A couple of weeks ago, as I was dutifully playing my daily exercises, I realized that I had been doing this same collection of exercises for... oh, 10-15 years.
It's about an hour and 20 minutes of long tones, scales, arpeggios, excerpts, and harmonics.
The routine works; it keeps me completely in-shape. My fingers move fast, my pitch stays secure, my tone is strong.
And of course, if I am having trouble with something in particular in my current repertoire, I temporarily add new exercises that conquer the specific problem. But, for all intents and purposes, my routine remains the same. And to be honest, I like it; it feels good, and it's comforting. After it's done, I feel like my day can start.
But then, here's the obvious problem: If I do the same thing every day, how the hell do I expect to get any better? (And I want to keep getting better for as long as I possibly can.) We know Einstein's definition of the insane: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Experience spurs improvement, of course, and I know that as the years pass, I have continued to become a better flute player and musician. But... shouldn't there be a way to expedite an upward trajectory?
Over the past year, I have become completely and hopelessly addicted to CrossFit. I love it; I look forward to the time I get to spend at the gym each day. When people ask me why I love it, the answer is easy... I can see that I'm getting better. I'm stronger physically, but also mentally. I feel better about myself than I ever have before. I'm finally comfortable in my own skin, and I never realized just how valuable that is. There are other notable elements too, of course. I like the [healthy, happy, encouraging] community. I think the coaches are great. There is a feeling of team work and camaraderie, yet at the same time, each athlete continues to work along their own path.
And here's the important part: I'm getting better because the workouts are always changing. We never do the same thing 2 days in a row. You track your progress when certain workouts come back around weeks or months later, but the idea is to systematically address all aspects of physical competence. From the founder: "Those domains are: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy."
It's an easy comparison; I've always felt that athletics and music are two different mediums with a very similar skillset. Beyond the 10 domains of physical competence, both athletics and music require... diligence, perseverance, patience, self-awareness, problem solving skills, team work skills... and the list could certainly continue.
Now, I know I'm a good (ahem: sometimes, great) flute player. I am confident in my flutistic and musical skill-set and potential. It's what I do for a living, and I do it well.
I will never be a great athlete. I don't have the body type or coordination. Any athletic accomplishments of mine [IronMan triathlon, marathons, biking across the country] have been met out of stubbornness, but also because the familiar Type A musical mindset is tapped... I can follow a schedule, whether it be a practice routine or a coach's workout. I can work toward a goal, and then continue to the next milestone once the goal is met. I can monitor my body and adjust accordingly during the performance/race/event. (I never quite figured that out for auditions, but that's a different issue.)
So, all of a sudden when I was playing scales in modes for the millionth+ time (I don't think I'm exaggerating there), I thought... well, if CrossFit works for me athletically, why aren't I applying the same concepts to the flute?
With a slight giggle, I decided to go for it. I realize it sounds ridiculous and oh-so-dorky, but I created a CrossFlute program. For every CrossFit exercise, I assigned a flute exercise. I structured the 'workouts' the same way: Joint Prep, Mobility, Warm-Up, Strength WOD, Conditioning WOD. And then, so that I can monitor progress, I made a spreadsheet modeled after my gym's workout log (thanks, Fearless Athletics!).
And holy shit, it works. (Of course it does. It can't not.) I've seen more tangible and undebatable progress in the past 2 weeks than I've seen in the past 2 years. My scales are faster, my breath control is stronger, and my sight-reading is better. And most importantly - the daily practice routine is not only comforting, but it's also interesting and fun.
Ok, so there are some caveats. One of the great things about going to the gym is that someone else tells me what to do. I don't have to worry about whether or not I'm doing the right things. I trust the programming. At first, I was creating my own daily practice workouts, but then I thought... sheesh, this is a pain in the ass. Why don't I just follow the gym's daily workout when I practice?
That works too. It's great to not worry about conquering a rotation over any set amount of time. It's done for me.
As I mentioned, one of the great parts of CrossFit is the community, and the daily encouragement from people I've begun to consider friends. Now, this part doesn't quite work for individual practice sessions, but of course musicians have a community; in ensembles, we experience teamwork and the feeling of working toward a common goal to create something exceptional. So, while daily practice isn't particularly social, music undoubtedly spurs a supportive group of friends with common interests and ideals.
The only CrossFit attribute that I haven't been able to replicate is necessity to sign up for class times... Many times, the fact that I had signed up for a class was the reason I got myself to the gym. I'm not going to sign up to practice in my own house, so a bit of "Do This Now" will-power needs to be called upon...
But, that's not a problem. I've been carving out practice time in my daily life for as long as I can remember. I don't need an online scheduler to make me understand the importance of picking up my flute every day. And besides: I love it, remember?
Maybe it sounds silly, I'm excited about all of this. It works, and it's fun. I'm going to keep doing it myself for another month or so to track the results and work out some kinks, and then I'm going to introduce it to my students. I've even imagined posting the 'workouts' online so students can see what they should do. Instead of WODs though, they'll be PODs -- Practice of the Day. (Again, I'm acknowledging the ridiculousness.)
Let me be the first to say that just as CrossFit isn't the right sport for everyone, of course practicing this way won't be the best method for all flutists or musicians. But again, for anyone who has at some point identified as a Type-A, I think there is tremendous validity. At the very least, it's a new option, right?
So, stay tuned (ugh, pun regretfully intentional)... CrossFlute is on its way.
Oh, and if anyone wants to see what I've put together so far, feel free to contact me; I'm more than happy to share, and to receive feedback.