The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music

How do I want this to sound?


In my last post, I suggested starting each practice session with the question, “How do I want this to sound?”  It’s a simple idea, and it has given me lots of inspiration since I was inspired by Jean Ferrandis at the New York Flute Club Flute Fair (see previous post).

This psychic stance, starting from “how I want it to sound” has been very refreshing for me. I think most of my previous practice would start with “how it sounds now” and be focused on trying to make it sound “better.”

Starting with “how do I want it to sound” gives me so many more options, and so much more joy as I work.

It’s also cool as someone who is no longer a “new player.”  I’ve been playing the flute for 30 years now, and pursuing the sound I want, and what I want to share with the audience, is a lot more interesting than just making a piece sound “good.”

Thinking about “how I want it to sound” has been very illuminating, giving me a new perspective on a range of pieces. I recently performed the following works on a recital: one piece I know very well and have performed many times (the Poulenc Sonata), one piece that is new to me but that many flutists have performed and has a ‘history’ (CPE Bach’s Sonata in A Minor for solo flute) and two pieces that are new to me, and relatively recently written (both by Anthony Newman ).

For the old chestnut, the Poulenc, asking myself how I want it to sound has re-opened my imagination, giving me a new and refreshed sense of discovery about the piece…and a new level of confidence in my own interpretation.

For the two Newman pieces, this approach has helped me to get deeper into the process of interpretation sooner than I usually do with new works.  With these new pieces, not only do I start with “how do I want it to sound” but I keep coming back to that question and refining my answer as I learn the pieces better and better.

The CPE Bach falls somewhere in between. I have only just been learning it this year, so in some senses it’s a new piece.  But there are many recordings out there, and it gets taught in master classes*, and so there are lots of opinions about this piece floating in the ether of the flute world (yes, all you non-flutists, there is an “ether of the flute world” and it does have opinions floating in it). Those opinions can feel like a standard to which I must aspire…maybe not so much “how I can play” it, but “how I should play it.”  The Ferrandis approach, however, helps me to move past the “should.”

All of which adds to a better experience not only while practicing, but while performing.

*In fact, it’s the piece that was being played in the Ferrandis class I heard, as well as the subject of Paula Robison’s class this year at Diller-Quaille.

Photo Credit:  Mel B.

posted under Inspiration Gallery
One Comment to

“How do I want this to sound?”

  1. On May 20th, 2010 at 8:38 pm Anne Anderson Says:

    Love the concept ” how do I want it to sound”. I’ve been playing a cello transcription of the Goldberg Aria, modeling my playing on the delicacy of the piano’s higher octave version. When I plow through just to play the notes in tune…nothing. When I think light, delicate, Alicia de la Rocha…all things are possible. The same thing is true in my painting. If I am clear from the beginning about how I want it to look, the painting paints itself.

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