What do we ever learn during our musical studies? Case study with a double bass player.
Some years ago, while I was still in Resonance teacher's training, I once gave a double bass lesson. The musician was a student just before finishing his degree, and he was interested in trying out Resonance Training. His name was Alexander.
I started the lesson like I do as usual: initially, I listened to him play a piece of his choice. In doing so, I compared his sound to his movements. I asked myself: Where is potential that he can unlock? How can the emotion get easier into his sound?
With Alexander, an interesting relation stood out to me between the centre of gravity of the instrument and the centre of gravity of his body.
Please allow me to go a bit afield and say something about the centre of gravity.
Resonance Training says: When a movement is done with ease and flow, it leads to an open, full, resonant sound.
A physical law says: To move a mass with the least effort, you take it from its centre of gravity.
This implies that ease in the movement emerges through movement from the centre of gravity.
Where is the centre of gravity in the human body and why is it useful for musical movement? Our body centre of gravity resides in the lower belly, in the centre of the pelvis, as it were. To walk leading from this area of the body is easier and takes less effort than, say, leading from the chest.
The same is true for segments in the body. For example, the centre of gravity of the arm resides in the area under the elbow (looking at it from the hand). There is a difference if you move your arm from your centre of the arm or from your hand. It feels different, it does different things to your muscles.
With Alexander, it struck me that as he was standing, it was inviting to put the centre of the bass in connection with his body centre. So that movements from the body centre would put the bass in movement at its centre.
That's what I suggested and we experimented for awhile.
I want to speak about a second topic of Resonance Training's basic elements to explain the further development of Alexander's lesson: balance movement.
A few months ago I spoke about the close relationship between listening and movement in the human ear. This, of course, plays into our hands as musicians. It's important for me to remark that the sense of balance, which is located in the inner ear, leads us to carry out spontaneous movements which can't be repeated.
The classical example of slipping on a banana peel: to avoid falling over, we perform involuntary movements - muscle contractions which are induced by our sense of balance in a matter of milliseconds - with the purpose of avoiding the fall.
This is a human rescue system, entailing movements that are unique and unrepeatable, occurring in the moment.
Can you see the benefit of this for us musicians…?
When we move in a balanced way as performers, we're moving in a way that is created in the moment - even though many movements, especially the fine-motor movements, are very rehearsed. However, in leaving the gross-motor movements up to the balance, the spontaneous movements arise by themselves, supporting the fine-motor movements, and, ultimately, the sound.
My point at Alexander's lesson was to invite him to find a kind of pendulum or equilibrium with the bass, in which the fine-motor skills would integrate themselves.
But somehow it wasn't really happening - maybe it was because I couldn't yet explain clearly. Also, Alexander couldn't see the point in moving his bass from a new place. In any case, awhile went past and none of us was really happy.
And then I suggested to Alexander to just forget about everything and try something different. I invited him to play his piece as if he was improvising it.
He began to play and let one note follow the other, without intention, really discovering. And I really got the impression after awhile that he was discovering his piece as he was playing it. And suddenly, I noticed that something changed in his facial expression, that he was listening in a different way. And then, I knew, he'd just found something. He started moving in balance out of himself, and his sound had something very warm in it. He played like this for awhile.
When he was finished, he said: "This is how I was playing when I was 16 years old."
And he was saying this in a way that I got the feeling, he had connected to a place, a feeling for his playing connected to this time 10 years ago.
Most people that I know affirm that they would never, ever in any case, live through the teenage years again. Me included.
However, this time in our lives harbours something very valuable that was, back then, still tender. Tender in the sense that maybe we were more vulnerable than today. Maybe we did things from the inside, maybe we allowed ourselves to dream more. These are essential qualities to show oneself vulnerable onstage.
Just because of this intervention, the lesson felt for us like a success. Alexander had taken something which he could research with. It didn't matter where his bass touched his body. And in this way, we said goodbye.
Months later we met again. He told me that he'd been delving on the subject of the gravity centre and had actually adopted my suggestion to move the bass from its centre. A few weeks after our lesson, he had played at an audition and won it. For him, it was because of this change.
Thereby I had learned something important. No matter what happens during the lesson, the interesting part takes place after the lesson, when the musician experiments with the topics discussed.
There is great value in not trying to achieve immediate results during a lesson. Instead, to give impulses while leaving space for the development to unfold.