My theme lately has been to focus better in the practice room. Today, the struggle was real in the wake of personal problems. So when I got in the practice room I turned the lights off and meditated. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Just sat there and observed my thoughts without judgment.
When the timer went off, my mind felt superhuman. I really need to make meditation a daily practice once again. There was a time when I felt very in control of my mind and emotions; I got complacent and stopped practicing back then. Just saying I need to start up again isn’t good enough. I am committing to at least 3 minutes before every practice session starting now.
So I began about 8AM with a little breathing exercise. Holding my arms above my head, I took a deep slow breath as I leaned down to touch my toes. Held in the air for a while, about 5-10 seconds, then slowly exhaled as I came back up to neutral standing position. I did that 5 times. I used to do 3, but 3 became easy and now I do 5. It makes my lungs feel stronger and more expansive.
The short version:
30 minutes flute
25 minutes Bach
5 minutes neighbor tones
1 hour tunes
30 minutes flute
Then I did long tones on the flute. I can hold most pitches for around 10-12 counts now, up from about 8 a couple of weeks ago. My control of tuning, tone, and range is increasing rapidly still. I focused intently on my posture and embouchure for a while, then I put a little extra attention on making my fingers move smoothly and softly. The flute requires a softer touch than the sax.
When my long tones reached the bottom of my range, I switched to overtones. Fingering a low D, I can produce a D one octave higher, and an A a 5th above that higher D. I practiced moving between each overtone as quickly as possible. There is often a sound of both the low D and the overtone together if my embouchure isn’t quite right, so I worked to make sure only one pitch was happening at once.
After flute, I started with the Bach exercise on sax. My mind has grown tremendously in the way it understands large diatonic intervals from doing this exercise. At first it took me a lot of mental strain and almost a whole breath to play a 4-note pattern in this method. Now it’s pretty easy on mind and body. My ear is more sensitive to precise tuning, and using TonalEnergy Tuner has made me much more aware of which notes are sharp/flat on my horn. I can play this about 2-3x faster than I do, but I pause to adjust for tuning.
When I finished Bach, I had just a few minutes left before class so I quickly ran through my major and minor neighbor tones. That exercise is basically isolating chord tones, then playing neighbor figures around them.
For instance, in C major, the chord tones are C-E-G. So I play C-D-B-C (neighbor figure of C), then E-F-D#-E, then G-A-F#-G. Essentially the pattern is chord tone, diatonic upper neighbor, chromatic lower neighbor, chord tone. In minor I use b6 (or “le”) as the diatonic upper neighbor to scale degree 5. For example, in C minor, that would be G-Ab-F#-G.
Later, I had to prepare for upcoming juries next week. I’m responsible for knowing the 8 tunes I listed from memory. So I ran through 3 of them today with backing tracks, playing as much from memory as possible. Donna Lee, Milestones (old), and All The Things You Are. Although Milestones is fairly new to me, it was fun to revisit Donna Lee and All the Things since I’ve improved significantly since I last played them. I made sure I could get through a head and a chorus of improvisation completely from memory before moving on.
I started teaching lessons in a suburb of Chicago on Mondays, so that’s pretty much all the time I can afford at school. But I brought my flute for a couple small breaks I had, and was able to practice some more. I did 5-note patterns on major scales. It’s simple, but a great way to enhance my fundamentals. The simple stuff lets me focus intently on how my hands are moving, how I’m using my air, and less tangible things like tone and intonations.
Next I practiced playing chord tones in the ii7-V7-IM7-VI7 progression (very typical in jazz). I did this exercise early on in my jazz training, and it's invaluable to hearing and playing changes. I set limitations on my playing, such as only starting from the lowest chord tone available, or the highest, or playing a specific rhythm. Eventually I let myself mix in a few licks and free improvisation.
And finally, I wrapped up with minor tonic triads in all twelve keys (i.e. C minor triad in c minor, f minor triad in f minor) moving down the circle of fifths.