Stop thinking, start feeling

How did it feel to play this passage like this? A question I often ask during lessons and masterclasses. At first, the students are confused and don’t know what to say. Sometimes they repeat the question. But usually there is an answer after a short time. Students who often take lessons with me are more used to this question.

The reason I ask this question a lot is because adults in particular are stuck in their playing. Many musicians play with their heads. And I can’t blame them. From the moment they started taking lessons, they were told what is right and wrong, how to play the flute and how to make music. We start thinking about things and that can cause blockages. I’m not saying we shouldn’t think about our playing. I think that’s very useful. My problem is that we often forget to combine thinking and feeling when playing the flute and making music.

We have to develop two things: the flutist and the musician. The flutist develops skills to master the flute. This is the technical part. We learn to play the notes, make a nice sound, play a crescendo, fast passages and so on. The musician interprets the music, creates atmosphere and uses the flutist’s skills to convert the notes on paper into sound.

When you listen to a performance, you can immediately tell whether the flutist or the musician is on stage. Sometimes a piece is played technically perfectly, with very fast, impressive passages, but it is very boring and does not touch the heart of the player and listener.

What can we do? Children often have an advantage. They are probably less blocked and can use their imagination more easily. We as teachers should encourage that and participate in that imagination. Experiment with the flute. Have a laugh while trying tongue stops or singing and playing. Create your own expressive musical story and use the skills they already have. Ask how they feel and how they want to feel playing an exercise or piece. Smile! Enjoy every note, feel every note.

If one plays the flute for a long time and focuses only on the flutist, the road can be much longer. But since we are on a journey, we should enjoy the road to our goal. Start simple and ask ‘How did it feel playing this way’? And after a while you can ask: ‘How do you want to feel playing this piece or this exercise’?

Extended techniques can help to open up. Working with extended techniques challenges students to get out of their comfort zone and when they do, a beautiful world of possibilities opens up. How do you think that feels?


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