Have you ever practiced your instrument outdoors? What is your experience when you practice outside? How is different for you from practicing indoors? Do you enjoy it? If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it – this is one of my very favorite activities! See below for TIPS to make the most of your outdoor musical experience.
Every summer, as a Swiss-American married to a Spanish-American, I am fortunate to spend more than a month in Europe, with most of that time spent on the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea. The season’s weather here is warm, sunny, and very pleasant almost 100% of the time, often with a gentle sea breeze taking the sting off the hot sun.
One of my favorite activities here is playing my violin outdoors. In fact, I almost never practice inside here because it feels dark and stuffy indoors compared to the bright and beautiful open countryside around our house. My favorite practice area is protected by the dappled shade of an olive tree, and the ground beneath it is strewn with thin, dry leaves. The breeze usually keeps the flies from being too annoying, and standing on a straw mat keeps most of the ants away from my feet. Bees are only rarely a problem, thankfully!
THREE THINGS I LOVE THE MOST about practicing outside:
- I have a living and nonjudgmental audience to share my music with all the time: trees, plants, birds, insects, lizards… very occasionally neighbors’ dogs, mice, or rats (none this year, thankfully…I find these audience members a bit harder to appreciate!). Oh, and how could I forget our human neighbors who may or may not be listening? One year, they actually surprised me by clapping from across the woods when I was done. And sometimes people drive by and stop to watch. Sometimes just the idea that somebody might be listening helps motivate me to practice better, but knowing that they aren’t musicians (and really aren’t listening carefully) takes away any temptation to perfectionism. I just enjoy creating something beautiful, both for myself and for them. It’s also a pleasure to fit my music’s beauty into the beauty of the nature surrounding me.
SPECIAL TIP: Do you have worries about bothering your neighbors? You might be surprised: people almost always love it when a person practices an instrument outside. Ok, so maybe not a drum-set or a trumpet as much as a voice, guitar, or violin…but there are lots of ways to practice that won’t disturb people with a high-volume instrument, such as mental practice or using a mute (only in extreme cases!) – so PLEASE drop this excuse and get creative! To help reassure you: all my life, whenever I’ve practiced outside (yes, even in the USA in the backyard as a teenager), I have only gotten positive responses from people who have commented. So I don’t worry about bothering people beyond being respectful of the time of day (for instance, I’m not going to start practicing at 8am or earlier; nor after 9pm or so). But if you still have qualms about the “noise”, just remember how many hours you’ve had to put up with residential lawnmowers, screaming leaf-blowers, and over-exuberant neighborhood parties! (Actually, as I write, at this very moment I am unable to practice outside because our neighbors have decided to take over the valley with their extremely loud pop music and party voices this morning – and no, they are not being respectful of the time of day or the effect they might be having on their neighbors………….…no further comments!!#@#%##@!!)
- The lack of a roof and walls plus the awareness of sky and sunlight all around me has a dramatically positive effect on my mood, my state of being, the use of my body-mind, my posture, and every other aspect of my practice. No matter where I am (indoors or out), my playing is improved when I am literally centered – and much of that means being aware that I am at the center of an endless expanse of Infinitude, with space around me in all directions. Spatial awareness is a crucial component of the Alexander Technique and The Art of Freedom, by the way, and I teach my students about this in every single session. Being surrounded by the benefic presence of Nature is one of the very best – and easiest – ways to get back in touch with a qualitative sense of spaciousness.
- The breeze is a constant reminder of the spaciousness of Nature and the fact that I am living in a physical body, which helps me stay grounded and aware of my mind-body connection, all of which has an extremely important and positive effect on the quality of my playing. It’s all too easy to forget about the body (other than hands and fingers and other parts that are directly touching the instrument) when practicing indoors without much of anything to stimulate the sense of touch other than the vibrations of the instrument or the possible discomforts of being either too hot or too cold. Not only does the breeze remind me of my body, but its gentle caresses also remind me that I am loved, deeply and unconditionally, from all directions. And music never sounds better than when it comes from a musician who is feeling loved and loving, inside and out! (SPECIAL TIP: the fewer clothes the better…! 😉
TIPS FOR PRACTICING OUTSIDE:
- Where? There are some places (many city streets, for instance) where you will need a permit to play outdoors. But I wouldn’t worry about that in most places, such as in your backyard or at the park. Actually, getting a permit (or risking playing without one…use your own judgment) and making a bit of money while you practice around the hustle and bustle of passing citizens can be a really fun and rewarding way to get work done and entertain people at the same time!
- Neighbors: Don’t worry about bothering your neighbors. Respect the time and their space, but let them come to you if they have a problem; don’t just assume they have one (innocent until proven guilty!). Unbeknownst to you, they might be anonymously loving your music and never tell you; and this is not farfetched, since many people are sadly unaccustomed to offering praise.
- Clothing: Unless it’s cold, wear less clothing so you can feel the breezes on your body. As long as you aren’t breaking any laws, you will play better, I promise!
- Nature and Space: If possible, find a pleasant place where you can commune with Nature and play for your fellow living creatures. By the way, even if your “backyard” is a city fire escape on the side of your apartment building, Nature surrounds you in the air. Never forget to be grateful for air; and even if you don’t feel like you have much space, be aware that objects are mostly made up of space within their atoms, and you literally ARE surrounded by infinite space, even if it doesn’t look like it. Try to feel it anyway. (Actually, this is a great tip for playing indoors, too…)
- Protect your instrument (and yourself – skin cancer isn’t fun) from the elements. Sunlight and raindrops can ruin an instrument’s varnish. Make sure you have a small, clean table or chair nearby for setting down your instrument safely.
- Clothespins: Have a handful of clothespins on hand to pin your music to the music-stand. The more the better, since it’s annoying to keep running after sheets of music flying across the yard! Angle the stand in relation to the wind so that it’s unlikely to topple over on you (I admit this has happened to me too many times. I’ve finally figured out that I can prop it against an object in case the wind is blowing very strongly).
- Wind: Instead of getting frustrated, enjoy the challenges and variety that wind and breezes might introduce into your technique. For instance, if you play a string instrument, the wind can be quite disruptive if it blows your bow away from the strings! Enjoy listening deeply to how the space and the breezes affect the acoustics, and maybe even the sound (wind plays your instrument by strumming the strings like a harp for you).
- Beauty: Let yourself look around and be nourished by the beauty around you. Don’t think of this as a distraction. Let yourself enjoy your surroundings, drink in every bit of the sensual experience of Nature through your senses (sounds, sights, touch, smells…), and let it feed and enrich your music-making. Enjoy every moment. Every moment will be different, so you won’t get bored. * Don’t separate your music from your life or your life from your music ~ it’s ALL beautiful! *
I would LOVE to get your feedback on this post, and hear about your experiences making music outdoors. How about sharing your best/worst experiences with us?
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