Think back to your last performance. What was your intention for the performance? My intentions used to be externally focused on playing well, or hoping to receive the approval of my audience. I admit, I worried about, “getting it right.”
The pursuit of “getting it right” was undefinable, endless and stress inducing. Happily, there is a better way to approach playing that is empowering. Play with Intention! By formulating intentions that ground your playing in the process of music-making you can respond to the unexpected and execute passages as planned. I base my intentions on the needs of the music, in other words, how I create the colors, articulations and phrases. Each of these elements emanate from the physical movements I use to play, so my intentions are movement focused. Here are two examples of how I craft intentions for my music …
In a technical piece, I might find that I’m not blowing enough air. In this case, my intention might be, “I’m going to enjoy the movement of my ribs as I play this.” This intention encourages me to be aware of rib movement, which is one way I can monitor the movement of air. An appropriate amount of air is the key to coordination.
In a piece filled with lyrical lines, my tendency might be to overwork in my neck and upper arms, which produces diminishing returns. The intention, “ I’m going to enjoy the contact of my feet with a ground as I play this.” is a great response. A good relationship with the ground enables the whole body to contribute to the choreography of movement needed for playing. This intention is one way to distribute the effort for lyrical playing throughout the body for smooth legatos, subtle nuance and a wide variety of tone colors.
I begin experimenting with intentions early in my learning process, figuring out what I need to realize my musical ideas. I write down my intentions on small Post-its notes and place them at the beginning of each movement. Before I play, I say the intention to myself. This is my way of organizing around the intention. As I play, if I find I am working too hard or become distracted by what has happened or what’s coming, I simply recite the intention to myself to return to the process of creating the music.
As you prepare for lessons & performances, create an intention for the music. Intention might just be the key to realizing your musical ideas. You can even practice employing intention away from your instrument in stressful situations. If you have to face someone that seems to overpower you, pick an intention for your encounter, such as, “enjoying the contact with your ground.” This application is a powerful to learn about the use of intention that will influence your response to playing!
Special thanks to Amy Likar, an inspiring colleague who introduced me to the concept of playing with intention. It took some time to understand what she really meant – but the pursuit was worth it! Enjoy the process!