Discover more from Practicing Turned Upside Down - Vanessa Mulvey
Practicing Quality of Contact
A key to flexibility, expression and reliable technique
An overlooked element of practicing that has become an integral part in my practice and teaching is practicing quality of contact. Good quality of contact with the environment, one that is just right reveals beautiful sound flexibility, along with reliable technique that together elevates expression and confidence.
When considering the quality of contact, I often go for the quality of contact between hands and instruments. If you are not a musician, you can apply this idea to how you contact a pen, steering wheel, the handle on a bag, a weight, even a toothbrush.
These are two aspects of contact between the hands and another object, say an instrument to explore.
First, contact that has a compressive quality may reduce the volume in the area by displacing the tissue and causing shape changes. The tissue may even visibly change color.
The opposite is expansive contact which also changes the shape of the tissue by displacing it but does not reduce the volume.
To explore this, try this out…
Touch the pad of your pointer finger to your thumb with contact that is expansive.
Notice how the shape of the two surfaces changes in relation to each other at the points of contact.
Notice how you can clearly feel where the fingers touch each other. You may even notice the texture of the skin when moving the fingers lightly across each other.
Next transition to a compressive contact by actively pressing the fingers together.
Notice if the skin of your fingertips changes color. I notice the pink hue of my skin changes to a yellowish shade around the fingertips.
Open your awareness to include the arm. Do you feel tension and effort from the compression radiating up your arm?
Add your torso to your awareness, do you feel tension radiating into the torso? The source of the tension comes from too much effort in touching two relatively small fingers together.
You can investigate this further by identifying when just enough contact becomes too much and how tension radiates in your body.
The ideal contact is just enough for the purpose of contact. To close a key, to move a steering wheel, hold a weight without worrying about dropping it all you need is just enough or just right.
Imagine how the tension you experienced in the above exercise would affect your favorite activity such as playing music, painting, drawing, reading a book, running, or jumping. Can you imagine the limits you would experience in movement and the resulting discomfort that would influence everything from moving your fingers to breathing to your confidence?
In my practice, I apply contact practice in slow tone exercises at first. As I transpose phrases, I strive to allow my contact to stay “just right” when I make a mistake or hear an out-of-tune pitch. I take this practice into learning my rep, when I encounter a tricky passage I check in on the quality of contact. Experience has shown that as soon as I start to “try” harder my quality of contact becomes compressive.
Pursuing a more flexible tone or reliable technique is futile IMHO without considering the quality of contact that you have with the world around you.