Do you ever notice your legs as you play?
What do they feel like?
Do your legs move or are they in a fixed place/position as you play?
Are the muscles in your thighs working to keep you upright?
Recently I was working with a student to explore balance in the legs when we expanded our discussion to include the muscular balance of the legs, specifically in the thighs. We looked at how we use the powerful thigh muscles in playing, the quadriceps and hamstrings. Through our exploration we found some exciting new playing possibilities: more sound, more resonance and more fun!. Here is the exploration for you...
MAP OF BALANCE*
In balance the weight of the body is supported and delivered to the ground by the bones. In the legs, the bones involved are the upper leg bone (femur,)the shin bone (tibia), and the bones of the foot which form arches that deliver the body’s weight to the floor. One way to monitor your body’s balance is to notice how the sole of the foot contacts the ground.
The foot is the body’s direct connection to the ground.
In balance, there are three places on the sole of the foot that contact the ground equally. Think of it as a tripod, comprised of the big ball, little ball & middle of the heel (figure 1.)
This is a good way to monitor balance from head to foot. If you notice that an area of the sole (side, front or back) is contacting the ground more than the others, a source for this imbalance could be excess muscular tension in the thighs.
The thigh has two large muscles, the quadriceps in front and the hamstrings in back.
These muscles do not need to work if the body is in balance because the bones of the leg do the work of keeping you upright. If these muscles are tight as you play, all movement will be affected and you may notice breathing, technical and expressive limitation.
6 STEP EXPLORATION
1.NOTICE: Play and notice what your legs are like. Do you feel them? Do they move? Are they stiff? Can you feel the sole of your foot contacting the ground? Just Notice....
2.PALPATE: Palpate or touch the quadriceps on the front of the thigh, and the hamstrings on the back the thigh. As you stand upright, tighten & loosen these muscles and notice the effects that the tightening and loosening has on the rest of your body. In addition to the changes in your legs, you may also notice changes in your abdomen, back, chest, neck, and breath.
3.MAP: Allow these muscles to release as you allow the large leg bones support you. As you prepare to play again, remind yourself of these aspects of the leg map:
• Femur, tibia and arches of the foot support the body
• Ankle joints, knee joints and hip joints align vertically in balance
• Find equilibrium between the quadriceps and hamstrings in the thigh
• As you bring your instrument up to play do the muscles become active?
•If so, invite the muscles to again regain equilibrium. Practice bringing your instrument up and taking it back down with free thigh muscles.
4.PLAY: Notice what happens to the thigh muscles as you play. Do they tighten up? Are the changes you experience associated with the intensity of the music, breathing, or technical passages?
5.CHUNK: Invite the thigh muscles to release as you prepare to play, allowing the bones to support you. Play a small chunk of the music with free thigh muscles.
•What was it like to play without tension in the thighs? Did you notice changes in playing ease, sound, technical facility, your breath?
•Gradually increase the length of your 'chunk of music' enjoying the freedom that balance allows.
6.INTEGRATE your new found freedom into the music.
As my student integrated this aspect of balance into her map, her sound became clearer, breathing became easier, and making music became even more gratifying. She found new clarity in her sense of balance, and could integrate natural leg movements into playing. Most importantly, she could work less to play more expressively.
This process can be applied to any regions of the body (such as the arms, neck, upper torso, etc.), enhancing playing awareness and increasing playing ease and expressive freedom.
* Detailed information on the body in balance can be found in Lea Perason’s book, Body Mapping for Flutists (GIA)