I'll admit it - I love to practice. I practice every chance I get, for as long as I can.
Here's why I love to practice: it is a meditation. Yes, just like you I practice technique and tone and those spots where I fumble. I turn on the metronome and play at ridiculously slow speeds. I practice keeping my fingers over the keys and my posture optimum.
But I also focus on those spots between - where my fingers are in the process of moving, where the notes are changing. Those places - the places in between - that's where the magic lives. Not necessarily in the shiny casing of the beautiful notes one plays, or the perfect rhythm and technique with which one executes technical passages. Yes, those are important. But so, too, is the silence, the minutiae, the infinite movement of air... for in that space, you will find your voice!
I often do this exercise. It's loosely based on a meditation practice that I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Austin, TX:
Set the metronome at quarter=60. Play a major five-note pattern (T&G 1 for those who know these exercises) giving each note 4 beats.
*Listen to your air speed.
*Listen to your fingers.
*Listen how the movement of your fingers affects the movement of your air. Breathe whenever needed.
*Listen for the silence between when one note ends and the next one begins, no matter how small or inaudible it is. Put your focus into the infinite space of the inaudible silence.
*How does the air/fingers/voice/silence change when you shift the pattern up or down?
*Do this exercise for as long as your focus allows. There is no "required" time for this to be beneficial.
After awhile, this simple meditative exercise helped me to understand what my voice sounds like. And how I want to shape it - move it through air. There became this ever shifting absolute...
It also pointed out to me that I am nervous - have tons of agenda - and have lots of my persona tied up into this ego flute thing. I sometimes get agitated doing this exercise. Blah, I think, I don't have time, why am I focusing on this? What will so-and-so think of my playing? Why can't I play in time? I really need to practice technique/tone/self promotion/running more... all of those thought patterns and well-worn stories start to reel through my mind at super speed!
But in gently bringing myself back to listen to the silence, I become a lot lighter. My ego has to go. Running, time, fingers, tone don't exist in that silent space, even though all around it is a cyclone of movement. It is teaching me that, regardless of what is happening outside of the silence or what my ego is telling me, I have absolutely NOTHING to lose.
I LOVE to practice.