How Musicians Can Smile Through Stress…Even Though It FEELS LIKE HELL!!!

I haven’t written about this before, because it has seemed too personal. But being a musician…an artist…a human being……is PERSONAL.

carnegie-hall-backI have been striving for MANY years to integrate all aspects of my self, and that includes my work.

Many people believe in separating “work” from “play”. People talk about leaving the work at the office…. leaving business out of our personal lives.

That works if you want it to be that way, but that means you’re creating a division in your life. That may be good and necessary at times.

But artists – TRUE artists – can’t really do that…not REALLY…
So I believe.Alexander Technique Cincinnati musicians

Because EVERYTHING that you are as an artist goes into your art, whether you like it or not. Whether you try to hide it or expose it.  Your sound reflects who you are, and there’s just no way around it. Music exposes the heart.

My work is my art. My work is play. My work is what makes me happy, and what makes me happy enlivens and beautifies my work.

Sometimes, life is not easy. Sometimes it’s dreadfully hard. People die. People get sick. People suffer. Relationships end, and people are lonely. Many people have barely enough of what is necessary to survive. Wars and terror happen. Natural disasters strike.

An artist knows that all of our suffering… that “stuff of life”… needs to go into our art, just like the “good stuff”. It really IS all or nothing. And that kind of all-consuming devotion to our art is what saves us and brings hope to the world, because it expresses the truth. It’s REAL.

Credit: Hosam Katan/Reuters

Credit: Hosam Katan/Reuters

Nathan Milstein, one of the greatest violinists of all time, and with whom I was fortunate enough to spend five summers studying as a teenager, had his violin around him all the time – just close enough to pick it up and figure out the next thing he was working on. He was always experimenting. Always trying out new fingerings, new bowings, new ways to shape a phrase.

I am a violinist. A musician. A mind-body expert who practices the Alexander Technique, which I consider an essential ingredient to creating my art. Practicing it is an art in itself. I call it practicing my “Primary Instrument”, which is myself – the self that I bring to everything I do. It’s with me all the time.

So my life is my art, and I participate in its creation in a sense, because I am aware that I am making choices that shape my life in every moment. Each and every choice is important, because it leads me to the next moment – the next note in my life.

307155_512725698747965_1440730856_nI’ve spoken recently about the extreme stress in my life these days. Without prayer/meditation (which for me is an act of opening myself up to something bigger and more powerful than myself for support and guidance), without the Alexander Technique, and without the presence of those close to me who love me daily, I would be sunk.

I’m going through a long and difficult divorce after 25 years of marriage (I was very young), and my younger son is ill again, with no help whatsoever forthcoming from doctors (please don’t ask, but your moral support is welcome), and I am facing life on my own for the first time in my life, as an artist who doesn’t make much money and is pretty clueless about supporting myself in the world.

That’s the truth. Time to grow up. LOTS to learn – and quick. With patience, and without rushing. Very much like a college student who hasn’t graduated yet, I’m looking at what my options are, and wondering what next month will bring. Except that I’ve got a million responsibilities, including two teenagers who need me.

It takes all the courage in the world to have a clear vision for the future, and to keep sticking to principle, keeping myself healthy and sane despite the stress. In fact, when I manage it well, I actually THRIVE under the pressure – even though I “lose it” sometimes, just like anybody else.

I can honestly say that the difficulty I’m experiencing these days is(and I chuckle at the irony as I write this!) the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

IT SURE DOESN’T FEEL THAT WAY BECAUSE IT FEELS PRETTY DARNED AWFUL RIGHT NOW!!! (The scared and hurt part inside of me screams…..!)

But I know that it is. I know that in a few years I’ll look back and say, WOW, it’s amazing how a period of such difficulty did me so much good, in every way!

I just KNOW it.

And that faith keeps me going, and allows me to laugh and smile, feeling the hope that hides behind the clouds.


 

The Alexander Technique is an essential resource for me. It reminds me to STOP, OBSERVE, AND ACT:

- STOP everything I’m doing that’s unhelpful, especially when I’m overwhelmed and just can’t handle things anymore, because it’s all too much to bear

- OBSERVE that I am very small and powerless (which confers a necessary humility which opens me up to the infinite All-Possible, through prayer or meditation)

- ACT on what I know, by sticking to Principle. My personal principles, and universal principles, including those of the Alexander Technique. To do what is possible RIGHT NOW, and only RIGHT NOW.

I remember my Freedom Directions: “I am free”, “I don’t have to do anything,” and “I have time and space”, and I pay attention to Ease and my head-neck relationship. And things get easier… INSTANTLY.


Tears are the stuff of good music. So is laughter. I am grateful for both, throughout this difficult time. Grateful for love and light, and for the pressures that only serve to make me stronger, with Grace.

So you see… everything I experience goes into my art. I am not interested in separation. I am interested in unity. Love, not fear.

Mind + Body + Soul + Spirit + Others + World + Play + Work = ME

The Self is all I’ve got, and it’s everything. This is what gets shared through my music, and this is what gets shared through what I write here. That’s why I don’t take much time to edit what I write, by the way. You get it all – including typos when I miss them. ;)

Life isn’t always easy, and that’s OK. It’s what we choose to do with it when we remember that matters. And by writing and making music, I make it easier for myself, and I bring myself a smile of light from the darkness. Hopefully, also for you, my readers and listeners, and fellow human beings.

With Love,

Jennifer

p.s. Your comments here are always very welcome. I love the personal connection. :)

p.p.s. Written later on the same day…
I made a commitment at the beginning of the week to start practicing every day again. It was 11:30pm when I finally took out my violin, and decided to play through the opening of Mozart’s 5th concerto, a  piece I haven’t played in many, many years (maybe 26?). My younger son video recorded my run-through for me. Here’s the result, memory slips and all… after a very exhausting day. Music is magical… The world needs it sorely. At least I do! :)

Here’s the link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd9eMdhlJvE&index=1

No More High Heels For Me!!

Alexander Technique violinI’m writing this during the intermission of a concert I’m playing with Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, because I just experienced an interesting phenomenon with my shoes!

I always recommend to my students NOT to wear high-heeled shoes, because they greatly alter our experience of balance, and that can impact our performance – whether we are conscious of it or not.

We humans are not designed to have our heels perched up high on a platform while most of our weight falls into the balls of the feet and toes. It’s just common sense that this has the potential to “throw us off”.

Even though I feel strongly against their use (in fact, I like to go BAREFOOT onstage whenever I feel like it and it seems appropriate – and it doesn’t go against a group’s dress code), I occasionally still choose to wear heels – just for fun.

Considering that as an Alexander Teacher I have a pretty good understanding of what I’m doing with myself when I’m wearing heels, I figure that it’s worth playing around with them sometimes (besides, women do look good wearing them in our culture), and it can’t affect me TOO much, if I pay attention and apply my Alexander thinking.

In fact, I wore heels in the concert last night, and I had no problem with them.

HOWEVER….. I’m writing this now because tonight’s experience was radically different from last night!

Alexander Technique musicWhat made it so different was that I’ve spent literally hours today paying a lot of attention to how I’m using my mind-body-self by applying Alexander Technique constructive thinking to my activities. All of that paying attention has increased my sensitivity throughout the day, and I’ve become more and more aware of subtle changes within my body-mind and how my thinking improves the flow of my movements.

So……

To my great surprise, I had an extremely unpleasant time playing the first piece of the program tonight in those heels!

Tonight, I was acutely aware of how those heels were throwing me off-balance, causing me to work too hard by creating excess tension in order to compensate to prevent myself from toppling forward!

Keep in mind that these were the SAME shoes and the SAME music I played just last night without any problem.

But the reality is that last night, my system was surely creating all the same tension, but I wasn’t aware of it. Tonight, my body was screaming at me with its excess tension, and that made it harder for me to think, added a twinge of performance anxiety to a program I had NO nervous reaction to last night, and generally interfered with my playing.

HOW INTERESTING!!

Well, what did I learn from this?

  • Wearing heels is NOT helpful! I knew it before, but this was a very strong reminder that it’s true!
  • Paying attention and applying the Alexander Technique throughout the day is the BEST way I know to learn about what is actually happening in the moment, what helps me improve or not, and my increased sensitivity and awareness make me a better musician.

So what did I do about those shoes?

After that unpleasant first piece, I went offstage (I wasn’t playing the second piece) and told one of my colleague violinists in the group what I was experiencing, and she let me borrow her flat shoes for the rest of the concert.

PHEW! WHAT A RELIEF!! (Thanks, Emi! :) )

You can bet that I will NOT be wearing those heels again tomorrow or the next day… and maybe not any other day EVER AGAIN. Performing with heels is an experiment I have no interest in making again any time soon!

I’d love to hear about your experiences performing in heels. Comments welcome!

 

How Can Musicians Respond to the Recent U.S. Election?

Dear Musical Friends,

I’m writing this message on the day that Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States of America.

I know that some of my readers may be celebrating this unexpected turn of events, but I must admit that I was not expecting this result in the least. In fact, I was quite shocked when I woke up to the news this morning, since I really wasn’t able to conceive of the possibility before today.

I had thought about not expressing my reaction to the news in this newsletter, but my concept of the work that I do is so interwoven with all aspects of who I am – emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, musical – that it was just natural to start writing about the reality of the day as I am experiencing it, because who I am in this moment affects everything that I do, and everything that I teach…. and who I am affects every note that I play.
Alexander Technique musiciansWhenever I can, I do my best to simplify; in fact, I like to call the Alexander Technique a “subtraction” technique, because we are learning how to do less and less of what is unnecessary.

While the polling results were coming in last night, I noticed my attitude becoming increasingly negative, tense, and reactive, while my neck and shoulders became increasingly tight, my chest narrowed, and my breathing became shallow.

If you were happy about the numbers coming in, you probably noticed a mind-body change in a positive direction.

This morning, I awoke to the news, and realized that my life – and the life of all Americans and humans on this planet – are being affected by these current events.

I quickly realized – even more strongly than usual – that the work we are doing here with The Art of Freedom and the Alexander Technique is of the utmost importance, not only to ourselves, but to everyone on the planet. There is no time to waste with mindlessness….

No matter how we are feeling, we must remember that NOW is the only time that is real, and we need to seize this moment with all of the power we have, to pay attention to reality and realize our freedom to choose our responses to what we find here, for the greater good.

We can react to the current conditions with FEAR – by cringing, thinking Alexander Technique musiciansnegative thoughts, getting tight or collapsing, and making ourselves small by repeating the thoughts that make us shrink – or we can choose to STOP, rise above the situation, and aim to love unconditionally.

Can we accept reality, and grow up and out in the face of it?

Can we realize our freedom to choose our responses, and take responsibility for our actions? 

We are musicians. What we do is incredibly important. Through music, we can pour our whole being – body, mind, heart, and soul – into something that is beyond words and has the power to touch, move, and heal souls.

We musicians need to pay attention to HOW we are making music. By paying attention to our own Ease, we can open and love and share what we have with others who may be very different from us, and we can in so doing sow love where there is hatred and fear.

It’s our choice how we respond to the current conditions, and the choice is a very simple one: fear and pain, or love and ease?

In finding my ease, I help you find yours.

F.M. Alexander said, “Mine is a method for the control of human reaction.”

And NOW is the time to practice. NOW. And NOW. And NOW.  Again.

With LOVE,

Jennifer

p.s. Please share this post if you’re a musician who cares about helping the world. I’d also love to hear your comments below!

The Best Way to Deal with Musical Mistakes

Alexander Technique musicians

Image courtesy of stockphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Alexander Technique is primarily a preventive technique.

F.M. Alexander said, “Mine is a method for the control of human reaction.”

The more we get to know ourselves, our tendencies, habits, and preferences, the more sensitive we become to subtle changes within us.

We become more aware of tensions that were always there beneath the level of consciousness, and we become more aware of the ease and grace that is also always there.

It is so important to realize that we are free to choose where to place our attention, because what we focus on we get more of.

Most of us musicians (especially classical, I believe) have been trained to be hyper-sensitive to noticing things that are “out of place” – a.k.a. “mistakes”. The more highly trained, the more we notice what’s “wrong”; the more refined our sensitivities, the more we notice our reactions to those misplaced notes that aren’t in tune or in time.

Left unchecked or mis-channeled, that ultra-sensitivity can be the destroyer of our inner peace and also affect the peace of those around us, even as the same sensitivity grants us the potential for creating exquisite works of art.

The Alexander Technique teaches us to be just as sensitive to what is happening within us as we are to the events around us.  Perhaps even more importantly, it helps us to become more accepting of and less reactive to what we perceive as “wrong”.

For what is a mistake or a weed but a note or a plant that is being perfectly itself in a place where you wish it weren’t?

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.netBefore we begin our music-making, therefore, let us stop and find our way to a greater acceptance of the perfectly imperfect and infinitely rich reality of what “IS” in this moment of now.

Before we begin, let us notice the ease within us, and the silence around us.

Let us find the peace within and without, and let us find the timeless rhythm of that quietude. Let us wonder about the freedom of the world and the self to be it-self, full of paradoxes, rights and wrongs.

Let us wonder about the freedom of the neck… your neck, my neck, the violin’s neck and the cello’s…

And let us know that – just as the music is made of tension and ease – so, in fact, are we.

It is inevitable that we will react and become tight – and then we will remember our freedom once again and release the tension again.

We will forget, and we will remember, and then forget again.

From head to toe, neck to ground, sky above, and wide all around…
Let us notice the reminders, and feel grateful for them throughout.

The paradox is that the more we accept the mistakes and our reactions, and the more we notice Ease, the more easily we can prevent them.

We will react, and we will startle. In accepting the tides, we accept all of life.

And in our acceptance, we will smile, and worry – and startle – so much less. :)

 

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing is a field. I will meet you there.” – Rumi

 

I’ll meet you there……..in the Being field……of non-doing free.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please comment below and SHARE THIS POST - let’s spread inspiration all over the world together!
Thanks for your support! :)
 

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3 Magic Phrases

alexander technique musicMy “3 Magic Phrases”:

“I am free
I don’t have to do anything
I have time and space”

They imply and include the “Reflection Phrases”:

“You are free
You don’t have to do anything
You have time and space”

“I am / You are free” implies and includes:

“….to be exactly who I am / you are,
doing exactly what I’m / you’re doing
right now.”

I haven’t found anything more helpful than these 3 Magic Phrases, thought with depth of meaning and a sense of wonder open to All-Possibility. Ever.

Please share.

With Love.

Violinists Have BIG EGOS!

Alexander Technique violinViolinists have big egos! Is it true?

Personally, I suspect that’s just as true as saying “musicians have big egos” or “people have big egos”. But what does having a “big ego” mean, anyway? And why is there a stereotype about violinists having big egos?

Every type of instrumentalist can be associated with a stereotype. I won’t go into any more of them here because (a) you’ve surely heard most of them before, and (b) it’s probably not helpful to keep spreading them!

But stereotypes usually stem from an element of truth, and since I’m a violinist I feel OK about opening myself up to the usual criticism of egocentricity that comes with the territory I chose.

Why do we violinists seem more egocentric than other instrumentalists? Well…. violinists (at least in classical symphonic or chamber music settings – and especially 1st violinists) do traditionally play the most melodies, have prominent solos, and play one of the highest melodic voices that are heard most of the time. We also sit at the front of the stage. Prominent, high, constant, and visible… and competitive for that attention… enough said!

But what I really want to talk about today goes much deeper than the stereotype of egotistical violinists, because the ego issue is NOT just about violinists. It’s about our beliefs about ego-size – as if this were something of a substance that could be measured!

So much has been written over the ages – especially in spiritual and psychological writings – about ego. Instead of echoing those ideas here, though, I’d like to just present one aspect that I think is all too easily overlooked and rarely acknowledged. And the absence of this aspect is a HUGE problem!! It’s the awareness that ego is an aspect of the mind-body-Self, which is not separable from the body any more than it is separable from our thoughts or actions.

It is my belief – and my experience which supports the belief – that people in general want to be good and to do good. We want to be modest or humble, not displaying lots of ego or self-centeredness. We want to be kind and generous, and to connect with others in respectful, loving ways. We want to goodness and beauty, and help people be happy.

Those are all wonderful intentions, but those wishes can get terribly warped – even to the point of turning into the OPPOSITES of those things – when we are too attached to our desire for them and when we ignore how the body reflects the relative intensity of those intentions.

An important notion in the Alexander Technique is called “end-gaining”. End-gaining basically means that we’re overly focused or attached to our desires, in such a way that we neglect the “means-whereby” we employ to achieve our “ends/goals”. We don’t know how to be detached… we don’t know how to let go… we work too hard and forget to seek, find, and be Peace above all else.

Alexander Technique violin

Image courtesy of sira anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we are too attached to our desire to be HUMBLE, we work hard at making ourselves SMALL so that we don’t come across as having a BIG ego. Unfortunately, by working hard at being humble (focusing on it too much… being too attached to the idea… caring too much about what other people think… entertaining a fear of looking or being selfish, etc.) we put a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves and introduce a lot of excess tension into our mind-bodies. We are literally trying to compress ourselves into a smaller space than the space we have been designed to occupy in order to function optimally.

In my opinion, making ourselves smaller than our natural design is actually a false humility. Even with the best of intentions, making ourselves small (in a spiritual-psychological-mental-emotional-physical way, since those aspects of self really can’t be separated) means that we believe we have the power to shrink ourselves and reduce ourselves in the eyes of others; it also means we are blocking the natural energetic flow of goodness and generosity that we should be allowing ourselves to express outwardly, giving the best of ourselves to the world – in a “big”, magnanimous way.

To me, TRUE humility is to notice the reality that we are neither small nor large: we are infinitely larger than the smallest atomic particles and infinitely smaller than the furthest galaxies. We’re in the middle, and our consciousness – our whole mind-body-self-awareness needs to reflect that. (See my podcast: Living with Ease at the Center of the Universe.)

Of course, we can’t be aware of this all the time – or even most of the time. We’re human. We forget. And we can certainly forgive ourselves and others – over and over – for erring in the direction of trying to make ourselves too big or too small.

So, let’s do whatever we can to remind ourselves – just by being who we are and occupying the internal and external space that we’ve been given – remembering that we are perfectly whole in the middle. Not too big, not too small, prominent and not, loud and soft, high and low, rich and  poor.

There’s nothing to “DO” in order to be humble! It’s the excessive “doing” or “trying” that feeds the illusions of the ego. To BE humble is to BE human. To BE human is to BE human… not to DO human, or to DO humble. Humble is simply to notice the present moment, and to accept it as fully as possible, without DOING anything to make ourselves bigger or smaller than we are.

Violinists and non-violinists: stop trying to be right, play loud, have a huge sound. Stop trying to be bright, strong, powerful, good, humble, modest, or even the best you can be.  Just STOP all of that – stop wasting your energy with those useless thoughts – and just BE wholly and authentically who you find yourself to be in this precise moment – NOW.

Stop trying, and just open yourself up to the reality of your rich humanity, mistakes and all, and BE your honest Self. Then make music if you want, and watch your open sound reflect your open Self. With Love!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please comment below and SHARE THIS POST - let’s spread inspiration all over the world together!
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How to Make a Musical Choice that Changes Everything

Alexander Technique violin

Image courtesy of koratmember at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My mother often used to quote someone (violinist Itzhak Perlman?): “If you make a mistake, do it with conviction!”

And from a wise friend of mine: “It isn’t a mistake if you learn from it.”

We all spend our lives experimenting with making choices. I’ve become more and more conscious of the decision-making process as a musician, but especially as a student and teacher of the Alexander Technique.

I call my work “The Art of Freedom” because I find that our greatest power lies in realizing that in every single moment we are free to be active participants in the choices we make. We unleash that power and manifest it from potential into reality in the instant that we commit to the choice we are making. With every choice we make, we re-direct our entire lives.

We make choices that are better or worse for ourselves or others, but the more we pay attention to the PROCESS OF CHOOSING, the more conscious we become. We also get better at:

  • receiving and processing information efficiently
  • becoming sensitive to changes in ourselves and our surroundings
  • learning
  • “quickening the mind” (as F.M. Alexander put it)
  • making better choices in the future.

How do we make a choice? How do we choose which fingering to use in a tricky string passage, or which notes to stress or vibrate? How do we choose what to eat for breakfast, or whether or not to get married or divorced?

In my experience, there is a choosing that does itself when my thinking-arguing-analyzing-fearful mind quiets and I become more aware of what’s happening in the present moment.  The choice that emerges in that moment is the best one I could possibly make in that moment – both for myself and those around me (even if it doesn’t look or feel that way at first). That’s what it means to “do my best”.

Miracles happen when we take care of our primary instrument (body – mind – soul – Spirit) and empty it of extraneous STUFF (unhelpful thoughts, unnecessary muscle tension, passionate attachment to desires, etc.), in order to create a pure space for the Choice to take place within us and through us.

Sometimes the Choice remains a private inner conviction, and sometimes it is expressed outwardly through movement, words, or music. But the next moment – and therefore the rest of our life – is affected by every single choice.

Great music happens when we first prepare the ground of our primary instrument, access the “Non-Doing-Space”, and let our Choices flow magically-naturally with Ease from the Silence… as we watch and feel our hearts moved by the flow. This is the process that I teach with The Art of Freedom.

It’s not about what I choose to do with this or that note or phrase or bowing… it’s what I choose to do with MYSELF in that moment of choosing that makes all the difference in the world. Literally.

 

Morning of the Performance Thoughts…

So…. today’s the day! My long-awaited concert is coming up at 2:00 pm, and I’m EXCITED!!! :) :) :)

Alexander Technique violin

I accepted to play a  piece I’d never heard of last spring, “Un Mot a Paganini – Elegie” for violin and piano, by G. Rossini. Last month, I dove into the learning process for that piece by creating a 30-Day Practice Challenge for myself, which I recorded daily and posted to YouTube.

I also created a facebook group and free email series so that others could join in the challenge with me. Little did I know how many people would get interested in the idea! Many others have since been posting their own practice videos, and the facebook group has become a little haven for music lovers to share their ideas and insights, helping one another by practicing together.

I’ve had a couple of rehearsals of my piece with the pianist over the last week, and this afternoon I’ll finally get to share my work with an audience in the same room with me. I’m VERY curious to see how different it will feel to perform today, considering that I’ve been practicing for this concert so differently from how I normally have in the past.

Here are the main differences:

  • I’ve been very conscious in every moment of practice that I am sharing my work with others – that what I’ve been doing is not just for myself, but also for a potentially large audience in the future.
  • As I practiced, I got excited about teaching at the same time, so that my practice sessions were clearly about Me teaching myself; and others at the same time.
  • It got easier and easier over my 30-day recording journey to be open, authentic, and truly myself in front of an audience, free to share my flaws, mistakes, and imperfections with ease.
  • With this new awareness of practicing for others, not just for myself, I felt a much greater responsibility towards the quality of my practice. I practiced MUCH more consciously and carefully, knowing that I would be watched.
  • Paying attention to how I was using my mind-body-self became the most important thing; much more important than the result of my practicing. This is the greatest benefit that I’ve received from taking on this practice challenge.

This morning, I find myself sitting here, writing about my experience, rather than practicing my violin! This makes it even more clear that my experience of the process, and sharing that with others, is more important than the outcome of today’s concert, in terms of the technical/musical proficiency of my performance.

Awareness of mind-body-soul-Spirit absolutely MUST come first. Being is more important than doing. Reminding oneself of this is absolutely necessary. This morning, I am reminding myself of this by writing here, and I know that this is the best way I can prepare for my performance which will take place in less than four hours (with a dress-rehearsal in less than two).

Now that I’m finished with this blogpost, I intend do another practice session in just the same way I did during the 30-day challenge, because that is what is going to help me be conscious and aware while I’m playing the violin.

I stop and smile for a moment…. and I notice my breath. I remember:

“I am free.
I don’t have to do anything.
I have time.”

And I wonder… “How easy is my neck?” … and I notice what happens as I wonder…

And I watch and wonder, with amazement and awe, as my fingers type and ideas fly from mind to screen… just as they will fly from mind to body to fingers to violin to sound to audience… to you.

May you have a joyful day!

With love always,
Jennifer

p.s. I decided to go ahead and post this without taking the time to edit. So what I wrote is what you get, just like when I practice. Sorry for any typos! :)

Here’s the link to my performance-day practice video on YouTube, from this morning:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stlol7lYcQ0

The Problem with “Technical” vs. “Musical” Practicing

Alexander Technique musiciansWhen you practice, do you think of different ways of practicing as either “technical” or “musical” practice? That’s a common misunderstanding about how to work on a piece of music. I think it’s very problematic, and goes contrary to what we are really trying to achieve.

As I was recording today’s video for “Jennifer’s 30-Day Practice Challenge – Day 8″, I had an important insight towards the end on that topic, which I’d like to share with you. (I’ll be talking about it more in tomorrow’s video – Day 9.)

Just as it is unhelpful and unhealthy to think of the mind-body-soul-Spirit in separate parts, it is unhelpful to divide musical practice into technical-musical.

I realized today that the problem is that we are putting our emphasis to much on the end result than the process, and on our “doing” rather than our “Being”.

The unified Being of our mind-body-self must be our primary focus of attention as much as humanly possible. When we do this, we gain a better perspective on how everything else falls into place relative to our Being. Our Being becomes the point of reference – the coordinate point in the center of space.

The self includes emotion already. We don’t have to work to “put” emotion into our music if we are in right relationship with ourself and the music.

Our job is to become more and more aware of what already IS inside of us, and to choose to focus on the aspects that are useful to pay attention to because that has a positive effect on our “doing”.

Alexander Technique practice

What I mean is… when my self is well-coordinated, and I am aware of my role in the coordinating process (mainly to get out of the way and stop trying to control everything with my thinking mind), the technical aspects work themselves out, and the emotion that is already in me is able to flow out through my open (not overly contracted) arms, through the unrestricted instrument, and out into the music.

My job is to stay centered, open, and responsive, constantly taking in new information about the changes that I see on the page (new notes in a new moment) and in my environment(the conductor just sped up the pulse), so that I can respond with appropriate tension for technical accuracy along with a spontaneous emotional response to the meaning the music has for me.

By paying constant attention to the primacy of our centered Being-ness while including the awareness of the more “technical” aspect of mind-analysis and the more “musical/emotional” aspect of the heart-synthesis, we will be improving our music-making as a WHOLE instead of risking the creation of either an overly mechanical piece of music devoid of emotion, or an impassioned and undisciplined mess of notes.

To summarize:

  • Make paying attention to your Being primary; the actions you carry out are secondary (The Art of Freedom / Alexander Technique helps tremendously with cultivating this ability – contact me to learn more)
  • Become aware of the analytical mind AND the emotional heart
  • Have the intention to let the mind and heart speak through everything you do, without trying to “do” the analysis or force the emotions.
  • Allow the centered self and the music to develop a constantly flowing partnership which contains and unifies all aspects at once.

I’d love to hear your comments here! It was a simple experience I had this morning which has been very challenging to put into words, and I’m wondering what you think…

Join me for “Jennifer’s 30 Day Practice Challenge!”

WATCH & JOIN HERE:

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
TO RECEIVE THE FREE 30-DAY PRACTICE CHALLENGE VIDEOS AND TIPS VIA EMAIL

Won’t you join me and improve your music-making? It will be sure to be LOTS OF FUN and EXCITEMENT, and we even have a Facebook Group where you can meet up with other musicians following along, too. I look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

Expose Yourself in Public! The Best Way to Get Motivated!

Alexander Technique for musiciansNo, you do NOT have to take your clothes off (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that hilarious photo)!

But, you do need to share just a bit of what is deeply meaningful to yourself if you want to take advantage of the very best way to get motivated. There’s nothing like making yourself vulnerable in front of others to get YOU to pay attention to what you’re doing!

Here’s how I’m putting this idea into practice to make myself accountable for my violin practicing this month, and how you can join me and piggyback on my self-exposure! :)

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
TO RECEIVE THE FREE 30-DAY PRACTICE CHALLENGE VIA EMAIL 

Last Spring, after taking a look at the score, I accepted to perform Rossini’s “Un Mot a Paganini” on October 2nd because I knew that saying “yes” would cause me to keep practicing over the summer, and maybe even improve my violin technique. The piece is NOT easy. In fact, it’s a little daunting…

The LAST thing I thought I’d do was to expose my practice sessions to the public while learning the piece! But, that’s exactly what I decided to do yesterday, by recording every single session and posting it online. (Yes, I’m crazy!!!)

I figured… what better way to motivate myself to practice what I preach to all my students, than to show them that I really practice what I preach, and show them how I’m going through the same stuff every other performer goes through, and how I deal with it. The technical, mental, emotional, and all other aspects of performance. Every day.

I’ve often told my students that “practice is performance, and performance is practice”. Well, my practice sessions sure will feel more like performance over the next 30 days, FOR SURE. So, wish me luck!!!

Actually, can I ask you to please do more than that for me? Just take 2 minutes to sign up and watch the welcome video, and share it with the musicians you know. Then, come on over to the new Facebook group I’ve created specifically for this challenge so you can follow my process and share in the conversation. Keep me company!

or…BETTER YET…I’ll support you while you do your OWN 30 Day Practice Challenge! 

WATCH & JOIN HERE:

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
TO RECEIVE THE FREE 30-DAY PRACTICE CHALLENGE VIA EMAIL

  I’m starting TODAY!!! Won’t you join me and improve your music-making? It will be sure to be LOTS OF FUN and EXCITEMENT, and you’ll be sure to feel GREAT about yourself for doing it!!!

 

Hilarious angel photo courtesy of farconville at FreeDigitalPhotos.net