Well, muscles are fine really (necessary, even). I just seem to do too much with mine so that they get in the way.
I have been having some lessons with Alexis Kenny (principal flute of QSO) on repertoire I am preparing for the first round of the Australian Flute Festival competition. The main gist of all my lessons with her has been “less is more” – as in, use as little tension as possible for greatly improved sound and (counter-intuitively) control. The results are amazing! In my lessons, suddenly I can feel whole groups of muscles switching off, freeing up the space to use the muscles that I actually need. I’m yet to emulate this in my home practice…
This is in keeping with some other work I have been doing to address problems of long-term tension build up, particularly in my neck and upper back, leading to terrific pain and my right shoulder seizing up in early May. I’ve found a great masseuse who happens to practice just around the corner from my house, and who specialises in musicians’ health. In addition I’m renewing my commitment to yoga. But while these things are helping, it would seem that I actually have to take further action to address my addiction to bodily tension in my daily life, and especially when playing the flute.
It is the curse of flute players (and many other instrumentalists) that the body develops muscles and posture asymmetrically – in particular there is a tendency for the right shoulder to roll in and that shoulder blade to move up, along with the problems that go with having your head turned to the left for such long periods. My neck muscles had locked up so bad they were basically like rocks, and I had one particularly calcified muscle behind that right shoulder blade. Fun times!
But when I’m playing or otherwise breathing (in yoga especially), I tend to ignore the pain problems and instead struggle to release muscles further down, around my ribs and below my sternum. Sometimes I feel like there’s a great big band around my sides. It’s one of the reasons I look at girls playing flute in tight high waisted skirts and think ‘there’s no way you’re supporting your air correctly’. I need freedom and expansion through my ribs and lift and support from my lower abdominals and mula bandha.