Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Take a walk

Beethoven frequently took an afternoon walk in the countryside, note book at the ready to capture ideas that occurred to him. Tchaikovsky was obsessive about taking a two-hour walk each day - not a minute more and not a minute less. Eric Satie, during his long nightly walks home through the suburbs of Paris, would frequently stop under a street light to note down ideas that came to him. (His musical output dropped during the first world war. Perhaps this was because the street lights were switched off during the blackout.)

During our own time the inspirational powers of the walk have not diminished. For contemporary composer Bright Sheng, taking walks is an integral part of his compositional process:

'My normal composing process is this: I think about a new piece first while taking walks. I start to hear sounds and I process them. I pick the music that excites me. It could be an interesting beginning for a piece, or a middle section, or an ending. As I take more walks, I hear more. Each time, I hear more details.' (From 'The Muse that Sings' by Ann McCutchan) 

The brain boosting effects of taking a walk, especially before or between bouts of mentally challenging activity, are now supported by scientific research:


Perhaps most importantly, we know from our own experience that doing something physical and relatively mindless can not only be predictably therapeutic but also unexpectedly inspiring: that great idea that occurs to us as we do the shopping, do the gardening, take a shower, take a walk.

So, if your thinking gets stuck in a rut resist the temptation of just sitting there, trying to think harder and harder. The evidence shows that the longer you just sit there, trying to think harder and harder, the longer you will just sit there, trying to think harder and harder.

Take a walk between thinking, and energise not only your body but also your mind.

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