Double bassist Nicholas Hart attended the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and contributed a series of thoughtful posts a few years back here on the blog. Here’s one of my favorite posts of his:
The Psychology of Being Musical
by Nick Hart
I came across an interesting article by Dr. Jay A. Seitz who is a professor of psychology at New School University and City University of New York. This article is based on the Dalcroze method and is titled “Dalcroze, the Body, Movement and Musicality.” The Dalcroze method is a fascinating pedagogical technique developed by Emile Jacques-Dalcroze and is based off of a simple principle:
“Rhythm is movement, movement is essentially physical, all movement requires space and time, physical experience forms musical consciousness, improvement of physical means results in clearness of perception, improvement of movements in time ensures the consciousness of musical rhythm, just as improvement of movements in space ensures consciousness of plastic rhythm”
Basically, Dalcroze argued that physical movement is the key component in musicality. Mr. Laszlo is known for two things, his advancements in the setup of the instrument, and movement while playing, or as he calls them gestures. Every movement we do when we play must have a purpose and, according to Dalcroze, movement creates our musicality.
“No physical movement has any expressive virtue in itself. Expression by gesture depends on a succession of movements and on a constant care for their harmonic, dynamic, and static rhythm. The static is the study of the law of balance proportion and the dynamic that of means of expression…Just as in music there are consonant and dissonant chords, so in mimic art we find consonant and dissonant gestures. ‘Consonant’ movements are produced by the perfect co-ordination between limbs, head, and torso, the fundamental agents of gesture. Exactly the same is the case when it is a question of harmonizing different motive elements of a crowd”
This statement by Dalcroze takes what Mr. Laszlo says one step further. Not only do the gestures create motion and energy to start phrases but they also are the major component to musicality – that musicality lies in our physical movements.
“The sensations afforded by the natural rhythms of our bodies strengthen our instinct for rhythm and create rhythmic consciousness. It is through this instinct and this consciousness, blended with aesthetic sense, that we experience complete artistic emotions”
Dalcroze brings up very important points. All the essential elements of musicality – dynamics, tempi, articulations – are created by body movements. On top of that, the way we move and the way we “act” while playing portrays an emotion to the listener, and creates a form of visual musicality. An popular analogy of movement forming musicality is a conductor. The conductor is responsible for having 100+ musicians play musically the same way at the same time. The body of the conductor, along with the left hand, is used to portray emotions and entrances, big movements portray a loud dynamics while small a soft dynamic, horizontal motions draw a more legato sound and bouncy motions draw a more staccato and playful sound. All these movements are just examples of what we as instrumentalists can do to be more musical.
Along with movement, and maybe even more important is breathing. A major criticism of the Dalcroze Method is that it has very little to no mention of breathing, and does not focus on breathing towards musicality. In many of my lessons, Mr. Laszlo always talks about how breathing makes a phrase. If we seek to have a singing tone and lyricism like a singer, then should we not breathe like a singer?
Read the complete post.