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I've practiced martial arts for over a decade.  I've blogged about this concept before but for those that haven't read those posts: I strongly feel that martial art and music practice pair well together.  There are a lot of crossover skills between the two.  You can read more about that here.

Something that I've really come to appreciate while practicing Tai Chi is the idea of fluidity.  With music it is often all too easy to give yourself the lofty goal of "sounding like the recording."  We inaccurately assume that so long as we figure out the notes and play it as fast as the recording it will sound "as good" as what we heard.  Unfortunately, this usually just leads to us sounding sloppy.  Playing something quickly is not the same thing as playing something fluidly.

The nice thing about Tai Chi is that there's less temptation to give yourself such lofty goals.  There's no "recording" that we are trying to imitate.  You can either hold your leg up or you can't.  Tai Chi also puts an emphasis on slowness.  Unlike almost every other sport where there is a time limit, Tai Chi has a time minimum.  In other words, a form should take at least a certain amount of time or you've done the form too quickly.

Because these physical forms require transitioning from one difficult pose to the next, much of your Tai Chi practice consists of examining every little position your body must be in in order to physically achieve the next pose.  "When my hand is extended like this, my leg needs to be at this point in order to be balanced enough to extend my leg into the next kick."  In other words it's not just point A to point B.  It's more like: A a1 a2 a3 B.

This has trickled over into my instrument playing and it's something I am often exploring with students.  For example, a student may notice that she crunched the note when she got to the lower part of the bow.  But in order to fix that crunch she must first examine what happened during other other parts of the bow stroke.  In order to smoothly transition into the "B" we must look at what the bow was doing at points a1-3.

So playing something "fluidly" does not mean being able to play quickly.  It means playing with coordination.  A truly fluid bow stroke is one where the body, arm and bow are working together as a coordinated whole.  Every muscle movement is something that contributes to the sound.


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