6 Ways Tai Chi Can Help You Be A Better String Player
Musicians spend a fair amount of time working on physical techniques that improve their tone and overall sound. This includes things like finger exercises, as well as practice and performance warm-ups, but did you know that other forms of exercise benefit musicians, too?
Music - and the physical demands required to make music - involves the body as a whole. Musicians also engage their minds, breath and emotions. Thus, it makes sense that musicians benefit from exercise practices that facilitate the mind-body connection.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi originated from martial arts forms dating back to 17th Century China. While the beautiful, gentle movements (60 in all) are a slow-motion form of self-defense, their daily practice is best known for its ability to:
- Generate internal energy
- Enhance mindfulness
- Loosen the body, reducing physical tension
- Promote a sense of serenity
As you can imagine, all-of-the-above are good for musicians - both amateurs and professionals. In fact, more and more music schools, like the Berklee College of Music, are adding classes such as "Tai Chi For Musicians" to their course catalogs, in order to help students become better musicians using holistic methods.
The benefits of Tai Chi are many, and are backed by scientific research. Based on their findings, we're listing six benefits of Tai Chi that will help you become a better strings player.
1. Tap into an internal energy source
Serious musicians have rigorous schedules, including hours of music classes and training, even more hours of focused practice - and then there are the rigors of planning and executing flawless performances. If you're a professional, or touring with a group of professional musicians, you have grueling travel schedules to contend with.
Tai Chi focuses on breath work and a grounded center, which becomes a well of energy generation when you need it most.
2. Practice mindfulness
As a string player, mindfulness is an invaluable state of being. It allows you to practice amidst the flurry of family life in the background and compels you to dig deep and center yourself for practices or performances - regardless of the stresses or angst taking place in your current life. Musicianship also demands you embody the emotional state of the composition you're working on.
Your Tai Chi practice can reinforce mindfulness, a powerful state-of-being, providing an anchor of continuous stability when you feel unable to keep the chaos of "life in general" from impeding on your playing.
3. Reduce tension and keep your body loose
The postures required to hold your string instrument, to use the bow and your fingers properly, to maintain a solid core - can result in a tremendous amount of physical tension over time if you're not careful. In fact, all of this is supposed to be done within a general state of relaxation since tense muscles are more prone to injury, and can become so sore and strained that they negatively impact your sound and technique.
The fluid body required to maintain Tai Chi's flowing postures translate into a more relaxed body while you play.
4. Stress reduction and a sense of calm
Stress relief could be one of the greatest benefits of Tai Chi for string musicians. Musicians experience a tremendous amount of anxiety, from a desire to please their instructor(s), the fear of making mistakes - and, of course, age-old performance anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are never good for playing. Sweaty, shaky hands struggle to bow properly or move fluidly along the neck of the instrument. Tense muscles tire more easily and the racing mind makes it impossible to live inside the music and express it to its fullest.
The stress-reducing, calm-enhancing benefits of Tai Chi will help you to overcome your stress and live a more peaceful life as a musician, which is better for you both on-stage as well as off.
5. Increases upper-body strength
Unsupported upper-arm motions are something Tai Chi and strings players have in common. Thus, the former supports the mission of the latter. In fact, many of the same upper-body and arm motions held and used during Tai Chi sequences are very similar to those used by string musicians as they bow their instrument, or to move and sway with the emotion of a musical piece.
6. Gain aerobic conditioning
If you're not an avid runner or exerciser by nature, you'll appreciate that the breath work, muscle movements, and continuous flow of Tai Chi translate to aerobic conditioning. This conditioning supports you during grueling rehearsal weeks and sustains you through lengthy concerts, playing more rigorous compositions.
Strings musicians require their whole being to do their work well, and exercises like Tai Chi support their hard-working body, mind, and spirit. You may also enjoy, 6 Best Yoga Postures for Violinists, and Pilates for Cellists, to explore other exercise forms that benefit strings musicians.