Greetings. I recently received a question on using music to accompany the Tai Chi form. Here is my answer. Also, no First Saturday Workshop this month.
Music and Tai Chi
There are many Tai Chi instructors who use music to accompany the form practice. T.T. Liang, Yang Jwing Ming, and others. When I started my teaching in 1973, I found New Age music would aid in relaxation and help attain a spiritual feeling that was especially important to people at that time. I myself didn’t know Tai Chi as a martial art, nor would I have been interested, had I know about that aspect of our art. In the following 43 years of teaching, I have made many changes, including the elimination of music. Here is my thinking on the matter.
When I moved to Port Townsend in 1981, there was a woman whom I met, who was a world known music therapist. She wrote a well regarded book on the subject – “Music and Your Mind”. She also designed music programs to be played in hospital surgery rooms with the idea that music can calm the mind, even when unconscious.
She took some Tai Chi classes from me, and realized how effective Tai Chi is in achieving deep states of relaxation and expanded awareness. That was her goal as well, so we decided to go together and offer workshops. It was fun, and so informative about one’s inner workings. After Tai Chi and Chi Kung relaxation exercises, people would pair up. One would lie down, the other would act as “Guide”.
Helen would put on one of her specially designed music tapes, and the person lying down would then talk about the images, dreams, visualization that would happen due to the music. The Guide would write these down while they happened, and would also help by asking questions if the active person got stuck, or needed help in any way. It was always enlightening. There was then a period of analyzing the thoughts, as a group. Some people made life altering discoveries during this process. Music can certainly stir up emotions!
So why have I given up on using music during Tai Chi class? One of the most important ideas regarding Tai Chi practice is slow, steady, and smooth. There should be no places that go faster or slower, even the kicks. There are no places that appear harder or softer, not even punches or kicks. In my Yang Style form, the moves are like rubbing one’s palm over a smooth marble surface, or a babies skin. The form speed will eventually match with one’s heat beat and breath. Music will mask these natural body functions and cause the body to conform to the beat of the music. That might be relaxing and fun, but the real knowledge of one’s self, comes from within, not outside.
To summarize: music is one device to help the student relax and enjoy practice, and should be viewed as one training practice that should be employed along the way and then dropped.