tenet (ten' it), noun: a principle, doctrine, or belief held as truth

Welcome to my blog! Here I will share some of my thoughts on horn playing and teaching, which I think about a lot, and maybe some other things, too. Since my job (which thankfully, allows me to do a lot of playing and teaching) keeps me very busy, as does my wonderful family, I may not write frequently. My goal will be quality, not quantity!

Please share your comments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What is Your Swing Thought?

OK, here comes another one about golf and horn playing!  

Both pursuits involve complex physical and mental processes.  But, in both cases, the complexity can really get in the way of what you're trying to do, whether you're 90 yards out, trying to land the ball 10 feet past the hole and have it spin back to within 5, or if you're staring at 2 measures of rest followed by a high F entrance marked "Solo," as in the opening of Bruckner's 4th Symphony.  
If the golfer gets bogged down by all the little things that he needs to get right--keep your head still, set the ball back in your stance, choke down on the club, get a good shoulder turn (but not too much!), release your wrists through the ball, follow through, etc--then he's going to find it very difficult to swing the club with the free, fluid motion that's required.  Since there are about a million little things the golfer could try to think about as he swings the club--but doing so would leave him utterly paralyzed--golfers have what they call a "swing thought."  This is a single word or short phrase which serves as a kind of mantra, that they can focus on, thereby clearing their mind of all the other stuff.  This might be "stay on plane," "release the clubhead," "easy," or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, "be the ball."

I really like this idea of a swing thought, and I apply it in my horn playing and teaching.

Why?  Because having a cluttered mind is a hindrance to a good performance.  You need to be relaxed mentally, and as relaxed as possible physically, for optimum performance.  I firmly believe that a "relaxed" performer will put the audience at ease, and enable them to enjoy the performance more.  Besides the benefit to the audience's attitude, the performance will actually be better, if the performer has a clear mind and relaxed body.  By "relaxed," I don't mean you're not nervous, or under pressure.  Perhaps a better description would be "in command."  It certainly makes the audience uncomfortable when the performer is obviously struggling with the physical demands of the instrument.
Keep in mind, there are no magic words (except "please," like your parents taught you).  No "abra-cadabra," or "Kopprasch-cadabra."  The swing thought needs to be a sort of trigger so that, if you get that right, most other things will take care of themselves.  Those other things will only take care of themselves if you've honed those skills through hours of diligent practice.
(As I'm writing this right now, I'm keeping one eye on the TV as Tiger Woods plays his first tournament in 9 months after knee surgery.  He, of course, is playing well.  Wouldn't you love to know what goes on in his head as he makes some of those shots?)

So, how about a concrete example of a swing thought for horn playing?  One of my favorites applies to the scenario of a soft entrance in the mid-high to upper register.  In this situation, the most common pitfall is trying to sneak in, and then the anemic squeak that comes out (usually late, and preceded by some airy fuzz) is a result of not having the airspeed fast enough at the outset of the note.  So, the swing thought that gets me through is the idea of launching a paper airplane.  Your fingers grip the plane lightly but securely.  Your arm moves forward swiftly, yet gently.  At just the right moment, your wrist articulates the release of the plane, and it sets sail.  If your arm hesitates, or moves too slowly, or you let go too late, the plane dives for the floor.  I just have to release the note like I release the airplane, and it will soar gracefully.
More often than not, my swing thought is really just a feeling, with no words attached.  A feeling that can't be put into words, or doesn't need to be--or shouldn't be.  These feelings come from many hours of practicing certain passages or techniques.  These kinds of swing thoughts allow for the most free mind during performance.  Ideally, what's going through my mind while I'm playing is music, not words, or clever analogies.  I can focus my mind completely on the MUSIC, and trust my body to turn those thoughts into sound through the horn.  Now, that's ideally.  In reality, I usually need a little help in certain passages, in the form of words, reminders.
So I think I have an idea what goes through Tiger's head as he swings the club.  It's most likely just a vision of exactly how the ball should fly, or how that swing should feel.

Now we need our own name for a swing thought.  Play thought?  Sound thought?  Blow thought?  Hmmm.  Any ideas?


1 comment:

  1. Outstanding article, Dr. Bennett. Certainly material for the next issue of Horn Call. Please consider publishing it there so it can reach an even broader audience. Maybe The Tiger would even like a copy if you know his address.