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Lesson Focus: Shape the phrases and come off the ties on time.

Find the music HERE.

This is one beautiful study! I was excited to get through the first five of them just to arrive at this haunting, slightly cryptic melody.  It was a delight to practice and I think it holds some really valuable lessons for us all.  Enjoy the performance video below.

I thought this one would be a wonderful exercise in deliberately shaping the phrases to the downbeat as the line and articulations create some obstacles, especially for flutists!  For the purpose of this lesson we are going to assume that there are no variations to the rhythmic hierarchy and that beat 1 is where the high point of the phrase will be. See the example of the phrase hairpins on the first line marked below.


Let’s discuss the possible pitfalls shall we?

  1. Avoid making the second beat louder than the first. This is important in bars like 2, 3 and 4 where the note on the second beat is a lot higher than the first note which will cause it to jump out a lot louder if you aren’t careful to bring it into balance.

  2. Avoid being late off the ties. It is easiest to think of the notes after the tie as a pick up to the 3rd beat rather than the end of the 2nd beat. Somehow this improves the flow and helps you get off the tie a little bit faster since your brain is more worried about placing beat 3 on time rather than waiting to arrive on beat 2 before you move.

  3. Make sure to play the eighth note on the “and” of one less than the downbeat to keep the phrase shape that we are intending.

STEP 1: Get a recorder

I think I was told this at least a million times before I ever actually did it. Using a recorder when you practice is a GAME CHANGER and it is totally worth it. Still not convinced? Try learning to apply make-up without ever using a mirror and see how that goes. I mean never, like when you’re done your make-up you just go out with whatever you did sight unseen. Most of us wouldn’t do that but somehow we are perfectly comfortable doing exactly that when it comes to our playing. It is really important to understand that you cannot hear yourself objectively as you play and recording yourself gives you the ability to actually hear what you are doing.  This one concept alone will profoundly change your playing for the better.

STEP 2: Choose an intention

Just as with all the other studies you need to decide what you are practicing. It may be that you need to begin by going through the study carefully with a metronome to learn all the notes and rhythms. If this is what you are doing then be sure that is what you focus on. Maybe you are going to focus on the first of the three pitfalls as listed above. Great! Just make sure that is what you are actually measuring, recording and striving to do. Simply repeating music and seeing what happens is practicing without any intention. It’s like choosing your outfit without regard for the weather or your schedule. Last time I checked jeans and a crop top aren’t a great choice for ice fishing and a formal gown makes rollerblading in the summer heat harder than it has to be. Both might be super cute outfits but out of context they aren’t living up to their potential to compliment your experience the way you thought they might. Setting an intention and focusing on that goal when you practice uses the time that you have in a way that works best for where you are in the learning journey and helps tangibly move you towards where you want to be.

STEP 3: Design a process

So you want to phrase to the downbeat? How can you practice this? Remember that the best teacher you will ever have in your musical journey is YOU! Ultimately you should be coming up with different things to try and assimilate a certain skill into your playing. Of course we all need advice from time to time and that’s what a teacher is for. Some of the things you could try are as follows.

  • Mark the phrases in the music.

  • Use a recorder to determine if you are actually playing them.

  • Use a recorder again to see if you are now actually playing them after your realized you weren’t the first time around.

  • Practice in slow motion, making the shapes really obvious.

  • Practice the phrases all on one note so you can hear the shape independent of the register.

  • Think of your own strategies.

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