The Road to Effortless Mastery

We musicians tend to think of making music as inherently strenuous. That the way to musical mastery is paved with hard work.

We train through countless hours of solitary practice. We drive ourselves to do better, never accepting ‘good enough.’ We know we should be relaxed as we play or sing, but our tight shoulders, sore necks and tired backs tell a different story, even if our fingers or lips seem as nimble as can be. Like athletes, we drive our bodies to the limits of our ability, to do essentially unnatural things (I remember when it hit me that we did not evolve to play the viola da gamba. Our instruments evolved to produce a certain aesthetic ideal, not to be ergonomic).

We hold our breath and grimace with the emotion of the music we are expressing, because otherwise, why bother? How can I express sorrow or suffering if I don’t feel it myself?

And we accept that this is just the way it is. No pain, no gain. It’s a sacrifice we make for our art. Gotta make a living….

But is this really true?

I used to think it was. I tried so hard at everything I did as an undergraduate – including playing the cello – that by my senior year my hands hurt whenever I tried to play.

But as I slowly found my way out of the hole I’d dug myself, first through the Alexander Technique, later through Tai Chi, and eventually with the Feldenkrais Method, I discovered what true musical masters know: that the more easily you play or sing, the more you can do with it. Beyond avoiding injury, the music itself rewards playing with less effort.

Last week, my colleague Buffy Owens invited me to teach some of her students in Albany, NY. Before I went out there, she arranged to interview me on a google hangout. The result is this video, in which I tell my story, demonstrate the effect this work has had on my own playing, and share a movement lesson to help you begin to bring the benefits of this work into your own life and music.

Take a look and let me know what you think. Did you find it useful? Leave a comment below, and let’s start a conversation!

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One thought on “The Road to Effortless Mastery

  1. Pingback: What's holding you back as a musician?

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