Practicing Without Your Instrument
Maybe your flute is getting a repair.
Maybe you live in an apartment and it's too late to practice.
Or maybe you have an injury in which you can't play as frequently as you would like.
Either way, there are a lot of effective practice strategies that don't require physically playing but are just as helpful if not MORE helpful than just playing our flute. We would argue that all of these things are important to do even when you have your flute in front of you. Below we've listed our favorite 5 ways to practice away from our flutes.
Find multiple recordings of your piece. Try and find reliable recordings if you can, with good sound quality. Figure out which recordings you enjoy listening to the most and then try and figure out WHY you like that recording the most. Some flutists will copy their favorite players but a true and individualized interpretation is taking these things and making them your own. Figure out what you want to do with the music, what you want to say, and how you will say it through phrasing, tone color, dynamics, and phrasing.
2. Part and Score Analysis
Analyze your part. This can vary from noting clearer phrasing, breath marks, and dynamics to doing a harmonic analysis of your part and the full score. If your work is for flute and piano, analyze the piano part in order to fully understand the accompaniment. This should definitely be done before playing with the pianist as it will help not only your interpretation but it will also help the rehearsal run smoother. This includes writing in cues if there are measures rest, writing in the rhythmic accompaniment in challenging sections, and even writing in chords that are important to the harmonic structure.
3. Analyze Your Own Recordings
If you know you have to send your flute in for repair and you have time to record yourself, you can use your time away to listen back to your own recordings. I find that it helps to listen back with specific goals in mind so you aren't overwhelmed listening to yourself. You can listen once for tempo and rhythmic consistency, then listen again for tuning accuracy, and listen a third time for dynamics and musicality. You can do this as many times as you want or need.
Sing your part! This is a favorite of our former teacher, Carol Wincenc! Singing can really open up how we want to interpret our music as well as what sounds good without the limitations of the instrument. The flute is very closely related to the voice. Our instrument doesn't have nearly as much physical resonance that the wooden chamber of a violin or cello has. This leaves us to use our bodies to create different tone colors and resonance. Singing is the easiest way to unlock some of these techniques. When we create more space in our mouths when singing, it improves our vocal resonance. This, in turn, can directly change our tone resonance when we pick our flute back up. The voice has a natural way of using air and vibrato to improve the musical phrase. How can we use this to impact the vibrato we use when playing?
5. Note Reading and Mental Practice
You can read along with your music and practice without your instrument in a couple of ways. One of our teachers, Rosa, loves to practice with a pencil when she's on the subway! We find it can be very helpful to literally say note names out-loud when doing this. This is especially helpful for newer players as it retains and emphasizes lining up fingerings and note names.
No matter your situation, we hope that these ideas help you to elevate your practice routines! Comment below if you have any ways you enjoy practicing without your instrument.