Reinvigorating Flute Practice

“Goodie Bags” for Reinvigorating Flute Practice

As musicians, there are times when we know we need some help reinvigorating our flute practice.  We might feel like we’re spinning our wheels and not improving. Maybe we’ve prepared everything for the lesson as best as we can but don’t feel like there’s anything else to do. Or perhaps the teacher is out of town and you have another week before she assigns new material. Sometimes practice can feel monotonous and we need a little jolt of excitement to get the creative juices flowing again.

“Besides the lesson assignments, what else can I practice?”

But if you have prepared all the lesson materials and are still looking for something to do (or if you need new ideas to add some excitement to your practice), try the following activity.

Practice Goodie Bags

Print out this sheet and cut on the dotted lines.

ideas for creative flute practice

Notice that there are two columns. One is marked “no flute needed.” Place these pieces of paper in one bag and the items in the “flute needed” column in the second bag. You can fold them in half to conceal the contents. Tape the headings on to the bags like this:

bags of ideas for practice

two bags to choose from

Activities in the “no flute needed” bag include activities online, composition ideas, singing/humming the lesson, and exercising. These might not seem like practicing, but time spent in these activities will help your playing and deepen your musical knowledge.

In the “flute needed” bag, you will find ideas for improvising, practice hacks, and reminders to practice sight reading and record yourself.

You could just choose an activity off the list, but I think drawing from a mystery bag is much more fun. My children use a similar activity for chores. We write chores on slips of paper and draw them one at a time. We also write a few fun activities on the paper to stir things up. They don’t really want to do any of the chores, but when the bag tells them (not me!) they will get to work.

More ideas for general motivation (not just reinvigorating flute practice) can be found in a three-part series I wrote for this blog:

Blog articles on creative ways to practice include

Happy practicing!

Improvisation Inspiration

Improvisation Inspiration

beatboxing improvisation

As part of my “file cabinet” method for organizing practice, I encourage everyone to add improvisation to their daily practice. Remember, improvisation can take lots of different forms from trying to figure out at favorite song by ear to playing a solo with a jazz band.

Flutists can do some really cool things with their instruments, like using the keys to make percussion sounds, singing and playing at the same time, or flutter tonguing. These “extended techniques” give us a big sound palette and modern composers such as Robert Dick are taking full advantage of them.

Greg Pattillo is a flutist who is pushing the boundaries of the sonic capabilities of the flute. He beatboxes while playing to create a totally new and exciting sound. You can find him on many YouTube videos. Here’s a link to some of the videos he has posted on his personal website:

Greg has a video “Beatbox Flute 101” to help get you started:

Want to be the coolest flutist in the band? Try beatboxing and impress all your friends!


Practice Session, part 5: Improvisation

Improvisation: Beyond the Lesson Materials.

The fifth part of a practice session should include music that you love.

If you’re just starting this blog series, be sure to read the OVERVIEW and posts about the four other sections. The links are below.

  1. Warm up.
  2. Scales & Technique.
  3. Etudes.
  4. Repertoire.
  5. Improvisation and revisiting old material.
  6. Review, warm-down, reflecting on goals and planning for the next practice session.

The fifth part of a well-organized practice time will help you to reconnect to your inner musician and begin to wrap up the practice session. If we are considering a 30 minute practice interval, the fifth part will include minutes 25-28.

If you’re not a jazz musician, you may feel reluctant to add improvisation to your practice, but I assure you that it’s just as important as scales and etudes.

Improvisation here is defined broadly. I’m using the term to mean any music that you play away from the page or which reconnects you to your love of music. You can literally “improvise” what you want to do for these three minutes.

Improvisation in this broad sense may include

  1. made up songs
  2. figuring out songs you know
  3. sight reading
  4. playing “non-classical” music
  5. returning to pieces you have passed but make you happy

One of my favorite made up songs is the “How I Feel Today Song.” For this exercise, simply ask yourself how you feel in this moment. Perhaps you’re tired and annoyed. Or maybe you’re feeling joyful and busy. Direct those feelings into you fingertips. Choose a key (or not) and let your fingers move in any way they wish. You may be surprised by what you hear. I’ll give more ideas about improvising in a future blog post, but here are a few more suggestions:

  • Without using music, figure out a favorite song– this could be a simple folk song like “Twinkle Twinkle” or a song you hear on the radio like “Let It Go.”
  • Begin playing from sheet music but after a couple of measures, continue by making up your own music in the same style and key.
  • Play along with a favorite recording, not necessarily with the melody. Pretend you are a backup singer or someone in the band.

This part of the practice session is also where you will want to include some sight reading. Everyone benefits from sight reading practice, though “practicing sigh reading” sounds like an oxymoron. Adult students seem to get the most benefit out of regular sight reading practice. Here’s some of the music in my husband’s sight reading stack today:


piano books for sight reading


These three minutes of practice, offers the opportunity to play music that you might not work on in a lesson. Many of my flute students enjoy playing pop songs, tunes from musicals, church music, or folk music from all around the world. Many collections of pop music will include a play-along CD and these can be lots of fun. Although this fun music should not compromise the time you spend on repertoire for your lesson, it is important to always play something you enjoy. These are some fun books I have in my collection:

fun music


This fifth “drawer” of the practice cabinet will also include pieces you have played in the past and love. This could be ensemble music that makes you happy or repertoire music that you enjoy. You won’t play these pieces for your weekly lesson because you have moved past this music, but in this section of your practice, it doesn’t matter. It can be gratifying to return to music you played in the past and realize that now you have better mastery of them.

Be sure to reconnect with music that makes you happy every day. Awaken the creative spark inside by getting off the printed sheet music. Remind yourself of the progress that you have made when you are revisiting old pieces. The fifth part of your practice session is the perfect place to improvise with the music you play.

When your time is up, continue to the sixth and final “drawer” REVIEW.