Creating the Virtuous Circle

Musical expression and physical freedom, ease and presence as the goal of practicing

by Amy Likar

Through working with and practicing Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique for over 29 years now and I have become firmly convinced that musical intention helps free the body and a free body helps free musical intention. Organizing ourselves physically to create musical expression facilitates an easier process in the practice room. Clear understanding of the body in motion leads to a more expressive approach to music making.

Amy Likar Blog for The Exhale Photo Abby Sink

So often I hear from musicians that practicing exhausts them physically, mentally and emotionally. For musicians, it’s often the expectations we create for ourselves. The way our training and then our practicing unfolds is we work on tone, on technique, problem solving. We need to be reminded that all of it falls within the realm of musical expression. The job of the practice room is to make compelling music we would want to listen to ourselves and of course, share with other people.

For me the road to free movement starts by looking at the musical notation

I then use the notation to probe the emotions the composer is setting forth in the score. I then think about the emotions I want to feel when playing the piece and also what I’d want my listeners to feel. As musicians we can choose words that evoke timing, intimacy, bigness and urgency as well as character in our music making. Obviously these can change over time; the most important part is having some idea of what I’d want so then I can make the movement choices to make the musical choices.

Far too often, we enter the practice room rushed, thinking about how much time we have to learn specific notes and rhythms. We have the idea that eventually we want to be expressive but we become more concerned with notes and rhythms first in an aim to be “right”. The wanting to be right leads us to put more tension in parts of ourselves, either mentally or physically, than is necessary for the task at hand. This can also lead us to spending more time thinking about how to get rid of the excess tension in our body rather than what emotion or mood we’d like to evoke in our playing. Humans love organizing around intention and when we take the time to be fully present and aware both internally and externally (intrinsic and extrinsic) then we can actually give ourselves the time to organize musically around figuring out what a composer is trying to relay.

What I’ve learned by teaching and studying Body Mapping is that when you have a clear map of the movements you need to make for your musical expression, you then understand how wholeness is integrated and then extended through your instrument. Use what you know about the fundamentals of music - Meter, Rhythm, Harmony and Melody to make some decisions musically about the mood, and the character of the music you are playing and then integrate the map of your whole self to organize in movement to create expressive music.

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