Awareness of the body's rich sensory feedback is an essential component of expressive music-making. My previous columns have focused on mapping movement of the arms, legs and breath. As you have explored these ideas, perhaps you have thought, "How can I pay attention to all of this and play the flute?" I felt this way when I first encountered Body Mapping. I invite you to explore awareness with me to learn how physical movement can be part of your playing awareness, and how it enhances music-making.
The amazing human brain can process sensory feedback from all of the senses simultaneously. Young children demonstrate this beautifully as they actively move through their environment never losing awareness of their physical comfort. This rich open awareness they so easily utilize is sometimes lost as we grow. The good news is that we can reclaim this the full scope of awareness and use it to our advantage while playing the flute.
Discovering Awareness Habits
Think about your awareness habits as you play. What is in your awareness you play? To get an idea of your awareness habits, play a piece or etude then answer the following questions:
Barbara Conable author of "What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body" coined the term, Inclusive Awareness to describe the ideal state of awareness for making-music. Inclusive awareness allows us to be internally and externally aware, and to focus on a particular element without losing awareness of others.
From Concentration to Inclusive Awareness
Let's make the transition from a state of concentration to inclusive awareness. Along the way I invite you to notice the physical changes that take place. Each step of this exploration adds another aspect of the senses to your awareness.
I. Concentrate on a single word on the page for a few minutes. Block out the sounds, sensations and activity around you.
Self-Inquiry: Does your physical comfort and breathing change as you concentrate?
II. Continue to look at the word and notice you can see other words on the page, they may not be legible but you can make out the shapes of letters and words.
Self-Inquiry: As you do this, do you experience changes in physical comfort and/or breathing?
III. Expand visually: Continue to look at your word and the shapes of words that surround it, notice you can also see objects, colors, textures beyond your computer screen, they may be blurry. Simply notice them as you focus on your word.
Self-Inquiry: What physical changes occur when you expand your visual field?
IV. Add peripheral vision: Notice objects and/or movements in the peripheral field to the left, right, below and above. They may appear unfocused, don't try to adjust, just notice that you can see peripherally as you look at your word.
Self-Inquiry: What physical changes are you experiencing? Do you notice changes in your facial mask?
V. Add tactile sense: notice you can feel the contact of clothing, glasses, jewelry with your skin as you focus on your word. Feel your contact with the chair you are sitting in and the floor under your feet. Combine awareness of these sensations with your visual field.
Self-Inquiry: What physical changes are you experiencing? Has breathing become easier? Is it less effort to look at the word and sit in your chair?
VI. Add auditory: Notice that you can hear lots of noises some louder than others.
Self-Inquiry: Is it easier to sit and look at the word now?
VII. Add kinesthetic sense: notice the movements of the breath in and out of your body as well as any arm, leg or torso movement.
Self-Inquiry: Notice what it feels like to be focusing on an object as you see, hear, and feel at the same time.
You have just moved from a state of concentration to inclusive awareness. During the transition to inclusive awareness what changes to your physical comfort did you experience? At the end were you more comfortable sitting? Many people notice that inclusive awareness enhances physical comfort, reduces muscular effort and increases the feeling of ease throughout the body. Inclusive awareness offers the same benefits to us as we play our instrument. Repeat the same exploration as you look at music on your stand.
Sensory feedback from from the auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic senses are important to music-making. When they are all a part of awareness, adjustments to any aspect of playing can be made.
• hear the music
• see the music and the space around
•see collaborating musicians
• feel the instrument in our hands
• as well as clothing, jewelry, glasses, chair, ground
• feel movement throughout the body
• including: breathing, finger, arm, leg, head, embouchure, and more.
Inclusive awareness enables each of these sensory experiences to be in our awareness, although not equally focused. This is like looking at a photograph where the subject is clearly focused, but objects, colors and textures surrounding the subject are less defined or blurry. With inclusive awareness in music-making, one can easily focus on one or two elements and shift the focus as desired.
Try this... Stand in front of your stand with a piece of music open. Look at the piece of music. As you look at the music notice you can also see the stand behind the page, and the space around the music stand. Is this familiar to you?
More About Kinesthetia
Kinesthesia is our perception of the body in movement.
Experience the kinesthetic sense:
• Hold a hand over your head out of your visual field.
• Wiggle your fingers.
• Notice that you can feel your fingers moving even though you cannot see them.
• Notice that you can discern which finger is moving farthest, fastest, most sluggish without seeing the hand or the fingers.
• You can also describe how far your hand is from your head.
You notice all of this without seeing it, this is KINESTHESIA! What you feel comes from sensory receptors located in the joints and muscles of the body. Kinesthesia enables us to discern the quality of the movements we use, and adjust if we find we are working to hard.
Playing example: I notice my breathing is limited. Having noticed this, I can respond by making the physical adjustments to free the breath.
Awake & Alive Music-Making
Inclusive Awareness brings you into the moment of music-making. You experience the many movements of playing; from air to fingers, along with the sights, sounds and tactile sensations. You are actively engaged in the the creation of sound, and can fluidly respond to the needs of the music, fellow musicians and audience.
The next exploration will help you begin to integrate inclusive awareness into your playing.
Exploration 1: Feel Air Movement
• Allow your visual field to be broad, feel the touch of your clothing on your skin, hear the sounds around you, see all of the colors and textures in the room.
• Notice the movement of air in and out of your body.
• Feel it pass through the mouth or nasal passages.
• Feel movement in the chest where the ribs are located.
• Feel the movement that occurs below the ribs.
• Continue to notice the movement of air with your instrument into playing position.
• Sustain a single note and tune into the movement of air out of your body. You may notice it passing through the mouth or over the interior of the embouchure.
• Notice the movement of air as you inhale.
• Repeat playing a short phrase.
Is there a difference in how you play when air movement is the focus of your awareness? Is there an increase in ease? Are you using just the right amount of air? or was it too little or too much? Next play a phrase as you notice air movement.
Nurturing playing awareness
When I came to Body Mapping I was a serious concentrator. My focus was on the music so that I would not get lost or make a mistake. This strategy caused me to play with undue tension because concentrating requires a tremendous amount of effort to maintain narrow focus. I decided to experiment with awareness in a safe place, one which didn't involve flute playing. While lifting weights at the gym I gave inclusive awareness a try, this is what I did...
As I laid on the bench to do a leg curl, I first noticed that I could feel the bench beneath me. Next I noticed that without changing the direction of my gaze, I could see a lot of movement in my peripheral field. Then I realized I could also hear chatter, and the sounds of machines and weights. As I continued to expand my awareness something amazing happened, the weight I was lifting didn't feel so heavy, because the physical effort required to lift the weight was distributed throughout my body rather than being isolated in the legs.
This was a remarkable experience for me. I continued to cultivate inclusive awareness in other activities such as teaching, driving the car, writing at my computer. As I became more familiar with inclusive awareness I was ready to integrate it into playing the flute.
The visual sense is powerful. I have found that engaging peripheral vision is a reliable way to become aware of movement.
Exploration 2: Peripheral Vision
• As you stand in front of your music stand notice how much you can see as you look at the music.
• the black of the music stand behind the the page
• the space around & beyond the music stand
• See peripherally too! Notice your visual field to the left, right, above & below.
• Bring your flute to playing position. If your visual awareness changes when you bring the flute up, allow it to open again. Notice how much of space you can see as you look at the page. You may even see your fingers on the flute!
• Play! As you play the music allow your visual field to be just as broad as it was before you began to play. Don't worry if you make a mistake! If you find your awareness narrowing, invite it to open back up.
• Can you play a phrase with this new open awareness? two phrases?
How does it feel to play with broad visual awareness? Many people experience greater physical ease in their playing and awareness of movement. Some even notice new depth in the sounds they hear.
Sensitivity to the feelings of sound, sight, touch and movement enhance musical expression. This complete sensory awareness includes the perception of physical movement which is the foundation to what we do to create sound and make music. Developing familiarity with inclusive awareness allows us to monitor movement quality and its delicate coordination as we play so that we may learn to use appropriate effort in playing, the key to musical expression.
If inclusive awareness is different than what you do now, take it to a safe place where you can build familiarity along with the sensitivity to the range of sensations available to you. As you integrate Inclusive Awareness into playing, music-making comes alive, you feel the amazing coordination of movement and make choices about how you move. Over time you discover that the possibilities for expression are limitless and uncover the pure and simple joy of music-making.
I welcome your thoughts, questions and comments on your experience.