musicians practice blog

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!

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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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How 5 Days of Constructive Rest Improved My Playing

I've been in a slump. My playing has not felt as natural or comfortable recently as I've experienced before. Although my good intentions of feeling grounded, aware, and free are always with me, they have faded into habits that are not completely efficient.

I'm taking my own advice about being in a rut. I'm using frustration as a chance to be curious and excited for the opportunity to improve, and taking action steps to begin climbing out. 

In searching for a means of reconnecting with positive habits and natural alignment, I turned to constructive rest, a practice utilized by teachers and students of the Alexander Technique. 

If you're unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique and constructive rest, read about it here!

After sharing my excitement, I decided to commit to five days of constructive rest, utilizing the free 30-day Constructive Rest Challenge from BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone.

Day 1

I got on the floor with a book under my head and began observing. In true case-of-the-Mondays fashion, I fell asleep moments later. When I woke up, I remembered to feel the movement of my ribs with my hands while on the floor. I discovered that I am trying to make movements happen, rather than watching them. To me, it felt that I was adding tension to the abdominals and ribs to "puff my chest out" in order to get air in. I instead began to watch the journey of the air going into my mouth, and appreciated the movements that followed. In playing afterwards, I experimented with the my habit of abdominal squeezing upon inhalation and the watching-the-air method. I was able to get more air, but more importantly, I could play longer phrases with greater freedom when I stopped adding tension right from the beginning of the breath. I utilized the dugout position, dugout-to-standing, and standing on one leg, and I found much more ease in breathing and resonance!

Day 2

I forgot to do it. And after my two-hour rehearsal left me feeling uncomfortable and fatigued, I set a phone reminder so I stop myself on busy Tuesdays and remember to do it!

Day 3

I recorded Altes #5 for Etude of the Week on this day, and noticed myself getting nervous and uncomfortable during early takes. I was rushing myself to get a good take before the sun went down so I could have natural lighting near the window, but the pressure to get it done quickly was not helping me in any way. I decided to pause for Constructive Rest before continuing on, and Imogen Ragone's 30 Days of Constructive Rest e-mail contained the focus words: "I have time," which were appropriate to say the least! I stayed awake this time, and I focused on feeling the movements of breath through the pelvic floor, allowing movement at the hip joints and freedom in the legs. When I came back to record, I felt more of an effortless uprightedness and had an easier time re-focusing as thoughts of doubt came and went. I even remembered to move while breathing. Strangely, I also noticed how intensely my knees were shaking and gripping! My awareness has been too small to realize this was happening before! Keeping the knees in my awareness allowed me to notice that the shaking occurs when the thoughts of doubts creep in, and I could choose to move to feel more grounded!

Day 4

Today I spent time practicing natural inhalations during constructive rest, observing what I'm doing once I reach the top of the inhalation and proceed to exhalation. I noticed that I tense my knees and ankles, for one! (No wonder I was doing it while recording my etude yesterday!) Secondly, I found myself tensing the abdominals just as I transition to exhalation. I can let go once I begin exhaling by reminding myself of length from the sternum to the pelvis. (A cue from Laura Dwyer's Yoga sequence!) I also found myself tensing my upper ribs and chest when trying to inhale, just as I found on Monday. Changing back to observing the journey of air entering through the nostrils or mouth allowed the inhale to occur. The result is that I feel less muscular action, and it feels strange to be doing less! However, I get the most air, and the most regulated exhalation when I do this. (Another example of something I re-learn over and over again!) This time when I came to standing, I was able to better perceive all the points of balance, including my hips, knees and ankles. I found my right knee feeling very unstable compared to the left, and experimented with my right hip joint. I found that I am tucking a bit on this side! When I come into balance at the hip joints, my knees and ankles feel free and stable! 

Day 5

Today's cue of being "without compression" prompted an immediate release in my neck and upper body. I was able to release upward while feeling a release in the back of my head, as well! This was my first prompt when I was originally introduced to the Alexander Technique at Gary Schocker's summer master class in 2009! I was happy to experience this again, and was reminded of the clarity and calm it brings. I also find that cues reminding me to release anywhere in the head, face and neck also encourage freedom in the throat.

Here's What I Learned Overall

1. Committing to Constructive Rest was as simple as remembering to lay on the floor. (Or as simple as setting a phone reminder.) It did not take tremendous effort for me to begin observing once I was on the floor, and I discovered (or re-discovered) something important that helped my playing every time. More importantly, I had a chance to pause without my instrument in hand, and discovered what I am actually doing versus what I think I am doing.

2. The act of doing constructive rest led me to make positive choices through the rest of the day, not just related to posture and practicing. I found myself considering nutritional choices, feeling inspired to exercise, and engaging in positive mental thoughts more often.

3. Having a new cue or helpful phrase made a tremendous difference in allowing me to experience a fresh perspective each day. Click here to learn about BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone, and to sign up for the free 30-Day Constructive Rest Challenge!

 

Books PictureD

ADDITIONAL BOOKS ON THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Free Download: February Inspiration Calendar

Happy February! I am excited to share a new resource to boost your inspiration in the new month! If you're looking to have more breakthroughs by changing up your practice behaviors, this is for you. The Monthly Inspiration Calendar for Musicians disperses ideas or actions towards inspiration throughout the 28 days of February, and I have personally utilized these actions to great success any time I have needed help getting out of a rut. (Consider these the "Small Jolts" mentioned in the post on Replacing Guilt with Inspiration.)

How to Use It

  • While this is not a practice calendar, there are several actions that are to be implemented directly into your practice session, such as the Practice Intention ideas.
  • There's no need to do every action in the order specified. If you're one to print out calendars like this one, then stop using them after one day if you haven't done everything as listed perfectly, here's permission to use it however you'd like
  • Half the days are intentionally left blank, and you're encouraged to fill them in with actions that are very specific to your own personal sources of inspiration or goals.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. See my example below!

Setting Your Monthly Goals

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask: "Am I on track with my overall goals? Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term? What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

Here are my own:

Observations

In the past month, I have had a positive experience with recording Altes etude #2. I am learning to stay focused, pacing myself while recording these etudes. I have thought about the balance between making an effort musically without falling apart before completing. 

Many times, I felt quite closed or without flexibility. I realize that I have not been breathing fully and efficiently, and the video camera (and long etude ahead) have me closing in and overthinking my movements. I also notice that my articulations are not always as clear as I'd like when listening back.

Changes to Make

In recording etudes, I feel that I can play more musically through making greater preparations and outlining intentions for each and every moment, avoiding questions and doubts creeping in that take me out of the moment. 

I have the resources to remember efficient breathing as I once did, and can spend more time moving and in constructive rest, noticing the involvement of the legs and balance in breathing.

Goals

  • Prepare Etude of the Week etudes carefully, including every breath mark and specific notes on dynamics and mood.
  • Implement a daily constructive rest habit to check in with the movements of breathing, translating them into my practice session.
  • Practice Intention: Allow the ribs to move upon inhalation, and maintain buoyancy upon exhalation. 

Calendar

Without further ado, here is your Inspiration Calendar! Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!

CORRESPONDING LINKS

 

I would love to see your calendars in action! Use the hashtag #practiceroomrevelations and tag @JoleneFlute so I can share in the excitement!

Happy Practicing!