With that in mind, this next bit of advice is going to seem in contrast of the Rule of Seven, but it's really not. There is a time and a place in practicing, most particularly in the early stages of practice, when making many rough or failed attempts is an essential part of expanding our knowledge and comfort. I have been wanting to write about this for a while, and I was spurred to do so by a recent post on The Bulletproof Musician by Dr. Noa Kageyama. (I love his blog!) This post was titled "Perfect Shmerfect: the Stage of Practicing When More "Mistakes" Could Improve Learning." The gist of the article (and I highly recommend you take a few minutes to read it) is that, as we are learning to apply something new, we will need some room for error and experimentation in order to figure out which of the infinite possibilities available to us will actually work.
So according to the Rule of Seven, we repeat passages, notes, shifts between octaves, attacks, tongue strokes and the like mindfully many times to try to harness the "correct" feeling on command...but when we are trying to figure out what works in a new situation, how do we do it?
We must be willing to experiment. We must be willing to step outside our comfort zone, to try new things, to stay longer and longer outside that place which is familiar. Because outside of our comfort zone is where learning takes place.
One of the key elements in learning is a willingness to potentially fail; a willingness to mess around with something until the right elements combine together and create success. It's important to realize that "messing up" is not something to avoid when it comes to learning a new technique. I often praise students on an attempt to try something new that yields an extremely rough-sounding result, not because of the result, but because, through their willingness to sound rough, they are able to explore their options. They are stepping out of their comfort zone. I consider stepping outside one's circle of comfort to be one of the most praise-worthy, most valuable traits in a student and I praise this more frequently than any moments of perfection.
During my horse riding and training days, I stumbled upon a great book by Dr. Stephanie Burns titled: "Move Closer, Stay Longer." Dr. Burns has devoted her life to helping people understand the learning process and how our fears and/or discomforts affect our motivation. I love her authentic, conversational writing style (very easy to read, not too cerebral) and her willingness to use herself and her own fear-based experiences to deliver a sound message about learning. While this book is based on Stephanie's experience at conquering her fear of certain aspects of horse ownership and riding, her immense knowledge of the learning process comes through with flying colors. This book has been sitting on the shelves of my music studio for years and I lend it out often.
She writes about moving more often toward the edge of one's comfort zone and staying there for increasingly longer increments of time. Of course, much of this is discussed in terms of "fear-based" discomforts. It's easy to say "the flute doesn't scare me!" but it's important to understand that any unwillingness to try and experiment is based on some sort of discomfort (i.e., a fear of some sort). We are often unwilling to sound bad; to sound as if we have failed. One of the most astounding points that she drives home is that going to the place where things are no longer good is not a failure, and it is not a place to fear; it is the catalyst for our own growth.
She writes (p. 73 of Move Closer, Stay Longer):
"When it comes to taking action, humans are notoriously good procrastinators. Because we are designed to avoid discomfort, pain and fear and because many normal activities related to goals are boring, frustrating, painful and frightening, our brain is constantly engaged in the process of figuring out how to keep us away from experiences that lead to these emotions. And, never more so than when fear awaits us."
Intrigued? Read the book! I promise you will find her strategies really interesting when you translate them to your own flutistic learning process. Heck, they are interesting even when you translate them to life in general. After all, this willingness to go toward and retreat from a place of fear or discomfort is how we get to where we want to go.
In a nutshell: while we must repeat while fully in control to learn to execute certain techniques or passages on command, in order to learn something new or to expand our possibilities, this must be coupled with a healthy willingness to go to that scary place where we are no longer the master and to take some stabs at it until the dust clears and we realize it wasn't so bad to try something new after all.