Today I have an oddball question for you: What if Bruce Lee played the violin, cello, or piano instead of doing martial arts? What would that look like? It’s a fun image, right? Here’s another question: What if you could play your instrument with the same quality of superb skill that Bruce Lee brought to martial arts? In today’s post I will share with you how the philosophy and principles that Bruce Lee taught can be applied to playing your instrument so that your playing will become powerful, effortless, and captivating. I call it the “Technique of no Technique”. Bruce Lee used phrases such as “The art of fighting without fighting” and “be like water, my friend.” I love this stuff and I can show you exactly how to take this from being just some cool idea to an actual reality in your music-making. So if you feel like you’re struggling with your body while playing music and you want to get to the skill level that Bruce Lee was at, then this post is for you.
What were Bruce Lee’s principles and why are they important for musicians?
I’ll give you a concrete example of the Technique of No Technique applied to music-making. This is what I teach to bowed-string instrument players: the Bow-Hold of No Bow-Hold.
I will teach you how to apply this directly to the problems and challenges you encounter when you make music.
Bruce Lee’s Principles in playing music
For as long as I can remember I’ve been attracted to Bruce Lee and what he taught. In particular I loved phrases such as “The art of fighting without fighting” and “doing without doing”... for whatever reason these phrases just stuck in my mind. Bruce Lee certainly spoke in this way and over the years of studying and teaching Alexander Technique I’ve had many experiences of exactly what this means, applied to music-making and daily life in general.
The principle I most want to get across to you today is that of the “Technique of No Technique.” In my mind this refers to how you could use your mind and body while playing music (it could be applied during any activity, but I’ll stick to its musical applications for now.) This experience is one of flow, presence, creativity, freedom, and effortlessness. It is also an absence of tension, confusion, struggle, and rigid ideas. It’s that last point - freedom from rigid ideas - which we will be looking at most closely today.
What I come across again and again, however, is people’s fixed ideas about doing a technique a certain way and no other. These rigidly held ideas pose several problems for musicians:
Fixed ideas lead to stereotyped, blindly habitual, or stilted movement patterns in your body and this leads quite directly to overuse injuries.
Fixed ideas aren’t susceptible to new situations. For example, when you come across a new piece of music or your body changes in some way the techniques you’ve relied upon heretofore may no longer serve you.
Fixed ideas of techniques lead to reduced emotional impact of your music, lending a shallow, trite, or robotic feel.
Fixed techniques take greater muscular effort and strain. This muscular effort and strain are a sign of rigid quality of movement that will most surely not help your music-making.
On the other hand, if you want to play more emotionally connected music, with greater effortlessness in your mind and body, and with a sense of presence, flow, and creativity, then you might do well to consider how to play music without any fixed techniques at all. This is probably the most important point I’ll make today: when you play music with a freer quality of movement you are using your body’s natural movements to play music, rather than movements imposed from the outside. When you allow your body’s natural movements to play your instrument you may notice the following:
Playing will become effortless and agile
You will experience less pain and strain
Your mind will be focused, clear, and expansive
Creativity and flow will guide your playing
Your stage presence and the emotional content of your playing will be powerful, awe-inspiring, and deeply moving.
Pain-Free Music, what I teach, is all about achieving this state for yourself, of making this state your everyday experience so that you can rise to the very heights of musicianship. It’s possible, and I can take you there.
I’ll give you a brief example before we move on. If you go back and watch Pain-Free Music Online Masterclass #2 “The #1 insight that freed me from pain” you’ll hear about how the violin technique I used growing up - pinning the violin between my chin and shoulder - was the cause of the tension and overuse injuries that almost ended my career. This is a technique that is not a natural movement for my body, was clearly imposed from the outside, and definitely not good for my body. What most helped me was unpinning my violin, freeing my neck and shoulder, and using my body’s natural fluid movements to play the violin. The transformation enormous! My pain went away and my playing became much more powerful, resonant, and connected.
In sum, a great deal of struggle and pain comes from rigid ideas about the techniques you use to play music and a state of effortless mastery can be achieved by using your body’s natural movements to be your technique, rather than techniques imposed by some idea from outside yourself.
The Bow-Hold of No Bow-Hold
Another very clear example of the Technique of No Technique is what I teach bowed string players - “The Bow-Hold of No Bow-Hold.” Try these suggestions for yourself at home!
Two violin techniques have to do with the bow-hold. One school of holding the bow is called the Russian bow-hold and the other is called the Franco-Belgian bow-hold. The Russian bow-hold looks like this, and the Franco-Belgian bow-hold looks like this. Often when these are taught, students learn that one or the other is the “right” way of doing it and the other way is “wrong” and should be avoided. Because these are often very rigidly taught - “this finger goes here, and this finger goes there, and don’t you move it away!” - students often end up with this rigid bow-hold and, as any bowed-instrument-player worth her salt knows, a rigid bow-hold kills resonance, makes for scratchy sounds, and has a long list of other problems.
Here’s where the Bow-Hold of No Bow-Hold comes in: what if there were a way of using your body’s natural movements to overcome this rigidity? Here’s an experiment we can do together. Click the link below.
In sum, the best, most agile bow-hold that creates the cleanest, most resonant sound is one that springs directly from the natural, uninterfered-with movements of your body. This is the Technique of No Technique and it is core lesson of what I teach, Pain-Free Music.
Applying the Technique of No Technique to Practicing
Here’s how you can apply the Technique of No Technique the next time you practice. These three steps are best understood within the context of all the Online Masterclasses I’ve done so far, so for a better understanding of what I’m suggesting go back and watch those before you apply this to your practicing.
Pick a passage that gives you trouble.
Notice what’s happening in your body while you play that passage.
Instead of “trying to get it right,” because that often makes us stiffen, try practicing from the point of view of what’s easiest and most natural for your body. Watch Pain-Free Music Online Masterclass #5 for a more detailed and step-by-step approach to this.
Allow yourself to question all of the techniques you’ve learned. You have my permission to be your own teacher! Think for yourself! Find out what’s actually best for your body.
If you’re interested in learning more or you want to schedule a free trial lesson with me, go to www.painfreemusic.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.