YOU are your instrument

Letting go

Well… what does your body have to do with your flute-playing? Actually, everything! Your body is your instrument.

Before this feels too overwhelming for you, or perhaps just foreign, or maybe it makes sense conceptually but is just too vague, let’s go through it step-by-step. Let’s figure out what it really means and how to apply it.

We all strive to improve and develop our playing in all sorts of ways, such as technically, tonally, musically, stylistically, and expressively. Our goals are often to play that new piece more fluently, or to create the tone we love and identify with, or to enjoy playing an old piece and get to know it even better, or to be able to present and share our musical selves more confidently in our joint music-making with others. So, while we examine and correct, for example, a hand position in order to improve our technical facility and ease, how might we understand, sense, and use our bodies better to accomplish our goals on the flute? After all, the flute doesn’t play itself…

It is helpful to ask yourself the question: What are you aware of while you play? This starts the most wonderful journey of gentle self-inquiry and reflection which is what will connect you physically, emotionally, and artistically, to your music-making. You are first and foremost a musician, an artist, whose instrument is the flute.

Where do you start?

The answer is, to think about what you choose to be aware of, and importantly, why?

Just to be clear: this does NOT mean that you should start over-analysing and over-checking everything at once, neither does it mean that you should scan rapidly from one body region to the next relentlessly either!

So… WHAT do you choose to be aware of, and WHY?

You must have a goal. It could be a musical intention, like wanting to shape a phrase beautifully or communicate better, or something more technical, like maybe wanting to improve your breath control, airspeed, tonal centre, or agility of your fingers. The first step is to have your goal or intention, which guides you in your choice of what you’d like to be aware of in your body and why.

For example, you might decide to explore your awareness of the breath and of the breathing mechanisms, if your ‘WHY’ was about breath control. Perhaps your ‘WHY’was centred on wanting better phrasing, in which case you would explore your musical intentions. Once you get used to this, you might combine musical intention and breath control, and really check in with your body: notice the sensations of the movements of breathing in your body and your embodied expressive gestures. as you feel the music AND feel your body as one.

Okay – yes – so I finally got to the word ‘body’! We asked the WHAT and the WHY of body awareness. Next is the ‘HOW’.

HOW do you become aware of your body, in a way that promotes ease, freedom, energy, power, flow, expressivity, confidence, facility, and joyful music-making on the flute?

The answer is ‘kinesthesia’. Your sense of movement is called your kinesthetic sense. It is your perception of your movement and the quality of that movement, which links with ‘proprioception’ – your sense of your body’s position and where you are in space. Yet most of the time, we forget about our kinesthetic sense.

Just as we tune into our listening to get a note well in tune or to make a particular tone colour by listening and experimenting, well – we can do the same with our kinesthesia. We can finetune loads of playing-related movements, like adjusting how fast we move our fingers, or how fast we want to blow, when we consciously use (and practice improving) our kinesthesia.

And – guess what!? This starts bringing your body and your playing together in a fluid and comfortable way. You will have accomplished the first step in knowing the what, the why and the how of body awareness as a flute player.

While that in itself is just pure magic, let’s take it one step further: Remember that all sound is created by movement, and that the quality of the movement affects the quality of the sound. Therefore, here is our conclusion for today: ‘listen’ to your body AND listen to your sound. What happens is an integration of your listening and of your kinesthesia, enabling you to sense and assimilate each sound you hear with the movements themselves that are generating that sound. Synthesizing sound, kinesthesia, and music-making. Yes, YOU are your flute!

Bridget Rennie-Salonen is an award-winning flutist, with extensive and diverse music education experience, Bridget is a sought-after pedagogue, performer, and researcher, both locally and internationally. She connects and integrates decades of practical experience as a performer and educator in several of South Africa’s top institutions with research-based approaches to musicians’ health and well-being. Her experience and knowledge is enhanced by her compassionate and down-to-earth approach which has allowed her to successfully work with musicians globally to find more ease and joy in their playing and performing.

Interested in exploring this topic more? You can book a one-on-one session with Bridget directly through our website.

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