experiences the "rut" phenomenon. The good news is that it means you've
"gotten it." The bad news is that it means that you've got to push your
own envelope. Many of us play the "same old thing" simply because that is
what we're comfortable with. As we learn and grow, everyone (even the
most experienced players) will experience the rut phenomenon at one time
or another, and each time we become comfortable with different levels of
playing. Here are ten ways to liberate yourself from a rut, no matter what
your level of playing.
Techniques for Getting Out of a Rut:
1. Play in front
of a mirror:
probably missing a lot of note combinations or not playing certain notes
regularly. By playing in front of a mirror, you are able to see your
patterns more clearly and observe which notes you are regularly missing.
Also, change the place where you usually start playing. Many people tend
to start on the fundamental; try starting at the top or in the middle.
2. Stop letting
your fingers do the walking:
Many of us
tend to play habitual finger patterns, rather than trying to hear a melody
in our heads. We become "scalers" rather than thinking in terms of
melodic intervals. Become more familiar with the minor pentatonic scale.
Play each note on the flute, and then tone the note with your voice. This
"installs" each note of the minor pentatonic scale in your body. Try
working out a melody in your head before you put your fingers on the
flute. Singing the melody and using your voice to map the song is also
very helpful. Then play the melody on the flute. Don't be concerned if
each note doesn't exactly match. The point of the exercise is to get out
of the habit of letting your fingers do the walking. Originally, Native
American flute music was based on songs and chants, then transferred to
the flute. Try working with a chant or song by learning to sing the
melody, then learn to play the chant or song on the flute.
Go back to
your embellishments. See what embellishments you are not playing and
revisit them. Are you not playing a certain embellishment because you
don't feel comfortable with your technique, or because it's not your
"style?" If you are not playing an embellishment due to the former
reason, practice it until you feel comfortable with it. Assign an
emotional quality to it, and get into the habit of including it more
frequently in your playing. The more comfortable you are with your
technique, the less you get stuck thinking about things, and the
easier it is to get into the "flow" or "zone" while you are playing.
Listen to other flute players and recordings. Listen to how they are using
their embellishments and when. Come up with new combinations of
embellishments and name them. Remember to write them down and record
Half-holes, Scales, Cross-fingering and Harmonics:
changing Modes, half-holing, using different scales, cross-fingering and
harmonics in order to give yourself more range.
5. Watch and play
with other flute players:
circles and flute gatherings. Watch other flute players and ask
questions. Most importantly, get together and play with other
flute players. Try playing many different types of duets, including
playing in fifths and thirds. Mirror your partner's embellishments and
then add your own twist. This is one of the easiest, fastest, and most
fun ways to stretch yourself and learn new things.
6. Work with
with a rhythm or "background" CD (there are several available), a
metronome (a small electronic metronome can be purchased for under $20), a
Pandora Box (a rhythm and effects box), or doing duets with others. You
can record a rhythm with a frame drum, a rattle, or other instrument on
your tape recorder and then play against it. Working with rhythm gives
you something to "bump up against" and will always shake you out of a rut.
emotions to embellishments:
emotional quality to each embellishment. Play your mood, or choose a mood
or feeling to play. Close your eyes and let yourself go there. Use the
embellishments to augment and express the mood. This is not only
inherently healing, it helps you to internalize the embellishments so that
when you are playing, they will naturally emerge, depending on what "mood"
you are playing or what feeling you are trying to express.
8. Play with
Sing with your
breath. Your breath is a powerfully expressive tool, and is probably the
greatest form of embellishment available to you. Use inflection in your
breath as you would when you sing with your breath. Your breath is a very
personal and expressive instrument. Close your eyes and put yourself in
an emotional state, and it will come through in your breath and your
fingering, and subsequently in your music. After you have assigned
emotional qualities to the embellishments and stored them in your body,
let yourself go into the feeling and trust what emerges as you play.
9. Make "Noise":
Tape a Native
American Creation Story, or other prose or poetry, and play the "sound
effects." This can be done over and over again with no two versions of
the sound effects remaining the same. Go out into the yard and play
animals, insects, birds, people. If that gnarly old tree had a voice,
what would it sound like? What would grass growing sound like? What
would colours or flowers say? Let nature be your guide. Mute the
television and play your version of what is happening as you watch.
Commercials, film noir, comedies, action films, or any other genre of
movie are good sources of visual inspiration. This is often how new
embellishments and embellishment combinations are born. You are only
limited by your imagination! Making "noise" also helps you to get to know
your flute and what it will and won't do at any given time.
10. Have tape
recorder will travel:
Invest in an
inexpensive tape recorder. Remember, your tape recorder is your best
friend! Get in the habit of turning it on whenever you play.
You can always tape over something you don't want to save. One of the
greatest gifts of the flute, as well as one of its greatest frustrations,
is how ephemeral flute music is. Most of us have experienced those
moments when we have played something beautiful and wished we have had the
tape recorder on because, being caught up in the music, we can't quite
remember how we just did that thing. Most importantly, the tape recorder
will give you feedback that's nonjudgmental. Use it to record your improv
sessions, and then listen for those elements of breath control and
technique you want to work further on. The tape recorder will save those
ephemeral riffs and melodic bits that are so fleeting, new embellishments
and embellishment combinations, songs, verbal notes on compositions,
rhythms, ideas, etc. Be sure to record, date, and add any other pertinent
information (e.g., key of flute, name of song, etc.) to your cassette
jacket (or other recording device).
c Stephanie Baldridge 2004