Welcome back to our introduction to Mindful Musicianship! It’s great to see you again. In Part One, we began to explore a new way to get to know our bodies and minds better and discover exactly how we respond to the experience of listening to music. This time around, we’re going to build on those experiences and apply them to real-world music making.
Before we continue, we need to make sure we’re approaching this next experiment in the right way. In Part One, we put a particular emphasis on experimenting – the process of testing out new ideas, and observing the results with an open mind. This perspective is very easy to apply when listening to other people’s music, but when making our own sound it can prove a little more challenging!
The key points of focus we need to touch on before we continue are non-judging, and instant forgiveness. We’re about to approach making music from a slightly different perspective than usual, and at first it may seem a little awkward. As tends to happen when trying something new, we may make mistakes and get frustrated. When this happens, try to let go of any negative self-talk or other signs of annoyance, forgive yourself, and try again. As the samurai like to say: If you fall down seven times, get up eight times!
To begin our next experiment, simply adopt the posture you normally take when playing your instrument – but remove your instrument from the equation for now. If you play standing up, stand up; if you normally sit down, take your seat as you usually do. Focus on your breathing, just as you did during the listening exercise. Note whether the breath is most vivid at your nostrils, in your belly, or maybe in the neck as the air passes through it. Let your mind relax and slow down. Scan your body in this new posture, the one you normally play in, from your head down to your toes. Is there any tension or discomfort? Note how you feel, and feel free to adjust your posture to make yourself more comfortable.
Next, add your instrument to the mix. Pick up your guitar, microphone, bass, or drum sticks, or lay your hands on the keyboard if you’re a keys player. Sit for a while with your instrument, without playing it, and just pay close attention to how it feels. Has your posture changed? Don’t worry or beat yourself up if it has – just make a note of the change and adjust your body’s position appropriately. As an instrumentalist, you want to feel as if your instrument and your body are one and the same. This is going to take some time and experimentation if you’re just starting out, and even experienced musicians can feel awkward if this experiment has never been considered before. But experimenting is what this is all about. Again, don’t feel bad if you feel like your instrument still needs some getting used to; it’s all part of the process, and even the greatest musical legends have felt this way at some point in their journey to greatness.
Now, let’s go! Choose something – anything you like – to play, and play it. It can be anything at all – a song, lick, riff, rhythm or melody, in any style you choose. You can even improvise, if the mood takes you!
Whatever you choose to do right now, pay close attention to how your body feels as you do it. Listen to what you’re playing, and see how that sound affects your body. You’re now part of a feedback loop – your mind is telling your body what to play, your body and instrument are making the sounds come alive, and your mind is, in turn, listening to and interpreting the sounds, causing still more changes in your body, and so on. As you play, notice all the physical and mental changes you can. How does your posture change? What is your breathing like as you play? Do you hold your breath, or do you breathe faster? How does this affect your playing? What emotions are you experiencing? Do your emotions change as you play? Do the sensations in your body change along with your emotions? What are you thinking about when you play?
As you continue experimenting, try changing things up. If you were playing something slow and peaceful initially, try something heavier and harder this time around. Try playing something outside of your comfort zone, and see what happens. The possibilities really are endless. Throughout the experiment, just keep an eye on what’s going on in your body and mind. Take things slowly if you need to, and rest if you need to. If you make a mistake, forgive yourself and try it again. No matter what level of ability you’re at right now, you’ll always find something new to learn from this experiment.
Pause for a moment, and compare the experiences you just had to those you discovered during the listening exercise. Are the changes you’re noticing as you play the same as the changes you noticed during the listening exercise, or are they different? If the changes are different, how are they different? Write down your findings; keeping actual notes will help you remember everything, reveal hidden patterns that you might not have noticed through thinking alone, and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. If you feel like you need to take a break, feel free. If your body and mind tell you to rest, listen to them!
As well as listening out for messages of tiredness or fatigue while you play, pay immediate attention to signs of serious discomfort or pain. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t worry about stopping and checking yourself. A nasty injury like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome can cut your playing time down dramatically, or even force you to stop playing! No musician wants to suffer the indignity and frustration of an injury, but being mindful of the various goings-on within the body as you play will keep you alert to any early warning signs and help you prevent potential problems from getting worse and spoiling your fun.
Whatever your experience level, the practice of Mindful Musicianship will always have something to teach you. You can practice anywhere, at any time – all you need to do is remember that you can do it! Remembering to pay attention to your body and mind, and the changes that occur within them when you listen to and play music, will always provide you with fresh information and knowledge not just about music and the instrument you use to make it, but about yourself. Mindful Musicianship can help you understand the universe that lies inside you, keep you safe from injury, and make your sound vibrate more fully and joyfully than ever before.
Above all else, remember this: Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, experimentation always pays off!