Music Moves into High Gear 

By Deborah Knott
Queensland, AU
Several years ago I started using Brain Gym exercises in my teaching of the flute. It began in a small way; I called it a warm-up. I started by asking my students to have a drink of water immediately before they came to their lesson and then having them do some Cross Crawl* movements. I soon noticed that, in varying degrees, they all played much better. Their music had a stronger, richer sound. They also seemed much more amenable to doing what I suggested, whether it was to memorize a piece or to breathe in an easier way.

The students themselves didn’t always notice the changes, but their music continued to improve as they got better at the Cross Crawl and as I taught them different versions of it. One student’s improvement was spectacular. His windy, unfocused sound became much clearer, and he was able to play in the more difficult second register. His tonguing became less “thick” and labored, too. It all felt much easier to him.
I then decided to teach my students the full PACE* routine. The first time I did Hookups* with one student – telling him afterward that he might notice a difference in the way he felt – his face just beamed. The next week he told me he got rid of the long-trip-in-the-car tiredness he typically felt upon arrival, and that he now felt ready for the lesson. Most students noticed feeling different but couldn’t explain how. A few said they didn’t notice any change. But they all played better! Generally the changes were in terms of more rhythmic stability, better flow to their playing, and a more resonant, fluty sound. Two girls, who used to be ‘flibbertigibberty’ during their lessons, calmed down and began focusing much better on the flow of the lesson.

Now, along with using PACE to start the lesson, my students do the Cross Crawl to help with challenges in coordination along with the three hearing exercises (the Owl, the Elephant, and the Thinking Cap*) to improve hearing. These exercises seem to make a difference with a variety of musical challenges. I taught them to one student who was demonstrating difficulty finding notes in the second octave. No matter how hard she tried, notes in the lower octave would also sound – despite the fact that we had done all sorts of work on changing the jaw, mouth, and lip positions, and had practiced hard to use different air pressure for the two registers. After doing the three Brain Gym exercises, my student played her piece again, and it was almost completely in the second register! What had sounded abysmal just moments before was now clean, pure and in pitch. She looked at me with wide eyes and we both just laughed. She immediately played her piece again for sheer enjoyment.
These three exercises have also helped my students in learning to play nursery rhymes and folk songs by ear. After doing the Owl, the Elephant and the Thinking Cap as the learning menu in a balance, the students are more confident in finding the notes they seek. They better remember music that they figure out for themselves, and it takes them less time and effort to work through a song.
Addressing Elementary Musical Skills

Because most of my students are beginners, their biggest challenges involve learning fingering for the notes; changing fingerings from one note to the next, achieving a clean, light tonguing action, and coordinating these movements while squeezing the air from their lungs with the diaphragm and ribs (the intercostal muscles.) I teach them to master this element by having them isolate the problem from the piece of music they are studying. For changing from F sharp to D major, for example, I first ask them to play the transition in isolation a few times while listening to what is happening. Then they do the Cross Crawl while thinking about it. Next, my students experience the technique as a finger exercise on the flute, without blowing, and then practice it while blowing into the mouthpiece. Finally, they play the isolated element within the context of the music. There is always obvious improvement, followed by smiles and exclamations of triumph.
After a while, I began wondering why the element of rhythm wasn’t coming up for discussion. I realized that since I’d begun incorporating Brain Gym into my flute lessons, it was no longer an issue! The Cross Crawl had really helped. Now when students have difficulties with rhythm, it tends to be an isolated instance that they quickly work through rather than a continuing problem. Once students get the hang of the process, they start using Brain Gym at home during their practice sessions. Some are more comfortable if we focus on a particular technique for the coming week, while others seem to understand Brain Gym so intuitively that they apply it to many aspects of their playing without specific prompting from me.
So what does this add up to? Despite students’ initial skepticism about the strange exercises I put them through, they are experiencing more rewarding lessons, better flute playing, and all around good fun. The other day a student asked me, “Could you use this for tests too?” And studying?” How wonderful when children – and adults – realize they have the ability to apply Brain Gym to their own learning experiences!
Deborah Knott teaches flute to children and adults, and tutors throughout Queensland, AU. This article is from May 2000 Brain Gym Journal Vol. XIV No 1

* PACE is an acronym for a 4 part learning readiness activity that assists people in getting ready to do their best learning.
*Cross Crawl is a full body cross lateral Brain Gym activity which activates both hemispheres, assisting in balance, coordination and greater access to learning.
*Hookups is a Brain Gym activity which activates hemispheric integration, moving energy away from survival areas of the brain to the midbrain and the front, reducing stress and allowing for more reasoned thinking.



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