July 13, 2013

With the Music

Moving while playing is a bit of a thorny issue. Many musicians have a tendency to move while we play. Part of the brain that processes music also controls physical movement so this is not at all surprising. The trouble occurs when the movement becomes distracting to the audience.
Now in Classical training, teachers are more likely to be strict about not turning your body into a metronome or standing on your toes when you’re playing high notes (though it is fun to hit those high notes on your toes, let me tell you!). But in folk music, tapping the foot is almost part of the music. There’s a big difference of opinion about whether or not keeping the beat with your body is acceptable. Folk music tends to have a strong steady beat that people can clap along with. Classical music may have a regular beat but it also may use complex rhythms that show off the performers ability to play against the beat. With this in mind, the different opinions about moving while playing makes a fair amount of sense. When musicians are playing against the beat, it is more impressive if they don’t show where the beat is with their foot or by swaying. When the audience is supposed to feel the beat as part of the music, showing that beat adds to the music.
I was never happy with the idea of holding rock still while playing. My teachers, thankfully, didn’t want to turn me into a statue but they did want me not to keep time in an obvious way. So I learned to be aware of when I was moving to the music and to make conscious decisions about how I was moving.
The more I play for live audiences, the more I’ve learned that “dancing” to the music adds to the show. And knowing when I’m moving is vital and lets me make sure it works with the music. I do tap my foot for some songs to make a point about how the piece is speeding up or slowing down or to add to the piece in some way (bells tied to an ankle are a standard trick to create your own percussion line). For other songs, I walk and move all over the stage to show some of how I am feeling the music, not to keep tempo. And for some songs, I hold still and let the music speak for itself. But I try to be aware of each and every choice I make.

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