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Getting Out of a RUT    Intermediate

Players who have been playing a while often find that they get in a rut.

Maybe they have a few core songs that they play over and over. Maybe their toolbox of ornaments is limited, or they always play their songs using the same song structure that they have learned. Or maybe they are simply bored with their own music.

We've all been there, and we've all found ways (planned or not) to climb out of a rut. There is no clear path that's guaranteed to expand our musicality, but here are a few ideas you might try:


Try the dexterity exercises on this site. Building speed and facility with ornamentation is a great way to take your playing to a new level.

Try playing in a new scale. When you approach a new scale, take it very very slowly at first! Get really comfortable with the notes, playing it legato at first (with no separation or articulation between the notes other than to take a breath), and then intriducing a “Taaa” articulation at the start of each note. You don't make the note itself short … you're just beginning each note with “Taaa”. Then try changing all the articulations to sharp, short staccato notes (see Articulation / Staccato) and alternating between styles. And finally, after all this rigorous practice, try a version completely freely, with as much expressiveness as possible, even to the point of overdoing it.

You could easily spend a few minutes once or twice a day for a two weeks to become familiar with a new scale. After you're comfortable, begin exploring with the new tool in your toolbox!

Move out of your Comfort Zone

Sometimes it just takes a little devices to take you out of your comfort zone and help you explore new territory. Here's some ideas:

  • Play outside.
  • Carry a flute with you at all times.
  • Switch hands. This is a real experience in what it feels like to be a beginner (again).
  • Dance while you play (being careful not to hit the end of your flute on anything - it could be dangerous!).

Finite Music

If you're strictly a "play from the heart" improvisational player, give the other "finite" side of music a try. "Finite music" is a term often used by "play from the heart" folks for music that is written down.

Check out the Song Book, and see if there's a piece that strikes you.

Another approach is to find a recorded song you like and write out the music yourself, in whatever notation system suits you. It's best to start with a simple song first. You'll probably need to find a flute that matches the key of the flute used in the recorded music. Try to play along with the melody and you'll begin to discover not only how the melody works, but possibly how some of the ornamentation is done.


Many songwriters begin with a new rhythm when they're searching for their next song. Surf the web or your music library for a new rhythm - something to get you out of the rhythm rut.

Backing Tracks

Pre-recorded backing tracks are a good way to play in a new rhythm, as well as exploring chord motion. A number of backing tracks are available, including:

Of course, you could use any rhythm-only music tor jam with - a favorite one of mine is Rhythms of the Chakras, by Glen Velez.


Visit or join a flute circle!

Try playing with other musicians!

Play Through a Sound System

If you've never experienced playing through a system that reinforces your sound, it's worth a try! These systems typically have a microphone, possibly some sound processing, some amplification, and speakers or headphones.

One key element is the sound processing. Most recorded flute music that you hear uses some form of electronic echo or reverberation ("reverb") to provide a fuller, "in the canyon" sound. If you visit a flute circle or the studio of a musician, they will often have a setup where you can hear yourself through some sound processing. If not, you can often set up your own inexpensive sound system. You don't even need speakers - a set of headphones can work well.

Warning: if you set up a system with reverb and headphones (as I did many years ago), you may get so captured by the reverb-enhanced sound of your own playing (as I did) that you might spend an extended period in social isolation (as I did), ignoring friends and family (as I did), but also substantially improving your playing.

Recording Yourself

A great way to spur growth is to begin recording yourself. You don't need to be fancy with the equipment - just as long as it gives you at least a fair idea of how your playing sounds.

The key here is to listen to your music with self-kindness and a dash of humor, and use it as a tool to improve your playing. Most of us have listened our whole lives to professionally recorded music that has been carefully cleaned up and post-processed. It's likely that your first recordings of yourself will not compare with those commercial recordings. The point isn't to "sound great" on a recording, but to use it as a tool for self-learning and growth.

Setting Goals

If you try recording yourself (as I did) and get bitten by the recording bug (as I did), you might want to set a goal of making a "this is my music" CD. I got together with friends in 2006, and SpiritGrass was the result. I've done 15 CDs of various types since then, and most have sold more copies and brought in more revenue, but SpiritGrass remains my personal calling card.

See Widening the Circle for an article on getting your music to a wider audience.

Another way to set a goal for yourself is to schedule a concert. Nothing provides focus more than the prospect of appearing live!


If you have other ideas that have worked for you, tell us about them.


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