This page has moved to a new address.

Free the arms, free the sound

The Sensible Flutist: Free the arms, free the sound

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Free the arms, free the sound

I began making some discoveries and in turn, deepening my experiential understanding of my arms while at Summerflute. The beauty of Body Mapping is that as you study and integrate the information, you begin to realize how interconnected all the parts of the body are, and inclusive awareness becomes easier and you really begin to understand the concept of gestalt as Barbara Conable calls it in the first hour of What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body.

I've been thinking a lot about how my tendency to thrust my hips and pelvis forward ("hip magnet") when I bring my flute up is related to my head (A-O joint balance), neck and arms. Earlier this week, while I was letting curiosity guide me, I stumbled upon a discovery about my arm structure that has helped me feel this relationship on a deeper level. For information on the arm structure before you continue reading, read Lea Pearson's Flute Focus article on safeguarding the hands.

I hadn't practiced for a few days, so I came to the flute with low expectations. I wanted to be kind to myself. I played through some warm-ups in The Physical Flute and a few Tone Development through Interpretation melodies, and that was it. I wasn't particularly pleased with my sound, but my goal in the practice session was to find ease. If I didn't sound the way I wanted, what was interfering with my ease? My practice session ended as an open ended question, but I was happy that I let myself accept that time and I was excited to return.

The next day, I came back to the flute with the same patient curiosity. Since I'm in the middle of moving, I had finally moved my large pool noodle up to my music room to pack it with the rest of my gear. I was playing, glanced at it and decided to put it under my left arm and continue playing. There is a lot of space between the upper arm and the rib cage, but often times we flutists minimize the space we have by squeezing the arm into the body.

I chose to explore with the pool noodle to find a place of no work for my arms. The flute weighs so little, yet I struggle to find the place where I can find the greatest freedom. The noodle lets the muscles relax while it takes on the work, and thus helps the muscles of the upper arm relax and open. What happened after this experience was an instant change in my sound. Right away, the sound felt easier when I removed the noodle.

This was a huge discovery for me because I've been having tendinitis symptoms resurface in my right arm. Since I haven't been practicing large amounts recently, I know that stress and excess computer time is playing a large role in the painful inflammation in my right arm; however, since I've been using the noodle, the pain has subsided. Discovering the place of no work in my arms with the pool noodles gives me a method of self care away from the instrument so that I can reprogram the muscles so that they don't engage and overwork as I hold the flute.

The September issue of Yoga Journal also included an article on Down Dog. The article covers the subtle aspects of the pose, and I noted with interest that it began with Child's Pose so that one could first draw awareness to the shoulders. I read the article and decided, "Why not go into child's pose before I begin playing?" Another aspect that resonated with me at Summerflute was the idea of expanding across the back, but it didn't click for me in a way that I could feel. I got into child's pose, and yes, the muscles were tight; however, I held the pose for a few breaths, came up and then played and I had even more freedom in my sound!

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin your practicing and warm up mind, body and instrument:

  • Do you find you have a stuffy sound today?
  • Have you noticed your arms?
  • Are you working too much to hold the flute up?
  • Do you feel expansiveness in your back, or does that part of your body feel closed off?
  • When you try to picture a part of your body, does it feel blurry or can you clearly define the area?

Here are additional resources to help free your arms:

Lea Pearson's Hooking it Up: Getting Arms Connected
Lea Pearson's Noodle Notes

Free arms are one of the keys to effortless playing, and one of our places of balance is the arm structure suspended over the ribs. I read a lot of material about the body. I know the information intellectually, and I can explain it to others; however, integrating the information into a internal experience is a lifelong process. My account above is a description of a single discovery. As with music, changing my body map is a process grounded in consistency and repeated exposure to the information.

I love being able to reinforce the change with my instrument. If I feel at ease playing, then I know I've just done something right. My body has become my teacher.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home