Ideas for the performing musician

Whatever instrument I’m playing, there seem to be a couple of techniques that are always worth coming back to.

1. Breathing.

You require air as an organism dependent on oxygen! So make sure you breathe from time to time. With wind instruments and singing, it’s important to strengthen yourself by using your tummy muscles.

2. Stay relaxed

This is especially easy to overlook when nervous. Any excessive tension in your back, your arms, whatever, will decrease your ability to move fluidly. I find particularly in guitar, if there’s too much tension in the wrist, the hand or even the elbow or shoulder, the playing sounds stunted. It’s the same when moving keys on the saxophone, softness is key. A study of Tai Chi, swimming or any exercise that promotes continous, smooth movement is a beneficial use of time for any musician.

3. Posture

This is a difficult one sometimes. The saxophone tends to induce slouching, so I use a harness to spread tension across the back. At the keyboard, the straightness of the spine makes a remarkable difference in making sure nerves aren’t trapped and allowing you to move unimpeded.

4. No weird unnatural wrist bending

At the guitar or keyboard, attempting to relax and keep your wrists straight instead of curving too much will help you play faster and with a lighter touch.

5. Sing the melody / hear what you wanna play

On guitar, this is a very useful techinique, as it stops you from losing a melodic line in patterns and shapes. Try singing the notes, you may be surprised out how well your body and voice are connected! On other instruments where singing is tricky, you can still imagine a melody as legato and dynamically fluent as a good singer would shape it. Listen to singers to get ideas on dynamics, phrasing and conciseness. On other instruments, look at the melodic strength on your particular instrument. The saxophone is great for legato, the guitar is great for expressive bends upwards or downwards to other notes.

6. Connect with your expressive impulse

Maybe it’s a feeling, a mode, an image, a memory, an idea, whatever, summon it to give a song a particular direction. Sometimes not thinking anything can be just as valuable.

7. Believe in your ability. Don’t focus on mistakes, just capitalize on them, go somewhere else. If you make a mistake, it happened. After a mistake I really didn’t like occurs, I try not to show it in my face, but I tend to slow down and return to a simple melodic focus.

These are just a few ideas that have helped me as a writer/performer. I hope they’re  useful

1. Breathe

2. Relax

3. Stand tall

4. Naturalise body position

5. Find your voice

6. Find what you wanna say

7. Say it


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