Back to School

Mary Karen Clardy

After a relaxed schedule over the summer, beginning the new school year is an abrupt change with early rehearsals, demanding academic classes, weekend marching festivals and never enough time to practice! Here are some ways to refresh and rebuild skills for the new season.

Have a Good Attitude. Approach practice with a positive attitude! Emphasize scales and arpeggios at a slow tempo to rebuild muscle memory that was lost over the summer. Challenge yourself to slow practice, with relaxed arms and hands to encourage smooth technical connections and fluid phrasing.

Play Practice Games. If you make a mistake during practice, repeat the passage at one metronome click slower until the passage is perfect. The result of this game is perfect notes and perfect rhythm, building confidence for the fall season.

Memorize. Choose a favorite phrase or song to memorize. First study the notes and rhythms on the written page. Play through the music with the intent to memorize as you read the notes, then glance away from the page as you play. This exercise builds musical confidence and develops ear training … and it’s fun!

Improvise. Choose a favorite scale for your first effort, reminding yourself that nothing is right or wrong in the process of improvisation. Outline the scale from tonic to dominant, repeating a favorite note or rhythm to add a personal touch. Complement this improvisation with a reverse of the process, and then combine the two versions. Try adding arpeggios or transposing the patterns to another key to expand the improvisation.

Sight-Read. Sight-reading skills are essential for the serious player because playing confidently is based on smooth eye movement forward to prepare fingers and plan for notes ahead. Common places where the eyes fail to move forward are on long notes, dotted notes, rests or ties, so concentrate on these spots.

Getting back to a routine after summer requires patience and planning, so remember that after a break, even the pros take it slow.

About author

Mary Karen Clardy

Mary Karen Clardy, professor of flute at the University of North Texas in Denton, appears as a soloist, chamber artist and teacher throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and South America. A renowned author, she has published more than 10 books from European American Music, Leduc, Schott and Universal Edition. Her students are consistent prizewinners in international competitions and occupy prominent orchestral and faculty positions throughout the world. Visit