Body/Breath – Part 7 of the Series on 7 Musical Intelligences
We have arrived at the last in the 7 Intelligences Series - that of the Body and Breath - perhaps the most important skills of all.
I have already written a fair amount about breathing on this blog.
I confidently propose that the majority of performers probably do not fully employ their most valuable tool when solving problems which arise through the process of practicing and learning music.
That statement applies to all aspects of playing from tone and pitch, to rhythm and finger technique, to performance and even to the emotional expression of the music.
If this is indeed the case, why would so many musicians under-use such a valuable mechanism?
Most people’s habits are ruled by a kind of subtle and innocent but deeply ingrained impatience.
We learn early on in our musical activity to equate practicing with striving for end results - like a kind of corporate approach to productivity. After all, we reason, that’s how I’ll improve.
I argue that this is this is akin to crawling across the room instead of walking because you assume your legs merely operate by themselves.
Of course you wouldn’t do that and yet purely results oriented practicing often leaves the body behind in a similar way!
In an effort to achieve the desired goal, we resort to tense or inefficient movements in order to achieve it.
The solution to hidden tension and unproductive movements? - Full awareness of your whole body at all times.
It sounds simple enough. And it is.
In fact, full awareness of your body while playing is so simple most people take it for granted that they already have a complete consciousness while playing - at least as much as possible before turning attention to the act of “playing”.
Concentrating on playing requires your full attention, right? Yes of course - but the full focus of your whole body, not just your mind. There’s the catch!
You may ask, “What’s the difference; isn’t your mind already connected to your body?”
The answer to this question is again, yes - although for most of the time there is an almost constant failure to make the connection.
It’s like having a computer that you could utilize to write a letter but never turning it on because you’re too busy concentrating on getting the thing written. With that division in your awareness, you pick up a dull pencil and manually script your communication on paper - a method which is laborious, time consuming and inefficient. But hey - you wrote the letter!
Most of us only need to flip on our body's awareness switch to regain the feeling of how our bodies “think”.
This body awareness is called “kinesthesia” or “proprioception” and is defined in Wikipedia as follows:
“Proprioception - meaning "one's own" and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. Unlike the exteroceptive senses by which we perceive the outside world and interoceptive senses, by which we perceive the pain and movement of internal organs, proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally”
I like to think of it as “experience” of your body, either at rest or in motion or playing an instrument.
Beyond being solely an awareness, this experiential sense of the body is a genius!
Your body's "interior" sense of itself can not only tell you why your left shoulder tends to be stiff after practicing but also solve the puzzle of that bearish finger passage which always seems to elude you.
Giving your body a chance to participate in the experience and keeping your brain “in your head”, you will be presented with a wealth of useful information as to why something is not working and how to improve it.
Alas most of us, including me, tend to seek “improvement of playing” rather than “improvement of the experience of playing”. When awareness and concentration originates and stems from the whole body, you will by default improve playing by bring the body in line with what the ear wishes to hear.
For those of us eternally impatient individuals, I propose that a detailed awareness of the qualities and nature of the breath is a reliable “GPS” to overall body awareness and concentration.
The REAL Hitch!
Sorry - I didn’t want to mention this too early in the post for fear it would spoil your enthusiasm!
Truth be told, if you don’t think it’s worth spending 10 minutes a day lying on the floor noticing your breathing, you can read about this subject as much as you like but you’ll never know what your own breathing feels like when it’s relaxed and calm.
It’s not my words you need, it’s your own breath!
Observe how you use and control your air. All musicians benefit from awareness of the breath. Wind players must know and control the flow of breath and the types of breath support. By extension, breath includes body use and awareness.
Don't forget that consciousness of finger and hand can be isolated separately, as detailed in a previous post of the same Intelligence series.
Carry Flow Breathing technique into your musical practice.
In future posts I will apply each of the 7 intelligences to specific problems in playing and demonstrate their usefulness as tools to analyze and solve nearly any technical or musical question. Stay tuned!
Would you like to share practice ideas with other musicians? You could do so at the Practice Café.