Transform your flute practice by escaping your comfort zone. Discover how pushing your boundaries can help you grow faster as a musician
Practicing is inherently repetitious. We deliberately spend our time repeating fingering patterns, phrases, tone exercises striving for excellence. But this seemingly endless repetition can easily cause us to build up little sanctuaries of comfort zones. We have our routines, which while of course super valuable for all its own reasons runs the risk of making our practicing feel stale and can hinder our growth.
So, let’s explore the uncharted territory beyond these boundaries, understanding why stepping out of your comfort zone is essential, especially for our flute playing. By pushing ourselves to new heights, we can grow faster as musicians and cultivate the confidence needed to conquer fresh challenges.
Don’t get too comfy
Think of your comfort zone as that snug corner where everything feels cozy and predictable. It’s like your musical safe haven. Sure, it is inviting—it coddles us with familiarity and a sense of security. But what is learning other than being exposed to unfamiliar things? Without that exposure, growth is impossible.
It’s so easy for students to practice the things they’re good at. Those who are good at their scales tend to practice lots of scale patterns and enjoy letting their fingers fly. And those who are great expressive players will often find themselves playing emotive pieces where they get to exercise their tonal colours.
These are all great things to practice, but we’ll never get better if we never push our limits on the things we are not so great at.
Personal anecdote time: During my masters course I took an Arabic language module, because why not? I remember a few days before an exam our tutor asked us if we wanted to do lots of drills for the stuff that we were all struggling with, or we could try some exercises that were much, much easier. The whole class enthusiastically shouted “THE FIRST ONE!” and I remember feeling like such an adult! Haha. Only a mature person would volunteer to do the stuff that we knew we sucked at, because we all understood that was the only way we’d get better. Had this been a class in my undergraduate course, I probably would have chosen differently… 😂
Leaping over the boundary of our comfort zone is how we learn.
Welcome to the Danger Zone
I’m sorry, all this talk of zones and I couldn’t let a good Top Gun reference slip by, but stepping out of our comfort zone does very much feels like stepping into a danger zone. It can be scary!
What if we make a fool of ourselves? What if we mess up? Trying something that we’re scared of or that we know we’re not good at is terrifying and can bring up all sorts of worries and fears about failure and judgement.
But stepping outside your comfort zone is invaluable in your growth as a musician (and human). It accelerates progress, fosters adaptability and versatility in your playing. It breaks us out of our routines and inspires a more creative mode of learning. Your self-confidence will blossom when you try new things—you’ll realise that you’ve got so much more to you than you originally thought! Exploring new techniques and genres awakens creativity, and your problem-solving skills will be sharpened as you face—and overcome—new obstacles.
How to step out of your comfort zone
So… what are some of the ways we can break out of our comfortable little practice bubble?
- Explore different genres or styles: Why not try your hand at some different genres? Get your Ian Anderson on with some Jethro Tull, or maybe try some beatboxing à la Greg Patillo. Or maybe even just jam along to your fav song—you can find countless tutorials for all the TikTok viral songs! Not only will you be learning new things, you’ll hopefully be playing different kinds of music that you love.
- Experiment with extended techniques: One of the best things about the flute is that we have a massive library of extended techniques that we can use. More and more things like multiphonics and singing and playing are charming their way into our standard repertoire, so it’s great to know how to do these things for practical reasons. But an added bonus? Most of them are super fun to play! I highly recommend the book Beatboxing & Beyond by Nicole Chamberlain and Dr Mary Matthews, which explains a lot of these techniques like jet whistles, flutter tonguing, pizzicato tongue and key clicks in a super engaging and approachable way.
- Shake up your routine: Introduce variation into your practice routine. Alter the order of exercises, try practicing at different times of day, or swap between technical and expressive pieces. This is a fairly low risk way to keep things feeling fresh and interesting!
- Try something that scares you: Identify a challenge that intimidates you—maybe that’s tackling a complex rhythm, trying your hand as some improv, taking on a piece of music that you love but that feels like it’s out of your reach (just start super slowly!), or even just putting yourself out there by posting on something like the Etude of the Week Facebook group! You might even surprise yourself!
- Perform in diverse settings: We play music to perform, even if that’s only to ourselves. But trying to find new settings and environments to play is a great way to grow as a musician. Family often love hearing what we’re up to, so ask if they’d like to hear a song at your next gathering (everyone loves a Christmas carol, so they may even help you out by singing along at your next Xmas dinner!). If the weather’s nice, why not pitch a spot somewhere public and busk. You might even make a few coins! 😉
Personal growth and evolution
Beyond your flute, stepping out of your comfort zone helps your personal growth. Challenges help us learn resilience and adaptability. Exercising these qualities in the practice room can extend out into our normal lives. Every hurdle we face is a chance to learn more about ourselves and the flute!
Let me know how you’ve recently broke free of your comfort zone with your practice in the comments below!