The Noh Walk

As the approaches to classical performance expand, many classical musicians are thrown into the realm of theatre or theatrically-oriented performance. However, as most musicians are not accustomed to theatrical performance, attempts at ‘acting’ can often appear forced or over-done. This etude therefore offers an approach to theatrical presence – to a sense of groundedness which focuses the performer on stage – providing an element of theatrical awareness without being over-blown.

Groundedness can be viewed as a form of self-possession and stillness – and from this stillness, chosen movements then seem direct, intentional and meaningful. It may seem unlikely, but the ability to be still, controlled and direct on stage, shows far greater performance mastery than what are often unnecessary movements.

This etude is based on basic movements from Japanese Noh Theatre, which is a practice often adopted by actors working in physical theatre. As music performance is itself a highly physical activity, an approach from physical theatre can align with the demands of music practice – allowing the performer to focus on, and move from, their centre of gravity – providing strength to both their theatrical and musical performance.

INSTRUCTIONS: Noh Walking (solo)

  • Find a quiet space – a practice room could work well.
  • Go to one end of the room, you need a few meters of clear space in front of you.
  • Now stand still – feet together, bend your knees slightly.
  • Feel your centre of gravity through your abdominal muscles and support it with lengthening the small of your back. Keep breathing, in a relaxed but regular way.
  • Imagine an invisible thread is lifting the crown of your head to the ceiling.
  • Let your chin drop a little as the back of your neck lengthens, then let your shoulders drop a little.
  • Keep your hands by your side.
  • Do your fingers feel restless? If so, imagine holding a small 5c coin between your thumb and middle finger, on both hands.
  • Now imagine two invisible threads lifting your collarbones up a little, lifting up towards the ceiling; let your shoulders relax back, let your shoulder blades flatten a little.
  • This is the preparatory position known as kamae: Feet together; knees slightly bent; a supported, straight but relaxed posture; and steady breathing.
  • Once you have prepared this position, we can begin the walk, or suri-ashi.
  • From this standing position, move your weight into your right foot.
  • Keep your eyes facing forward, try not to look at your feet.
  • Lift your left foot a few millimeters off the ground, but do not let it leave the floor.
  • Make sure to keep your head-height level.
  • Count eight slow beats as you slide your left foot along the ground.
  • After eight beats, the heel of your left foot should be aligned with the toe of your right foot.
  • Are your knees still bent? Posture still supported and straight? Find centredness.
  • Now move your weight into your left foot.
  • Again, lift the right foot slightly, and slide it for 8 counts along beside your left foot, until the heel meets the toe.
  • Your height should remain completely the same as you move very slowly forward – for this, try practicing in a mirror.
  • Keep breathing and slowly shifting forward at the count of 8 for each movement.
  • Stop when you reach the other end of the room.


INSTRUCTIONS: Noh Walking (duo)

  • After trying the Noh Walk alone, try it with a colleague.
  • Stand at opposite ends of the room.
  • Set up the posture (kamae) and begin to move forward (suri-ashi).
  • As you move, stare with a neutral face, hardly blinking, straight into the eyes of the other person opposite you.
  • Move forward, with 8 silent counts for each step, until you are inches from each other.

This duo exercise can be hilarious fun, as it can be hard to avoid laughing due to the highly confrontational element of staring and moving towards your exercise partner. However, if you can manage to do it without laughing, it will greatly improve your ability to control your facial expressions on stage. Working on this skill will also help you to interact with others in a performance, both fellow performers and the audience, without fear. Overall, the Noh Walk can help to improve physical control and posture as well as controlling nervous energy on stage. The improvement of posture and breathing is also an additional plus for musicians.

As you work on this practice, both alone and with others, try to keep the flow between the changes of feet, and transitions of weight, as smooth as possible. Always remember to keep breathing and to maintain a steady and supported posture.


Etude taken from: Eve, I (2020). The Same but Differently. Maastricht: Research Centre for Arts, Autonomy & the Public Sphere.

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