August 2014 Convention
Chicago, IL

The Scientific Method of Practicing, presented by Timothy Hagen

Timothy Hagen presented his “Scientific Method of Practicing” to a packed room of flutists of all ages. Clearly this is an important topic for students and teachers alike. His presentation was distinct for the topic because, rather than focusing on the “what” to practice (technique, tone, vibrato, etc.), he focused on the “how” or method of practice that would apply to all elements of successful flute performance. At the core of his concepts were the ideas of mindfulness and flow. He briefly presented research from scholars in these fields to back up his practical application to practicing the flute. He discussed four principles that must be set to have effective practice.

Student and Timothy Hagen

1. Secure the parameters. This principle focused mainly on goal-setting, with vivid mental ideas of what the goal sounds or feels like before ever attempting to practice. He also addressed the point that when practicing, other goals may be unearthed. He urged flutists to “put a pin” in those goals and come back to them when the current goal is completed.

2. Exploit the unexpected. Hagen stated that the only way to learn is to make mistakes and process them. He referenced William Westney’s book, The Perfect Wrong Note, and said that we must allow ourselves to make mistakes in order to grow. Sometimes, in the practice room, we can suppress a mistake. However, we can be sure that a suppressed mistake in the practice room will come out in performance. This was the area where the scientific method could be applied to practice: Observation, hypothesis, testing, conclusion, and repetition is a great template for processing mistakes.

3. Become stuck on repeat. Hagen talked about repeating passages 15-20 times without mistakes to ensure that good habits are formed. He also mentioned physiological changes that take place in the brain when we repeat tasks and form habits.

4. Walk the road to well. Flutists were reminded to always seek effort-based gratification versus talent-based gratification. If we achieve due to our efforts, we will be more likely to work harder and grow than if we achieve simply through natural talent. He also mentioned that it is important for us to take time to celebrate our successes.

Multiple students volunteered to test out the method and several questions were asked throughout the presentation. Young students and veteran teachers could take some new ideas from this talk and apply them immediately!

—Karen McLaughlin Large

photo by Karen McLaughlin Large