Spirited Wind Playing
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Peppered with tips, helpful hints, and personal anecdotes to illustrate real-life application, this performance guide is essential for any wind player interested in taking his or her virtuosity to the next level. Internationally renowned bassoonist Kim Walker has compiled into one book the teachings and exercises that have made her known as an expert on bassoon performance, practice, and instruction. From basics like posture, breathing techniques, and articulation to a survey of the performance practices of key woodwind and brass masters, Walker includes an analysis of each technique along with images and exercises that present the mechanics of each method.

Foreword, by Peter J. Schoenbach
Introduction: Seven Core Essentials
Section 1: On the Air
1. Stand Tall: Posture and Balance
2. The Centered Performance
3. Breathing On The Air
4. Magnetic Tone Production: Head and Body Resonance
Section 2: Spirited Wind Playing
5. Embouchure and Powerful Projection
6. Get On With It! Warm-Up and Practice Routine
7. Deft Articulation: An Integral Art of Wind Playing
8. Vibrato: The Great Debate
9. Virtuosity: Dancing Fingers Lead the Way
Section 3: The Performance Dimension
10. Memory Made Simple
11. Winning Auditions
12. The Performance Dimension
Conclusion: Why is it So Easy to Put All This Together?
Key Resources



Publié par
Date de parution 31 octobre 2016
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253024992
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 4 Mo

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Spirited Wind Playing
Spirited Wind Playing
Kim Walker
Bloomington Indianapolis
This book is a publication of
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2017 by Kim Walker
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z 39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Walker, Kim (Bassoonist), author.
Title: Spirited wind playing : the performance dimension / Kim Walker.
Description: Bloomington ; Indianapolis : Indiana University Press, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016032877 (print) | LCCN 2016033975 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253024848 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253024992 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH : Wind instruments-Instruction and study. | Music-Performance-Physiological aspects. | Music-Performance-Psychological aspects.
Classification: LCC MT 339 .W3 2017 (print) | LCC MT 339 (ebook) | DDC 788/.193-dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016032877
1 2 3 4 5 21 20 19 18 17 16
Dedicated to Sol Schoenbach, con amore.
My New World History
Five Centuries of Wind Playing
The Seven Core Essentials
Posture: Rise Up from the Ground
The Foundation of Your Roots: Feet and Legs
Your Tree Trunk: Spine, Pelvic and Shoulder Girdles, Arms, Hands, and Fingers
Your Tree Top: Head, Neck, Eyes, and Ears
Playing On the Air and Pain Free
Solving Problems
Ready to Dance?
Mastery: Posture and Balance
Eliminating Distraction
Shiatsu and D -In: Aids in Centering and Breathing
Eyes and Ears: Our Portals
Energy Centers and the Chakras
The Nervous System
Mastery: Centered Performance
What Is in This Chapter?
Section 1. Where We Breathe: Breathing and Physiology
Mastery: Breathing On the Air -Where We Breathe
Section 2. Leave Them Breathless
Mastery: Breathing On the Air -Leave Them Breathless
Section 3. Moving Air and Energy
Section 4. Common Faults and Concerns
Mastery: Breathing On the Air -Common Faults and Concerns
Section 5. Advanced Breathing
Mastery: Breathing On the Air -Advanced Breathing
Tone in the Eighteenth Century
Harmonics and Overtone Resonance
What Singers Have to Teach Us
Mastery: Magnetic Resonance
The Four Facets of Embouchure
Mastering Embouchure
Mastery: Embouchure and Powerful Projection
Practicing for Spirited Winds
The Rule of Threes
Two Basic Skill Sets
What Type of Learner Are You?
Aspects of a Well-Rounded Practice Routine
Practicing for Success
Make a Practice Plan
Mastery: Warm-Up and Practice
Breathe into the Space between the Notes
Historical Perspectives
The Physical Position of Your Tongue and Throat
Focus the Tone Just under Your Nose above Your Top Lip
Consonants and Vowels
Contemporary Articulation
Mastery: Deft Articulation-Playfully Perfect Practice
Vibrato: When and Where?
Vibrato through History
What I Was Taught
Using Vibrato Today
Mastery: Vibrato
Finger Choices and Clear Leadership
NLT Patterns
Happy Hands Fly Free
Scale Practice: Walk and Fly
Lead with Your Instinct
Mastery: Virtuosity
What We Know about Memory
Where Is Your Memory?
How to Memorize
Memory in Performance
Fear: The Antifreedom State
Stress Leaves You Gasping for Air
A Timeline for Preparing Excerpts
Scheduling Your Daily Practices for the Twelve Excerpts
Short-Term Preparation
Auditions Past and Present
Preparing for a Specific Audition
The Night before Your Audition
Nine Breaths
Just Before Taking the Stage
How Do You Know You re There?
Balancing the Visible and Invisible Worlds
Using Both Sides of Your Brain
Emotional Fitness in the Performance Dimension
Using Awareness and Choice
Practice as the Antidote to Fear
Using Imagination
Mastery: The Performance Dimension
Be Open to New Ideas
Feel the Music
One New Perspective in New Realities Is Worth Twenty of Those We Already Know
Enjoy Legendary Colleagues
Creativity Is a Birthright, One of Life s Main Purposes and Pathways to Fulfillment
Hold Your Space
Mistakes Can Be Worth Their Weight in Gold
Move Effort into Flow and Sense the Music
If Your Mind, Heart, and Body Are Aligned with Energetic Flow That Is Unambiguous, You Are Congruent-No Energy Is Wasted on Conflict
Am I Centered?
Resistance: Who, Me?
Powerfully Attractive Performers Use Focus and Precision
Speed is the Devil -Sol Schoenbach
Personal Victory
Early Tutors
W HEN KIM FIRST asked me to write this foreword, I was unclear what to expect from her book. At first, I thought perhaps it would be a book based on the teaching of my father, Sol Schoenbach, her principal (but far from only) bassoon teacher. What she has achieved is far more than that in every sense. Her findings and suggestions not only are for bassoonists but will benefit any musician, instrumental or vocal. The book emphasizes a rich combination of factors that determine the preparation for a musical performer to succeed in a lifelong career: psychological, physiological, spiritual, intellectual, mechanical, and, above all, artistic.
Kim has benefited from a long and distinguished international career, which gave her the chance to live and work in Italy, Switzerland, and Australia and to travel extensively. She has performed as an orchestral, chamber, and solo performer on an instrument that offers a remarkable palette to the imaginative individual who is open to questioning the barriers that have traditionally limited its scope.
Her subtext, on the air , cited so often throughout, speaks to the healthful and expressive manner of addressing the artistic powers of the bassoon. She indicates a plethora of ways of avoiding the impedimenta that can constrain delivering the musical message, including posture, balance, and other issues, down to the use of memorization to remove the music and stand.
She has drawn from many philosophies, Eastern and Western, such as Alexander Technique, modern and historical dance, Shiatsu massage, and hara and D -In exercises, and sources in a multiplicity of languages. She varies her sources from Native American wisdom to TED talks, alternating between the yin, or meditative, and the yang, or active, approaches. Periods and styles are also addressed, with special attention to the relation of dances in early music.
Like the superb pedagogue that she is (with a long and distinguished career at Indiana University before assuming her most recent position as dean and principal in Australia at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music), Kim utilizes numerous illustrations, anecdotes, and quotations to assist the reader in understanding her recommendations. You have to appreciate the simile she uses, for instance, that our complex activity in concert is as exhilarating as the near terror of driving the AutoRoute into Genoa and the Cinque Terra just as the summer season begins. She does not shy away from trying to capture some of the ineffable qualities of chance taking in artistic collaboration that can achieve a greater whole than the sum of the parts.
She also uses analogies from the visual arts (citing my mother, Bertha) creating varied, inimitable colors, just as in nature. As a painter re-creates colors, Sol would vary the sound with more or less boldness or warmth, according to what he wished to express.
Kim spends a significant amount of time citing singers as a model for wind players in the use and support of air, using laminar (smooth) flow as the operative word. She stresses the balance between the steady airflow, supported from the diaphragm while consciously relaxing the throat, and correct embouchure to create a true on-pitch sound. Then the vibrato can be added judiciously to embellish the phrase, using head and body resonance. Thus a total awareness of the interrelated elements of performance results in a superior musical product.
It is not a coincidence that she stresses singing, including harmonic singing, using vowels, or making up words to match the notes of a musical phrase. Like many wind players who attended the master classes of the great French flutist Marcel Moyse at the Marlboro Music Festival, she espouses the approach of playing the great opera arias on an instrument. The challenge of attaining the freedom, range, and expressiveness of the human voice is ever our model. I especially loved the example of the Indian cave dweller at the Adjanti Elephanta Basalt Temples whose amplified harmonic singing with bells astounded Kim.
Throughout the text there are tips and toolboxes that offer skill-building solutions to common problems of execution for all musicians. This book is not a hypothetical treatise but rather a handy guidebook with solutions to many of the issues of performance.
I leave it to the reader to pursue the balance of this extraordinary work without further details.
When my father gave me, his only child, specific instructions for a memorial to be held after his demise, he specified only two out of his hundreds of students to play. It is no wonder that Kim Walker was one of them.
Peter J. Schoenbach, PhD
W ITH SINCERE APPRECIATION and gratitude I share my profound thanks to the people who helped this book come to life.
To my teachers: James Berkenstock, Dr. Larry Stewart, Professor Sanford Berry, William Waterhouse, Dr. Sol Schoenbach, Roger Birnstingl, and Walter Stiftner, who all shared something exceptional just at the right time. They proved time and time again that there is no right or wrong approach. Rather, it all depends upon the heart and sound of the moment.
Sol inspired and exploded my life with his rich humor, iconic voice (rather like a loving musical foghorn), constant provocation, emphasis on phrasing, and insistence on studying music, poetry, art, science, and languages. Each lesson spurred further curiosity! Roger placed enormous attention on intonation, nuances, a brighter tone, and a powerful boldness in orchestral playing. While Sol had me out at concerts and art museums and constantly playing at the Marlboro Music Festival, Roger insisted on skiing, hiking, kayaking, examining rare plants, and looking at beautiful artwork to complement each lesson. Both were amazing performers, innate mentors, and larger-than-life musicians.
I was exceedingly lucky that an exceptional school band director, Mrs. Rebecca Erlenbach, helped me excel back in primary school. She managed to teach clarinet and conduct the symphonic bands, a jazz band, and the orchestras in several schools, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Where she found the energy to get all of us organized with learning our instruments, notating our fingerings, reading our music, and playing together and still pay attention to a few of us and speak with our parents still amazes me. Everywhere I looked there was music, and anything was possible. She promoted me to the high school orchestra when I was in junior high school.
The number of hours my mother spent driving me to lessons and rehearsals at different schools boggle the mind.
My first bassoon teacher, Mr. James Berkenstock, was an expert on Haydn s music and principal bassoon in Chicago s Grant Park Symphony. From the very start I was lucky to have a superb musician guiding me forward.
At Interlochen Arts Academy, Dr. Larry Stewart not only taught bassoon with care and precision but also introduced the principles of research, performing recitals as well as orchestral excerpts. He included instrument repair in our basic curriculum. In 1972 he took some of the IAA students to attend the inaugural meeting of the International Double Reed Society, introducing us to many great players and teachers.
Sandford Berry was a former student of Sol Schoenbach, a Curtis graduate who was a professor at the University of Illinois. I worked with him in the summers and my final year at IAA.
Music is a lifetime pathway, and my reflections continue those traditions of an ongoing musical thread built on the aural and oral traditions that have been passed down with exquisite creative care from teacher to student for centuries.
Ancient breathing rituals were often kept secret by priests or the wealthy, as these rituals were understood to be a link to a higher wisdom. I extend profound thanks and deep acknowledgment also to Sonia Othenin-Girard, who shared the Pythagorean oral traditions, rituals, philosophies, and breathing exercises. I spent many days and hours in her home, absorbing the knowledge and teaching of Marcel Picard, whom I also thank. Other heartfelt thanks go to:
Rheva La Rue, who furthered that knowledge and shared the Prahnic oral traditions, meditation, and visualization.
Anne Senouci-Vuataz, who introduced me to Shiatsu massage and who instilled in me my first knowledge of the hara and D -In exercises.
Robin and Erwin M ckli, who patiently taught me Alexander Technique over three years.
Mme Andr e Koelliker for opening a door that might never have been opened had she not invited me to be a guest observer and volunteer in her work with deaf children and harmonic singing.
The vocal coach who gave me the first inklings of the subtle feel and beauty of exploiting head and body resonance.
Wendy Hilton, who taught me and my mother historical dance.
Lu Sclair, licensed nurse practitioner and massage therapist, who taught my students and me so much about our bodies, had everyone ride a horse bareback, and naturally linked posture, breathing, and centering.
Antoinette Baehler, who was my first pupil in Geneva years ago and is now the doyenne of winds and an exceptional teacher in her own right, for her fabulous sketches, quartet arrangements, the reed factory, exceptional friendship, and endless discussions of reeds, bassoon, educational philosophy, and psychology.
Each of these unique individuals acquainted me with specific knowledge and an aesthetic that helped me create and explore fuller choices as a teacher and performer.
Overwhelmingly, my warm thanks, admiration, and acknowledgment are due in large part to the many amazing, willing, and enthusiastic students-now colleagues-whom I had the good fortune to encounter and work with over the years. Essentially, they were the laboratory for these ideas and musical approaches. I always thought it important that each student find her sound, one that reflects her soul, personal resonance, and character. While a student can learn from a teacher up to a point, there comes a day where each steps out on his own to create his own sound, individual approach, and unique performance rituals. Teaching is a daily puzzle, and no two players are alike, but I always look forward to the watershed moment when a student becomes her own teacher. Witnessing this transition and seeing students make their way in the world has been awesome.
I am grateful to have lived in Interlochen (Michigan), Philadelphia, Switzerland, Indiana, and now Australia. No matter how busy I am, I always take time to listen to nature, visit magnificent wonders of the earth, and revel in all her splendor. Experiencing the invisible mysteries of nature and life has enhanced my knowledge and artistic experience as a performer, whether trekking, high-altitude ski mountaineering, whitewater kayaking, walking the road to Compostella, or exploring the wonders of Greece, China, Egypt, and India to become a global traveler and musician. Roger Birnstingl was the perfect travel partner on our many adventures-skiing and learning about butterflies, orchids, wildflowers, Etruscan art, and more as we returned to Egypt, India, France, and Italy!
How did this book ever actually get written?
The academic research began decades ago when I stumbled into library after library exploring unpublished manuscripts and early tutors. Thirty years later this book took me back to the Conservatoire de Musique de Gen ve and its superb collection of my favorite first editions and early tutors in all languages. Thanks are due to the director, Philippe Dinkel, for his warm welcome, and particularly to Jacques Tchamkerten, the chief librarian, for his unbridled enthusiasm in retrieving original manuscripts and finding new surprises. He must have lost kilos going up and down the stairs hundreds of times.
Thanks, too, to:
Professor Robert Blocker, dean of the Yale School of Music, for an invitation to be a visiting fellow at Yale University.
Dr. Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School and a former superb bassoonist himself, for his invitation to access the school s library and resources.
Lisa Stewart for her beautiful drawings, which she managed to prepare from my scribbled renditions. She drew the images and then chose handmade papers, which she cut to shape, placing different colors on top of each other so that the anatomy would be clearer. Thanks, too, for her warm musical and spiritual engagement, as well as her patience when I asked her to slightly change the drawings.
Peter Schoenbach, who read the material from stem to stern and contributed the foreword. I first met Peter when he was the dean at the Curtis Institute of Music working with Director Rudolf Serkin.
Daniel Dean for his expertise with Sibelius files.
The rubber really hit the road when a few guardian angels leaped in:
Cynthia Carr for her stalwart perseverance and enthusiasm through the long hours that went into the early proofreading and editing, her success in deciphering my original Franglais (French and English), and her suggestions for an elegant style for the book.
My parents, who thought they could retire but soon found they were volunteer proofreaders for the early chapters! My father s innate musical talent, his ability to sing opera and/or Scottish folk songs and instantly replicate whatever he hears on piano or guitar, enriched my childhood. My mother, who is a dancer and former dean of the performing arts herself, took us to a wealth of music, dance, and theater performances, from classical music and ballet to rock and roll, from opera to John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Mark Morris, and many others, in order to nourish the creative spirit!
My sister Kathleen for coming home with the oddest-shaped instrument, called a bassoon, which I immediately confiscated.
Warm thanks are due to Mary Beth Conlee for her expertise and indefatigable editing skills-she even seemed to enjoy untold hours of precise editing-and for her astonishing ability to bring order and clarity into what was a confusing mass of material.
Lastly, and importantly, to Raina Polivka and Janice E. Frisch for actually making this book possible, and to the staff at IU Press for tending to all the countless details involved in the publishing of this book.
Seven Core Essentials
To be a champ is hard work.
You have to be consistent and sing on the air!
-Sol Schoenbach, Marlboro, Australia, summer 1978
W HAT HE DIDN T tell me, he showed me-masters dare to be outrageous. I loved the hours taking lessons from Sol Schoenbach. Play on the air! he would boom melodiously from across the room. He spoke every word with sincerity and humor; but while he was playful, there was a provocative undertone to what he said. It was up to us as students to either probe what he had just shared or miss the point completely. His unpredictable prodding was an unapologetic challenge to dullness, distraction, mediocrity, and living an uninformed life. He brought books on every subject for me to read and insisted on visits to museums, concerts, and the theater. During our lessons we explored far more than bassoon playing; he shared wisdom from timeless traditions and brought the music to life in a context of history, art, fashion, style, literature, and architecture. On the air became for me a commandment to explore life with avid curiosity and courage.
Three decades ago, I began studying the psychological factors involved in personal success, as well as the technical mastery required to deliver virtuosity. I welcomed guest experts on anatomy, psychology, physical therapy, religious traditions, historical performance, and a range of other topics to present master classes for my students. Those classes began the collection of tips, techniques, and exercises that I integrated into a routine to best prepare for my career of giving recitals, traveling, and performing full concert programs. For decades I followed the weekly routine I share with you here, combining many hours of practice, massage, and physical exercise to stay in form.
This book shares the very best ideas I have extracted from working with performers and professional experts all over the world. This method has been rolled out through master classes in five languages to students in North and South America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe. The purpose of Spirited Wind Playing is not to set out one right method but to acknowledge and present several ways to walk up the mountain. It s up to you to choose what best suits your aptitudes and talents.
Since 1982 professional players have come to study with me for short periods. They arrive looking for relief from back pain, arm pain, jaw pain, and so on or simply to reinvigorate their career. Their common refrain is that once it was easy, but after twenty years of performing professionally, they want to revive their base techniques, posture, ability, and inspiration to perform. I outline here practical exercises for the body, away from the instrument and during practice, and I provide mental images and visualizations.
Students and colleagues return to me after decades and recount how mastering their mental and artistic focus to create their own sound was the most important thing they did to get on with their creative life. After we work together, they don t copy anyone; they create their own process, which is vital to their happiness, to their success, and to their ability to be genuine throughout a long career.
My New World History
Thirty years ago, I undertook a three-year Alexander Technique teacher training course in Geneva. These rigorous early-morning courses were life changing; I experienced a lightness, dexterity, and sprightliness in my body that delighted me. Then, on 31 December 1993, early in the morning, I was driving up a winding mountain road to Saint-Luc in Switzerland. I noticed a huge truck coming toward me. It started skidding on ice and drove straight into my car on that narrow mountain road. By some miracle, my brand-new BMW did not go off the cliff, but it was completely totaled. It hadn t even gone through its first tank of gas when the accident shattered my life as I knew it. My neck was broken, and I sustained cracked vertebrae and ribs. I was very lucky to be alive and even luckier that my brain and bones healed fully over time. For months, my life was limited to repair and maintenance.
The brain scan revealed neurological damage from the accident. I had a form of brain trauma and severe concussion that would require some quiet months ahead, with low activity in the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus parts of my brain. At that point, I could not remember anything for two minutes, and my cognitive ability was reduced to minimal levels. The doctors said that with time I could recover fully.
My first thoughts were that I would be able to use the next few months convalescing to learn more repertoire and listen to music. What a shock it was to realize that I needed massive amounts of sleep combined with massage to improve blood circulation. That was all I could manage for some months, until finally I was ready to begin playing exercises. I vaguely remember long days sleeping in a very dark space. The damage to my prefrontal cortex undermined my concentration, emotional control, and abstract reasoning. The low activity in my cerebellum impaired my ability to make decisions, and my hippocampus was so shaken that my previously fabulous memory (enabling me to play full recitals and contemporary music) was virtually nonexistent.
Additionally, the fragile skeletal state of my neck meant I could not stand and hold the bassoon for many months. I had muscle spasms; daily massages were exceedingly painful. Prior to the car accident, massages had been a wonderful experience for mind and body that I always enjoyed. Now they were an essential but painful tool to regain physical mobility and vitality. I struggled, using every bit of my awareness and energy, to recapture my faculties and strength. Those months of recovery made me a better teacher and performer.
Fortunately, the brain can repair and rejuvenate itself with consistent therapy, exercise, and practice. Leveraging what neuroscientists now call neuroplasticity , I spent the next years and countless hours practicing music and learning how to use my thoughts and experiences to strengthen and develop my mind. The tools have developed over the years, but I still use, and advocate, meditation, exercise, brain games, conscious breathing, and laughter. This book will show you how to use these tools for your professional and personal development. Some of us respond to touch, some to movement, some to puzzles; most of us, to a combination of these. With a variety of solutions available, those who are uncomfortable with one way forward can progress through another.
I know from my own experience that taking on new challenges, meditating, implementing conscious breathing techniques, and enjoying brain games can change and improve your brain, which ultimately changes your life!
My recovery was accelerated by work with athletic trainers; Shiatsu, massage, and yoga practitioners; string teachers; vocalists; conductors; Alexander Technique coaches; physical therapists; and dance coaches. High-altitude mountain treks and ski touring also helped my system reboot itself. As a result, I developed my own effective system of practice to maintain and improve performance skills. Memorization, which had been quasi-automatic, was something I had to study in detail and develop anew. The fears associated with performing were entirely different from those I had known prior to the accident.
Over the first months of 1994 I had to put into practice everything I have ever learned about concentration, Alexander Technique, memory, psychology, neuroscience, and high performance. Each day I used willpower to focus my attention and learn from the experts who were helping me create a new life. I share this real-life event with you to demonstrate how I was able to rebuild my life and career through the use of conscious thought and willpower to control my mind and abilities. I was under extreme emotional stress, I had limited mental and physical capacity, and I felt tremendous pressure to recuperate, not only for my career but also for the people who were depending on my income. This book shares many of the specific techniques that took me through those challenges.
Five Centuries of Wind Playing
Performers in previous eras generally studied one style of music and mastered one set of techniques; careers usually centered on playing in one orchestra an entire career. Music is an aural tradition and art form: it is notated for preservation, but it comes to life fully only when it is performed and sometimes recorded.
Today, we are expected to be comprehensive musicians, at ease playing Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, contemporary, jazz, Asian, and indigenous music and performing in ensembles large and small or as a soloist. We are likely to change orchestras or engagements at least twice in our career, as well as to teach and work as a freelance artist.
Regardless of where you are in the musical spectrum, from novice to professional, it helps to know just how to make the most of your natural talent-your awareness, balance, and musical temperament-sooner rather than later.
Being in shape, musically and personally, requires preparation comparable to the rigor expected from and programmed for our finest athletes. As teachers, we still deliver the same content for instrumental studies (long tones, scales, intonation, articulation, etc.) as we have over the past three hundred years. However, the contemporary context (concert halls, recordings, ensembles, and music) is now vastly different, as are the accessories (metronomes, tuners, recordings, and modern instruments).
The work outlined ahead is physical, mental, energetic, and emotional. You can significantly enhance your mental alertness, overall energy, and mobility using what I call the seven core essentials outlined in this book: breathing, posture, balance, body and head resonance, eyes and ears, vowels, and energy centers. The concepts, exercises, and philosophies expressed in this book are widely known and practiced in different aspects of many fields: sports, medicine, music, conflict resolution, and self-improvement, to name a few. What I have done is gather these concepts together and articulate what worked (and still works) for me and what I have been able to pass on to others in the world of music, in particular, to bassoon and wind players. I have witnessed these seven core essentials help players greatly reduce or eliminate fears and blockages associated with instrumental techniques, performance anxiety, and the monotony associated with repetitive practice.
The seven core essentials are personal observations and methods drawn from my:
contact with exceptional teachers, musicians, and professional experts from an early age;
personal experience with a journey of healing, from injury to recovery;
extensive teaching career in both Western and Eastern cultures, teaching beginners to masters; and
successful solo career performing with orchestras and ensembles around the world for more than thirty years.
The Seven Core Essentials
These essentials may be used individually, but it s the interaction of the knowledge, techniques, exercises, and mental models articulated through this book that creates the mastery of a healthy body and mind and helps musicians maintain joy and passion in music and life.
This book offers several ways to practice for positive gains and eliminate negative patterns from your conscious and subconscious practice program. I have witnessed the results over decades and know that if you choose to, you, too, can take complete charge of your musical program to become a more engaged, authentic performer.

FIGURE 0.1. The Seven Core Essentials.
Each of my teachers opened new doorways and horizons for me and provided me with a thirst to delve deeper and deeper. I have written this book in homage to my many great teachers and my students, who never cease to amaze me. Although my own expertise leads me to focus on wind players specifically, the information here is equally applicable to performers of all types.
Carpe diem and play on the air !
Bassoon Games , a modern tutor, is available as a companion website to this book at www.kimwalker.com.au .
The information provided in this book is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed and is not medical advice. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and it is not a substitute for your own doctor s medical care or advice. Do not disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of anything you read in this book. If you think you are suffering from a medical condition, seek a health-care professional. This book is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The publisher and author are not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any action any person takes upon reading or following the information in this book. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement.
Spirited Wind Playing
On the Air
Stand Tall: Posture and Balance
H AVE YOU NOTICED how great performers breathe life through every inch of their body?
The many hours spent standing or sitting down, often performing repetitive physical and mental patterns, eventually challenge everyone s anatomy. Gravity, repetition, or being busy and/or nervous generally takes its toll at some point. Mastery of these challenges becomes a core essential.
The ideal is for you to be fully charged, breathing through your body, grounded, and in tune with your instrument. Even when playing a slow, somber adagio, your gentle mastery of the air and your posture cooperate to deliver a full, rich resonance.
To excel as a musician, we dedicate thousands of hours perfecting instrumental exercises. In our natural state, our bodies are designed for a variety of movements, rather than repeating one exercise or movement for hours each day without deviation or respite. It is unlikely that any of us can maintain an ideal posture when we hold our instrument for practice and rehearsal or in an ensemble for hours at a time, as is the norm. The important thing is to recover! This chapter is a focused compilation of my favorite techniques, exercises, and images that help musicians establish and maintain an ideal posture in just about every situation.
Standing to play lengthy recitals and concertos, traveling, and performing forty-plus programs by memory for decades is invigorating to the soul and mind. The music always brings a profound excitement, and, whether playing a concert or recording, we tap into an emotional repository that brings us boundless amounts of energy. The next day, however, we may feel like our batteries are empty, unless we learn to balance the physical, mental, and emotional currents. I became aware of the Alexander Technique in my early teens while I was lodging with William and Elizabeth Waterhouse. They were living examples of the Alexander Technique just as it was beginning to be taught in music conservatories around Europe. When I accepted a full-time orchestral position, I chose to work privately with an Alexander teacher. Eventually, I enrolled in a three-year Alexander Technique training course in Geneva, Switzerland, so I could share the benefits with my students. Learning more about the postural anatomy and structure of the body, I began to realize just how much physical and mental demand we put on our bodies. It is miraculous how the body can accommodate and recover from the many challenges of our enthusiastic mismanagement!
As a young teenager I regularly rode my bike to the summertime Ravinia Music Festival, crawling through the fence to listen to the Chicago Symphony rehearse. I was mesmerized. At those hot summer open-air rehearsals, the posture and composure of these musicians impressed me with a sense of challenge, inspiration, and energy, present and alive at all times.
What a great shock it was when I entered the profession and came across musicians reading newspapers, watching small televisions, slouching, playing with crossed legs, almost daring themselves to look indifferent as they revved up to play! Looking back over my time in various orchestras, I am struck by the fact that the more successful and accomplished performers consistently demonstrated their care and thoughtfulness through their attention to musical expression and a natural performance style. How performers hold their posture, breathe, and play is testament to their passion, innate musical inspiration, and achievement.
Posture: Rise Up from the Ground
When standing, the goal is to balance the weight of the instrument on your skeleton, rather than using muscular tension to hold the instrument. If you hold or block any area of your body in order to support the instrument, you will reduce the length of your breath, limit your resonance, and potentially restrain free-flowing technique.
Interestingly, it was when factory production lines were introduced during the industrial revolution that researchers started studying the impact of boredom on workers. Rudolph von Laban (1879-1958), a pioneer in dance and movement, studied the efficiency of factory workers and applied his study to modern dance. 1 He observed how human beings move and devised Labanotation, a set of complementary methods notating the shape and quality of movement, with recommendations as to how the human body can move and remain pain free. 2
Postural challenges vary depending on each situation: ensemble, orchestra, recital practice or performance. Using your best possible posture is vital to delivering ideal breath support, longevity, and pleasure when performing, and it requires conscious effort and continuous adjustments. As part of an ensemble, your natural impulses should be tamed to adhere to the group pattern (no tapping of feet, no bobbing or moving around dramatically, etc.). The larger the ensemble, the less tolerance there will be for spirited movement by individual players. Having to remain in one position for extended periods of time is a postural challenge in and of itself.
The Foundation of Your Roots: Feet and Legs
When holding a musical instrument, your stance (and your body) balance and move subtly in harmony with your breathing, rather like trees in a breeze.
The feet, ankles, knees, and legs are your tree roots, the foundation of your postural balance. When walking, our body generally uses a heel-toe stride; yet when running, our body balances on the balls of our feet, using a toe-heel stride for movement and pain-free sprightliness. When you are standing, your weight is centered on two supports: your feet. When sitting, you distribute your weight on four supports: two feet and the sit bones of your pelvis.
Where is your weight right now?
Where is your weight balanced?
What part of your body is bearing the most weight?
Your feet
It is important that your feet and legs are comfortable yet alert in order to provide support for your torso (your trunk and upper branches). When playing, your legs may not be needed, but if they are asleep, the energy is heavy. Legs and spine should be active, as if you are ready to move. Play with your body poised as if you are just about to lift yourself out of the chair, stand up, and walk around the room.
Generally, you will find three natural stances for your feet: parallel, turned out, or pigeon-toed. For some people, the ballet turnout is their natural stance and offers greatest comfort. In ballet turnout position, your toes are positioned farther apart than your heels, so both feet together form a V shape. Other people stand slightly pigeon-toed: their toes are closer together than their heels, the reverse of turnout. The optimal position is when the feet are parallel, rather than turned out or pigeon-toed.
Are your toes and heels parallel, with your feet flat on the floor?
Are your toes facing inward or outward?
I have witnessed exceptional musicians develop this parallel foot position later in life. They had been unaware of the impact that something as simple as foot placement could have on their playing. Corrected, they were amazed to find that tonguing was easier, and in some cases, rhythm was stabilized. Standing or sitting, you want to take a deep breath into your lower abdomen, and this is easiest with your feet in parallel position. Younger players often respond dramatically well to this one simple exercise.

Toolbox: Parallel Feet
Begin by standing as you ordinarily do, with your feet in their natural position. With a slight movement (approximately a quarter of an inch), adjust your feet so they are moving toward parallel. Move your toes inward or outward so your foot is straighter. Practice playing in that adjusted position for one entire week. Increase this adjustment each week for several weeks or months until parallel position is your norm.

TIP! Do not simply reposition your feet, as doing so will be unnatural and untenable for any length of time. Slow work and habitual use transform body memory. If you use this exercise to incrementally adjust your foot placement, your body will gradually adjust and normalize this new stance.
If you use a parallel foot pattern-and even exaggerate it until your feet are slightly pigeon-toed-you naturally take a full breath in your lower body, which maximizes your posture, breathing, and rhythmic stability.
When your feet are slightly pigeon-toed, your lower breath expands fully. However, the disadvantage is that you can t provide optimal support and balance up through your body.
Similarly, the turnout position can put a slight pressure on the nerves at the base of the spinal column. One of the side effects, pointed out to me by a licensed nurse practitioner in Bloomington who worked regularly with musicians, is that when this pressure is more pronounced, your heart and tongue can be affected, disturbing the regularity of your articulations, your rhythmic stability, or your sense of rhythm. It may also restrict the breath capacity in your lower back and belly, which is just where you should have the most control from your strongest muscles.
When playing your instrument, whether sitting or standing, keep your feet flat and buoyant on the floor, with your weight toward the front (balls) of the feet .
Whether sitting or standing, you need to be fully aware of the position of your feet. The joints of the ankles, knees, and hips should remain supple and ready to move.

Toolbox: Releasing Tension from Your Feet
This exercise is an ideal warm-up, and not only for your feet; it also focuses on other core essentials unveiled in the next chapter:
Make sure your feet touch the ground or are evenly supported.
Start by bringing your mind and attention to focus on each of your ten toes, then on the arches under your feet, then on the tops of your feet, and finally all around your ankles.
Your knees should be slightly bent (or straight but unlocked), whether standing or sitting.
When you practice this stance, be sure that your knees are free, neither locked backward nor bent forward. Knees should be awake, ready to move, soft, yet toned.
Inhale a big breath. Slowly exhale for several seconds, keeping your focus on sending your energy out from these body parts in order to relax and feel the contact with the ground, like the roots of a tree descending into the earth.
Now that you have released the tension, softly relax your feet and legs as you breathe into the ground.
Keep some vitality in both legs. They remain energetically poised, as if you could stand up simply by leaning forward and lifting straight up out of the chair.
Now imagine your energy flowing up from the ground. (Some people imagine tree roots into the earth. Others visualize a white glowing ball of energy under their feet.) Let this light enter your body through your feet (all ten toes, the arches, the tops of your feet, and all around your ankles) and then travel up the inside of your legs all the way into your hip sockets.
When performing, we use our leg muscles for more than just holding the body. Often, music demands large, long breaths and a rich tapestry of colors. Watching any violinist, you can see how she engages her legs as part of the musical energy, and it is not surprising that as a wind player, you also engage the full body to produce your resonance and sound. The legs support your torso to allow deep breathing and to hold your instrument.
You want your ankles, knees, and hips to be active yet relaxed; your foundation must be open and flexible to hold the weight of the upper body and transfer it into the floor. By open , I mean that you imagine the ankle joint to be full of air and space to rotate; there is no sense of compressing a joint or locking it into a fixed position.
To move subtly while playing music, you need to be balanced on both legs, rather than locked into support on one leg or holding yourself in any fixed posture or position. Freedom of movement allows for freedom of breath.

Toolbox: Moving Energy through Your Legs while Standing
Keep your knees loose so you can shift weight from your left leg to your right leg or move around the room.
When standing, try to experiment with one foot slightly in front of the body rather than standing squarely. Do you remember your parallel feet?
When practicing, walk around with your instrument rather than sitting or standing, as this frees the joints in the hips and legs, which in turn frees up the shoulders. Your tone will warm with more body resonance, and the dynamic engagement of your body prepares and maintains physical stamina, memory, and musical delivery.
It is rather like skiing or windsurfing: when the joints of your legs are very free, they can respond to a mogul or a gust of wind. If your knees or ankles are stiff, you end up in the snow or in the water!
Postural support for sitting is balanced through four points: your feet and the two sit bones of your pelvis. These sit bones, which function like rockers, allow the weight of the pelvis and upper body to shift back and forth.
For active support your weight needs to be forward, into the front of the pelvis (toward the pubic bone) and into the legs and feet. The weight of the upper body leans slightly forward from the hip joint, not from the lumbar area (small of the back).
The spine lengthens upward toward your head. Sitting is an act of balancing the upper body on the base of the pelvis and legs. A small footrest can help you support your foot and leg position to maintain a supple, upright posture so that you don t slump in your chair with fatigue through long hours of practice or rehearsal. Legs and arms should remain active yet relaxed. Your feet push into the floor, sending energy and support up the front side of your spine to support your body core. When shoulders and hips are balanced on the joints, they are free to move and allow breathing the full length of your body.
Do you ever start with good-seated posture and find at the end of the session or performance that it may no longer be ideal ?
Do not be in a hurry to do what others do or adopt another person s sitting position.
Sit with your weight forward.
Have both feet touching the ground (or supported).
Have your legs poised, almost ready to push the chair backward or stand up.
Optionally, sit diagonally, across the corner of the chair, in order to allow your legs to be freer. (This is particularly helpful for shorter individuals.)
Reproduce parallel feet when seated.
Keep your legs uncrossed.
Optionally, set one foot slightly forward.
Don t tilt your head or twist your torso.
Keep your arms and legs light and alive, neither tense, rigid, nor hanging passively.
It is important to find out what is best for you, your body, and your instrument.
You can:
Reposition the chair at an angle and sit diagonally across the chair, leaving legs freer; or,
Sit across the chair rather than squarely into the chair, so your feet have contact with the ground and your spine balances itself in an optimal position for breathing, rather than sliding all the way back in the chair (this is good for flutists).
If you are tall, you may need to stack two chairs together or find another way to increase the height of the chair.
If you can adjust the tilt of the chair, you may want to do so.
Ensure that your heels and toes are on the ground or supported.

Toolbox: Sitting
Is the weight of your body balanced on the front (balls) of your feet?
Have you released tension from your toes, arches, and ankles?
Are you breathing out deeply as if sending the energy into the ground below?
Can you breathe up from the center of your arches, through the center of your legs, into the body, and above?
Are you standing or sitting with parallel feet?
Have you allowed one foot to be forward and one foot to be behind?
Have you arranged the chair height and angle to suit your anatomy?
Is your body twisting or bending to accommodate your instrument?
Is your leg required to support your instrument through a seat strap or leg rest?
Are you set up to support your instrument and simultaneously balance your posture and allow for movement while breathing well?
Have you ensured that your heels and toes are on the floor (or supported)?
Are you imagining that all of your joints are as free and large as possible?

FIGURE 1.1 . Body and Tree Posture. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
Your Tree Trunk: Spine, Pelvic and Shoulder Girdles, Arms, Hands, and Fingers
Good posture works with your core strength and natural anatomy to uplift your energy. The tree trunk (your spine) is manipulated at either end by the pelvic girdle at its base and the shoulder girdle at its top. Once you have properly set your feet and legs to your optimal posture, the next step is to align your core body. This alignment starts when you think about your spine.
Retaining the natural freedom and upward spring in your spine is a huge factor in defining how long and how well you enjoy a lifetime of performance health, fitness, and positive focus. When your spine lacks this spring and balance, your posture collapses your spine. A chain reaction affects your internal organs, breathing process, and mental focus either positively or negatively.
Embedding proper, conscious postural practices into your daily routines will help ensure a long career that is pain free and energizing.
The spine
The front side of your spine (in the center of your body) is what personal trainers refer to as your body core . Energy flows up from the arches of the feet, up the inside of the legs, into the thigh sockets, up the front side of the spine, and out the top of the head. The spine lengthens in two directions, releasing the head to float upward and the tail to hang downward.
Imagine dropping a plumb line from the top of your head. It hangs straight naturally, just like those beautiful Italian palazzos and their towers that were built using a plumb line to ensure erect, straight lines.
Ideally, you have a perpendicular angle at your hips and your shoulders, and the plumb line would fall straight between your legs to the center of your balance on the floor; or, when viewed sideways, the plumb line would fall through your ears, kidneys, and ankles.
Achieving the freedom, scope, and efficiency of the body s breathing mechanisms requires good body posture. By good posture, I mean normal conditions as intended by nature.
Your spine is a column of small bones, called vertebrae, that rises up the center of your back from the pelvis and has several forward and backward curves. The vertebrae support your trunk and upper body. It is important that the spinal curves are neither too extreme nor too straight in order to balance each other. The vertebrae are hugely important, as they protect the nerves that connect the brain to the rest of your body.
An erect backbone/spine has several curves:

FIGURE 1.2 . Spinal Curves and Vertebrae. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
The forward and upward curve of your neck, supporting your head. Cervical vertebrae support your neck and head.
A backward curve, curving away from your navel, supporting your rib cage, lungs, and shoulders.
A forward curve (in the same direction your nose points when standing straight) at the base of your spine, supporting your diaphragm. Lumbar vertebrae, those closest to the base of your spine, are the largest and thickest.
The coccyx and sacrum provide yet another curve. The sacrum is a shield-shaped bone that connects your back to your pelvis. The coccyx, or tailbone, is at the end. It consists of tiny vertebrae fused together at the base of your spine. 3
The brilliant design of your spine allows for upward and downward spring and creates a lengthening in both directions-when given the chance. It curves with natural flexibility around your organs. In the Alexander Technique, we would view these four curves together:
Your coccyx and sacrum arch out, then
the lumbar curve supports your lower spine, upon which
the thoracic curve arches out to support your lungs, and
the cervical curve returns to balance and lengthen your back.
The top two vertebrae of the spine balance and support your skull.
Do you remember the jack-in-the-box toy? Jack is simply a metal spring (with clothes on) compressed through a series of coils into the box. When the lid is lifted, Jack springs upward, lengthening enough to jump completely out of the box. In fact, the more coils in the spring, the higher he can spring.
Your spinal anatomy is designed to promote an upward release, restoring lightness and strength, rather than being compressed by hunching or leaning. When your pelvis is correctly balanced, your spine is relatively long and fluid, and it lifts upward: strong back.
If you take the same spring, or spine, and position it with one large curve, rather like the letter C, what happens? When released, it falls downward, collapsing. If your back is rounded, one of two things results: either your pelvis tucks under (rolls backward), causing a weak, rounded back and shoulders, or it causes a collapsed chest and protruding head. The lumbar spine lengthens when you tuck in your pelvis. Unfortunately, these actions also shorten the front of your torso, making it difficult to breathe and perform.
If you arch your lumbar spine (the lower back and coccyx project outward to the rear, away from your navel), your pelvis rolls forward. This causes a hollow lower back and rounded shoulders with a tight upper back. Both of these positions weaken your strength and jeopardize a future free from injury or pain as a musician. Ride a horse, if you are in doubt!
Understanding that the pelvic girdle, the shoulder girdle, and the skull are all balanced on your spine helps you realize how crucial it is to maintain a healthy spine in order to perform well for many years.
The pelvis
The pelvis should hang freely from the base of the spine and sit easily on top of your legs. It is designed to swing, or rock back and forth. Think of the pelvis as a bowl of fruit. The idea is simple: the pelvis is the bowl, and your organs are the fruit. Do not let the fruit fall out of the bowl. Alternatively, think of the pelvic basin as a lake, and don t spill any water out of the lake.
Down deep and close to the lumbar spine you have the largest bundle of muscle-controlling nerves in your body. 4
From the bottom of your rib cage, large muscles stretch to the lower spine. Other muscles connect from there into the pelvis and down to the thighs. These are some of the deepest, strongest muscles in your body.
Because the lower vertebrae are very thick, the front of your spine is actually in the center of your body, not at the back of your body, as you might think. The crosscut view of your anatomy depicts where your real center lies. Whether you are sitting or standing, this area of your body is intrinsically involved in blowing wind instruments and playing on the air .
The Alexander Technique teaches you to experience the curves of your spine as they lengthen headward and tailward, which can generate a pleasant feeling of the head floating up and the tailbone releasing down. Primary Control , as F. M. Alexander called it, is all about allowing the neck to be free so that the head lifts forward and upward naturally. 5

FIGURE 1.3 . Seated Pelvis-Good Balance. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .

FIGURE 1.4 . Sacrum-the Heart-Shaped Basin. Illustration by Lisa Stewart.

FIGURE 1.5 . Where Is the Hara? Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
As your spine lengthens and widens, the torso (abdominal area) also lengthens and narrows. This moves the diaphragm upward, releasing the air from the lungs. Your lower ribs move down and in, toward the spine, as it lengthens. This is your natural breath process.
As your head floats up, your shoulder blades release down the back; the breastbone (sternum) and thoracic curve move forward and up. You are now erect. Your spine, or tree trunk, is vertical, with curves for flexibility, and two horizontal circles-the shoulder girdle below the head and the pelvic girdle above the legs-form your torso.
There is one group of muscles particularly worth our focus. For woodwind players and bassoonists in particular, the psoas is a major muscle that can cause problems. Having an awareness of this muscle and its location is important for preventative purposes.
The psoas is one particular muscle, deep in the body, that wraps around the spine. After years of sitting and blowing, particularly with a slight twist in the body to accommodate your instrument, this muscle has a tendency to shorten. This very slow, invisible process is almost unnoticeable. Players might experience back or hip pain or postural restriction. A good Rolfing technique masseuse can identify a contracted or shortened psoas muscle. Rolfing , or remedial massage, is one therapy that can effectively release the psoas muscle.
When practicing wind instruments, to break tension in the hips and soften the shoulders, play your instrument while walking around. This is good to do even if you always sit during performances. Walking around and eventually feeling comfortable with movement while making music is liberating in itself.

FIGURE 1.6 The Large Psoas and Abductors. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .

Toolbox: Shoulders and Hips-as Above, so Below
Sit in a chair and bring your knees together.
Clench your fists and put one hand on each leg.
Take a breath and notice how constricted you are.
Breathe out.
Now breathe in, clenching your knees and fists together.
Hold your breath.
On the count of three, breathe out and relax.
Did your knees move? What else moved? Try it again.
What do you notice?
When your knees released and opened sideways, did your hips and shoulders release?
If you didn t notice, do this again and observe both your hips and shoulders.
Did your arms also respond by naturally softening as you exhaled?
Did you feel a release of tension as you exhaled?
This exercise merely demonstrates that when your hips are constricted, so are your shoulders, and vice versa.

FIGURE 1.7 . Front View Skeleton, Clavicles, and Scapulae. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
The shoulder girdle
The shoulder girdle refers to a group of bones that circle the top of the ribs. Your two collarbones create the front of this girdle, and your shoulder blades create the rear. At the top of the sternum, ligaments connect to your collarbones like a hinge; this is the only point where the shoulder girdle is attached to the ribs. Otherwise, the shoulders move freely; they hang from the muscles attached to your head and neck, rather like a puppet.
When holding your instrument, you want to maintain a good posture where your shoulders hang correctly-not too far forward or too far back. You want your shoulder blades to lie flat across your back. If you draw your shoulders too far back and close your shoulder blades, you create tension and restrict your breathing.
If, on the other hand, you round your shoulders to put plenty of air in your back, you pull your shoulder blades apart. Your collarbones then push down on your sternum, which prevents you from supporting the final notes of a long phrase or a steady diminuendo . Pressure on the front of the ribs from sinking collarbones or sternum puts pressure on your lungs, diaphragm, stomach, and liver.
This is why using your legs to support your spine and lift your sternum is so important. Support from your legs through your core provides the foundation for your shoulder girdle and arms to balance across the top of the ribs. When your arms hang in a balanced, free manner, the ends of your shoulder blades settle and lie flat against your ribs.

FIGURE 1.8 . Three Angles of Shoulder Blades, Ribs, and Collar Bones. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .

FIGURE 1.9 . Shoulder Blade-Three Postural Positions.

FIGURE 1.10 . Shoulders, Scapulae, Collar Bones, Sternum, and Ribs. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
You can eliminate postural problems by using this basic posture:
sternum is lifted
collarbones widen
breathing is unrestricted
arms move freely
lower back lengthens and widens
You can see how the collarbones in the following image touch the sternum, and the shoulder blades are flat.
The anatomy of the shoulder results in amazing flexibility and range of motion. This flexibility comes with a complex interplay between the joints, muscles, and ligaments, akin to the L.A. freeway during rush hour. Injury to any one of these structures through poor usage can result in significant ongoing pain, weakness, or instability.
The scapulae slide down the back as the head releases upward. When arms are lifted forward, the scapulae slide forward on the rib cage. When the arms hang to the side, the scapulae slide down and inward toward the spine. Importantly, the whole arm moves from each scapula, not just at the shoulder socket. Breathe in and free the scapulae to move in all directions (up, down, apart, together, and in circles).

Toolbox: Scapula Movement
Lie on your back on the floor: no carpet, if possible.
Relax as much as possible.
Breathe out and allow your entire spine to rest into the floor.
Relax both arms down at your sides.
Slowly raise both arms directly up to the ceiling, with your palms facing each other, leading with your thumbs.
Continue to move both arms, keeping them as parallel as possible, over your head until you almost touch the floor-almost; keep your shoulders flat on the floor so they don t rise up as well.
Turn your arms so the palms face the ceiling.
Just barely grazing the floor, open your arms out to your sides, leading with your little fingers, and gently and slowly lower your arms by your sides to the floor.
Rest for a second only.
Reverse the entire arm circle, leading out to your sides with the thumbs.
When your arms are extended over your head with your palms facing the ceiling, turn the palms so they face each other, without lifting the arms.
Then lift the arms to the ceiling with the palms facing together, leading with the little fingers.
Slowly lower your arms to your sides to the beginning position.
Did you feel your scapulae move against the floor during your arm movements?
Can you remember this feeling when you sit or stand?
The clavicles move outward from the sternum, or breastbone. As they release outward, they also move in a slightly backward direction. This produces a downward motion in the scapulae. As the clavicles release, the pectoral muscles in the chest widen and release. The elbows may float out and down to release tension in the armpit, creating a feeling that the weight of the arm is hanging down. Imagine that there are air bags between your arm and chest. Use these imaginary air bags to help you carry your arms as you bring your instrument to your mouth.
You want to keep the sternum lifted. This way, the base of the sternum will release forward and upward when you play. This will happen in direct relationship to the thoracic vertebrae moving forward, releasing the top half of the spine and head in an upward direction. The bottom ribs may also rotate forward and up if they have been held in a compressed position.
Supporting your body core
Think of pushing with your left foot to brace yourself. It is as if your left leg pushes down into the ground, or could push you back as a counterbalance, so that you raise your sternum as you exhale. When exhaling (or reaching the end of a long phrase), pay particular attention not to let your sternum collapse. All of this action is supported from a push of the foot into the ground, sending energy up the inner legs, through the thigh sockets, up the front of the spine, and out the top of the head. This concept is known as establishing or supporting your body core. These actions may be organized in any order.
You may release the scapula downward, followed by the clavicles moving out, while the sternum rises.
Or you may begin by moving the clavicles out, releasing the scapula down the back as the head floats up, and so on.
It does not matter where the action begins, as long as you sense all these parts moving and releasing in response and relationship to one another. Remember, everything moves together, one with the other!

TIP! When holding your musical instrument, support the weight with the strong muscles in your lower back and engage your core strength rather than relying on arm and hand muscles.
The harmonics in your sound are affected by any of these areas of the body tensing up when you are playing. In general, these muscles inherently want to tighten if you are short of air or stressed. The more you ensure plenty of air traveling at the right speed due to good posture and breathing, the more ease you will experience in all aspects of your technique.
When you are confident, your physical control improves; your tone is warmer and freer to express your musical liberties. Confidence builds more confidence!
The biggest cause of any technical problems related to articulations, intonation, tone production, and confidence is when players are sharp in their body position (poor posture) and flat in their breath support (shallow breathing). Unconsciously, players substitute airspeed and quantity of air with inner physical tension. The problem is that tension is not a motor to move the air through your instrument.

Toolbox: Supporting the Core
Do not scrunch your lower back, either by tucking the pelvis under or by hollowing out your back and tilting forward.
Avoid collapsing your lower back into the chair. Not only does this impede optimal breath support, it also prevents you from fully using the strength in your back, spine, and balance to hold the instrument.
Eliminate tension in the upper arm, forearm, and hand as you hold your instrument, as it can lead to long-term injuries and pain in your wrists or elbows. Use the strong back muscles.
Settle your weight evenly onto both hips to avoid skewing your skeletal structure. Stop leaning into one hip when sitting or standing, because you are effectively providing a reduced air column while collapsing one side of support.
Relax your legs so that they are alert but tension free, rather than using them to breathe through the entire length of your body.
Keep feet and legs parallel. Crossing your legs precludes breathing lower than your navel, as you also cross the tendons in your lower back. We all do it, and often you can play well on minimal air; that doesn t change the fact that crossing your legs stops you from breathing the full length of your body.
Shoulders often become set in a fixed position as we practice our instruments and sit in rehearsal. It is important to support your instrument using strength from your lower trunk, legs, and lower back.
You brush your teeth by gripping your toothbrush, bringing it to your teeth, and brushing vigorously. Is your shoulder lifted? Are you moving your whole arm to brush your teeth? Or can you lift your arm as if energy comes up from the spine and imagine an air bubble between your arm and your rib cage? Your arm feels light, as if supported by air. Let your arm spiral out; imagine that your arm and joints are as long as possible, like the tail of a kite curving in the wind. Bring the toothbrush to your teeth and gently brush your teeth, achieving much the same result. Your shoulder can be relaxed, even uninvolved. Your wrist can be light and agile, and the movement very fluid. While ridiculous, this illustrates just how often we involve large parts of our body when a simple motion is all that is needed.
The work you do to establish the use of muscle tone, instead of muscle tension, in your arms and hands is critical to ensure optimal breath support, intonation, and tone.
Arm and leg tension impede freedom of breath and technical coordination because you limit the vital air capacity in your body. Any tightly held area of the body works like pinching a tube through which air or water is flowing. It is important to keep arms, throat, jaw, and face relaxed so that your full quantity of air is available.

TIP! The essential point is to avoid squeezing your instrument, tensing your forearms near the elbow, or putting pressure into your finger joints. Doing so can alter the harmonics in your tone, accentuating the sharpness or brightness of your sound. While these actions generally do not impact the agility of your joints at an early age, they can do so over time. Sustained unnecessary pressure on ligaments and joints can manifest injuries after many years of playing.
Respiratory muscles stiffen with age, and as a result, your tone can deteriorate unless you consciously work to maintain Olympian levels of vital air capacity. At age twenty-one you have a surplus of energy and air capacity. However, by age thirty and onward, poor techniques will begin to manifest in a number of ways. 6 One might even have to retire before fifty unless postural issues and breathing fundamentals are addressed. 7
Think about how you hold your arms. Focus on the back of your upper arms. Are the muscles relaxed? Do you keep them tense?

Toolbox: Free Arms
Try completely relaxing the front side of your upper arm.
Breathe out to relax the back of the upper arm.
Notice how your arms become active when you prepare to pick up your instrument.
Practice holding your instrument without playing.
Focus and breathe out the backs of your arms.
If this concept is confusing, think of releasing energy from the top half of your arms, all around. Your elbows should feel heavy.
Learn to have this alert yet relaxed, active, and nimble muscle tone throughout your legs and arms.
Stand in front of a long mirror.
Roll up your sleeves so you can watch your arms.
Play some fast scales, with slightly curved fingers moving from the main knuckle joint.
Play the same scales, moving from the tips of the fingers and first two joints.
Play the same scales using flat fingers.
You should notice a dramatic difference in the amount of arm tension near your elbow.
There is a huge difference between conscious relaxation while keeping tone in a muscle, to the unconscious flopping of a muscle, to constant, unconscious, low-grade tension.
Ideally, your wrists should be comfortable and maintain a fairly straight angle or a gentle curve from your elbow to your fingers. When your forearms extend and your hands continue in the same angle as your elbows, the two forearm bones are parallel, one next to the other. Your thumb knuckle is on the top of your arm.
However, when you twist the angle of your hand so that your thumb knuckle is at a right angle from that of your arm, the two bones (the ulna and the radius) cross over each other and can lock. To avoid stress, injury, and pain, pay attention to how you hold your instrument, as well as to how you lift it into position. Wrists deserve special attention for all players, as they often bear the brunt of the weight of our instruments. The angle of your wrist should be a natural, round extension from shoulder to hand, avoiding any double jointing or collapsing of the wrist or finger joints if possible.

FIGURE 1.11 . Forearms with Straight Wrists-Good Alignment. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
Try imagining that your arm and hand, from shoulder to instrument, form one long tube of air. Remember that major strength and movement come from the lower back, shoulder, and elbow. The fingers offer only small movements. If your shoulder and elbow are free and air is ample, the fingers are relaxed. If you do not allow sufficient freedom to your elbows and shoulders, you will tend to overuse your fingers.

FIGURE 1.12 . Forearm with Rotation and Crossing Bones. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .

FIGURE 1.13 . Hold Your Instrument with the Same Pressure as Holding Two Small Birds. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
My favorite image for holding an instrument is to think of holding a small bird in each hand. If you have ever held a small bird, you know how light it is.
To hold the bird without crushing it, loosen the muscles of your palms and fingers without actually opening your fingers. This softening will be felt sympathetically up through the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. I had to learn to hold the bassoon this way after the accident, as it was too painful to use any extra pressure. The benefit is that you can offer the full range of low harmonics in your sound without any resistance in the breath or the body.
Happy, light, agile, sprightly fingers that lift from your base knuckle (as if not to leave a fingerprint) are what you want. Hold your instrument with great care, and leave your fingers free to dance across your instrument with great facility.
Fingers are designed to grasp. The muscles in your hand sit in your palm, not on the back of your hand, and are designed to close your fingers, making downward scale passages very natural. However, lifting your fingers is another matter. The two joints between the tip and base of your finger (the interphalangeal joints) are purely hinge joints, which means that they can only flex and extend. However, the joint between the base of your finger and your hand (the metacarpophalangeal joint) is more like a ball and socket, rather like your shoulder, which allows movement in four directions. This is why technique is so much more effective and injuries diminish when you imagine that your fingers pop up as one straight piece from the base knuckle attached to your hand.

FIGURE 1.14 . Your Hand Joints. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
Your hands accommodate your instrument and the curve of your fingers to play. However, you do not want the first two joints getting involved in minute movements, as this will fatigue your hands and wrists. To find the natural curve of the hand, think of holding a tennis ball. (Hand and finger stretches are included in chapter 6 .)
The finger holes on some of our instruments are quite large, while the typical finger size of young players and lean adults is quite small. While we generally curve our fingers to achieve the best result, some younger players or adults will not be able to cover the holes, as their fingers are too thin, too small, or double-jointed. Players learn very quickly that by flattening the first knuckle joint back from the fingernail, they can cover the holes adequately. This works fine until faster speeds are required or when their hands mature to adult size.
The challenge with flat fingers is that while you can always get them onto the instrument, they do not respond so well when taking them off. The flat finger has double the amount of work to do, as it must first release the caved-in knuckle upward before you can lift your finger, which slows the process as compared to surrounding fingers (which are naturally well positioned). Often the vast majority of finger technique problems are around lifting fingers in upward scales, arpeggios, and trills. It is often only in the midteen years, when hands are fully grown enough to address this issue, that the issues subside.

Toolbox: Fingerings
Light, agile fingers
Allow your elbow and shoulder joints to open and close freely as you play.
Feel the air fill your joints with space.
Hold your instrument comfortably, without squeezing or gripping. Don t allow the fingers to be sluggish.
Move from the joint at the base knuckle with one movement. This provides for straight fingers in your mind, which are actually curved to reach the tone holes and keys.
Soften your hands at the end of a diminuendo or downward slur.
Carry little birds in your hands.
Fingering Freedom
To develop more facile fingering patterns,
Hold your arms out in front of your body.
Begin by pulling your fingers in to your palm;
Then open and close your fingers repeatedly.
Repeat this as fast as possible for at least a minute, closing and opening.
Observe how tight your forearms become and how heavy your arms feel.
Now shake out your arms, and we will modify the exercise.
Start with your arms in the same extended position, with an open palm and straight fingers.
Focus on moving your fingers from the main joint: the base knuckle at the base of your finger.
Keep the fingers as straight as possible. While you curve them inward, the first joint does not bend.
As you open the hand, let your fingers spring open with straight fingers.
Rather than the palm wanting to close, as it did in the first exercise, this time your fingers spring open.
Repeat this as quickly as possible.
Done correctly, you actually hear a soft sound as the tips of the fingers touch your palm.
Is your arm more relaxed in the second exercise? Are your fingers lighter? Is there a subtle sound of popping fingertips tapping your palm? This is an important point. You want a light touch, a freedom in extending and opening your fingers that lengthens your muscles, rather than shortening the tendons and muscles.
Your Tree Top: Head, Neck, Eyes, and Ears
We are now up in the upper branches of your body, where there is constant activity, renewal, and interaction with your instrument. An upright posture with an open throat allows your breathing to function in the best way possible and control traffic in the midst of high-voltage performance.
As a woodwind player, the upper part of your body is rather like the L.A. freeway during rush-hour traffic. All the on-ramps need to be flowing smoothly so the cars can merge seamlessly into the traffic.
Holding your instrument, using your eyes and ears, tending to embouchure and cheek muscles, reading the score, watching the conductor and colleagues, listening, thinking, tonguing, shaping your throat, breathing, fingering, using correct arm and wrist placement, and rhythmically pacing the work at the same time are monumental. It s a full kaleidoscope of activity.
Pianists have some distance between the action and the control tower. We have our control tower right in the middle of our freeway! Breathing is the key to keeping all this activity balanced and your performance stunning.
Being centered and nimble with legs active, body erect, and arms relaxed on either side sets up an ideal freeway for good breathing. If you let your chest bend downward toward your legs, you immediately experience just how difficult it is for you to breathe.
Knowing how your arms, hands, and body work naturally will help you consistently and easily deliver essential performance precision and long-term technical virtuosity. Just when and how you gain your basic awareness of anatomy and how you translate that into using your body when performing (and in daily use) vary from person to person.
Young students adopt a physical approach to their instrument that generally evolves, modifying as they grow. Espousing, even entrenching, the optimal and proper postural principles saves years of rethinking and relearning basics as a young or midcareer professional. Think of your body as a car. You can choose a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a Porsche, or an old rust-bucket. Which one can best carry this postural organization so you can contend with the L.A. freeway and keep up with the latest musical demands? It s your choice.

FIGURE 1.15 . Atlas and Axis. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
Neck and head
Your head is a rather odd-shaped ball balancing on your neck, just between your ears. Several bones comprise what we refer to as the skull.
One of the things I learned when I was recovering from my neck trauma is that your skull isn t actually attached to your spine.
The two top neck vertebrae form a special joint made up of an axis and an atlas . The axis has a special tooth-like structure that fits into the base of the atlas above it. Your skull sits on the atlas, which rotates around the tooth-like pole of the axis, which is how your head turns from side to side. 8

Toolbox: North Pole Posture
This exercise takes only a few minutes and can help expand your sense of postural freedom with and without your instrument. The exercise helps anchor your center of balance in the body, finding your North Pole, so to speak, which stabilizes your physical balance and contributes to improved emotional and mental performance.
The North Pole exercise has four stages: the head, breathing, standing, and spiraling.
The head
Sit in a chair, with feet parallel on the floor and spine erect.
Close your eyes.
Place the tips of your index fingers on each side of your head near the center of your ears.
Imagine the fulcrum inside your head where the skull is balanced at eye/ear level, deep in the center of your skull.
Picture the two top vertebrae, atlas and axis, in the center of your head, suspended between your two fingers.
Now think about lengthening the back of your neck and balancing your head as it floats on top of the vertebrae.
Think about lengthening out of the very top of your head.
Keeping your eyes closed, move your head gently from side to side. Try to find freedom of movement while releasing the tension from your neck and head.
Breathing your North Pole
Breathe in (remembering the spinal curves, the top of your spine, and the pelvic and shoulder girdles) and allow your neck to relax. Let your throat be soft and open.
As your head floats up (the top of your head, not your chin), bring your attention to how the shoulder blades release down your back. Notice how the sternum and the thoracic curve of the spine move forward and up.
Breathe out, then take a big breath in and naturally feel the air descend into your lower abdomen.
Barefoot or in thin socks, be aware of the contact between your feet and the ground, where your feet really touch the ground. This is as much a mental process as a subtle physical balancing.
Standing upright, allow yourself to shift the weight of your body onto:
the front of your body (your toes)
the back of your body (your heels)
your left foot
your right foot
Return to your normal position and let the body balance itself naturally, like a tree in nature. Focus through the bottom of your feet to continue to keep contact with the ground without providing any mental directions. Hint: remember your toes!
When doing this exercise, consciously feel each shift of weight under your feet and observe the different sensations you experience in each direction (front, back, left, right). Some directions and/or places will feel comfortable, while others may not feel natural. This is normal.
Spiral around the North Pole
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place your feet in parallel position.
Bring your awareness to the contact between your feet and the ground.
Bring your body weight forward and slowly move it onto your right toes.
Slowly continue to shift your weight along the exterior side of your right foot to your right heel.
Continue shifting your weight to your left heel and up the left side of your left foot to your left toes.
As you come back to where you started, you have made a clockwise circle.
Make a second circle, reducing the circumference of the circle.
Make a third, even smaller circle.
Make another circle, still smaller, with even more subtle movement.
Do this in both directions.
With the weight of your body you are now creating a spiral that progressively turns around one point located between your two feet. It is like the well-balanced internal movement of a Swiss clock that is always silently in motion as long as the clock is running.
After you have consciously orchestrated one or several personal spirals from the bottom of your feet, still yourself mentally and physically. Focus your awareness on a spot between your feet. Can you maintain the awareness of the spiral while remaining still?

TIP! This exercise is useful for anyone just learning to play standing up with his or her instrument and/or when calling attention to posture and breathing. Besides, it is rather enjoyable!
Are you aware that your tongue is connected to your jaw, your throat, and your head? If you have recurring jaw tension, stiff neck, or headaches, this self-check exercise is one way to discover the amount of tension you hold in your neck. Players have told me that after utilizing this short exercise, they are able to check and reduce their neck tension, which they hadn t even noticed prior to this exercise, and improve their articulation, speed, and clarity.
This exercise takes almost no time at all to experience. Once you have mastered and are using this exercise regularly, you will notice a calmer feeling when approaching articulations.
Over decades of working with wind players, I have yet to find someone who isn t moving tongue and eyes together. Imagine how busy your tongue is with phrasing and musical demand for well-enunciated articulations, let alone technical mastery of a number of styles of articulation and rhythmic precision.

Toolbox: Eyeball and Tongue Freedom
This exercise might take a few days practice before it works.
Close your eyes.
Place your fingers at the back of your neck, just under your skull, near your hairline.
Keeping your eyes closed, move your eyes left to right, up and down, and diagonally in both directions. Repeat ten times.
Your fingers should feel the subtle movement of your neck muscles.
As you move your eyes, what happens to your tongue? Do the exercise again if you didn t notice. Is your tongue moving sympathetically along with your eyes? Practice this exercise again, inhibiting your tongue movement.
Close your eyes.
Place your fingers at the back of your neck, just under your skull, near your hairline.
Relax your tongue in the bottom of your mouth.
Let the tip of your tongue sense a connection with your two front bottom teeth.
Now inhibit your tongue movement and exercise your eyes as before, ten times up and down, left and right, and finally both diagonals.
Have you noticed how your fingers at the back of your neck detect even more movement when you move your eyes in all directions? Imagine reading music for hours and how stiff these neck muscles can become.
Now reverse this process:
Close your eyes.
Place your fingers on your eyes.
Move your tongue and inhibit your eye movement.
Try this with your tongue on the bottom of your jaw.
Try this letting your tongue move on the upper soft palette of your mouth.
Try this with soft eyes.
Try this with sharp eyes.
You are using similar techniques as you do when playing your instrument. Did you notice the subconscious link between your eyes and your tongue? When using your air stream, this only intensifies.
Did you notice how keeping your tongue in the lower part of your mouth was calmer for your tongue? If your tongue has even the slightest intent to move with your eyes, reading every note, imagine the confusing messages going back and forth from your brain to your tongue via your neck muscles. It boggles the mind, really, which is why, of course, we never notice this layer of complication.
You are feeling surface layers of muscle engage, hardening to hold your head and allow for internal movements. Imagine doing this for four to eight hours a day for years.
If you have neck pain and headaches, practice shifting to soft eyes, and use your peripheral vision. Move your head to gently relieve your neck muscles. While you may be bound to stay seated, make sure that every twenty minutes or so you move your head, arms, and shoulders.
Tilting your head comes with a cost to balance and tone. Whenever possible, adjust your instrument rather than your body. Prepare your body and then bring the mouthpiece to the center of your lips, keeping your body centered. Sometimes, due to the shape of our instruments and our own height, length, and shape, we do have to curve. When making adjustments for your individual contours, adjust the angle of mouthpieces, bocals, and reeds to best advantage before distorting your body position. It is no use holding the instrument if you are in such a position that you can t breathe well.
The next exercise is a simple yet effective technique for positioning the upper body and your instrument.
Young players tend to go to the instrument, bringing their head forward to meet the instrument halfway, and then they forget to readjust their posture, which affects breathing adversely. Some players like to visually check the position of their fingers when learning new notes by looking down at the instrument. This alters the angle of their head and will alter the focus of the tone. They reach for the reed or the mouthpiece with their head, which sets postural alignment completely off center. Some twist their head or torso or even try to stretch their neck to reach the instrument.

Toolbox: Bring the Instrument to You
Standing or sitting, pick up your instrument and then focus your eyes on an object or spot at eye height in your close distance or directly in front of you. Maintain that head position and then bring the instrument to your lips, adjusting the body as you do so.
First set your posture, then set the instrument.

Toolbox: Head Twist Self-Check
Twist your head to the left, but keep your eyes looking forward.
In this position, breathe out and take in a big breath. (Notice: Where does the breath naturally enter the body?)
Now sing a few phrases in this position.
Reposition your head to center and repeat the same steps.
Do you notice how you can take a larger and easier breath with your head facing the front rather than turned sideways? Could you sing well with your head turned? Which way do you have freer movement and less tension? Try this on the other side as well.
Did you notice that your voice resonates better when your head is straight? Often your voice will even be at a different pitch when your neck is twisted. Imagine what happens to the tone of your instrument if you let your head position alter so dramatically.
Your use of shoulders, arms, and hands affects your pitch and breathing, and vice versa. Students who began at a very young age and have grown significantly will need to review their technique, beginning with posture and breathing.
Balancing your instrument
Establishing good posture is the first, essential step. It is also critical to maintain your balance and freedom while holding your instrument. Inadequate air support, pain and stiffness in your body, and a sluggish technique are all symptoms of poor posture. A performer with natural freedom and erect posture is a pleasure to watch, whereas performers who are tense or hunchbacked seem odd and confusing for the general audience member.
Each instrument has different challenges; for example, the flute requires both arms to be elevated. Setting the angle for the arms and your head when standing is one issue; another is how to set up the chair and allow your vision to connect with conductors or other performers onstage. Oboe and clarinet players now tend to use thumb supports and neck straps. Bassoon and saxophone players deal with the instrument angling across the body. But there are some practical instructions that apply to all of us:
Practice with a long mirror, when possible, to check your posture when playing your instrument.
Maintain practically perfect upright posture when standing.
Make adjustments to your harness or instrument so that shoulders and hips are level.
Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. (No standing on the edge of one foot or the other, on one leg, or on your toes!)
Bassoonists: Personally, I do not use a balance hanger. While it alleviates the weight of the bassoon on my left hand, I find that the bassoon sits too close to my body, constricting my arms and shoulders.
There are two or three points of balance between your body and your instrument: two hands and, for some instruments, a leg, chair, or hip. You should know exactly where they are and how each steadies your instrument. For example, with bassoon, William Waterhouse began our first lessons with the following points:
The first point of balance is the boot joint. When seated, the bassoon is held with either a spike (his preference), a seat strap (my preference), or a leg rest. Depending on your height, when standing, the weight of the bassoon rests on the front of your leg or hip. You should be able to stabilize the position of your instrument by centering the weight of your instrument onto your body rather than in your hands. Judge the angle well, and let gravity assist you to leverage the weight of your instrument!
The second point of balance is your left hand at the first knuckle of your palm, at the base of your index finger. This should bear minimal weight. Keeping the knuckle round, as if holding a bird, is very important. Maintain long, straight, sweeping angles from shoulder to elbow to wrist, and balance most of the weight on your leg. Remember, while your fingers are in constant contact, they should be free from bearing weight through your first knuckle.
The third point of balance is your right hand. I recommend using a handrest to support and stabilize the position of the instrument and to serve as an anchor for your technique. The additional balance and control you can establish by using a handrest well is particularly noticeable when standing. It allows you to rest the weight of your arms and hands on the instrument, rather than expecting your arms and hands to bear the weight and hold the instrument.
Always bring your instrument to you in your position of comfort-not the reverse!

Toolbox: Instrument Posture
Hold your instrument.
Close your eyes.
Listen carefully and blow out a fast burst of air. Is the air hitting the center of your mouthpiece or the reed?
If not, modify the height and/or the angle.
Personally, I prefer a natural stance when playing. This is ideal for your breathing and your finger technique. Check your posture in the mirror. Are you moving in a way that distracts an audience or your colleagues? Are your shoulders level? If not, are you putting stress on your body that can be avoided?
Our posture is an indicator of our inner ease and freedom, as well as a tool we can use to enhance our emotional fitness and performance abilities.
Establish balance and freedom of movement while retaining a supple spine with good muscle tone throughout your body. Remember to keep your legs, arms, fingers, and neck focused but relaxed.
Breathe down through your center.
Consider your clothing: don t constrict your body, particularly your lower diaphragm area.
The optimal posture allows for freedom of expansion and a natural rhythmic breathing in your lower diaphragm and belly.
Any issues of sore wrists, fingers, or arms are signs that you have taken an incorrect, or at least less than ideal, approach to posture and/or breathing technique. Review postural basics, and be certain there is enough air support (next chapters)!
Holding your instrument
Your instrument will have specific requirements depending on the horizontal or diagonal way in which you bring it to your body. Alexander Technique teachers recommend that the body be set up with one foot in front of the other so there is a slight spiral through the legs, rather than straight, rigid positioning.
Make sure there is as much space, air, and buoyancy between you and your instrument as possible. Imagine a huge bubble of air under your arms, like a lifesaver vest or a balloon lifting your arms, which in turn hold the instrument.
Always adapt the instrument to your posture, rather than tilting your head or twisting your body to accommodate the instrument.
Equipment should be personalized
Equipment such as harnesses, seat straps, leg plates, and spikes can be personalized for your height and preferences.
Handrests to help you balance your instrument without deforming your hands can also be customized. Roger Birnstingl often created supports for large-handed students by cutting a piece of cork and attaching it to the bassoon to prevent the collapse of the first knuckle. Inexpensive silicone supports are readily available in all sizes to support your knuckle, steady your fingers, and help stabilize your technique.
Neck straps tend to bear weight just at the weakest area of your spine, and it is almost impossible to resist a shortening of the spine as a result. Within a short while, many players succumb to reversing the upward motion of the spine, which tires your eyes, spine, upper chest, and lower back, as depicted in the two contrasting images. The left diagram is a good standing posture, contrasted with poor posture on the right-the result of the weight of a neck strap or instrument on the spine.
The slumping posture affects the angle of your eye position; your chest, sternum, and heart area are compressed. Your back is rounded, and your shoulder blades tend to angle out. To compensate, the pelvis tilts; the legs stiffen and are inflexible. The important thing, if you are using a neck strap, is to recover afterward through movement, breathing, and stretching. A back strap or shoulder harness that distributes the weight onto your shoulders and stronger back muscles is less invasive. There are newer models available that I recommend, as they place the weight on your shoulders and abdomen. Personally, I use a cross-body strap over my right shoulder to suspend the weight of the bassoon, and I counterbalance by moving my left foot slightly forward.

TIP! Always bring the instrument to your mouth. Don t let your neck, mouth, and eyes go to the instrument, as if drawn by some invisible magnet.

FIGURE 1.16 . Erect Balanced Posture with Ears and Kidney versus Slouched Posture. Illustration by Lisa Stewart .
Importantly, the resonance cavity of your back provides a vital component of your personal sound. This is not an area you want to dampen with a strap.
Pay attention, and don t let the neck strap constrict your neck or pull your neck forward.
When sitting, bassoonists often use seat straps to support the weight of the instrument as it rests against the right leg. This method is less effective for tall players, as they will not benefit from the leg support. One alternative that works really well, particularly for taller players, is the leg hook system, or one that places a metal plate on your leg to distribute the weight.
Another alternative I have tried is the use of a spike, like a cello spike, attached to the end of the bassoon. William Waterhouse was the catalyst for this invention, and it does tend to take on most of the weight of the instrument. In any case, you must be observant that you are not leaning to your right or sitting mostly on one hip because the instrument is there. Getting the angle of the spike sorted out so that you don t go to the instrument but that it sits in an ideal position for you is the critical component.
I remain a great fan of the English bend bocals. They are a slightly different-shaped bend that came out of many experiments from Alexander Technique-friendly professionals. There are three advantages:
Rarely, if ever, do you get water gurgling up from the bocal or in the wing joint. The normal bend bocals need to be blown out more frequently, which is very pertinent when performing.
These bocals allow about half an inch more distance between the person and the instrument. For the female anatomy, this can be a real advantage!
According to studies by the late Guntram Wolf (who has taken this concept even further), they allow for an angle where the air blows more ergonomically. There is slightly less resistance, requiring less compression in the body (see chapter 3 ).
Playing On the Air and Pain Free
We spend years of our lives in positions that place unnatural demands on our posture as we hold instruments. The important thing is to recover and rebalance. Over the years, many students or colleagues have come to work with me to regain midcareer enthusiasm, correct a technical problem, or tackle a contemporary work with a mentor. Sometimes they were in severe pain. Several were preparing for operations or procedures to address physical problems, including carpal tunnel syndrome, bad backs or hips, and other injuries generally associated with chronic overuse as a wind player. I reviewed their postural considerations and helped them adjust their technique, and sometimes I helped to adapt their instruments. Not being medically trained, I invited someone with medical awareness to meet with them to advise us. I found we were able to significantly reduce the pain and resolve issues through correcting posture. Pivotal for success, though, was that the students and colleagues were willing to rethink and reprogram their habitual postures and postural support. They also sought assistance from chiropractors and massage therapists, and they engaged in exercises and practices to keep the problems from reoccurring.
Excellent exercises for helping musicians restore their flexibility and natural balance are located in chapter 6 .
Observe performers in practice and then in concert. Can you see a difference? Observe their body language, posture, movement, and overall performance. See if you can ascertain any of the following:
Musically and instrumentally, do they venture into the unknown?
What do you observe through their posture and breathing?
Do they break the boundaries that they or others have set for them?
Do they have a clear current musical unity?
Do they conform?
Do they lead?
Is there a mix of interdependent sensitivities between the players involved?
Are they confident?
Do they really feel the music and express it fully?
Are they nervous, or are they really out there, doing what they do well?
Are they spontaneous? Ambitious? Inspired?
Are their legs active or passive?
Are their foreheads tense?
Are their fingers free or tense?
Solving Problems
Are your shoulder blades lying flat on your back? Is your wrist held at an awkward angle, or do you have a natural extension from shoulder, through elbow, through wrist and fingers?
Practice diminuendos and long tones, relaxing your arms and hands as you get softer. Remember to lift your sternum. Practice downward arpeggios beginning forte and decreasing to piano as you descend; soften arms and hands as you descend and diminish the volume. If you drop your sternum, you will get a sense that you have run out of air. When this happens you push air from the solar plexus rather than the diaphragm, which collapses the body core. In order to finish a phrase well, lift your sternum as you exhale and hold this well into the silence.
Avoid having a tense forehead. The more you can use soft eyes and listen from behind your ears, the freer this zone will remain (see chapter 2 ). Avoid breathing too high in your body. The next chapter will respond specifically to this issue; however, the organization of your posture enables the breath to descend well in your lower diaphragm naturally.
If you are off center, feeling tight or constrained in your chest, chances are you need to lower your center of balance, review your posture, and soften your eyes and lower belly to return to a natural playing position, as discussed in detail in the next chapters.
For a long time, jazz and indigenous musicians have incorporated body movement and expression, whereas classical musicians were taught to remain almost statue-like. In recent years, composers have provoked movement through choreography. There are no hard and fast rules about movement when performing as a soloist. I do think that all contemporary players should be adept at standing, sitting, and using natural movements in performance. A marvelous book that investigates the paradigm of success is Ken Robinson s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009), in which he shares examples of different types of talent met with passion and how our current educational systems rarely deliver or respond to a large population of creative kinesthetic learners. Reading his book, I wondered if we have stifled some musical careers and audience responses with our traditional methods of the past century.
In orchestras and ensembles, we became accustomed to sedentary, seated positions for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Recent composers have provoked us to move and interact with the audience again. A leader of this pioneering intrusion into our traditions was Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007). He introduced a concept of costumes and choreography for musicians, requiring them to walk around, turn, and bend sideways and even determining when performers open and close their eyes. This trend has continued to evolve, and today s performers need to be ready to engage in movement as part of performance.
To challenge yourself and remain open and fresh, make every practice session different. Sit, stand, move, walk, bend your knees up and down, turn clockwise, turn counterclockwise, and so on, retaining the principles of good posture we ve reviewed in this chapter. The physical variety you add to each session, particularly to long tones and scales, means that you are always responding and growing to a new level.

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