A reset from the inside out

by Nov 28, 2019

The gift of Beethoven

Having previously performed 6 of the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas more than 20 years ago, it has been a lovely process coming back to the familiar, as well as discovering the new. Primarily due to the work I have been doing over the last 2 years getting to the nitty-gritty of my performance philosophies, these incredibly pristine works of Beethoven are proving to be an absolute gift for me.

New discoveries

Even though I have spent my whole career consciously peeling layers of tension away in my playing, with the recent time I have had to step back and observe in much more detail what is going on inside my body, I have discovered subtle yet deep habitual layers of tension that hinder ultimate control and comfort. I have felt these blocks in my playing and performance over the years and in some ways they were becoming more apparent and problematic as time went on.

These Beethoven sonatas are offering me an opportunity to reset my physical and mental foundation.

Rather than the more traditional building ‘from the bottom up’, I’m approaching my foundation ‘from the inside out’.

Building my foundation from the inside out

Wonderfully, locating and clearly feeling my physical centre before I even begin has the instant impact of putting me in touch with my whole body. This whole-body awareness is a powerful place to begin from and the challenge is to keep the whole body involved in the process of playing and performing. Holding onto the feeling of centre, I experiment with relating my movements directly to it. In addition, I also search for balance in whatever movement I make with my body, big or small.


When I look for balance, I instantly discover where balance is lacking. And as soon as that discovery is made, my body feeds back to me where the balance can be found. This ‘search for balance’ always reaps surprising rewards. With balance comes the ability to observe and let go of unnecessary tension. What then follows is more technical control of sound and easeful freedom of musical expression. I am finding this process to be incredibly liberating.


I have to be vigilant, as my habits of tension, restriction, doubt and fear so easily slip into my playing when my attention drifts away. When I catch myself in that state, I bring my awareness back to my centre and inevitably the source of tension is uncovered. I celebrate these moments, as with this enlightening clarity the tension invariably evaporates and the whole body returns to ease and freedom.

Development through sound

I am discovering that any imbalance or lack of centre is ultimately expressed negatively in the sound – perhaps as weak or unsupported tone, poor intonation, forced sound, awkward shift. So, any less than ideal sound is a signal to return to centre and seek out the imbalance. Time and time again, this concept is proving to be incredibly powerful and rewarding.
This week, as I have practised these sonatas, my aim has been for every movement to germinate from my sense of centre, every movement in balance, every movement free, malleable and strong. With this approach has come a renewed freedom of expression. Every movement can so much more directly and easefully respond to the precise detail of what I am listening for – each movement intimately led by the creative listening of my ear.

Whole-body choreography

Being conscious of the involvement of my whole body in my playing has connected me to the concept of whole-body choreography. In the past, I have been conscious of the choreography of different parts of my body in isolation, but to become aware of the choreography of my whole body as one cohesive unit has presented a sense of being like a dancer.
A dancer focuses on the cohesive choreography of every part of their body, aware of each movement and its intimate impact on their technical and expressive ability, each movement free, easeful and balanced. Using my whole body like a dancer as I play is liberating and I intend to explore this awareness in more detail in the weeks to come.


  1. Emma

    First: Love the photos.. So fresh and I think they really illustrate your philosophy! Second: You are so great at writing..I was feeling inspired just reading! Third: Do you reckon that when you think about your “Centre” its also like your mind is focused on a positive physical thing that distracts it from predicting a negative outcome (like a bad shift etc)..I’ve in recent times (when I’m practicing properly) tried to hear the note in my head to distract my mind- but maybe i should also focus on centre too. Anyway- love it all xxx

    • Justine

      Thanks Emma! And yes, absolutely. Concentrating on your centre refocuses the mind on something that has positive powers. Teamed with this awareness should always be focused, clear listening – confident and precise listening. So awareness of centre and focused listening can be done at the same time for sure!

      And the photos are by the Garth Badger of Thievery Studios in Auckland. I love them too!


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