Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Reflecting back on my many years of lessons I realize how my mental state changed over time. For a frame of reference, I am a rule-follower. I love knowing exactly what I need to do, for how long, and exactly how to do it. I love directions and clear instructions. However, this fosters dependency on a teacher.
In college and in school we are used to doing assignments and doing things until they’re “good enough.” Good enough for your teacher, your professor, to get in to the top ensemble, to have a solo — I could go on and on. The downfall of this mentality is that you’re relying on an outside opinion to dictate the results of your practicing.
Instead maybe try asking yourself this: “Do I love the way I played this phrase?” If not, why didn’t you like it? What it a problem with sound? What about the sound? How would you fix this problem? What would you change physically? Is it a technical problem? Between which notes were your fingers uneven? Do you need to practice this technique further, or is this a balance problem with the flute? Are you accounting for every single note?
These are productive rabbit holes, and definitely worth your time. Because, if you don’t like the way you play a phrase, it is hard to convince other people to like it. Not only that, you’ll be more excited to share a performance if you love how you play!
Now for the mental drama: “Am I allowed to say that I love how I play?” — Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, of course! Does Beyoncé think she is a good singer? Does Kanye think he is an amazing artist? Yes. You’re allowed to like how you play. We often get caught in a perpetual loop of negative self talk. I know it feels icky to say we love how we play (which is bonkers), but just try it out, see what happens.
Empowering yourself in your practice comes from meeting the expectations you set for yourself. If you’re practicing so it will be “good enough” for your teacher, you won’t feel satisfied unless your teacher says you did a good job. You are giving everyone else the power to decide if you play well. I think it is our responsibility to love how we play.