Mirrors are a great, underused tool.
While playing we often contort our bodies into strange positions – or worse: tension creeps into our limbs and causes awkward movements and posture. Most times the fix for this sort of problem is as simple as observing it.
Because we can’t often focus on our entire bodies at once, we remain very unaware of what’s going on. Enter the mirror. A mirror can be a great way to notice odd things our body does. Have a tendency to throw your left elbow out a weird angles? That’s a hard thing to just feel, but the problem is very obvious when you watch yourself play in the mirror.
I used a mirror quite a bit during undergrad. Most practice rooms comes equipped with full body mirrors – I assumed the mirrors were just for singers to admire themselves. Because singers do that?
The more I practiced, I started observing myself in the mirror. It got to the point where I felt strange practicing with out it. I fixed a lot of things (including a specific thing I’ll talk about below): a strange tendency to lean to the left all the time, my left arm’s strange habits when shifting along the neck and some very odd right hand things. I also had the experience of changing my right hand technique a few times using the mirror. I went from a whatever-I’m-a-freshmen-style to a Segovia/Tarrega bent right to 90 degrees style until I settled on a more modern, stright-wrist style. I used the mirror to check myself with each switch.
A Specific Incident
I had (and still have to a small degree) a terrible tendency to hunch my right shoulder up when playing repeated arpeggio patterns. While practicing the second movement of El Decameron Negro, I had a lot of trouble with this during the “echoes” section, which is just a bunch of fast, repeated p m i arpeggios. Tension would creep into my shoulder, then down my arm into my fingers. I would get fatigued quickly and couldn’t play the section as musically or technically clean as I wanted.
When a teacher in a masterclass pointed out that I hunched my shoulder up, it was news to me. I had been practicing with out a mirror.
And when i went back to using it, just by observing I was able to better keep control of my errant shoulder.
The mirror is a powerful tool. A simple fully body mirror would work. Barring that, try practicing in front of your bathroom mirror for a while.
Have you ever used a mirror? Let me know in the comments!