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The eyes have it!

February 12, 2010 at 3:09 AM


As global warming continues to destabilize global norms,  the coldest winter in living memory for this part of Japan continues unabated, in spite of the fact spring officially started a week or so back.   Even my dreadful moggie lurks under the futon with me at night and refuses to come out. Although,  after too much fermented soybean and yeast I do occasionally contribute my own burst of methane to the biosphere.  Once the ratio of breathable air becomes too low Po has no choice but to rush,  complaining bitterly, from under the blankets, at least for a minute or two.
We pick up bad habits really easily.  One session may be enough. I had found over the weeks that my practice of Basic Aikido body movements was not going well.   The head honcho finally put his finger on it when he observed that I was looking down slightly during each movement. The reason for this was simply the analytical nature of the style I practice: absolute precision of foot spacing and weight distribution is the goal during movement practice and I had got into the habit of visually checking my feet.  Bad Dobby!
Moving the eyes incorrectly is actually one of the fastest ways of destabilizing and discoordinating the body that we have.   I was reminded of this the other day while working with a colleague on some of his basic body movements.  He expressed an interest in this kind of concept so I asked him to make a simple experiment.  Walk the length of the room a few times. When turning lead with the eyes (as one should). If turning to the right lead with the left eye, if turning to the left , lead with the right eye. This is what natural athletes do automatically, it is part of their gift of super coordination.  I then asked him to repeat the experiment but if turning left , lead with the left eye. He actually almost stumbled and there was a palpable slowing down and air of discombobulation in the body as he turned. I was surprised how strong the contrast was for me . For him it was, I suspect an even bigger shock.
This is an issue that could be rather important for musicians. How often do we actually pay attention to what the eyes are doing?  Playing in orchestra or quartet may involve watching specific clues from specific players in different locations. If this involves some movement of the head and body are we leading with the opposite eye or the same side? How about playing a concerto and turning towards the conductor for a quick burst of eye contact in a difficult section?  Mmmm…
Try the walking experiment for yourself and see what comes out in the wash.
Back under the covers,

From Royce Faina
Posted on February 12, 2010 at 3:26 PM

The leadings that you mention, turning right lead with the left eye and vice-versa, is what is taught in shooting sporting clays & skeet.

In archery I was taught (I shoot right handed) aim down the shaft with the right eye while keeping the left on the target.  Essential when hunting using s bow without sights (Long bow, Magyard or Mongol bows).  Both eyes independent yet working together at the same time plus listening for any cues (when game hunting... did the animal just tell me audibly it's alert, etc.  Success is most often when the animal is unaware!  I have had deer, etc literaly jump over my arrow going down range because it was alerted that something was not right!)  Hard to do when the target is moving, never-the-less can be diciplined.

I essentialy use this when playing;  Really helps me alot!  I'm reading the music while keeping an eye on the director/conductor plus listening for cues.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 13, 2010 at 12:04 AM

Any waiter or waitress know this one: carry a hot cup of coffee on a saucer across a bustling dining room.  Watch the coffee and it spills.  Look elsewhere and it arrives perfectly.

From Phil Easley
Posted on February 13, 2010 at 5:46 PM

 Buri writes "an air of discombobulation in the body".  How could he know, from half a world away, without ever meeting me, exactly what I feel far too often when playing my violin?  

Buri once again triggers a stream of my Aikido class we have an exercise, a series of pivots and turns called "eight directions", or "four walls, four corners".  Here we fudge a bit on our rule of always moving from the center by recommending that we lead with our eyes...but we had not thought about which eye.  I can hardly wait until the opportunity to introduce the idea.  

An esteemed tennis coach once told me his game was revolutionized by another coach who finally taught him how to keep his eye on the ball.  He said: "Don't just try to keep your eye on the ball, but notice how the top half of the ball is always a much lighter shade than the bottom half, watch that line that separates the lighter top half from the darker bottom half."  An interesting paradox, how adding detail can somehow simplify...

I spent a fair amount of time making sure not to stare at my left hand while playing, trying to avoid what I thought might be a bad habit.  Then I discovered that watching my fingers dance around on the fingerboard could be good thing.  Now I think the bad habit is trying to follow rules that are too rigid.  I'll bet Buri is on to something: tension-free eyes that lead to a tension-free left hand, a tension-free bow hand, tension-free music.

Now, back to my violin, to try to de-discombobulate my body and mind.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on February 13, 2010 at 6:34 PM

Oh this is really fascinating, i'm not quite "visualising" what I need to do to adapt these principles into my practice but I have this eerie feeling that there is a lot here that could help me in my playing.  One quick question for people:  When you are practising - where exactly is your focus for the majority of the time?  I was doing some Bach today and somehow when I concentrated on the sheet music (but NOT the fingerings on the music, just the notes) - things seemed to be going much better technically, than when I was worrying about:  "shift to 2nd position on the Bflat and stuff like that.

Buri - why such strong feelings against your cat?   Does it do obnoxious or naughty things?  Sounds like a very tortuous love/hate relationship.  Poor kitty/poor Buri!! 

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