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New Piece, Now What?

You have a new piece to prepare and are wondering "where do I even begin?". You might be inclined to dive straight into playing the piece at full tempo out of panic from seeing your approaching deadline and fear of wondering if you'll be able to even play the piece. Remember that the way you prepare and practice will make all the difference in the end. Each of the preparation steps listed below will lead to a much more effective performance in the end--both technically and musically!

How to prepare a piece for an effective performance:

  1. Research the history behind the piece. It’s important to know who the composer is and why they wrote the piece. The time period it was written in can inform the style in which you play the piece. Knowing the occasion for which the piece was written or the story behind it can also inform the character we bring to it. This would also be a good time to translate any terms in the piece that are written in another language. We are sharing someone else’s writing when we perform their piece, and we want to do it justice and honor their work.

  2. Choose three recordings you love for inspiration. Ultimately, your voice is what will come through the music, but it’s important to have different ideas of how the piece can be played for inspiration. Know why you like each of the recordings you chose. However, avoid listening to these recordings to learn the music itself or to copy someone exactly. You need to know the music and have your own voice when you play, so think about how you think it should be played as you learn it from what the composer wrote.

  3. Score study. This is your roadmap, so you know where you’re going. Listen to the whole piece while looking at the flute and piano score (or orchestra, band, quintet, etc. score). In your part, note where you have the melody, who you blend with, when you pass on a phrase or take over a phrase, and parts that you will want to particularly focus on in your practice.

  4. Create a plan: section the piece and identify the hardest spots. Consider your goals and deadline for learning the piece. How long do you have to learn it before your performance? From there, you can divide the piece into small sections and decide how much you will need to learn each day or week to reach your goal. Take into consideration the parts of the music that will need more practice time and work in small sections at a time. Leave extra time in your plan to practice running through the entire piece before the performance and ample time to memorize, if needed.

  5. Practice smarter, not harder. Use practice games and repetition to get tricky passages under your fingers. Practice slowly (at the speed of no mistakes) and always with your metronome. Do not allow yourself to increase the tempo until you’re truly ready and continue to play expressively even at the slower tempos. Slow and intentional practice is essential to building accurate muscle memory, and actually helps you learn the piece faster in the end. Don’t just play through the entire piece again and again, but focus on the sections that need the most work. This will make the most of your practice time. Trust the process.

  6. Polish and perform. Perform even before THE performance! Now that you’ve worked out the details, it’s important to practice running the piece for endurance. When a mistake happens, know that it’s normal, and use it as an opportunity to go back and focus on that passage at a slower tempo again. Ask friends and family to listen to your run throughs and allow yourself to visualize the performance. By the time you get to the actual performance, you’ll be so well prepared and feel like you’ve already performed it before!

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