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Practicing the Flute Backwards

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Ellen Redman, a Massachusetts musician, flute teacher, and clicker trainer (dogs), shows us an ingenious way to learn music, using clicker principles and backchaining.


I've recently begun using the technique of backchaining in my daily flute practice routine. What I have found is an efficient, stress-free, and satisfying way to learn music, which also makes it more enjoyable to perform, as many of the elements that cause performance anxiety are no longer present when a piece is prepared this way.

Beginning at the end of a movement, or, ideally at the end of the piece, work one section at a time starting with the last little bit. You THEN BACK UP AND ADD only as many notes to what you already know as will allow you to continue playing the section successfully. If you ARE PLAYING later and find you don't know it as well as you might like, try repeating the process adding fewer notes with each progression. As you progress backwards, you can stop repeating sections that ARE COMFORTABLE AND FAMILIAR. IDEALLY YOU SHOULD BE SO COMFORTABLE THAT YOU stop literally reading the notes.

The concept is to always be moving towards more familiar material. Sometimes when we make an error in performance it distracts us, and if we are heading from more heavily practiced material (historically the beginning) into less, the chances of a more serious error escalate. Imagine, instead, that you feel more confident as you go, so that it is easier to let go of the error and continue.

Ellen Redman
Springfield Symphony Orchestra

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