Welcome To The Creative Act

A pro-musician making sense of the creative process within the context of his life experience.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Importance Of Practice

Something I've noticed on Native Flute discussion boards is how little the discipline of diligent practice is mentioned. When I used to frequent music stores as a youth, I would hear guitarists playing sections of their favorite songs but never actually playing a whole song. One day, a guy came in and proceeded to play Hendrix's 'Little Wing' on an acoustic guitar. I was amazed! Even though the shop had a number of guys in it, I found myself to be the only one who talked with him. During our conversation, he revealed to me that he knew lots of songs and that the only way to learn them is to PRACTICE them diligently and intelligently. He said that most players know bits and pieces of songs and tend to practice those parts but they never go all the way and learn the whole song because they hit a brick wall whenever a difficult part or technique is required. They take the lazy way. He also gave me credit for talking with him because his experience was that most 'music store players' were intimidated by his chops and would never talk to him!

I took to heart what this player told me and it has informed my study all these years. Now I will tell you something I told a flute player in my friend's music store here in Santa Fe last year. The player was talking about all the great flutes by famous makers that he had collected. I asked him to play me a song. He said he didn't know any songs but he would improv for me. I listened and when he was done I asked him to play another improv for me. He looked at me kind of funny but proceeded to do another improv. Low and behold, it shortly turned into the prior improv! I told him that I just wanted to be helpful but I wanted to know if he knew what had just happened. He admitted that his improvs tended to favor one another but he figured that was the nature of the NAF because of the limitations of the pentatonic scale of a five hole flute. I proceeded to show him some things that would be possible with his improv by applying technique and what song ideas could present themselves with some thoughtful practice. He wrote me a couple of months ago and told me that our visit inspired him and that his flute had turned into a butterfly when it used to be a caterpillar!

I mention this because I have met dozens of flute players over the years who were treating their flute like a caterpillar when there was a butterfly waiting to get out. These instruments do not play themselves. Like any other fine instrument, they require diligent, intelligent practice to allow their true nature to be manifested. Of course, if a person is just playing for their own kicks, they are free to do whatever they want. However, if the person is seeking to elevate the art form, diligent practice is the ONLY way!

Flute Dynamics

My observation is that many flute players do not pay adequate attention to the concept of 'Dynamics'. The definition of Dynamics as applied to music is the variation in force or intensity in sound production. Effective Dynamics allows a flute song to display an added dimension that emotionally moves the listener. I hear a lot of flute music on the web that would be much better received if only the player displayed some dynamism. Dynamics allows tension to be built and resolved which calls for an emotional response from the listener. It's more than just playing loud and then soft. It's about knowing the song's emotional requirements. It's about knowing the story that the song wants to tell. This is why actual song making is important. If a player intimately knows the song, the song's dynamic requirements will eventually become apparent.

Variation in force or intensity is brought about by effective use of the diaphragm, the muscle that controls breathing. Pushing air from the diaphragm is basically the flute's volume control. Of course, it's more than than just pushing air. Dynamism is also realized by effective use of vibrato. Many flute players offer one force with no vibrato which leaves the listener bored as a result. This one dimensional approach does not help in elevating the art form as a bored listener will not seek out more flute music. A simple, effective way to achieve smooth vibrato is to practice breathing into the flute while making a 'hohohohoho' or 'hahahahaha' sound from the diaphragm. Practice until the process is smooth and not forced. It takes practice...there is no other way around it!

Here is a link to my Flute Forum Music Player that I hope will illustrate the effective use of Dynamics. (http://www.fluteportal.com/music/246) The song I am referring to is called 'The Hole In The Sky'. Listeners of this song often remark that they appreciate hearing the flute played with this kind of emotionalism and intensity. It actually helps them spark their imagination. That's what we, as flute players, should be doing. We should be sparking people's imaginations. Are you doing it?