During an undergraduate lesson on Andy Bliss’ “Disc Skip,” I had a freshman student perform the piece as stiff as a rail. No movement. He stood there. It looked as though he was either scared of the piece, afraid to move due to embarrassment, or a product of a high school program producing stoic orchestral players and hot shot marching percussionists. Maybe it’s a combination of a couple reasons. I had the happy task of getting him out of his funk and into his groove.
Anders Astrand was here last week. He and I had a discussion on how to get students to loosen up and become artistic movers and performers. So, of course, I used some of his ideas as a foundation while adding my own thoughts to make a blended and effective sequence of groove-finding.
To begin with, I made sure the student knew what he looked like AND how his type of performance tends to be characterized throughout a professional performing community. I told him he’s at a critical juncture – he can either choose to maintain his performance style or he can choose to take his career to the next level and become a true artist. He chose to buck up.
Here’s a list of ideas and tips (somewhat in order – feel free to try mixing these up):
1) Put the mallets down. Start the little dance (left foot out, left foot in – right foot out, right foot in – REPEAT). This gets the feet moving while having the student singing his/her part, but no air drumming.
2) Air drum the part while doing the little dance.
3) Play the part while air drumming.
4) Always over-do the performance movements. Exaggeration will feel funny to the player, but will look accurate to the music and engaging to the audience.
5) Put sticks back in the hands and play the written part while dancing.
6) Perform what they hear, not what you see. Move to the implied meter, not the written meter! Yes, this can sometimes be the same. Sometimes the implied meter can be determined by the rhythm of the first note of the groupings included within a phrase. THIS is the length and groove that should be shown. The audience can’t see the music.
7) Isolate areas of the body and have them reflect the length of note, groove, meter, etc. Start with just moving the ankles. Knees. Hips. Chest. Shoulders. Arms. Neck. Top of the head. Now combine them is a variety of ways.
8) Experiment with standing up taller and looking bigger (spread feet, chin up, big motions) at loud moments. Try being smaller (feet together, hunch over, head down, small motions)
9) Move your body like you move your stick. Staccato strokes have a certain visual appeal. Find a few ways of using your body in a staccato way, matching your quick body motions to your quick stick motions.