Don't be so Hard on Yourself!

When practicing let’s not forget the reason we do it: to improve. If we played perfectly from the start we wouldn’t need to practice. While that would be convenient, it’s not realistic. We’re not born as virtuoso flutists.

Think of it this way, if you were to put on a pair of ice skates you wouldn’t expect to win the Olympic gold for figure skating the next day. If you decided to learn Chinese, you wouldn’t expect to speak to someone in Chinese and instantly understand everything they say. You would make mistakes and they would correct you, that’s how you learn.

Practicing music works the same way. The purpose is to identify the areas that need improvement and fix them. Not to beat yourself up over mistakes.  This is something that I personally learned the hard way.  Unfortunately its something that everyone else has to learn for themselves too, but I hope that my experience can at least help to guide you in the right direction.

The first thing I recommend is to practice in a rational, logical way. This can be extremely difficult because music is such an emotional experience, but just because we are pouring our emotions into the sound we make, doesn’t mean that our method has to be emotional.

-Play through the piece and make a note of the parts that need a little extra work. This is your first analysis of what you need to accomplish. Notice that I used analysis and not critique. Criticism even when constructive is sometimes difficult to take without internalizing it. Criticism also tend to dwell on mistakes. Analysis considers everything. Make a note of the things you like too, so you’ll be sure to do it again!

-If you find yourself getting frustrated and angry or sad, put down the flute. Take just the sheet music in your hand and read through it. Try and go back to a logical mindset. Why is this part giving you trouble? Is there a tricky rhythm there that you need to subdivide? Is there a cross fingering where two fingers are moving in opposite directions. Of course you will have trouble with things like that. Those things are tricky. Just analyse it out and fix it. You’ll know when you’ve figured it out. Once your mind goes “Ah HA!” Then you can pick up your flute and try it again.

I spent a lot of time being extremely hard on myself when practicing and I really held myself back because of it. After I finished my degree in music, I essentially stopped playing for a few years. I couldn’t pick up my instrument without feeling that I wasn’t good enough. It was extremely painful, as playing flute was the most important part of me.  I felt that if that part of me wasn’t good enough, then maybe I wasn’t good enough as a person either.  It took a lot of soul searching for me to figure it out. There’s no such thing as “good enough.” What does that even mean!? Playing isn’t like climbing a ladder, where you keep going and then your on top. It’s like climbing a tree. You have many, many directions to choose. You can move outward or upward, and turn around and explore other branches. Even if you do reach the top, those flimsy branches won’t support you very long anyway before it’s time to go back down and try something else. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that if I realized this sooner I be a better flute player… but I also think this experience may have made me a better musician.