View each practice session as an opportunity to experiment and play with what we’ve learned, rather than succumbing to the pressures of perfectionism
It’s so easy to get caught up in the pressure of perfectionism in our flute practice. Of course, we’d love to play flawlessly. That’s why we’re practicing, right?
But we sometimes need a gentle reminder that part of the reason we’re practicing and playing the flute is out of enjoyment for the instrument and music. When we focus on this instead of being wrapped up in all the ‘mistakes’ we make in the practice room, we’re able to embrace the learning process and enjoy what we play every day, not just on the days when things go well.
My favourite way to think about this is to imagine that we’re channelling our inner scientist, which will allow us to approach our practice sessions as joyful experimentations.
This change in mindset helps us view each practice session as an opportunity to experiment and play with what we’ve learned, rather than succumbing to the pressures of perfectionism and self-criticism. It shifts our focus from the end result to the actual process of learning and growth.
Let’s explore how we can apply this approach to our flute practice.
First, this requires us to adopt a curious mindset. Instead of seeing mistakes and struggles as failures, we need to see them as opportunities to learn. Every time we make a mistake, it’s a lesson, an opportunity to learn and explore. Those mistakes provide us with valuable information if we are able to objectively step back and observe, as a scientist might.
Failure is simply a necessary part of the learning process. It’s through trial and error that we discover new things and make progress.
So open up your curious minds. Ask yourself probing, objective questions when things don’t work out like you hope or expect them to.
Hmm, my articulation sounds unclear in this passage. What happens if I change the position of my tongue? What happens if I change the vowel shape of my mouth. What happens if I slow it down? Does that help? Or what if I speed it up?
By tapping into our curious minds, we learn so much – not only about how to fix the problem (Great! By changing the position of my tongue, the articulation gets so much clearer!) but also stumble across whole new ideas (Wow! When I change the vowel shape in my mouth, I get so many different colours! These will be so much fun to play with in my piece!).
Test your theories
Just like scientists design experiments to test their various theories, we can try to use our experimentation in the practice room as a way of thinking deeper about what we’re doing.
For example, you may decide to focus on a specific technique, like vibrato. With the information you already know about how we produce sound, what do you think will happen to the sound if you use your diaphragm, your jaw or your throat for vibrato. What about if you speed up or slow down the air column?
If your experiment reinforces what you thought might happen – great! And if not – how fascinating! What does that mean? Open up your curiosity even more and try other experiments to see if you can figure out what’s going on.
This can be such a valuable way to explore the possibilities of your instrument!
Analyse your playing
I think there’s an important difference between being self-critical and analysing your playing.
The first is a subjective value judgement that restricts our creativity, while the second is objective and open to experimentation.
When we’re being self-critical our inner voice tells us what we ‘should’ sound like. If we fall short of that imagined ideal, we feel frustrated and defeated. And this makes practicing hard.
On the other hand, if we’re able to step back and objectively observe our playing, we can better evaluate our strengths and weakness without judgment. We can assess our playing with a critical eye, but without the added emotional baggage of self-criticism. This will allow us to be open to trying new things to see how it might affect our playing.
It’s about the journey
One of the best ways to help us shift this mindset is to remember that our practice is about enjoying the learning process. The more we hold onto that thought, the more we can learn to enjoy this aspect of experimentation in our practice – especially when it doesn’t work, because it means we’ve learned something new!
Just like scientists are driven by their passion for discovery, we need to find joy in the process. We should celebrate our successes, no matter how small, and learn to feel curious – and even delighted – by our failures as they mean we get to learn something new!
Our value comes not from how we play, but from how we practice
Our struggles in the practice room do not define our self-worth. Instead, they are opportunities for growth and discovery. So let’s get out that clipboard and embrace our inner scientist! Let’s experiment and goof around – it will ultimately cultivate a deeper appreciation for the flute and help us because the best musicians we can be.