I was recently inspired by the ‘Practice Shake-Up Challenge’ of the Honesty Pill facebook group to record a practice session. I haven’t been consistent with this practice since the start of the academic year combined with other life distractions.
This week I have an etude on my stand. While it is familiar to me, the way I am approaching playing it this time around is quite different. I am tuning into the quality of the movements I use to create the lines and contrasts instead of succumbing to the mindless habits I used to play with, gripping the instrument, not planning breaths, and moving extraneously when unsure how to execute the musical intention. It is amazing to play with air flowing and awareness of fluidity in the body. I could have left the practice being satisfied with the satisfaction of this approach, but decided to go deeper, to step back and listen to myself through recording.
As soon as I pressed record on my phone, I began trying hard, wouldn’t you know those old habits crept back into my playing. Old habits die hard. When I listened to the recording, I was surprised by how the things I heard did not align with what I felt. What I heard was not what I expected.
After an initial feeling of disappointment, it was time to accept what I heard and become an observer. To do this, I asked myself the questions:
“What do I like?”
“What would I like to be different?”
“What would I like to be different?” is a very different question then, “What was bad?” or “What didn’t I like?” By asking myself what do I want to be different, I am empowered, because the intention of the question is to make a change in the future and that is exactly what needs to happen. Once I identify what I want to change, then I can dive into “how” to make the change.
How to make the change is one of my favorite inquiries. It gets to the root of music-making, movement. Any musical change comes from a change in the way you move. For example, if you want a louder forte dynamic, how is it created? On the flute, this change requires more air speed and a change to the aperture and oral cavity. The simple answer is, move differently. Identifying the precise movements sets the stage to make the change. In my classes, I love learning how other instruments create sound, dynamics, articulations, a perk of teaching Body Mapping.
This brings me to, how are you sitting, or standing? Does the way you sit or stand enable you to access subtle changes in movement that bring your musical intentions to life?
In this session, I used an audio recording, but it is even more informative to use a video recording and see what is physically happening. Extraneous movements become blatantly obvious and small habits such as tensing the neck or jaw when the music becomes demanding can be seen. I once worked with a pianist who held their left foot above the ground for an entire piece. The effort to hold the foot which means the whole leg up restricted mobility throughout the body including facility of the fingers. Without this information, making a sustainable change will never happen. Music-making requires the whole body, tension anywhere in the body limits all movement.
A shout out to Chris Still, and Honesty Pill for bringing musicians together to talk and share. Being part of a community makes us all stronger.