The Aligned Musician | Blog

Movement for Musicians

Movement for Musicians

This project has been something in my mind for the last three years. About ten years ago I developed tendinitis in my left shoulder due to overplaying and began researching the cause of this injury. I knew of other string players that practiced more than me without any issues, and so I believed that it was something about the way I approached my instrument, rather than a physical ailment from overuse, that caused my injury. I stumbled upon Bikram Yoga, which I credit to helping me work through the tendonitis and sparked for me a long journey of experimentation with different mind-body practices.

Fast forward to Spring 2017 when I decided on a whim to enroll in a Stott Pilates certification course offered through Indiana University as an elective credit. I learned so much about anatomy/physiology, but also postural analysis in regards to the skeletomuscular system. From there I created the foundations of what would become the Mvmt4Musicians principles, and it inspired me to continue research into anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, fitness, and mind-body practices.

I am currently a 200hr RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) with the Yoga Alliance, in addition to other fitness formats, and I use my knowledge of the way the body works in my approach to teaching yoga and viola lessons. 

I strongly believe that any practice which aims to strengthen the mind-body connection will greatly improve the way you approach playing your instrument. However, Movement for Musicians exercises target specific muscle groups which I help you to identify in your own body. Because I am a string player, I will focus mostly on areas of discomfort common to string players. Each body is different, and sometimes even with the best intentions we can make a condition worse or create other problems as a result of trying something new. I try to provide as much information as possible, so you can decide which exercises and modifications are best suited for you or your student. 

These exercises can be done before, during, or after practicing, or can be done at another time altogether. It is more important to be consistent over time, even if there is not an extended time to work on these exercises.

 

Principles of Movement for Musicians:

1) Awareness is the most important aspect. Feel free to modify the given exercises as needed, while being focused on the specific muscle being targeted.

2) Muscles and fascia are responsible for keeping the skeletal structure in a specific alignment -therefore by targeting specific muscle groups through exercise and awareness you can modify your postural alignment.

3) Highly repetitive movements should be countered with a combination of stretching and muscle building exercises.

4) When playing your instrument, allow for full range of motion in all joints.

 

*****Disclaimer: I am not qualified to diagnose, and these exercises are not intended to heal any condition. If you have any serious injury or medical condition, consult your primary care doctor before beginning any exercise or stretching routine.

*Edited: 2/3/19

 

*Update: Entire Movement for Musicians video series available at: www.patreon.com/movementformusicians

The Best Way to Practice Your Instrument

The Best Way to Practice Your Instrument

... is to not practice. 

Ok, maybe its not that extreme. But I think sometimes we are so overwhelmed with messages from ourselves and others that tell us we aren’t ‘good enough’ -or that what we have to say as an artist ‘isn’t enough,’ that we forget to take a step back and make an actionable plan to move through that criticism. It’s easy to take these messages personally and let it negatively effect everything that you are trying to accomplish.

The reality is that your body is your first instrument.

Let that sink in for a moment.. I know many people have heard something similar in a movement for musicians class (like Alexander Technique), but think about what the implications of this really are. 

Here are a few realizations I’ve had over the last few years:

1. The way we take care of ourselves effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

2. The internal messages we tell ourselves can effect the way we interact with our musical instrument

3. The way we understand how our body moves in three-dimensional space effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

4. The way we perceive ourselves effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

5. The way we communicate with others and present ourselves as individuals effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

 

Therefore, there are ways to dramatically improve your playing that do not involve the viola (or whatever instrument you play) at all.

 

This last summer, I decided to detox from all the negative messages I was telling myself in the practice room. I knew I had some unnecessary physical tension in my playing, and the source was completely psychological.

I started with a simple idea to take a break from practicing - I ended up taking about 2 months off. Then came up with a plan to practice small amounts of time being hyper-aware of my technique and remaining free in my neck and shoulders. If I became aware of any negative self talk AT ALL during my practice time, I put my viola down and did something that made me feel good (like take a walk or make a cup of tea). I supplemented this with a short meditation session before my practice time, because I truly believe that practicing is a form of meditation.

I was careful NOT to introduce affirmations, because affirmations are often a way to hide your anxiety or insecurity without actually improving it at the source.

In the beginning of this experiment, I could not make it more that a few minutes of practice time before that negative self-talk appeared. But every day it got just a little bit better. I didn’t push myself, but tried to find ways of being critical without being negative. And it WORKED. A month and a half later I appeared as a guest artist at Vianden Music Festival, and I never felt more confident in my abilities as a performer. I had a new sense of calm and control over what I was doing that I never had before, and most importantly I didn’t have that awful, relentless internal dialogue telling me how I was going to fail. 

Had I not taken the time to go through this process, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all the things I did this semester.

 

So I encourage you this holiday season, as students wrap up their finals week, and us gig musicians look forward to our Messiah and Nutcracker performances on repeat, that you reflect on the way you take care of your first instrument -YOU. And create some actionable steps to improve for the new year. 

Feel free to ask me questions, or share your own ideas!

The Virtual Violist: Using Technology to Enhance Technique

The Virtual Violist: Using Technology to Enhance Technique

A few weeks ago I presented at the American Viola Society Festival, hosted by Colburn School, with Nancy Buck, Viola Professor at Arizona State University. The talk was centered around how technology can help us learn and perform music, and it was wonderful hearing everyone’s perspectives on using technology in the practice room. As many of you know, I began practicing and performing from an iPad instead of physical sheet music about six months ago. It was so liberating to not have to carry around a ton of music everywhere, and also be able to read string quartet music from the score with ease. I just wanted to take a few moments to share a brief overview of things I covered in this presentation, with the hopes that it may help or inspire you.

 

“Today’s musicians have a wealth of tools and products for use, with information immediately accessible by the tap of our fingers. The digital age is transforming the speed and manner in which we learn and process information. What is the latest in technology? Is there an app for that? This session will explore the ways to take advantage of available information, and how experimenting with the newest technologies stretches our capabilities beyond playing the instrument itself.” - Nancy Buck

 

I created a poll where musicians could share their own apps that they found helpful - https://poll.ly/#/LOvE4R7Q

Most people use some kind of metronome/tuner app nowadays, as well as Spotify and YouTube. However, (based on the results of this poll + talking to other musicians) not many have explored apps for sheet music or notation. Perhaps another avenue of exploration would be using apps as a means to expand your own personal creativity -or improving your musical skills.

It is interesting to note that the generation of musicians in high school/undergrad today is much more dependent on technology than any previous generation. This makes sense, but when you think about it these people are much more visually-oriented as a result. I think it’s important to acknowledge this shift.

 

Apps I personally find useful:

For each of the following apps, I have included a short tutorial video that shows a few of the features. They are probably boring to watch, but I tried to include features that I covered in the presentation. Feel free to search on YouTube for other tutorial/review videos if you are interested.

All of these apps can be found for iPad. The reason I did this is because the iPad is the most user-friendly and reliable for the purpose of reading sheet music. There are several other options out there, but be wary of any device that uses a hard drive instead of solid state storage -you definitely don’t want a computer fan turning on in the middle of a performance. Also at the time I am writing this, I am not aware of another tablet that can be as large as 12.9” and also have the ability to rotate the image. Disclaimer: I am not an “apple person” by any means, but for musicians it is hard to deny the advantage apple products have over everything else on the market today.

 

Time Guru (~$2)  https://youtu.be/kcOcvb_jkM0

At first glance this may seem like every other metronome app, but what I love about this is the ability to randomly mute the beat. This is so helpful in practicing orchestra excerpts where you want to internalize the tempo. It’s also great because it has the most complex rhythm options I have seen in a metronome app, and with a wide range of sound options. You can also save each of your metronome settings as a preset so that you can come back to those settings later. I like the ability to name the preset the title of the piece or excerpt I’m working on, which makes it super easy.

 

ForScore (~$10)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XfwyTpjQTI

This is a very common app for viewing and editing sheet music. I prefer this over other options, because of the sheer amount of things you can do and how easy it is to edit and organize your music digitally. There are multiple ways to upload sheet music, and in a pinch it is great to use the iPad camera with the ‘darkroom’ setting in the app. You can also export your edited sheet music as a PDF file to a cloud service (like Dropbox or Google Drive) and print without needing the Apple Air. 

I really like how you can create set lists of music, and then randomize them. I use that function a lot when practicing (see my blog post on practicing). Additionally you can review how much time you’ve spent on each piece by viewing the ‘dashboard.’ 

There is also a built in keyboard/metronome/tuner within the app which is super helpful. 

     

    Symphony Pro 5 (~$15)  https://youtu.be/5Mfcu7mI4Qk

    I love using this app as my primary way of notating music. It can be used with or without the Apple Pencil (I haven’t found much use for the Apple Pencil outside of this app), and is extremely user-friendly. It’s especially helpful for someone like me... who did their undergrad orchestration project the night before it was due on Finale, and still has nightmares about learning the keyboard shortcuts. I actually bought this app after researching Finale and Sibelius to try and find an affordable version that doesn’t expire after a year. For $15 and continuously updates for free, this was perfect.

     

    Politonus (~$2)  https://youtu.be/aoomRz0P5rI

    This is an extremely basic ear training app, and I am sure there are many other ones available that work well. There are options for fixed or movable ‘do,’ and it’s nice to work on ear training skills away from the viola or on the go.

     

    Clapping Music (Free)  https://youtu.be/3ShGCj08z3c

    This is a free game that came out a few years ago, and is based on Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music.’ I found myself getting addicted to this game, and also found myself thinking about rhythm in new and creative ways after trying this out. 

     

    There are quite a few apps out there that can train your brain to think more creatively. They are designed from a neuroscience perspective with the goal of improving brain function. These can be incorporated into a warmup before your practice time, or whenever is most helpful. Some examples are: Luminosity, Elevate, and Peak. I am not sure how effective these apps really are, but I think it’s interesting that there are game apps with the potential to improve the way you think.

       

      The downside of using this technology is that the basic iPad Pro 12.9” with 64GB storage retails at around $800. If you are a student or educator, you can check out the educational discounts. I like the 12.9” screen because it is similar to the size of a sheet of paper, however for your own needs you may not need something that large. I also use my iPad as a laptop with a Logitech keyboard attachment, and as a student this was really important for me. It is my hope that as technology advances and becomes more inexpensive, there will be even better options for musicians. 

      Personally, adapting to using a pedal for page turns was quite unnatural. I consider myself very coordinated, as I’m sure many string players do, but for some reason adding a foot tap was awkward. I am still working on pedal placement and making the page turns not so obvious. I discovered that printing out the music was more helpful for me in the end. I use the iPad to make colorful edits to my sheet music, and practice with the pedal. Then when I wish to perform it, it is simple to print and play from the physical music. This really removed my anxiety of charging the pedal enough / not being awkward with it, but I may change back to performing with the iPad once I am more comfortable. 

      All technology has a learning curve, but don’t ever let a learning curve deter you from trying new things. 

       

      Many thanks to Nancy Buck, who invited me to be a part of her presentation. I learned so much through this experience, and I am very grateful for having this opportunity. 

      Also if you have never been to an AVS Festival, it’s totally worth it. I have only been to this one, and the one before hosted at Oberlin, and both were incredibly motivational and inspiring for me. If you are a violist it’s a great way to network and learn about advancements in our field.

      ***Update:  Thank you to Violinist.com for the article! https://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20188/27404/

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      Let me know what you think! Are there any apps that you find helpful? Did you try out one of these apps, and was it helpful for you? What are some of the challenges you face when using technology? Questions? Thoughts? 

       

      *My statements have not been influenced by sponsorship of any kind