Mindful Practice

The Power of Choosing Enjoyment Over Fear

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Life Update: I’ve become a podcast person.

 

I hadn’t listened to many podcasts until recently, but I have a few early morning commutes and decided to use my time in the car to soak up knowledge and inspiration.


(P.S. Leave your podcast recommendations in the comments!)

 

Mind Over Finger

I started with the Mind Over Finger Podcast by Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier, and I’ve since listened to every episode. I love her interviews focused on mindful, efficient practice and techniques, and I’ve gathered a lot of inspiration to shake up my own practice.

 

One of the more recent episodes was with Marc Gelfo of Modacity. I’d heard of the Modacity Practice App earlier this year, but I hadn’t fully jumped in to using the app.


Marc has a fascinating background and vast knowledge on the science of learning and improving, which he based the app’s features around. After hearing him talk about it, I had to try it!

 

Mind Over Finger and Modacity teamed up to host a Mindful Practice Challenge for the month of November, and I was just too intrigued to NOT jump in!

 

Your Language Matters!


The biggest revelation of the week came from Dr. Gauthier’s thoughts on watching and noticing the language you use surrounding your goals and practice sessions. Notice opportunities to be self-compassionate. She also stressed that we can decide to have fun!

 

Something clicked in me, and I went swapped out a word in my goals to:

ENJOY.

 

I switched

“I will practice my high register tapers every day”

to

“I get to enjoy high register tapers every day.”

Then I practiced.

 

And while I did, I continuously re-played the word “ENJOY” in my mind, and you know what?

I felt far less pressure to be perfect, and started taking myself less seriously.

 


It allowed me to be imperfect without losing faith in myself, and from there, I could build on success rather than dread.

 

Lo and behold, I was enjoying myself!

 

It’s almost absurd that deciding to enjoy myself was the lightbulb moment of the week. It even felt RADICAL to choose enjoyment!


The next day, I started thinking about practicing and told myself: “I should really practice now.” It became clear to me that fear and pressure were growing in this moment.

This is where it starts to happen. I’m aware now, so I can decide on something else:

 

I re-framed my statement to “I get to enjoy practicing my instrument now!” and jumped up and dove in with ease and excitement!

 

Reflection

 

  • How many days have I felt pressure before and during practicing vs. the number of days I allowed myself to enjoy it? 

  • I don’t have to wait for permission to enjoy, I’m worthy of enjoyment right now!

  • I get to decide to enjoy myself every time I practice!

 




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How Wobbly Trills Led Me to a Revelation About Flute Stability

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While teaching a student recently, we noticed that certain trills had a tendency to cause the flute to wobble on her face.

I asked her how much her left hand was anchoring the flute onto her chin - she was using as much left hand anchoring as possible, but the wobble was still happening, especially during the right hand trills.

Later that week while practicing with a mirror, I noticed something similar happening to myself.

No matter how much I anchored with the left-hand-to-chin balance point, there were still some finger patterns that caused the flute to move on my face.

Just like my student, it was especially the right hand finger movement that was bouncing the flute.

I realized then that when my fingers closed the keys, they were also pushing the whole flute down, and my right thumb was doing nothing to counter the motion.


My right thumb doesn’t operate a key, so I had forgotten that it has an important job!


I decided to push up with the right thumb to counter the motion, and BOOM. Stable trills.

It seems so simple now, but the effort level of the right thumb just wasn’t something I was taking note of in this way before. 

At our next lesson, I instructed my student to “push the right thumb up” to counter the motion of the fingers closing keys in the right hand, and it made all the difference in her wobbly trills!

Not only has this helped trills, but it’s helped finger technique in general!


  • Do you notice the action of the right thumb while playing?

  • What is it like to trill with the right hand while bringing the right thumb closer to the tube?

  • What is it like to bring the right hand forward and up toward the tube?

  • How much effort is necessary to maintain stability, and is it needed at all times?



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Effortless Projection: Wide Back, Soft Front, Free Sound

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This past week, I decided to pull out Fiona Wilkinson's book, The Physical Flute: Creative Techniques for the Development of Tone, Vibrato, and Pitch Control for some fresh perspectives during my warm-up.

 

Reading through the first page, I was committed to approaching my physical self before making any sounds.


Finding Spring-Like Poise from the Ground Up

 

The first part is called, The Body - Alive and Well.

She provides thoughtful descriptions for taking a look at the body from the ground up to find areas that can be un-stuck and better aligned for a rich sound:

 

Here are the specific words that jumped out while I slowly processed:

 

Legs:

  • "Elastic Knee Joints" - Not Locked

  • "Feel the life in your legs."

Hips: 

  • "Lift your weight off your pelvis, elongate the sides of the torso."

Back:

  • "Draw your weight up from the floor creating a feeling of length and width in the back."

  • "Imagine as much space between the shoulder blades as you can while remaining relaxed."


Freeing the Torso for Effortless breathing

 

Whenever I digest thoughts like these on physical ease and balance, there's always a reminder in there that helps me re-discover ease in a new way each time. (And it never gets old!)

 

This time, it was the thought about lifting weight off the pelvis and life in the legs.

 

Freeing the hip joints:

 

Following the instructions from the ground up, I took a moment to balance at the knees, finding that place where the thigh muscles release their grip and the legs feel both free and stable, with the weight moving straight into the floor via the feet. 

 

I moved up towards the hips as she instructed, tilting the pelvis on top of the legs and observing.

I noticed just how connected the movements of my knees, hips, and back are:

 

  • When I tilt the pelvis to lift weight off of it, there's a resultant effort felt in my lower back and the core muscles - they begin to grip.
  • If I bend the knees first, I can find freedom in the lower back and abdomen. If I then bring the knees into balance while remaining free in the back and abs, I can then find movement at the hip joints without adding back/core tension.

 

 

The Result

 

As I began to play, I noticed that this felt different than normal:

 

From here, the torso was finally balanced on top of the pelvis and delivering weight through the legs effectively. 

 

I normally have more effort and holding in my torso when I'm not balancing the pelvis on the legs like this!

 

Enjoying the ease of the back, I could effectively let the shoulder blades remain wide and free, and I felt a wonderful ease and length for the arms as I continued to play. 

 

Breathing became easy and not forced, and I could feel that my abdominal muscles weren't engaging with the breath as they often do!

 

Free, wide back. soft front.


Connecting the Back to the Whole

    he latissimus dorsi connects at:

    • Spinous processes of T7 – L5 vertebrae.
    • Iliac crest of sacrum.
    • Inferior angle of the scapula.
    • Lower three or four ribs.

    The first 60 seconds of this video demonstrate an important connection between the back and the arms. He points out how large the latissimus dorsi is, and part of its functioning in moving the arms. Its connections to the spine and lower ribs mean it's involved in our breathing movements, too!

     

      The latissimus dorsi:

      • Adducts the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.
      • Medially rotates the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.
      • Extends the arm at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.

      Life in the Legs

       

      Finding Power via the Legs: Soft Front, Strong Back (of the legs)

       

      After all of this, I was playing with more awareness on my back than on the front of my body. I normally direct a lot of focus on the front of the body, always watching the abdominal muscles to see if they're gripping, because I know I want them to stay free to breathe and resonate well.

      With my awareness on the back, the front just remained natural without having to tell it to. (!!)

       

      I went back to the idea about "Life in the Legs."

       

      I know that effortless projection comes from ease and coordination of the whole self, depending on the ability to feel supported by space and the floor below.

       

      Having the knees and pelvis aligned well, I noticed a different presence for the back of my legs while playing. (Normally, I don't notice the back of my legs at all, especially if my knees aren't in balance - they're just not a part of my awareness while playing!)

       

      I imagined a sense of power and projection stemming from the support of my legs while playing.

       

      This instruction led me to a full, embodied sound that was projecting from below and behind me into space. I felt free and effortlessly powerful. No forcing anywhere. Front remained soft. (!!!)


        "Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart" -  Braving the Wilderness  by Brené Brown

      "Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart" - Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

      The Takeaway

       

      Awareness of the back led me to the feeling of being supported by the space behind me - I was no longer forcing or squeezing in the abdomen or shrinking into a smaller space. I was projecting with easy via soft front, wide back, supported legs.

       

      We don't project with ease by becoming smaller, we soften into space: Occupy all of your space!

       


      Intentions

      "Wide Back"

      "Weight off of pelvis"

      "Arms lighten and lengthen from the lower back"

      "Elastic knees, supported by the back of the legs"

       

      Sources:

      Get Body Smart: Attachments & Actions of the Latissimus Dorsi

      AnatomyZone: Back Muscles in a Nutshell



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      How I Discovered + Released Tongue Tension for Effortless, Clear Articulation 

      flutearticulation

      While experimenting with articulation yesterday, I had a moment where I thought to notice how much effort my tongue was exerting. 

      I played a few notes, removed the flute from my face, and looked in the mirror.

      I was pulling my jaw down too forcefully, which was pulling my bottom lip back, and my tongue was being pulled up and back within my mouth.


      I know that letting the tongue lie low in the mouth helps resonance, and I also know that clear, short articulation is possible with the tongue forward in the mouth.

       

      My good intentions of creating space within the mouth - dropping the jaw - actually led me to increase tension and compromise space.

      My tongue felt tight and heavy as well, but what was most surprising was how much I wanted to pull the tongue up and back!

       

      This might not happen as drastically for everyone, as I may habitually try to bring to my tongue down when I bring the jaw down. When I do both of these things in a forceful way, I end up in a place that feels tight and difficult. 

       

      I decided to have a look at how and why my tongue moves the way it does, and uncovered some important relationships between the tongue and jaw.


      How Does The Tongue Move?

      Take a look at how many muscles move the tongue in all directions. 

      In simple terms, there are four extrinsic tongue muscles that move the tongue and connect outside the tongue, and four intrinsic tongue muscles located within the tongue that allow us to change the the shape of the tongue. 

       

      The extrinsic muscles that move the tongue:

      • The styloglossus muscle retracts and elevates the tongue.

      • The palatoglossus muscle raises the back of the tongue and lowers the soft palate - required movement for swallowing. 

      • The genioglossus muscle lowers the tongue and brings it forward in the mouth.

      • The hyoglossus lowers the tongue and brings it back in the mouth.

      (For a quick chart and simple visual of these muslces, click here! It's enlightening to know just where they are and what they do!)

      Understanding that there's a muscle that's both pulling my tongue up and retracting it back gives me some insights about what I was noticing.

      Gaining clarity about the relationships between the tongue muscles and their origins, insertions, and functions gave me direction in deciding how to use myself in a different way for different results.


      Experiment + Observe Tongue Movement

      Try pulling your jaw down far but keeping your lips together, actively aiming to create space inside the mouth:

      • Where is the tongue inside your mouth?
      • Watch the back of the tongue - does it become tense? Is it raised?
      • Does the tip of the tongue move backward?  
      • What happens to the bottom lip? How does this position affect embouchure?

      Allow the jaw to become neutral and soft, simply hanging rather than pulling down:

      • What happens to the tongue? 
      • Where is the tip of the tongue naturally lying?
      • How does the back of the tongue feel?
      • What about the soft palate?
      • What happens to the lower lip?

       

      Discovery

      When I re-set and let my jaw release back up towards neutral, I immediately felt my tongue release down and forward toward the teeth.

      Where I was before, I had to actively bring my tongue towards the teeth to get a short articulation. The tongue was heavy and effortful in this movement.

      Because I was holding it in a pulled back and up position within my mouth, it was naturally wanting to hit the roof of the mouth further back, where we create a "D" syllable, rather than a "T" syllable at the alveolar ridge. (Where the upper teeth meet the hard palate.) This might be good for a legato articulation, but for short, light, and quick, it wasn't effortless.

      From a neutral jaw and a naturally relaxed and forward tongue, I didn't have to exert so much effort in bringing my tongue forward, it was already there. My tongue and articulations could more easily become short, light and quick. Beyond that, my lower lip was more available, allowing me greater freedom to angle well.

       



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      What I Learned (+ Changed) About My Relationship With Self-Trust From a Golf Book

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      Back in my most recent audition preparation experience, I bought a book called: Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. I first heard about it in Rob Knopper's interview with Matt Howard on his strategies to win his audition with the LA Phil, where he discussed his elevated mental strategies and focus on his pre-shot routine. 

       

      I recently picked it up again and started over from the beginning. 

       

      Dr. Rotella is a performance consultant who specifically works with pro golfers on the mental side of their game.

      There are some general, common sense ideas in there, and Dr. Rotella even attests that his simple methods often surprise his clients. 

      The thing about reading and processing these concepts again and again is that every time, a new light bulb goes off. I can digest it in a new way that allows me to really become aware of my mindset and try something new.


      My Relationship with Trust: Doubt Comes First

       

      "Many weekend golfers don't even wait for a bad shot to stop trusting their swing. They step onto the first tee thinking of a dozen mechanical concepts...Without realizing it, they're doing everything possible to undermine their own game." (pg. 48)

       

      "The hot streak represents the golfer's true capability. It results, essentially, from trust. The golfer trusts his abilities. He steps up to the ball knowing that he can pick a target and hit it there. He does things unconsciously. The swing repeats itself. It feels effortless." (pg. 49)


      I initially realized how often I direct the mechanics of my own playing thinking about my recent recordings for Etude of the Week.

       

      I always think about the "what-I'm-doing" portion in practice. Of course, it's important to observe oneself and make corrections. 

       

      I also know that thinking about what to do hinders a performance, but I have continuously obsessed over self-directing while recording my etudes due to fear of failure:

      I want to create the best possible outcome, so I hang onto all the little instructions that steered me well in practice.

       

      Ultimately, this becomes exhausting.

       

      My intentions are always to let go and direct myself to freedom, but I often end up adding tension when it comes to performing or recording. I physically feel the weight of it.

       

      Self-directing is a form of self-doubt.

       

      I am not exercising trust.


      TRUST IS A HABIT. (And So Is Doubt.)

       

      Great golf players trust themselves. They put in highly effective practice, and then let go and trust on game day. They trust no matter what happens - they keep locking in on their targets, and going for them.

       

      Thinking about the amount of time I spend over-thinking, especially in practice, I recognize that my habit is doubt:

       

      On a deeper level with how I think and act, I am doubting that I can create a beautiful sound without telling myself all the steps first.

       

      I spend so little time cultivating trust with my mindset during practice and in life, that it's almost impossible to fully access trust in a performance. Starting to think about cultivating trust comes way too late in the process for me.


      Embodying Trust as a Habit

       

      After this revelation, I recorded my Etude of the Week, and I dove in without overthinking.

       

      I didn't analyze myself first. I didn't double check how to play all the low notes, or the short notes, or the trills.. I gave myself permission to trust and not direct anything.

       

      Not only was it more fun to play, it went better than I expected.

       

      My only goals were to think in terms of targets:

      I imagined myself hitting them, and then I did. 

       

      More importantly, I didn't spend an hour recording take after take, physically exhausting myself. I felt light and free without instructing myself to feel light and free.

       

      I carried this into my fundamentals practice, where I am almost 100% of the time living in careful instruction mode. My default this time was to choose to trust and live affirmatively in the moment, and if anything went wrong, I could go back and fix it. 

       

      Trust first, not doubt: Play affirmatively, not with a question mark.

       

      This eased an enormous amount of the frustrations I felt earlier that day. This also made it possible to have a pretty successful sight-reading session, as well! 


      Here are my reflections for the week:

       

      • Do I play, practice, and think with a question mark of doubt over my head?

       

      • What happens if I stop waiting to ingrain trust?

       

      • What happens if I decide I'm worthy of trust right from the beginning?

       

      • What happens if I embody trust as a habit, as my default?


      What is your relationship with trust like? Do you notice when you're trusting vs. doubting? What is your default? Do you cultivate trust every day?



       

       

       

      Are You Mentally Practicing Mistakes? Finding Awareness in Mental Practice

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      Earlier this week while teaching two separate students, we came across some difficult technical passages. While playing, there were a couple slip-ups.

      Before going any further, I asked each of them to mentally read through the passage and absorb all the notes - no moving fingers, just reading.

      I did it, too.

       

      What did I notice?

       

      I was reading it fairly quickly and made mistakes and stumbled in my own head

       

      So I asked: "Did your mental run-through involve mistakes?"

       

      They responded: "Yes!!"

       

      "Isn't that interesting!?"


      This really struck me as an opportunity to investigate and gain some clarity for myself and my students.

       

      Mistakes and stumbles aren't necessarily directly caused by fingers slipping up.

      The fingers slip up because the eyes haven't looked long and closely enough to allow the brain to process the notes that are there, meaning the correct message hasn't been delivered to the fingers.

       

      Why did we stumble?

      When reading through the difficult pattern quickly, we didn't have time to stop and process every note visually. We only saw some of the notes, so we had to anticipate what note was next.

      The fingers took over from patterns we've already learned and muscle-memorized. We then realized the note we wanted to play wasn't the note that was actually written, so we stumbled.

       

      Why do we go slower?

      To better process, of course! 

      It's hard to go fast with confidence until we know it well! Aim to deeply know and understand what's written before trying to play it. 

      For example, in order to recite the lyrics to One Week by Barenaked Ladies at full speed, you have to know all the words first, and you'll probably need to spend a good amount of time reading and studying the actual words before you're ready to impress your friends in the car!

       

      So, What Did We Discover?

      Taking finger movement out of the picture to simply read and process was a simple and powerful means of absorbing the notes.

      If we really took the time to process first, we had an easier time playing. 

      Beyond simply playing the correct notes, the subsequent times were also accompanied by a deep sense of confidence and clarity in phrasing.


      These realizations really got me thinking - am I really utilizing mental practice in a powerful, mindful way every time I practice? 

      Do I really take the time to process without playing often enough?


      Awareness questions for mental practice:

      • Does my mental read-through contain the same mistakes as when I play?
      • Do I mentally practice at a tempo slow enough to process and absorb all the notes and patterns?
      • What notes do I see?
      • What notes do I not see or process as easily?
      • Does my mental practice seek out an understanding of patterns to assist with processing and an understanding of structure?
      • Do my practice sessions involve reading the music without my instrument, or do I always play?
      • If I do mentally read through the notes without playing, do I move my fingers silently?
      • What is it like to only read and hear the phrase in my head?
      • Is it the same or different when I begin to move my fingers silently? Do I hear the phrase in the same way? 
      • Am I ingraining confidence in my mental practice?
      • Does my body remain easy and effortless while thinking through the notes?
      • Do I imagine a beautiful sound in my mental practice?
      • Is it slow enough to consider all of these things?


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      The Priorities of Good Sound for Flute & Piccolo [+ Free Download]

       

      Several band directors have recently asked for my thoughts regarding flute embouchure:

      • What should the embouchure look like?
      • How would I help a student with a tight embouchure?
      • How do I help students develop sound?

       

      My answer:

       

      Most often, attempting to fix an embouchure is like fixing only the surface-level symptom of a deeper problem.

       

      Many students (including my younger self) put a lot of focus on the embouchure because it's the one thing we can see clearly, and our band directors can see, too.

       

      I didn't come to understand and refine the fundamental aspects of sound until I came to understand the anatomy involved in playing.

       

      When all three aspects are refined and prioritized, sound becomes full and resonant, and students can begin to gain control and flexibility.


      1. Airstream

      Airstream is at the base of the pyramid because of course, without air, there's no sound. The most important element of this foundation is the understanding that:

      • An exhale creates sound,
      • Our inhale determines our exhale,
      • Our self-use a whole determines the quality of the breath, and therefore the quality of the sound. 
        • To experience the difference, stand on your tip-toes and take a big breath. Then, stand on both feet and take a big breath.
        • Which is more comfortable? Is there a difference in how each feels between these two different ways of using yourself?
        • There are subtle habits of use embedded in our playing that can affect breathing in the same way.
        • Therefore, looking at the whole can improve breathing, and thereby, sound.

       

      Posts to Refine Breathing + Self-Use

       

      Resources for Refining Breathing Anatomy


      2. Internal Set-Up: Jaw, Tongue, Mouth

      So, we've mentioned embouchure and airstream, but the structures between the lungs and the lips play a crucial role in developing sound, as well. As before, understanding the anatomy of these structures can lead to a more refined and effective means of use.

      Statements like "open the throat" or "drop the jaw" are well-meaning tips to help students create openness and fullness to the sound. If the foundation of breathing or anatomical knowledge isn't there, attempting to open the throat may turn into forcing and lead to throat tension or noise.

       

      Refine Your Knowledge

      Have a look at this video.

      Although it's about swallowing, in the first 60 seconds, the narrator points out just how large the tongue is, and that the base of the tongue is in the oral pharynx.

      She'll also point out the hard palate and soft palates.

       

      • The tongue is the floor of our mouth, and the palates are the ceiling.
      • Increasing the amount of space in the mouth creates resonance.
      • Therefore, tongue down, soft palate lifted will increase the space in the oral cavity.

       

      • Understand that the tongue is large and dome shaped, and the base of which sits in the jaw and the oral pharynx. Therefore, the jaw and the tongue are closely related.
      • If "dropping the jaw" leads to pulling or forcing the jaw down, the freedom of the tongue is affected. (Jaw tension is a culprit of poor articulation and tongue speed, as well!)
      • The back or base of the tongue, as seen above, is essentially the front of the beginning of what we might consider to be the throat. Therefore, the tongue heavily influences our airsteam, and how "open" or "restricted" it is.
      • We use these structures to ensure airflow hasn't been restricted, and to create vowel shapes that add depth to the sound. 

       

      Where's My Jaw in Relation to the Whole?

       

      How to Practice?

      • Singing and playing is my favorite way to practice both airstream support and set-up:
        • Singing adds speed and volume to the air stream, allows the mouth to create vowel shapes, and allows "open the throat" to occur in a natural way. Intentionally creating sound by singing can help alleviate throat tension and throat noise.

      3. Embouchure

      Embouchure comes last because this is point at which we add structure and finesse to the airstream. When the fundamental elements are adequate and refined, the embouchure can begin to let go. A smiling, or tight embouchure with corners pulled back is a compensation for inadequate air, a closed throat or both.

      Uncovering the bottom lip and allowing the corners to mush forward towards the lip plate is now possible when air and space are adequate. From here, flexibility and seamless intervals are possible. (Insert your favorite flexibility exercises and etudes here!)

       

      Here's one more video to see the muscles that move the mouth and the lips.

      The muscles below the the lower lip are important - often, the flute is too high on the bottom lip, and we can't use the lower lip for finesse and structure.

      If we try to lower the flute on the lip without the foundations of the pyramid, students won't have the tools ready to begin supporting well, and they'll lose sound, which is a scary experience! One more reason to look at the whole to make effective changes to the embouchure.

       

      Adequate support will also allow students to begin rolling out or uncovering more of the lip plate.

       

      In addition, the angle of the embouchure and flute-to-face are also the final elements to refining sound.

       

      Here are three experiments for making adjustments and finding the right angle!


      Free Download!

      Here's a free visual aid with some important reminders to use for yourself or for your students! Click the image or the button below to download a PDF.



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      Effortless Octaves While Lying on the Floor

      I originally wrote this post back in July of 2012, and I vividly remember being in New York and practicing in my room on this day! (I don't think I would've remembered it if I hadn't taken the time to write it down here.)

      Since I'm currently thinking about octaves and tapers, this felt like the perfect time to dig up this old, but relevant post!

      Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL (1).jpg

      I decided to really work on tone today until I actually noticed an improvement that I could describe in words.

      I have played while lying on the floor in Body Mapping lessons to note how reducing effort can increase resonance and ease for breathing.


      Semi-Supine Position

       

      Today's revelations while practicing on the floor...

       

      • "Feel air entering through the nose or mouth and let the rest take care of itself."

      • I find myself trying to help my body move to inhale, but it just leads to tension and awkward movements. My body does a better job taking air in when I get out of the way and simply observe the journey the air takes.

      • Alexander Technique teachers suggest placing a book under your head when lying in this position. Without the book, I was very much aware of airway restriction. With the book raising my head a couple inches, I noticed an improvement in breathing and ease in the neck.

       

      I was inspired by Jasmine Choi's Paganini Caprice this morning, specifically her flawless octave tapers!

      Her playing is always effortless and stunning!

       

      While lying on the floor, I used just my headjoint to see how effortless I could make my own octave changes. I noticed that I was the least successful when I used the most effort.

       

      • My habit was to move my jaw forward and pull my lips back.
      • When I inhibited this extra effort, I realized that I made the change in my aperture instead:
        • I noticed my aperture getting smaller and I became aware of the air moving beneath the center of my upper lip. (Never noticed that before!)

       

      Simplifying my movements to focus on only the necessary effort of the aperture worked like magic. I stood up and added my headjoint to the rest of my flute.

      Octave tapers were now so easy that they actually became fun!

       

      Turn inspiration into intention: 

       

      • how effortless can my tapers be?

      • how effortless can octaves be?



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      When Good Intentions Stress You Out: Learning The Difference Between Freedom and Forcing

      I’m constantly looking at all my moving parts while playing to inspect areas where I’m holding tension or using myself in a way that’s holding me back from finding ease, and this helps me problem solve on a daily basis!

       

      For example, if I scan my abdomen and realize it’s holding a lot of tension, I can direct myself to let go, and often find freedom for more efficient breathing, and therefore, I’ll find a more resonant sound.

       

      Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL (2).jpg

       

      However, I’ve come to notice that there are moments where I am naturally allowing freedom, but other times, I’m forcing myself to let go.

       

      Forcing freedom is not the same as freedom.

      Forcing the abdomen to be free is not the same as allowing it to be free.

       

      Focusing only on the abdomen to ensure it's free at all times does not create freedom because my focus becomes too narrowed.

       

      I've become overly cautious, and now I’m stressed.

       


      Stop Thinking In Parts, and Remember The Whole!

       

      When I realize that directing individual moving parts doesn’t work, I remember an initial, key lesson in Body Mapping:

       

      Inclusive Awareness.

       

      Inclusive awareness is key in allowing the entire body to work together from a place of balance and fluid, natural movement:

       

      • It invites in all the senses.
      • It invites a widened awareness of the space surrounding you in all directions.
      • It allows the gaze to soften, the ears to open, and the entire body to feel supported by space.

       

      (Remember that time I remembered Peripheral Vision? Here I am remembering it yet again! Click here to read "How 2 Words Instantly Took Me From Frustration to Freedom!")

       

      By definition, moving only a few parts is the opposite of using the whole, and therefore, it doesn’t always work if you’re looking for free, natural playing.

       

      Analyzing one part, like the abdomen, without addressing the whole body feeling of support from the floor can turn good intentions of allowing freedom into forcing freedom.


      Are You Overly Cautious?

       

      Inclusive awareness also releases the mind from its overly critical and cautious state.

       

      Where do you feel the most confident and natural?

       

      For me, it’s improvising or playing from memory in front of the window:

       

      • I’m moving towards the window and starting notes before I even get there.

      • No need to stop and "set-up," No self-directing or caution.

      • No pressure.

      A Simple Direction for Accessing Your Natural Self

       

      An idea from Missy Vineyard’s book, How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery:

       

      “I’m not playing the piano.”

       

      • When I “play the flute,” I set-up, direct, and feel cautious. I stop using myself in a natural way.

       

      (I noticed this in A Simple Trick For Better Breathing!)

       

      • Trying out this direction:
      “Smile, dive in, I’m not playing the flute,”

      I could access my natural, whole-body self, and therefore, found more freedom in my playing!


      In Conclusion

       

      It’s key to understand how you use yourself while playing, and whether certain patterns of tension are present and preventing you from feeling and sounding how you want.

       

      However, constantly living in this critical space makes it more difficult to turn it off for performance mode. Releasing criticism and flipping the switch to inclusive awareness and observation needs to occur most often!

       

      When the intention is to maintain awareness of the surrounding space, music-making is free.

      Invite all the senses to the experience.

      Release into the space, release into listening,

      Remember the whole.



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