September 24, 2011
I recently worked with a flute student who was playing with a nice sound which changed into a fuzzy unfocused sound as she continued. As I observed her playing I noticed that she raised her left elbow away from her body as the music became more demanding. The location of the elbows as you play is a one indication of how much effort is going into playing.
What is your habit?
Investigate by watching yourself in a mirror or by watching a short video recording of your playing. Moving the elbows away from the body as you play does not need to be part of your playing. In order for the elbows to move away from the body, muscles in the torso and arms engage which causes tension that will affect the other muscles that you need to play. If the elbow(s) is held chronically higher, the muscular effort not only limits rib movement which affects the breath but causes discomfort which can lead to habits that aren’t in line with how the body is designed to move.
I think of the elbows as hanging from the arm/shoulderblade joint on one end and from the hands on the other. This is a good way to invite the arm muscles to release. One image I suggest is to imagine that light weights hang from the tips of the elbows to remind you to simple let the elbows and arms hang.
What to do?
First find out if you move your elbows out farther when the technical, sound or endurance demands of the music increase. If you do, it is time to map the movements you need to play the passage. Any change in how the elbows hang could be a sign of compensation for limitation in other aspect of your playing. Two of my favorite Body Mapping resources on arms are Lea Pearson’s “Body Mapping for Flutists” (GIA), and David Vining’s “What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body” (Kagrice Brass Editions).