What I’m Learning From Bodymapping Lessons

I’ve recently begun taking bodymapping lessons and after only a few  sessions, I’ve learned that I didn’t understand nearly as much about how the body works as I thought I did.

I’ve struggled with physical limitations that affected my playing since my early twenties. Pain, numbness, tension, impaired function, etc. led me to work hard at avoiding injury. I thought my awareness of how I used my body was pretty good. I could usually manage the amount of physical effort and tension I put into playing and if I overdid it in a practice session or performance, I could undo the damage with careful, mindful practice.

I’d never previously never taken any real instruction in bodymapping, only read about it and attended some workshops, but I thought I had a good handle on it. I was so wrong!

Bodymapping is based on the idea that the image you have in your mind of how the body works, specifically how your skeleton, muscles, and nerves interact to as you do anything. This is something that I understood intellectually, however my body map was way off.

I discovered that I didn’t really know where my hip and shoulder joints were, how my back should have curves, how my shoulders/collarbone are supported by my neck, and most surprising, how my head sits on my spine.

I’ve spent years, decades thinking that I knew how my head should be positioned in relation to my spine, and that I had good posture, especially when playing, yet I’ve had terrible neck problems. My chiropractor told me that stretches would help, but that it would only get worse. Stretches did help, and yoga helped more.

However,  just a few minutes with my bodymapping coach correcting my misconception about how the skull and spine interact, and I can turn my head from side with almost no discomfort or limitation. Wow! And when I play, my tone has opened up tremendously, with my air flowing much more freely.

In my case, because I thought the point where my skull rests on my spine (the Atlanto-Occipital Joint) was further back than it is. This caused me to misuse the muscles in my neck and upper back. Besides the obvious discomfort, this  limited my ability to move my head and put unnecessary stress on the nerves and muscles in the right side of my body. Definitely not good for flute playing!

I had been wrong all these years and after just a few days after correcting this part of my ‘map’,  I feel so much better. It’s amazing how much impact a small change can make. Of course, making this change permanent will take some sustained effort, but it is definitely worth it if it improves my life and playing this much.

Are you experiencing pain when you play? Want to learn more about bodymapping? Here are some resources to get you started.

Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Teacher Should Know About the Body by Dr. Lea Pearson

If you think you might be interested in Body Mapping lessons or just want to find out more about it, take a look at Dr. Lea Pearson’s website, Music Minus Pain, for more information.


 

What If It All Started With the Flute?

Imagine if the invention of the flute was the first step to the invention of computers? Musicians know that musical activities can inspire great ideas in other fields.

Steven Johnson, writer and researcher on the history of innovation, presents an entertaining and informative video describing how the invention of the flute 40,000 years ago can be connected to the invention of computers. Another prime example of how important music is to the human race (and should be in homes and schools, hint, hint!)

Click on the link to see Johnson’s TedTalk video, it’s surprisingly fun as well as informative!

How Play Leads to Great Inventions

 

Practicing Flutist Tshirt Sidehustle

In case you didn’t know, I have a sidehustle that includes designing Tshirts.  And surprise, surprise, many of them have musical themes. Might be a little weird, but it’s fun. It’s even more fun with people like them and buy them, makes me feel like I’m making a connection with them. Below are links to my newest efforts, available on Amazon’s newest POD Tshirt service. You can also search for Practicing Flutist to find them.  If you like them, share them! Or send me ideas for what you want to see on a Tshirt.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072BWXF3S

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711RZS26

Inspired by Pentatonix

I believe that much inspiration can be gained by listening to and watching the performances of excellent musicians, whether they perform Classical or pop, are instrumentalists or singers. One of my favorites to listen to and watch is the acapella group Pentatonix.

Especially at this time of year, I find listening to Pentatonix, and watching their videos to be very inspiring.  Their arrangements of Christmas classics combine the familiar beauty of old-fashioned carols with fresh, modern interpretations. Performance-wise they display such perfection of intonation and attention to detail that I think of them as excellent inspiration for what can be achieved by conscientious musicians playing in an ensemble.

From watching them in the videos it is evident that they  listen to each other closely, ALL THE TIME, EVERY SINGLE SECOND, so they can interact and adjust accordingly. I feel like I can almost see how intensely they are listening to each other, blending their individual voices into the overal sound and texture.

They also put the maximum amount of effort and attention into every syllable. It doesn’t matter whether they are singing lead or backup, each singer performs each and every note as if it were the most important note in the song. And their use of different syllables and mouth shapes to create specific sounds (also applicable to wind players, especially flutists!) demonstrates how much thought and pre-planning they put into making each piece of music special.  They are fully invested in making every moment great, because they know that every note counts.

For emphasis on intonation in a simple carol, check out Pentonix singing First Noel.

To hear how they approach tunes without lyrics, this link takes you to Pentatonix singing Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Suite, a fun listen and entertaining video!

And if you want just a little more, this arrangement of Carol of the Bells is fantastic! I hope that as you listen and you sill be inspired to continue developing your musical skills!

Intonation Naivete; Be Kind to Your Listener’s Ears

Image result for ear hearing music

 

When I was young and naïve, I liked to program unaccompanied pieces, because I thought that I didn’t have to pay as much attention to intonation. If there was no other instrument to compare my pitch to, nobody would notice if I was a little (or a lot!!) flat on the low notes or just a tad (or a mile) sharp on the high notes? After all, only those extremely rare people with perfect pitch could tell the difference and even that was about the notes, not the intonation, right? HA! I was so wrong, and if you think this way, too, so are you!

Learning to play in tune isn’t just about learning to play in tune with others, it also about learning to play in tune with yourself. If you are playing without accompaniment, the pitch of the first note you play determines the placement and intonation of every note that comes after. EVERY NOTE.

In the listener’s ear, the intonation is always relative to some reference point. As a piece progresses, the reference might shift a little, but the listener’s brain is constantly measuring and comparing each new pitch to pitches that came before. The proportions of the intervals are dictated by mathematical proportions that occur naturally. Your brain recognizes them, even if you don’t know specifically what they are. Even if no one in your audience has perfect pitch, there is something in each of their brains that says “Hm, the notes seem like they fit, but something is a little off.” If the intervals between the reference pitch and succeeding pitches are too big or too small, you run the risk of sounding ‘off-key’ if it’s really bad, or just not quite right if it is only a little. So, yes, your intonation matters even when you are playing unaccompanied pieces.

To address this, practice your unaccompanied pieces against a drone pitch,  usually the tonic pitch of the piece or section you are working on. I advise you to practice this way for two reasons. First, so you can work on keeping a consistent pitch center, not letting your overall pitch wander around. Second, so you can work on learning the sizes of the intervals between the tonic and the other notes in the piece. It’s not enough to know the notes and which keys to press and how to make each note sound pretty, you have to learn the actual sizes of the intervals.

Just like when you sing and you don’t have keys or finger positions to help you find the pitches, you have to learn the size of each interval from one note to the next and from the tonic to each note. (Knowing the pitch tendencies of your instrument and how you play it is very helpful in this endeavor, hint, hint) This is what ear training courses are supposed to teach you, though most forget to teach you why you might want to know how to do this.

I’m starting to ramble now, and maybe rant a little, so I’ll summarize by saying this. Yes, your intonation does matter when you play unaccompanied pieces, so you have to subject them to the same careful intonation practice that you would anything else. Your audiences will thank you for it!