Body Awareness and Attention Direction

Playing the violin is a beautiful interplay between you and your instrument. To create beautiful music, you must also create harmony within your own body. In this article, we explore techniques that not only foster body awareness but also empower you to direct your attention purposefully during high-stakes moments like performances.

The Bodyscan

One powerful technique for cultivating body awareness is the bodyscan. This exercise entails consciously scanning your body for tension. The beauty lies in the fact that merely directing your attention to a specific body part can initiate the release of tension. By shifting your focus through different areas of your body, you liberate tension, making playing feel more comfortable and enjoyable. Begin by directing your attention to your feet and slowly progress up through your body. Pay attention to your ankles, knees, back, neck, and even your thumbs – these areas often harbor tension in violinists. Practice this exercise during your practice sessions and incorporate it into daily life, whether sitting on a train or cooking, for example.

The Posture-Scan

A slightly different exercise to the bodyscan is what I call the posture-scan. This involves directing your attention to body parts crucial for maintaining good posture. Check:

  • Feet: Are they about hip-width apart? Is the weight of my body evenly distributed over the soles of my feet (not too much to the front/back)?
  • Ankles: Are they free?
  • Knees: Are they unlocked?
  • Hips: Are they naturally positioned above your feet?
  • Stomach/Belly: Can you relax this area more?
  • Shoulders/Upper Arms: Are your shoulders relaxed and down? Can your biceps relax more?
  • Neck: Does it feel soft?
  • Jaw: Can it relax 10% further?
  • Head: Is your (heavy) head balanced on top of your neck/spine?
  • Eyes: Do you have a focused or relaxed gaze?

This posture-scan takes only a few seconds, when practiced regularly.

Attention Direction: An Additional Exercise

During high-pressure moments like concerts, we often become hyper-aware of how our body feels. A shift we normally play with ease can all of a sudden feel like an alien movement. This heightened sensitivity can lead to extra tension, triggering distracting thoughts and disconnecting us from our musical ideas. Our movements can become stiff or jerky even. Paradoxically, practicing body awareness can counter this phenomenon. When you’re adept at scanning your body quickly and releasing tension, you gain greater control over your attention.

Additionally to practicing the bodyscan and posture-scan I recommend practicing another attention directing exercise. While playing a phrase, move your attention back and forth from inside your body to outside your body. That’s right, you can choose where to direct your focus, whether it’s inside your body (interoception, like relaxing your jaw) or outside (exteroception, like shaping a musical phrase or imagining your ideal sound at the end of a note). This requires you to have a clear idea of what you want that phrase to sound like to begin with. Imagine the most beautiful shape of the phrase, the sound quality and character. Practicing these attention directing exercises in the practice room daily will be beneficial on stage, as well.

Personalized Body Awareness

Every violinist is unique, and so is their body. What’s most important is discovering where tension tends to accumulate in your own body. Through regular practice of the three exercises above, you’ll become better at releasing tension and directing your attention easily from inside your body to your interpretation of the music. This heightened awareness will not only enhance your playing but also your overall well-being.

Incorporate body awareness and attention direction into your daily practice routine, and you’ll find that playing the violin becomes a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Your music will flow more effortlessly, and you’ll unlock a new level of expressiveness. So, let’s make body awareness an integral part of your musical experience, creating harmony within and around you.