The Sights, Sounds, Touch and Movements of Playing
April 2, 2012
Awareness of the body’s rich sensory feedback is an essential component of expressive music-making.
What are your 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:
Would you describe your awareness as concentrating?
Does your focus shift as you play or is it fixed on one thing?
Do you ever hear the note you are playing, feel movement in your body, see the space, and feel the instrument in your hands as you play?
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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. Then repeat it as you play a simple tune.
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 creating sound and making music. 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.
I welcome your thoughts, questions and comments on your experience.