IN A RUT?

 

                                   WHAT IT MEANS AND 10 WAYS TO GET OUT OF IT

Everyone 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:

     You are 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.

 3.  Revisit Embellishments:

     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 them!

 4.  Modes, Half-holes, Scales, Cross-fingering and Harmonics:

     Experiment 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:

     Attend flute 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 rhythms:

     Try working 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.

 7.  Assign emotions to embellishments:

     Assign an 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 Feeling:

     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

 

 

 

 

 


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