Musical performance begins with a musical intention, which is translated into a series of movements involving weight, speed, orientation in space, and relationship to gravity. For the music to soar freely, without causing injuries, you, the musician, need to experience the joy of efficient, elegant movement in gravity. This experience will not only protect you from injuries, it will inform and influence your phrasing, your rhythm, and your palette of sound.
Properties of sound – time, space, weight, rhythmical impulse, gesture, momentum towards an action (a leap against gravity), process of speeding gradually and slowing down gradually – are all properties of movement. When, for a musician, these properties are not experienced in their movement, two things happen – the brain does not have the appropriate image of the action needed for the musical gesture, and it cannot send the right impulses to the muscles. The action is then clumsy and can result in injuries.
It is said that when two martial artists of different traditions fight, the winner does not prove the superiority of his martial art, but merely the superiority of his own kung fu, or fighting ability.
Similarly, when you are on stage, the audience doesn’t care what degrees you have, who you studied with, how many hours you practice a day, or even how good your chops are. Your audience wants to be moved. They want to feel a connection with you and with the music you are presenting. How well you do reflects your ‘musical kung fu’ – your ability to perform and convey the music behind the notes.
As it turns out, we musicians have much in common with martial artists. My own vocal and instrumental technique is full of lessons I learned in my years studying tai chi, not to mention the lessons I’ve learned from the Feldenkrais Method. And did you know Moshe Feldenkrais was a Judo master? In fact, much of the method is based on Judo.
Here are just a few concepts martial artists and musicians have in common, as well as some lessons certain martial arts have to teach musicians…
Spirals are embedded in every level of our being, from our DNA to the structure of our bones, ligaments and muscles. Learning to feel these spirals and take advantage of them is a major theme in the Feldenkrais work. Realizing the flow and ease that come from moving with spirals has been one of the most enduring lessons I have learned in my own movement – one of those things that doesn’t go away even when I’m stressed and fall into all my old habits.
This is why my spirals workshops and classes are among my favorites, and why it’s one of the three of four themes I like to teach in my summer retreats at the World Fellowship Center. One of the things I don’t get to do all that much in my workshops, though, is to explicitly examine the anatomy which we so clearly learn to feel in our Awareness Through Movement lessons. So here’s an attempt to take a look a these spirals in writing. (Or scroll on down to the bottom of this post, if you just want a quick way to feel these spirals for yourself.)
Many students say to me at their first private Functional Integration lesson something like “I know I need to strengthen my core.” (This is almost as common as “I know I have bad posture”). Sometimes they refer to their own experience, telling me that they feel weak, or that they tire easily, but more often their personal experience is simply that their back or neck hurts, and they heard from someone (often a skilled Physical Therapist or yoga teacher) that the pain in their back is due to weak “core” muscles.
When I help them feel what they’re actually doing, it usually turns out that they’re tightening those “core” abdominal muscles all the time. No wonder they feel weak! If a muscle is always engaged, it has less strength to engage further – its potential is already in use.