Learning to Breathe

February 23, 2015

Before someone signs up for karate-do lessons if you were to throw a rock at them, they'd duck or move out of the way. Sheer instinct. After about 6 or 8 weeks of lessons, which start with basics like up block and inside-out block, if you were to again throw a rock at them, they'd stand there and try to block it. Instinct has been overridden by the desire to use the newly learned skill. Once a karate-ka has learned the basics and starts to combine them into larger sequences of moves, they have to learn out to get out of the way all over again.

Before I learned to play the cello I was able to breathe. Most if not all of my daily activities, even the stessfull ones, were common place and reoccurring. Therefore my body didn't tense and I didn't hold my breath. Playing a new piece or a difficult passage in a piece causes me to tense up. It causes me to hold my breath which impedes my ability to play fluently and as naturally as possible.

One of the pieces I'm currently working on are the two Bourree's from the C Major Bach Cello suite. I'm very comfortable with the first Bourree and I'm gaining comfort on the second. I'm comfortable enough with the first that I am noticing my breathing. When I start to approach a passage that is trickier, if I consciously relax my shoulders and breathe, suddenly the tension releases and the tricky part isn't so hard any more. I can't reliable do this with all my pieces (yet), but it feels good to have gained enough experience and skill to start to think about more than just the next note, bowing, slur, extension, or dynamic. My capacity for awareness of my playing now extends beyond the mere mechanics of making music. That's pretty cool.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.