Sunday, January 17, 2016

Warm Up Essentials: Armpit Spacers and Earplugs


A few weeks ago while warming up for my first concert with the Cinematic Symphony (STAR WARS: The Music Awakens!), I posted a photo of my warm-up essentials, Armpit Spacers and Ear Plugs.


A few people asked what the arm spacers are for, so I recently followed up with a quick demonstration and explanation:

"Skeleton's first video is an armpit spacer explanation by request! Placing pool noodles or smaller foam cylinders under the arms while playing serves as a reminder of the space available between the arms and the ribs. Notice how much space exists beneath his upper arm and notice the honey comb shape of the ribs! I certainly have a habit of clamping my arms down over the ribs and compromising the width across the collar bones while playing. Encouraging both space for the ribs to move naturally while breathing, and freeing the arm structure can make a world of difference in breathing and resonance. The spacers serve as a reminder and resting place for the arms. These were provided to me by Andover Educator Andree Martin, and are made of pipe insulation found at Home Depot or Lowes."

In the warm-up-before-the-warm-up, or the pre-opening-the-case-warm-up, I typically take time to do several yoga poses including child's pose or wide-leg child's pose to simply focus on breathing while letting go. I stay for several minutes and take the time to make myself aware of how it feels to breathe. Is it tight in certain spots when I reach the peak of inhalation? Do I flow between inhalation and exhalation without adding extra tension or effort? How do the muscles of my arms and legs react to the various stages of breathing?

I take a few moments to find balancing in standing, translating the ease of breath from child's pose into an upright position closer to playing. At this point, I will add armpit spacers to enhance the experience of the arm structure moving over the ribs while breathing, and lightly swing side to side to allow the arms to move freely with the help of the spacers. When I finally pick up the flute for my first notes, my mindset is focused and I am consciously encouraging release.

If I were to simply put my flute together and charge full-speed-ahead through Taffanel-Gaubert scales, there's a greater chance of feeling scattered and frustrated with throat tension and a stifled tone, which only increases nervousness. Taking time to focus and release before taking the flute out of the case puts me in the right mindset to focus and achieve ease and resonance right off the bat. When my first notes feel effortless, my pre-concert confidence gets a boost.

On this particular day, I put in earplugs for my first notes to continue to mindset of feeling versus hearing. Professor Eva Amsler introduced this idea to me at FSU, and I have learned so much about myself and practicing in the process. The idea of becoming process-oriented versus results-oriented provides an opportunity to fine-tune without judging the results. My first go-to warm-up of the day with earplugs is Robert Dick's first singing and playing exercise from Tone Development Through Extended Techniques

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