Boost Expression By Optimizing Awareness

I have been thinking a lot about how awareness impacts movement lately. Every time I challenge my movements skills I find that elements of my playing (and teaching) become more vibrant and flexible. 

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Movement, Sound, Vision & Touch are all integral parts of performing confidently. Missing one, each of the other senses. What are you aware of as you play?

Awareness to the sights, sounds, and feelings of music-making is integral to expression.  The sensitivity I speak of is not emotional, but the ability to feel movement, effort, and coordination, and sense your space.  This isn’t something most of us were taught.  I find that musicians don’t realize how over gripping their instrument diminishes sound quality or putting most of your body weight on one leg limits breathing. You would practice for hours without reliably attaining the sound, articulation or phrasing you imagine for the music.

An important element of Body Mapping is training awareness.  I systematically guide musicians to expand their awareness to include the visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic senses.  At first, this feels awkward and unfamiliar, some describe it as distracting, but the expression is always more exciting, more engaging when awareness is optimized.

Why? Having the four senses awake and alive in playing calms the central nervous system which in turn allows movement, it also allows you to sense what you are doing in real-time.  I won’t get into too much of the science here, but the CNS knows where it is and does not feel in danger, so it allows you to move.  Better movement means movement precision and ease, which opens access to a wider variety in tone colors, articulation and reliable technique. This opens up your ability to adjust even amid a phrase. 

How to work on awareness? Practice, practice, practice!  We are musicians 24/7, we can take advantage of virtually any moment to practice awareness.  Having to hold a job to pay the bills, work on papers, or clean your living space are all opportunities to work on optimizing your awareness (plus they will make your time more enjoyable).  

How much time do you spend walking down the street or driving a car, riding public transportation or brushing your teeth? Each of these activities is an opportunity to fine-tune your senses and practice optimizing your awareness. 

  • You can see what is in front of you, to the sides, the sky above and the ground you walk on as you look clearly at your focal point.

  • You can hear the layers of sound in your environment. cars, conversation, ambient noises, maybe even music if you walk down Gainsborough Street in Boston.

  • You can feel your clothing, and how it moves against you. You can feel your feet traversing the ground, the contour of the ground.

  • You can feel your legs bending and extending as you walk. You can feel your breath via your ribs moving up and out as you inhale, down and in as you exhale.

Once you become familiar with the senses individually, combine them in your awareness.  For example, noticing the movement of your ribs and the space beyond your focal point.  Transfer this practice into tone, and warm-ups, then a phrase of your rep.  Next, combine 3 senses and eventually bring each of the 4 senses into your awareness before you deliver hands to instrument or instrument to the body.

Optimizing awareness is an integral part of your musicianship.  Having trouble with technique? Optimize your awareness, you might be surprised by the true root of the challenge. It’s not about practicing more, it’s about practicing smarter bringing awareness into the equation.

BONUS: You will notice physical discomfort early before it comes a problem - injury prevention!