Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday!
My husband and I are children of the 90s. Most of the music on our respective iPods originates from circa 1991-2001 and our movie collection is filled with feel good, cheesy 90s movies such as Forrest Gump, Clueless, Airheads, Titanic, and Hook. Recently, in good 90s kid fashion, my husband purchased a vintage style Nintendo preloaded with many of our favorite childhood games (Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Bubble Bobble, etc). This little box has become one of our newest obsessions, providing us with nostalgic games we have loved to death and many that we never had an opportunity to play in the days of yesteryear. My game of choice at the moment is the Adventures of Link (I am stuck on Death Mountain, so if any of you reading this have any tips to help me pass this level, please share below). A funny thing happened, however, the other day when I ended my game of Link and began practicing my flute. After a few warm-up exercises and scales, I launched into my practice of Dutilleux’s Sonatine for Flute and Piano. Fast-moving technical passages that were only so-so in past practice sessions now flew through my fingers with minimal effort and, by some wonderful Harry Potter-type magic, were graceful and even. How could this be? I had not isolated these passages with slow practice or chunked the groupings into smaller bits… And then it dawned on me. Hand-Eye Coordination. When we are young, adults yammer on and on about the importance of developing “hand-eye coordination” (not that we know or care what that means at the time) but as adults, we often see just how crucial a role that hand-eye coordination plays in the functioning of our daily lives. We just do not practice these skills as much as we did when we were kids.
For many musicians, particularly instrumentalists, hand-eye coordination is the foundation of our technique. We are the masters of hand-eye coordination! But, even the best of the best can always be better, and when our craft is based heavily on a single skill, doing what we can to improve our foundation is vital. My technique had improved by playing Nintendo because I was essentially practicing hand-eye coordination away from my instrument. Fortunately, playing video games is not the only way to work on this skill set. Today’s blog is devoted to the some of the activities that we can do away from our flutes to strengthen our technical ability by improving hand-eye coordination skills. With summer just around the corner, it is a good time to get outside and enjoy some of the more sportier suggestions below, or simply enjoy some time under the shade with a coloring book. And, yes, by doing so you will be indirectly improving your flute playing outside of the practice room.
Video Games. I am starting with this one due to my personal experience with our Nintendo. It is true – playing video games improves your hand-eye coordination for obvious reasons. You are literally controlling the game with the buttons on the controller. That sounds a bit familiar……sort of like controlling the variety and types of notes you create with the buttons on an instrument…. One caveat here is that game systems such as Wii or others that are based more on creating larger movements with your body rather than buttons on the controller may not strengthen hand-eye coordinator as well as traditional button controllers. Don’t have a Nintendo? No problem! There are online emulators of classic Nintendo games that use keyboard buttons in place of typical controllers (I spent Christmas 2008 playing Zelda on such a platform). One such emulator can be found at http://emulator.online/nes/ . Go ahead, pull up a seat next to your weird nephew or nerdy little brother (or husband) and enjoy a Saturday afternoon playing Mario. You will still be improving your flute playing without even having to take your flute out of its case.
Ball vs. Wall Exercise. Want to get away from your couch? It’s a beautiful day! Why not? In this exercise, you will need a basketball and a wall (outside, away from valuable furniture, appliances, and instruments). From about 6-8 feet away, throw the basketball against the wall with your dominant hand and, without catching it, push the ball back with the fingertips of the same hand. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat. When you are ready, repeat the process with your non-dominant hand. Whoa. *head explodes* For the final challenge, step in closer to the wall, shortening your available reaction time. This is a great exercise to improve hand-eye coordination. Just be extra careful to not hit the ball too hard with your fingers. You do still need your fingers to play the flute….
Make friends with the Speed Bag at the Gym. Like musicians, boxers have exceptional hand-eye coordinator due to many hours spent practicing on these terrifying bags at the gym (and also because their craft, like ours, is based on quick hand-eye reflexes). I know what you are thinking – I too run screaming in the other direction when I see these. I am a klutz and have nightmares of going to the ER after an inevitable bag to the face, but what would the world be like if we didn’t face our fears, amiright? Start slowly and wear proper boxing gloves with lots of padding to protect your fingers. You may even want to consult a trainer to guide you on proper, and safe, stance and technique. Added bonus – Boxing, like performing, requires excellent posture. Not only are you strengthening hand-eye coordination by using the speed bag, but you are also practicing maintaining a balanced stance that can be translated to your flute playing.
Play catch. My husband is going to read this blog and immediately want to go to the park. Remember the good, old, days when you played catch with your dad in the back yard? Did you know that by doing so, you were actually improving your hand-eye coordination and developing important skills that you would use later in life? Like the ball vs. wall exercise, simply playing catch trains your eyes to anticipate the ball and quickly react (much like when you read a score and react to the notes on the page). Recruit your family and go play a game of catch! Everyone will have fun and you will further develop skills to strengthen your flute playing at the same time.
Enjoy a game of Tennis, Badminton, Ping-Pong, or Golf. I think Donald Trump might want to take some flute lessons because with the amount of golf that he plays, he probably has a well-developed sense of hand-eye coordination and may be very good at executing difficult passages on the flute. Like playing catch, these games train your eyes to react to a ball or birdie, but unlike catch, each sport includes an additional stimulus such as a racket or club, making reactions a bit more challenging. Dealing with this stimulus is very similar to dealing with a musical instrument. Although our eyes know what to do, there is still a physical obstacle that we must negotiate with to achieve our goals.
Juggling. If you think about it, juggling is sort of a fancy way of playing catch by yourself. Juggling is a great way to practice hand-eye coordination as you can control how simple or complex to make your routines and you can essentially practice anywhere. Like other sports, you are training your hands to react to a ball (or bowling pin, or flaming torch – please do not juggle flaming torches around your instrument!). Entertain your family and friends at parties! You will not only be the most popular person at most gatherings but you will also be indirectly improving your flute playing skills. When Grandma blows out the candles, you will be able to easily improvise impressive cadenzas on the theme to “Happy Birthday” (this juggler has done lost their mind….).
Coloring. Pick up that fancy Adult Coloring Book that you saw at that cute mom and pop bookstore downtown, invest in colored pencils or borrow your child’s box of 64 Crayolas, kick your feet up, and color like it’s 1984. Yes – You are improving your hand-eye coordination with every crayon stroke. This is also a great break-time activity during your typical practice sessions. Next time you head to the practice room, bring your crayons and your coloring book. Even on your break, you will be improving your flute playing technique.
Puzzles. This is another great family activity that improves hand-eye coordination! Break out a puzzle and challenge your brain to find the right pieces to place in the right parts of the picture. For a wonderful added challenge, bring home one of those scary 3D puzzles. Who knew that doing something fun away from your flute would actually help you strengthen the very foundation of your technique? It isn’t all scales, after all!
Now it’s your turn. What activities do you practice to strengthen your hand-eye coordination skills? How does your playing improve after participating in these activities? How often do you practice hand-eye coordination skills? Please comment below!