Saying More While Doing Less

Earlier this week, I spent a lot of time listening to various artists. Something that really stood out to me was the musicality of a flutist playing familiar repertoire. She carefully shaped her notes and phrases, making for a unique and impactful performance. 

When I later practiced for myself, I took inspiration from the idea of shaping. I found more to say in between sections, and found myself focusing hard on tapering my high notes to end phrases with a careful shape as well. My perspective of pieces and etudes I knew well felt refreshed, and I felt inspired to make intentional musical choices.

When I took a break, I noticed how tense I had become. For the first time in a while, I had quite an indentation on my left hand from pressing hard against the flute. My hands and arms were very tight, and my throat had been very tight from playing softly.

I later came back to enjoy more musical practice, and noticed the same thing happening again. I focused hard on ensuring every note was beautiful, articulate, and purposeful. However, I left feeling the tension that had been building while practicing.

Observations

  • I felt that I needed to add in work to make things happen. I felt less effective musically when instructing myself to feel at ease. This is an issue of finding balance between doing too much and doing too little.
  • While playing at a soft dynamic, my throat takes over to control the sound, which ultimately compromises tone quality and intonation.
  • While listening back to a recording of myself, the musicality I was going for was far less apparent than my efforts would have suggested, noting that my self-perception is skewed.

One Ingredient For Playing Softly

Over the next couple of days, I experimented with playing soft without involving the throat. My main focus in achieving resonance and avoiding a forced feeling is to feel that the roof of the mouth is gently lifting while playing. While playing C through D above that staff, the roof of my mouth closes downward. I compromise the lifting feeling on these notes in particular because they feel more wild than the rest, and I've developed a habit of working harder to control them!

I realized that I need to add in one ingredient when it comes to playing softly - trust. On these notes, I lose trust in playing freely with space in the mouth and close down. I spent considerable time learning to take a leap of faith to maintain openness during these notes. Not only was resonance improved, but I found greater possibilities in dynamic control. Who knew!?

How Can I Say More While Doing Less?

My continuing theme has been finding balance between doing too much and too little. I'm also utilizing my own practice recordings to hear the differences in effectiveness when I'm playing with tension and working hard to be musical, and when I'm choosing to do less and listen more. The key component I must learn to work back into playing is trust. There are great opportunities for making beautiful sounds when I trust myself to inhibit certain habits that compromise ease and openness. If I listen to the piece and trust my body, I can learn to say more while doing less.

Do you experience added tension when trying to play musically? How does trust come into play for you?