The Method

Exercise, Music and The Bar Method

May 25, 2010
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I love music, like a lot of people. When I’m working out, rhythm and melody inspire me to move gracefully and to feel strong inside and out. One reason I love the Bar Method is that it is an exercise form that resembles music itself.  Like music it has an orderly structure, an intense focus on form, and it has drama.
Margaret WacykLast month I was delighted to get an email from a professional musician who gave me her expert view of these similarities. Margaret Wacyk is an award-winning concert pianist, composer and writer who has performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and other cities in the US and Europe. She is the founder of a music school, lead artist in numerous classical CDs, and is working on a book on playing the piano. Even with her busy career she finds the time to take four-to-five Bar Method classes a week at the Bernardsville studio in New Jersey.

“I see so many parallels,” Margaret wrote me, “between the methodology of the Bar Method and that of music: Focus, small range of movement, and intensity on each and every repetition, which in music translates to being intentional and shaping each note you play.”

Like Margaret, I think that the Bar Method is unusual in the realm of exercise techniques in its musicality. Bar Method exercises use simple rhythmic units — “on-tempo,” “pulses,” “in threes,” “two-counts,” and others – just as songs and concertos do. These simple tempos when combined into phrases create an infinite number of patterns. Our human brains love to follow such patterns, whether we find them in a song or – for us Bar Method lovers – within the design of an exercise sequence.

The Bar Method also shares with music its devotion to form. Music sculpts melodies, while the Bar Method shapes bodies. “Meter organizes musical time on the small scale, while phrasing organizes musical time on the large scale,” writes Robert Jourdain in his book, Music the Brain and Ecstasy. The Bar Method is similarly built of “sets” (exercises) that require focused precision and that, like musical phrases, end with a final dramatic release. According to Jourdain, listening to melodies makes our brain more alert. Bar Method’s precise, structured choreography has the same awareness-enhancing effect on its students’ minds.

Finally, music and the Bar Method share the ability to make life feel beautiful and ecstatic. (See last week’s blog DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: THE INNER WORKOUT for more on the intensity students experience under their seemingly calm exteriors.) In this realm where exercise and music meet, Bar Method classes can create a cathartic experience for its participants.

“The Bar Method has not only changed me physically,” Margaret told me in her email, “but it has really proved once again, that all great principles connect and stretch interdisciplinary lines. Thank you.”

Burr Leonard

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