I’ve always loved music, and there are many reasons for that, but one of my favorites is that music has the power to connect the mind and spirit to the body. When you hear a piece of music that appeals to you, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to start moving to the beat. Even with classical music, it’s easy to feel your body’s movements becoming more fluid as you listen to a masterpiece like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. And then there’s dance music, which is intended to provide a soundtrack to people’s movement. Whether you’re break-dancing or doing the waltz, music that’s written for the body transports you to a place where you’re connected to yourself. It’s a beautiful thing, but it often goes overlooked, even though it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to feel truly alive.
The Body Connection: Teaching Music
I’ve taken several courses in piano pedagogy, even attending a class with Musikgarten visionary Dr. Lorna Heyge, where I learned how to use music to appeal to young children’s discovery of themselves through movement. It’s almost impossible to get a child interested in music if you tell him or her to simply sit still and listen to the notes. That doesn’t work, but facilitating dancing and moving to the beat will catch and hold a child’s attention. Music suddenly becomes the connection between mind and body, a novel idea for a child and one that more adults should incorporate into their lifestyles.
Using body movement to teach music has innumerable benefits, but it can be surprising to realize how profoundly it can affect a growing child’s life. Children require movement in order to grow in a healthy way, and with today’s sedentary lifestyles, that can be more of a challenge than you might think. Simply moving and dancing to music can improve a child’s development and growth as well as mood. As children get older, learning to improve their hand-eye coordination with music is another important benefit. Even more incredibly, neuroscience educator Dee Joy Coulter, Ed.D describes the combination of music and movement as a vital training process that can prepare children to “bounce back from a disturbing event” later in life. She states that humans are not born with resiliency – it’s a learned mental resource, and moving to music is one way to obtain it.
Even before I learned how to teach young children about music using movement, I was a firm believer in the connective power of music. Now, I love to see the smiles on children’s faces when I help teach a music and movement class, and I’ve even adapted the techniques for use in my own piano studio. For example, teaching note values without rhythmic movement is a hopeless (or slow at best) cause. I always employ clapping, stomping, and chanting when I’m teaching a young student how to read music, and I find that it’s much more effective than visual and oral instruction alone. The combination of music and movement is an untapped educational resource that has revolutionized my piano instruction techniques.
The Role of Body Awareness in Music Performance
I’m more of a teacher now than a performer, but I love to put on a little concert every once in a while. I do remember that when I was earning my piano performance degree, I performed at least once a week for my studio and about every other week for the whole music department. Then there were juries, which meant performing for the music faculty to earn a semester grade and the right to move up to the next level. There was certainly a lot of stress involved, especially for someone who was never comfortable with performance. However, after two years of struggling, I found a way to improve my focus and shut out the stress of the performance situation: yoga.
The professor who was in charge of my studio started requiring everyone to attend at least one yoga session after she discovered it one summer. I thought she was crazy and that it would be a waste of my time – she was eccentric, after all – but I found that her rants about the connection between music performance and body awareness weren’t so baseless. In fact, the process of actively slowing my breathing and relaxing my entire body before a performance became a ritual that helped me to overcome the stress of the situation. I even began to feel more connected to my body when I played, and I went from having faculty members describe my playing as “violent” to being complimented on my fluid movements. Thanks to body awareness, the piano is no longer under attack and I feel much more comfortable when I perform.
Music and movement are inseparable entities, and body awareness is just one benefit of that relationship. I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to spend time with music, my own body, and students who enjoy music and movement as much as I do.
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, and the future of online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.