Do you start a New Year with a new set of resolutions? If yes, or if you have a hard time to stick to them, let me propose you a very simple 4 musicking habits, that can improve the quality of your life and also help you start making music yourself.
I know, many of us are very demanding when we set our goals for the next twelve month. We want to exercise more, live healthier, learn something new, get more money or a better job, build or improve relationships, travel … the list goes on. With a New Year we feel enthusiastic and full of energy to make desired changes in our life. Then the daily routine hits us. Other responsibilities start piling up and the energy and enthusiasm we felt at the beginning of January evaporate. And on top of that, the ongoing pandemics makes everything even more complicated.
If similar often happens to you, I would like to propose to you a very simple four musicking habits. These can improve the quality of your life, of your health, social life and overall wellbeing. At the same time they require only a little time and effort. You can start building these habits immediately! And if even four of them are too many for you, you can start with just one and add other later.
4 Musicking Habits for 2021:
1. Humming – 5 minutes daily
2. Enjoy silence – 5 minutes daily
3. Play an instrument – 10 minutes daily
4. Harmonize with others – 30 minutes weekly
All together – some 20 minutes daily, plus a half-hour weekly! Is your wellbeing worth it? I hope so.
If it is still too much, you can start building musicking habits by just one and only one minute daily. The best would be to start with the humming. Here is how:
– set a timer to 5 minutes; use a timer on your smartphone, the cooking timer, or maybe your kids have an hour-glass for teeth cleaning … anything works
– if possible do this exercise standing in a comfortable position; you can also do it sitting up straight, or while still laying in a bed
– concentrate and slowly take a deeper breath
– with your mouth closed, start humming just one tone and do it as long as comfortable, then take another breath
– variate the position of your tongue; if after the first breathe-in your tongue was at the bottom of your mouth, after the second breathe-in put your tongue high up on the roof of your mouth (the palate) like when pronouncing a letter ‘n’ but even higher to feel the whole top of your mouth by your tongue; this way you bring the tone from your throat higher and it should resonate through your nose in a whole head
– repeat these two if you have time left
If you decided to start with just one minute, continue for a week or two and then add another minute. Don’t force yourself to use all the air in lungs – breathe comfortably. Don’t rush! Don’t let your thoughts running. You have to be comfortable so that you can start observing the tone you are producing and how it resonates in your body.
After you add the third minute, or two to three weeks from the start, you can start humming two different tones. Change slowly from one tone to the other. Don’t jump too far. It is better to humm two tones close to each other.
With all these, you may have reached a one month mark while humming about three minutes daily. If you do it in the morning, this could help you feel more focused, relaxed and concentrated. Throughout a day this can help you calm down and concentrate. Before sleeping you can use humming to relax while winding down.
If after some six weeks you’d reached five minutes mark, or if you started there right away, keep going. Incorporate humming into your daily routine the same way as brushing your teeth.
Enjoying silence may seem counter-intuitive to musicking. But music rests, or pauses, or a silence, are very important components of a musical expression. Musical sound would be uncomprehensible without rests and silence. Pauses can increase tension in music, but also can release it.
Famous pianist Artur Schnabel summarized this neatly in this quote:
“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides”.
This exercise can be done together with the humming, or you can do it any other time throughout a day. Use a timer and if necessary, start again with one minute daily.
As our lives have become extremely busy, the silence has become rare. The concentrated “bombardment” by the media fills every possible gap. Our attention span is constantly stretched to the max. And we’ve almost forgotten how it is to be alone with our own thoughts – in private and in silence.
This exercise helps you get back some intimacy with yourself and your own thoughts.
If necessary, include it into your daily schedule, otherwise you may not find a suitable time to do it.
You may also need to plan for an appropriate quiet place, because noise is now almost everywhere. If no other possibility, a noise-cancelling headphones turned on, but not playing anything, could help too.
Now – when the time and the place is right, stop every other activity and listen to the silence. Close your eyes, or focus on one object – maybe a green plant in the corner, or a painting on the wall. Try to slow down your thoughts. If necessary, think about things you are grateful for, or things you wish for yourself or your loved ones. Try to do this on a positive side. But above all, try to listen to the silence. Listen to your breath, or an air-conditioning. Or a dripping water in a sink.
The main point is to refocus from your thoughts to your listening. As there should not be too much to listen to in the silence, you exclude all distractions and calm down.
When the time is up, take a deep breath and either get into the humming exercise, or get back to other activities.
Once you learn how to listen to the silence through properly planned exercises and you build a habit, then you may realize that repeating this a couple times throughout a day helps you feel better, concentrate better and work better.
A strategically placed pause can release a buildup of tension in music. Learn how to use silence for the same purpose in your life.
This is where the true ‘musicking’ comes to play …
Playing a music instrument fulfills here primarily a different than musical purpose – it is to improve your wellbeing. And it is not demanding or complicated.
Other possibility is to use your smartphone or tablet. An iPhone has a fantastic free application the GarageBand, with many great instruments. I am sure that the Android platform offers suitable instruments as well – FL Studio Mobile is one of them. Pick one you are familiar with, or an instrument you would consider playing also in real life – maybe a ukulele, or marimba?
Please stay away from any toy instruments as those are often out of tune or untunable. You want to develop your musicality, not to destroy it with bad quality instruments.
Now find a suitable place and time, where you will not get disturbed for at least ten minutes. If using a smartphone, put on headphones, to fully appreciate the sound.
Once you are ready, start making sounds. Nothing complicated – first get familiar with the instrument and its possibilities. Pluck it, or hit it, or strum it … And listen!
Play only one tone and listen until it fades away. Then play another one. Repeat.
Play two different tones and listen. How do you like the combination. Try another couple.
Once you are familiar with the sound of your instrument and after you could repeat a few two-tone combinations that you find pleasing, the next step is to play a simple melody. You can invent something on your own, or try a song you are familiar with. Doesn’t need to be exact. The most important is that you are happy with it.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself. You can go as fast or as slow as you please. This is not to become a superstar. Your goal is to feel the freedom and ENJOY THE PROCESS!
If you put your timer, those ten minutes can pass very fast. Next time you can repeat what you did before and build on that, or start with something new and different. There are no rules or restrictions. You are free to try musically whatever your imagination will allow.
4. HARMONIZE WITH OTHERS
Here you can share your musicking experiences in whichever way you like.
This will not be easy in the current pandemics, when everyone is asked to stay home and not to meet other people. And the communication technology helps only to a certain point, which we get into in a minute. But the social aspect of musicking is very important. So if your area is right now in a lockdown and you don’t have roommates or family to share this with, you can focus and practice the first three habits, so that once we are all free to go out and socialize, you will be comfortable with it.
For this I would suggest to block about 30 minutes once a week. Again, you can start with a shorter time, but try to go for at least 5 minutes.
The point here is to find someone else who you could share your musicking with, and do it together. At the very beginning, you may need to talk and explain this to your musicking partner/s first. This counts to your time as well, if you do it regularly.
Try to speak with your spouse if he or she would be up to that. Or your child. A grandparent would benefit from this immensly. Or get involved the whole family! Even neighbours could be surprisingly good musicking partners, if you maintain social distancing rules.
The technology like internet and phones are not the best suitable for playing together, because they suffer from the time lag, or latency. Doesn’t matter if it is the FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsUp or other. Although it may be only a few milliseconds, but hearing the other party always a bit late is annoying. So use this channel for discussing ideas. When you know what and how you want to play, try it – one side at the time. Once you are there and you are comfortable recording yourself, you can exchange those recordings and play with each other offline.
When I say play, that includes also singing. Find a couple tunes or songs everyone is familiar with and play with them. Play or sing the tune together in unison, which means everyone the same pitch/hight and speed.
If this works well for every participant, you are sharing a great experience and you harmonize with each other on many levels.
You can also move it up a notch and harmonize musically. Try to play or sing a ‘round’, also known as a ‘canon’. Did you do it as kids? Songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Frére Jacques have been notoriously used for this. The principle is that one player or singer starts an initial melody and the other joins later at a specified time interval by one or more parts. Here is a great example.
And that’s it. Some 20 minutes of musicking daily for your personal wellbeing. And another 30 minutes weekly for your social wellbeing.
There is only ONE RULE – do it regularly. Build a habit. Let music help you travel to places never known before while discovering freedom of your musical expression. And enjoy your musicking!
*Photo by Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels