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Removing barriers to musical freedom...with nail polish remover!

The Sensible Flutist: Removing barriers to musical freedom...with nail polish remover!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Removing barriers to musical freedom...with nail polish remover!

I'm on an unending quest to uncover freedom and ease of movement when I play. How do we find the physical and mental freedom to uncover and enjoy musical freedom? This post will recap the latest discovery that I experienced.

I had a COA completed on my flute recently and while the work done was fabulous, the technician took my nail polish off! I had a strip of polish on the barrel and on my headjoint so that I could easily assemble the flute and know that the headjoint was in the correct position. The nail polish was a prop that once removed, moved me along in my discovery process. Initially, I wasn't so happy about this.

Although I know where the headjoint "feels" good and had marked it with the nail polish, I had to experiment a lot with rolling in and out to find the best place for a sound I liked. As I did this, I had good tone days and bad ones. I also noticed some stiffness and tightening in my neck muscles as I experimented but the reason for this wasn't completely clear. I stopped playing each time I noticed my neck stiffening up.

On one particularly good day, I looked in my mirror as I played and noticed that my keys had rolled back and I hadn't even noticed. What element dominated my awareness so much that I wasn't aware of my hands rolling the flute in?

In a recent Body Mapping lesson with Lea Pearson, she noticed that I appeared to be lacking freedom at my A-O joint when I played. For perhaps the first time ever (now that I was aware of it!), I experienced a free A-O joint during that lesson. What I didn't think about at the time was the connection of embouchure to hand position, the source of my latest discovery.


Flutists, like singers, become mesmerized by their sound and a good sound day is fantastic and a bad sound day can make you feel like the world should end. Locking in to the sound and setting to hang on to that sound can create physical changes in the body like muscle tension. It can also diminish our inclusive awareness.

Music is sound, but when we lose awareness of the elements that create the sound, we run into trouble. Our sound is connected to our embouchure which is connected to our hand position. Our entire bodies are connected to the sound. Resonating chambers inside the body (chest, mouth, nasal passages, sinus cavities, etc.) impact a flute's sound just like a singer.

What I experienced in the practice room is locking up even in just one part of the body can impact your sound and cause automatic adjustments to occur (such as rolling the keys in). If we bring the flute to our lips with awareness of the A-O joint and we immediately settle and lock into the sound, we're restricting access to that place of balance and impeding whole body balance.

While the headjoint position felt correct, I was not able to maintain the comfortable angle to produce a good sound across the low, middle and high registers. My hands then became involved in the correction process. Losing freedom at the A-O joint created tension which I was able to feel. My discovery reminded me of how losing awareness of the A-O joint made finding a good sound more difficult. This led to the adjusting which I noticed only when I looked in the mirror.

I am on a mission to find freedom at my A-O joint (and always putting discoveries within the context of the whole). I am reading and researching to find the freedom necessary to connect a free and flexible embouchure to a balanced hand position that supports the flute but also allows me technical facility. Consistent practice is the first step in this process, which I'll write about next.

When you find a good sound, trust it (don't be afraid!). Let awareness of your A-O joint enter into your inclusive attention and let it rest there as part of your sound awareness. Remember that the A-O joint is a place of balance in the body. If we lose awareness or we lock ourselves into a "proper playing position" to keep a good sound, we will go out of balance in other places of the body.

The hands and mouth are two parts of the body flutists may take for granted and link to good sound production, but what would happen if you included them in the whole? Effective practice sessions can help us keep removing the barriers to musical freedom.

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