My dad (from whom I learned a great deal about music) used to say, “If it don’t make my head move, it ain’t happenin’.” A succinct way to say that music has to happen in the body.
I believe this to be true of all great music, and all great musicians. I have never witnessed a great performance where the performer was stiff. Nor have I ever heard great music that I didn’t also feel in my body.
For students of music, development of body knowledge is as important a step in mastery of music and your instrument as any other.
Body knowledge in developing skills on an instrument is necessary because you are developing a physical relationship with the instrument. The goal is for the instrument to become an extension of your body. At this point, the performance becomes a dance. Specific kinesthetic awareness of posture and the position of your body in relationship to the instrument are critical.
Body knowledge in developing an understanding of music is necessary because all of the possibilities available in music have to first be present in your body (see Rhythm As Motion). Important to virtually all musicians is an awareness of time in the body (it is a common misconception that timekeeping in music is the responsibility of the drummer; all musicians must know what time it is). Fundamental to this is knowing where the pulse is – physically feeling it in your body. As percussionists, developing a precise awareness of each moment of time in your extremities should eventually move to your core, where each possible stroke is available to your body without thought. In this way, your body becomes immersed in the sound, and there are no impediments between inspiration and manifest sound.
In addition to feeling time in your body, percussionists must know where the sounds are in the instrument and how to articulate them in whatever dynamic range the instrument has. This usually require hundreds of hours of practice (see “Taking up the Practice… and practicing”) where the student develops a refined link between the motions and positions of the body and the ability to identify subtle ways in which the sound of the stroke may vary. The point of this practice is to develop muscle memory so that in addition to the body knowing where the time is, the body also knows where the sounds are without having to think about it. This leaves the mind free to listen to the source of inspiration and expression.
For many beginning percussion students, this process can be daunting. Postural vocabulary in western culture can often create body armor that limits the types of movement that are most conducive to physical musicality. It becomes necessary to first unlearn years or decades of limitations before one can allow the body to flow in music. Ego issues can further cause more inhibitions (“Do I look silly when I move like this?” – Answer: Perhaps – but if the music is happenin’, who cares?) This is one of the many places where musical development can often intersect with personal development, becoming a journey of opening and evolution as your mind and body are trained to become instruments of inspiration.