Developing an Awareness of Core Balance in Music Performance
Koga, Midori, Nogami, Jun, American Music Teacher
My family gave me a Nintendo Wii game console and the Wii Fit exercise program and balance board (BB) for Christmas. The Wii Fit program offers a number of different exercise games, designed to help the player become more physically and mentally fit. I'm not a huge fan of computer games, but I was quite taken with the way that the Wii console encouraged me to become more physically active. While I didn't enjoy the part where "it" measured my weight, took me through some balance, mental agility and quick reflex tests, then would flash up on its screen in large numbers, my "Wii Fit Age" that was considerably older than my chronological age, I did appreciate the variety of the exercises and games, particularly those that help me become more aware of my "core," and my sense of balance.
My favorite games were the "Yoga" exercises (apologies to true Yoga practitioners (1)), for which the Wii Fit BB measured my body's point of balance and my ability (or lack thereof) to remain centered. During the breathing exercise, a large circle appeared on the TV screen representing the central area of the body, and a red moving dot indicated my point of balance while I was standing on the BB. I was quite shocked initially when I found the task of staying balanced while following the deep breathing directions of the "yoga instructor," to be extremely difficult. I felt wobbly, and indeed the red dot moved erratically in and out of the large circle. However, after a few weeks of working with these exercises, I found that my awareness of balance became stronger and
more stable, and I was even able to perform some of the more complex yoga stances while feeling centered and calm.
I am a pianist and teacher, and around the time that I was starting to feel more confident with the Wii yoga exercises, I also became more aware of my "core" and my center of balance while seated at the piano. I found that when I began each practice session with this focus on my core, it was so much more natural for me to release unnecessary tension in my neck, shoulders and arms. My entire body, all the way from my feet and legs, through my torso, and along my arms to the tips of my fingers, felt much more like one cohesive and flee flowing unit. I no longer had to continually send out independent messages to the various parts of my body to "relax shoulders," "release neck," "flee arms," "support from the torso" and so on, because the one directive to remain balanced in the core seemed to take care of all of the other issues. It was almost as if, by stabilizing my core, I was able to simply hang the other parts of my body on the framework of my center of balance, and then I didn't have to work as hard in the individual units. Not only did it feel great to be balanced in this way while playing the piano, I could immediately hear and feel the difference in the quality of my tone, in the control of dynamic shading, in my overall sense of rhythmic "swing," and in my ability to sustain longer and more "floating" phrases. In technically challenging f and ff chord passages, I felt there was so much more momentum being carried through my entire body that with very little effort I was able to create a more full, focused and natural sound. It was quite a euphoric time in my playing development, as I have always struggled with technique and have erred on the side of trying too hard in many aspects of musicianship. By relying upon my sense of core balance, I found I was able to focus my efforts on listening to and feeling the music!
Now I was curious.... Since the Wii BB had developed my awareness of core balance, which in turn had helped my playing, could it also help my students? I decided to work initially with the imagery of the "Wii dot" with nay students, and tell the story of my Wii adventure in situations where I thought that this sense of balance might help. One of my students was working on the theme of the final movement, Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung, of the Beethoven Sonata Op. …