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Fluteless Practice on Vacation

Kathy Melago | November 2008

    It is often impossible to take a flute along on vacation, but many flutists simply cannot afford a complete hiatus from practicing when traveling. With planning, substantial progress on learning repertoire can be made without an instrument. Try these suggestions the next time you are separated from your flute.

Pack Your Music
   Sheet music is generally not bulky and can be brought along. Spend time reading the music and mentally rehearsing the piece. Mentally hear every note of the piece with the best tone and style possible, paying attention to dynamics. As you study the score, note what happens during rests. This will save time later when you rehearse with an accompanist. Think about how the phrases will sound with different nuances, and visualize yourself performing the piece confidently.

Gather Recordings
    Collect recordings of the music prior to the trip. A variety of recordings can reveal interesting and diverse interpretations to ponder for your own performance. If possible, listen while reading along with the score and take notes about the interpretations, either directly on the score or on sticky notes that you can remove later, perhaps assigning a different color sticky note to each performer. In particular, note how each flutist shapes phrases, where to breathe in difficult passages, where there are dynamic or articulation changes from those marked in the score, etc.

Pack Staff Paper
    Bring along a few sheets of staff paper and challenge yourself by notating some of the main themes from the piece. Then check the score to see how accurate you were. This technique helps with memorization and improves your dictation skills.

    Articles or other literature about the piece, composer, era, style, and  other relevant topics provide a new perspective from which to approach the work when you return from vacation. Many performances guides have been published in Flute Talk over the years, for example. Assemble a folder of reading material that can be easily pulled out during your trip.

Write a Performance Guide
    When articles or performance guides pertaining to the piece are unavailable, consider writing your own performance or rehearsal guide. Include tips you would use to assist a student who is studying the work, including how to break down difficult technical passages to achieve accuracy, helpful fingerings, breath placement, phrase shapes, and any other special tips you have discovered while preparing the piece.

Analyze the Score
    Using the score, take time to analyze the piece as you would do for a music theory and analysis class. Name the tonal centers, chords, cadences, and form. Besides the obvious benefit of brushing up on your music theory and analysis skills, this technique will help you understand and memorize the work.

Break Out in Song
    Sing or hum the work’s main themes while you are on vacation. See how much of the piece you can get through from memory. If you are traveling with another musician, ask him to look at the score and see how close you are to what is notated.
    Finally, vacationing (yes, even from flute) can help refresh the mind and body. Embrace the opportunity to break free from the practice room and experience new places. Travel exposes you to new landscapes, cultures, and ideas. Think of all the composers who wrote great masterpieces after visiting another country. Take that inspiration home with you and use it to make your playing even better.