Sunday, March 8, 2015

Questioning My Practice

    While organizing some piles of paper these past days, I twice found the question on different papers "does playing with intensity have to involve muscular tension?" If I've written it down twice, this question must arise frequently enough to need attention, Last night I decided to address this question in my next practice.  What does "playing with intensity" mean?  I thought I knew, but as I looked at this question today, I quickly became unclear.  When I play, I am releasing sound. Then what does it mean to release sound with intensity?  Is it volume, emotion or both, even more?

As I began my practice I looked to answer this question.  An answer was not arriving and I was not sure that one would.  The word intensity seems to imply tension, but then tension gets in the way of playing.  Perhaps I need to better define intensity. The dictionary says - exceptionally great concentration, power or force.  Then I recalled playing basketball as a young man, when finally after years of practice and playing I could make a move to the hoop with power.   Why this arrived in my mind then I have no idea, but I sensed I was onto something.

Making a power move in basketball while intense required control, strength, grace and intent. Mind and body connected for one purpose.  Now apply this to guitar.  Release the power of the piece being played.  Perhaps think of it in terms of energy - release the energy of the piece, using right effort.  Even release the emphasis on the hands while playing.  Let the whole body, mind and soul play the notes.

How to access this power?  How to find the power without tension and find it consistently?

I began working with a few musical phrases, then moved onto the piece Senseless Loss.   Using the Alexander Technique directions I had a good sense of my body but something was missing.  How might I apply Missy Vineyard's Negative Directions?  The obvious one was I am not playing with power.  Then recalling that the basketball move required my whole body I played with directing I am not playing with my whole body.  Progress was being made here.  What I have noticed in the past and once again today with negative directions, is that something happens in the brain.

I can not explain what it is, a disruption of habitual thinking, a different neural network kicking in or a combination of these and other aspects.  I do know that when I uses negative directions the body and mind behave differently.  In Alexandrian terms we are psychophysical beings. When the mind changes so does the body and vice versa.  By using AT principles I can work on my overall use, I can change.  More explorations to follow. Stay tuned.

Photo by Shaheen Lakhan

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