically it didn't come out correctly. And what I noticed she did though, leading up to the rehearsals and also the concerts, she would sit there quietly doing the leap, and she nailed it every time, right, but it wasn't in context. And the difference between just being able to do it back and forth, back and forth, that leap, and do it in the context of the way she needed to play that phrase was totally different. And she didn't get it at the performance either. And she was a fine player in a fine conservatory too at the time. And I just...but I even thought about it. It's like yeah, she's not doing it the way she has to do it in context.

And so it's very important not only to get that difficult section mastered, but then what you might find is okay, lead into it just a little bit before, and you might find, "Oh my goodness, how come I screw up as soon as I get to it?" Because you have to know how get into it. Starting on something is different than getting into it. And then you might find, okay, you can do from a little bit before, but maybe you can't do from a little bit further before. Especially on a wind instrument, the pacing...

Robert: Same thing with piano. I have a video on the subject, The Band-Aid Approach, and I explain how you have to make the correction and then lead into it, then lead further into it. It's all about context, isn't it?

Florence: Right, right. So the first thing is, and I think earlier on in your learning of a piece is to isolate those tough sections, work them out, but then remember, you can't just work on those sections and expect the whole thing's going to work together without practicing the whole performance. And that's another thing. If you're going to perform something, put all the pieces together. I've seen students come in, and they have a big contest the next day, and there's not anything in the piece they can't play if they take it section by section because that's how they practiced it. But then when it's time to play a performance, first of all, they don't have an interpretation because they haven't really thought about what the whole piece is.

Robert: And the same things goes with playing a program. If you're playing a whole concert, you better be able to play through the whole concert...

Florence: Absolutely.

Robert: A number of times in front of people and all that.

Florence: Absolutely. There's a pacing to a program, and it's a little bit like...well, I've never run a marathon, but there have to conserve energy and have it for this, and it's mental energy as well as physical energy.

Robert: That's right. So it isn't just like playing a videogame, but it can be fun and rewarding if you do it right.

Florence: Absolutely. It's much more fun and rewarding because you can say something with it. Yes.

Robert: Well, thanks for this great advice, Florence. And this has been The Flute Show. You're at Thanks so much for joining us.
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