Teaching is about training someone to "do" something, after all, something they wouldn't be able to accomplish without guidance and perseverance and the occasional push from the teacher. And this is all well and good. However, when the doing feels like hard work, it is. When it feels easy and effortless, it is the outcome of the balance between well-directed movement and the natural process of inhibition as explained in Won't Power: Part I. The understanding that the brain will shut down unnecessary movements in favor of well-coordinated movement helps us to focus on the whole body coordination rather than concentrating on one element of movement. This is what F.M. Alexander referred to as non-doing.
How best can we instill this kind of ease in our students playing? Some suggestions:
1. Teach them how their bodies work in the simplest language possible. If they understand their own structures, they are more likely to move in accordance with them. There are lots of helpful resources at www. bodymap.org., and there are many good anatomy resources on line. Do your best to distill instructions rather than overwhelm the student with too many directions.
2. Choose appropriate literature rather than pushing them through upper levels before they are ready. When the music is too difficult, there will be more likelihood of interfering neuromuscular patterns that want to take over. As one of my teachers once said, the mind wants to do what the muscles are not ready to do.
3. Use vocabulary that encourages ease and clarity of intention. Yes, I've said this before in different ways, but it is an ongoing project for me. If I were to identify the one aspect of my teaching that has changed the most over the years, it would be my use of words. And, yes, I still slip up from time to time and use phrases that promote more pressure than freedom, but far less often than before.
4. Check in with them and ask them if they are comfortable. Be aware that some students, especially teens, are comfortable in ways that are not necessarily mechanically advantageous, which creates an opportunity for teaching about balance on the bench.
5. Remember that one of the major interferences with free movement is the state of a performer's emotions. An anxious or fearful state of mind creates physical tension that is hard to override, regardless of how well-informed the performer is about movement. While we can't control how our students react in performance, we can do our best to create a positive environment for learning.
6. Guide the student toward the expression of the music. Some students get so involved with the technical aspects that they forget to communicate the message, while others naturally know how to get the message across. We are always balancing those two aspects of performance.
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