body mapping flute

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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How 2 Words Instantly Took Me From Frustration to Freedom

After refining my Fundamentals Workout Plan over the past week, I found myself pulling out all the old exercises I could find. I opened a folder and pulled out a treasure.

It was sheet of scale exercises I received from Vanessa Breault Mulvey during my summer studying Body Mapping with her. She had written two magic words at the top:

Peripheral Vision.

Inclusive Awareness

Body Mapping introduced me to Inclusive Awareness, or the idea of introducing a wider scope of awareness that includes the body as a whole, all the senses, and the space surrounding you in all directions.

Frustration

While practicing orchestral excerpts this week, I did not realize how small my scope of awareness had become until I invited peripheral vision back into my playing. My desire to perfectly play the first few notes of the excerpt led me to focus intensely on the page, and ultimately, I was inconsistent in executing exactly as I wanted to. Frustrating.

Freedom

Releasing my vision to include the whole page, the whole stand, and the whole room immediately filled me with the comfort of clarity, and the freedom to play as a whole. 

"Peripheral Vision" is now displayed right where I can see it while practicing!

"Peripheral Vision" is now displayed right where I can see it while practicing!

Letting go and allowing my eyes to be soft, seeing the ceiling, the floor, and my fingers moving, I was able to trust and produce the desired sound with ease. I was overwhelmed with a sense of confidence during the silence before beginning each excerpt because I was taking in the whole picture, rather than trying to make each part fall into place.

The benefits of peripheral awareness don't end in the practice room. On stage, opening your visual awareness to include the entire space allows you to fully connect with the audience and project with ease. 

Are you aware of your scope of vision as you play?

Can you see your fingers moving while you play?

Are your eyes soft or working hard to focus?

Experiment with peripheral vision and tell me about it in the comments below! 

#practiceroomrevelations

As always, I love seeing your own Practice Room Revelations and what's inspiring you throughout the month! Use #practiceroomrevelations and tag me @joleneflute to share!

In A Rut: Replacing Guilt with Inspiration

When it comes to motivation for growth, music majors come to thrive on the structure provided by music school. We have a calendar full of auditions, solo or class recitals, weekly studio classes, ensemble rehearsals, performances and more to keep up with. With the line-up of goals and weekly guidance from our teachers, we can get into a groove and stay in it for a long stretch. (And our favorite practice room. We can stay in there, too.)

When school's out or we've graduated and are on our own for the first time, it is easy to feel lost, overwhelmed, or uninspired if no clear goals are in sight. 

CORE EXPERIENCES VERSUS SMALL JOLTS OF INSPIRATION

When thinking of what inspires me to keep going, it. Attending festivals, master classes, and committing to personal projects have been the crucial moments in my own development. (If you've seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, these core memories keep Flute Island going strong!)

What I've learned about the in-between times is that they provide an opportunity for a core learning experience to occur. The continuous stream of education during school is crucial and highly influential, but the moments we seek on our own, outside of our norm, are significant as well.

My own Core Experiences

During most of my summers as a student, I was fortunate to experience breakthrough master classes and accomplish personal projects:

In the summer after the first year as an undergraduate, I attended my first master class with Gary Schocker. This was a turning point for me, because I was introduced to the Alexander Technique. The positive experience was a huge burst that stayed with me through my degree.

The following summer, I attended ARIA, a more intensive class with greater challenges. A repertoire list was provided with a list of excerpts, pieces, and etudes, some I was unfamiliar with. I took it upon myself to learn as many as possible. 

My third summer, I received a research grant to study Body Mapping, a huge turning point for my playing and teaching that influences me today. This decision led me to attend FSU as a graduate student. (Another crucial core experience that led me to my exact path!)

Summer before graduate school, I started this blog! This began as a means of continuing to improve on my own. In the summers between undergrad, I knew what to expect each year, and knew what I could work on. Before grad school, I had a repertoire list as a guideline for auditions, which spent a lot of time preparing. (Another source of structure that was fundamental to my motivation to continue growing.) I also used this blog as a means of turning my experiences into coherent ideas for teaching, in preparation for becoming a teaching assistant.

Attending FSU and delving into my interests in working with body awareness and teaching are the culmination of my summer experiences, and continue to inspire me to practice and teach with intention.

SMALL JOLTS 

While we cannot ignore the monumental, life-changing experiences, they can be expensive and harder to come by. Sometimes, we think about about practicing, decide we don't want to, then feel guilty. We get into a rut, and the more days in a row we feel the guilt, the deeper we get. There are small decisions we can make that jolt us out of a rut, and lead us to an inspired practice session.

The following things motivate me to take my flute out:

  • Browse Musicians on YouTube
  • Find new pieces on Spotify
  • Listen to fellow musicians on SoundCloud
  • Go for a walk
  • Attend a concert
  • Dance to 90s music
  • Organize your practice space
  • Take a lesson
  • Come up with your musicians' bucket list (Pieces to Learn, Hear, Perform...)
  • Drink Water 
  • Power Nap
  • Try a new instrument, then go back to your own
  • Constructive Rest
  • Yoga
  • Polish your instrument
  • Teach a lesson
  • Do Cardio
  • Listen to old recordings
  • Get dressed up and play a recital for yourself
  • Visit a Musem
  • Play along with a recording of your favorite symphony
  • Sing in the car
  • Read memoirs of musicians
  • Make a painting based on a piece
  • Watch master class videos or audit a live workshop

Or, open this book up and hear from a flute hero!

Overcoming guilt

When I began feeling overwhelmed with the work-life balance after graduate school, I simply wouldn't practice. I did not want to know what I would sound like, and I felt extreme guilt. I no longer deserved to play my instrument, and I had lost time. I ultimately needed to accept my new environment, carving out a space to return to practicing.

Time away is okay. I have heard many teachers and musicians state that time away is beneficial, and when we return, we're often refreshed and better than before. (I now believe them because I've experienced this myself more than once since then!) It is okay to feel guilt, it is okay to be frustrated - it is normal. It is an emotional process to go through a rut, but it is a pivotal time to uncover what truly motivates you. Trust in the journey of acceptance, and trust that you're simply in-between. There is always something new on the horizon, and when it happens, it will mean that much more.

Yoga Poses to Incorporate into Your Practice Session

I recently came across some old practice journals, and found a page I'd written after a yoga warm-up. I was reminded of several poses and breathing exercises that are especially beneficial for musicians.

It is no secret that yoga is beneficial for musicians, especially for the foundations of breathing, awareness, and the mind-body connection. Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate yoga into my practice session, along with some favorite yoga videos courtesy of YouTube.

If You're Anxious...

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing will encourage slower breathing and has a calming effect. If you're seeking greater focus or mental clarity, try this first.

 

Guided Savasana (Corpse Pose)

One of the first notes I made in my yoga warm-up entry came after laying on the floor in corpse pose. I allowed myself to watch the journey of the air into the nose or mouth, and watched for any tendencies to help, force, or tighten at any point during the inhalation and exhalation. A crucial point is allowing a natural wave-like flow between the inhalation and the exhalation, avoiding any urge to hold at the top of the breath. Understanding tendencies such as these outside of playing provides greater awareness of anything that could interrupt a natural breath while playing.

 

WIDE-LEG CHILD'S POSE

Child's Pose provides an opportunity to observe the movement of the spine while breathing: Upon inhalation, the spine gathers. Upon exhalation, the spine lengthens. Additionally, I allow the abdominal muscles to release during the exhalation in this pose. When playing, releasing the abdominal muscles allows for greater ease in breathing and improved breath capacity!


To Energize...

 

SUN SALUTATION

Moving the entire body as a warm-up before practicing is a great way to feel energized before practicing, especially if you're feeling tired. The more warmed-up my muscles feel, the easier it is to play! 

 

Pigeon Pose

I love hip-opening poses, and Pigeon Pose is my favorite! Hip openers bring awareness to the lower body, and this pose provides an opportunity to feel the movements of the breath and their relation to the legs and hip joints. In addition, this provides another chance to allow the abdominal muscles to release, inhibiting a habit of gripping while enhancing the stretch. 

What are your favorite yoga poses or stretches? Does your warm-up include a full-body warm-up?

(*Note, guidance from a certified instructor is recommended for proper pose execution to prevent injury. Always consult with a doctor if you experience pain or injury.)

3 Lessons In Teaching Awareness

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In a recent lesson with one of my students, we spent a great deal of time playing simple arpeggios followed by questioning: 

"Did you notice what your cheeks felt like that time?" 

 "Is one side more tense than the other?"

When I first ask students questions of this nature, they sometimes smile and say, "What are you talking about?!" 

Others feel discouraged that they aren't sure how to answer, since they've never been asked to consider such questions. 

With this question, the student is given the opportunity to say "I don't know," free of judgement, to which I respond, "Great! Let's try it now!" 

In our lesson, I asked the student to play her simple arpeggio as many times as needed to articulate a clear picture the shape and location of her tongue while slurring, and any tendencies to move during the arpeggio. Each time she played, she was able to add in more detail about the exact location and shape of the tongue in her mouth. 

I asked her if she'd ever thought about it before and she said she had not. 

This reminded me of several things.

 

Perception

First, not everyone has the same experience with self-perception. A similar exercise with another student, regardless of age or experience level, might look very different. The degree of detail and quickness to respond is not something available to everyone, but can improve with practice. 

 

A Clearer Basis For Teaching

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What else did I realize? As a teacher, I cannot see what is going on inside the mouth of another musician. We can see shifts visible on the outside and make assumptions about changes our student can make to improve, but asking the student what her current set-up is like before offering a suggestion for improvement can provide great clarity for both the student and teacher. We were both on the same page and speaking the same language. I could speak in very specific terms knowing the student would understand.

We Are Not Clones

I also tried to mimic her set-up myself to gain more insight into her experience, but the shape of our mouths are not the same. The size and width of our tongues and spacing of our teeth prevent us from creating the exact same experience. (Another important realization: our differences provide an even greater opportunity to express our individuality. No one else sounds or plays like you, and that is exciting to remember.)

The Takeaway

Everyone is different. Guiding students to explore and patiently observe can lead to greater understanding from both parties.

Perhaps the inside of the mouth is difficult to perceive at first, but the fingers or the feet are easier for the student. Gauging self-perception in the student is key.

The student is an important part of the lesson! It's my job to help them improve. I always aim to lead my students to improve the foundations of their playing by finding easy, natural movement, but the specifics of this do not translate exactly from student to student. Once awareness is accessible, more is possible, and more exacting and specific instructions can replace vague ones. The entire experience is more vivid for the student, and exploration and experimentation become a tool available to them at any time.

Can't Get Enough Air? Try This!

Wind players need to breathe to make sound, and there are many pedagogical methods related to breathing. I have been a part of classes and flute lessons where I've been told to take a deeper breath or get more air, but the whole picture wasn't necessarily included in how to take in more air. When enough time was available to breathe more slowly, I was able to get more air in, but continued to run out of air too quickly. So naturally, when the amount of time available to breathe was minimal, I ended up gasping.

What change has allowed me to take in more air and make longer phrases?

Re-training the brain to associate the inhalation with letting go.

When we begin a piece, we have all the time we need to take a slow, deep breath. However, if the inhalation is accompanied by increased tension in the muscles surrounding the ribs, tightening of the throat, or excess tension elsewhere, we're already starting from a place of panic and discomfort. This can lead to decreased resonance in our sound, which leads to technical difficulties and inhibition in expression and phrasing. When we make it to our next breath, we may feel desperate and gasp for air, and the tension and panic may continue to build.

Many instrumentalists have a habit of moving the arms upwards as if giving ourselves a cue. The extra tension in the upper body can prevent a natural breath that leads to a feeling of tightness. Try tensing the arms and taking a deep breath now. How does it feel?

Replace the instruction of "take a deep breath" with "release while inhaling" while watching the journey of the air. What is it like to take in air while releasing at the same time? 

Practice with an intention to observe what changes in the body when breathing. 

  • Do I add tension when I feel that I'm going to run out of air?
  • Is it possible to continue to let go through the phrase, despite feeling that I may run out of air?
  • What does it feel like to breathe when I instruct myself to "take a deep breath?"
  • What does it feel like when I observe the air entering the nose or mouth?
  • When feeling that I'll run out of air, where do I tense in the body?
  • What is it like when I let the abdomen release continuously when inhaling and through playing?
  • What is it like to release the gluteal muscles upon inhalation?

Having an intention that provides ease and comfort from the first breath can be helpful in alleviating performance nerves. If our thoughts get clouded or anxious as we continue through the piece, we can come back to this intention at any time.

RESOURCES

 

Life-Changing Performances: Never Apologize

Today's post from The Sensible Flutist, 'Enriching your artistry through life experience' inspired me to reflect on my most life-changing experience as a performer. When I consider my most thrilling experience on stage, this is the performance that I think of. It was the first time I truly connected to my own emotions while listening to the piece I was playing. Personal experience truly does enrich one's art.

Last summer, as a part of my Musicians' Wellness research, I attended Amy Porter's Anatomy of Sound workshop at the University of Michigan. The guest artist was Ian Clarke, and I was to play Sunstreams for one of the first classes: Clarke compositions with little or no extended techniques.
After I played it through once, Ian asked me what I thought I could improve upon. I really didn't know what to say, so I mentioned something about giving the piece more character. Then he asked the audience what they enjoyed about it. I was surprised when many participants offered kind, positive comments.

Mr. Clarke hadn't quite made his point yet, so he decided to show me what I needed to improve by taking away my music stand
   
He asked, "How do you feel now?" 
I responded with a very honest: "Horrified." 
Everyone laughed.
  
He told me to let go and play. "Just make it up if you have to." Listen to the piano and hear the music.
   
Panicked thoughts flooding my brain: 
"BUT I HAVEN'T MEMORIZED THIS. I ONLY STARTED LEARNING IT TWO WEEKS AGO. YOU WROTE THIS PIECE AND I'M ABOUT TO BUTCHER IT. AMY PORTER IS SITTING OVER THERE WATCHING ME. THAT GIRL STUDIES WITH (FILL-IN-THE-BLANK FAMOUS TEACHER) AND SHE'S GOING TO JUDGE ME. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO IMPROVISE."
   
Tim Carey began playing the opening bars. I felt confident in my ability to come in on my first E-natural at the beginning. The first phrase was a success and I started to relax.
I managed to play almost the entire piece from memory. Without having a music stand, I felt an incredible sense of fear and risk, but it was thrilling.
   
I have never felt more "in the moment."
I was looking out at my audience, and I felt personally connected with each person. Everyone was making eye contact with me, and it helped me to feel more alive than anything. I already knew they were on my side after their verbal comments. I could feel their support and encouragement.
  
I was hearing the music. I was completely aware of Tim Carey playing behind me. I watched Mr. Clarke run to the middle of the hall to egg me on, and I started to really play to the large recital hall.
   
I looked to the top seats at the back of the hall while I played, and I pictured an individual that stirred an emotional place in me. I poured my heart out. I vented, expressed anger, sadness, disappointment, asked questions... I said things that I had yet to express verbally. I experienced a feeling of strength and healing.
   
I filled the hall. I felt huge. I felt powerful. I embodied the "stand-and-deliver" ideal. I was in control and free. I have never felt so connected. To myself. To an audience. To a piece.
  
The audience demonstrated that I had moved them. Some were actually crying. For me. Because of me. They applauded excitedly when I finished, and Amy Porter let out a "WOOOHOOO!!" (I cried for 3 days after this.)
  
A recently certified Andover Educator was in attendance, and she offered me a wonderful observation: "After he removed the music stand, you moved more. It was really beautiful."
   
According to Mr. Clarke, before, during and after my initial performance, I gave the impression that I was apologizing for myself: "It looked like you were saying, 'I'm about to play Sunstreams, I'm really sorry. You don't have to like it. You don't even have to listen. I'm just going to hide until it's over.'"
  
The thing that I thought was giving me confidence (my music stand), was actually crippling me. Mr. Clarke taught me that I have nothing if I don't believe in myself.
   
Stop apologizing. You are capable. You have something to say. Be in control, and believe that you deserve to create something amazing.
  
Lesson: You have everything when you believe in yourself. Show them who you are and what you have to say, and never apologize.