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Do you need music for Tai Chi?

When you see people in the park doing Taiji, it is common to see it done with music? The two seem to go together hand in hand and it's pretty much now part of Taiji culture. However, is it essential or traditional to have music in Taiji? This depends on who you ask.

Music in Chinese martial arts?

Is there music in Chinese martial arts? Yes, but not how you might think. Music like that for Taiji wasn't a thing back then. Martial arts schools are very focused on discipline and not really about relaxation, which is what Taiji is known for. In terms of Daoist and Buddhist monastic life, music is seen as another path to cultivation. Drums are very much part of Chinese culture, from ceremonies up to war drums. Drumming is a big part of the lion and dragon dancing culture, which have roots in martial arts.

What does music actually do?

To most people, music for Taiji is just background music. If you're taught in that environment, that music becomes part of the culture. However, music actually does more that. Music should lift the spirit and help inspire an appropriate mindset that's right for practise. However, you should not be controlled by the music.

Is there such thing as Taiji music?

In the modern sense, then yes there is. There are tunes written for Taiji practise, such as for the Yang 24, 36, 48, 88 and sword forms. Whilst these are written for modern Taiji form routines, it doesn't mean you can't use them for whatever style you do. I recently discovered music for Qigong, but this is for modern Qigong form routines. A lot of these CDs that marketed as Taiji music sound alien to me and there's nothing remotely Chinese or even Far Eastern about them. But whatever floats your boat.

So what do I listen to?

After many years, my preferences come down to the guqin, a type of box zither with seven strings. The guqin shouldn't be confused with the larger box zither called the guzheng which has between 21 to 26 strings. I also like the soft melody of the flute. The guqin comes from a family of very ancient musical instrument which were already being played during Confucius' day. I am a fan of traditional Chinese folk music, but there are modern tunes that I also like and go well with my Taiji practise. It doesn't appeal to all, but it floats my boat.

Despite the image of Taiji being practised with music, I don't do much of that these day. When I'm on my own, I'm concentrating or just enjoying the flow. Music can help mask unwanted sound, but I've learned to block it out or ignore it. I don't have music in class as I'm usually talking and not everybody likes traditional Chinese folk music. I'm not the sort to force my taste in music on people. However, if you want to practise with your own music, that's fine. Whatever works for you.

How do you listen when you're outside?

Thanks to bluetooth technology, we can use wireless speakers and headphones/earbuds. If speakers are your thing, do be mindful of others. I'm not a fan of headphones as they get in the way and they're like to come off. Earbuds are better as they're more portable and many now feature noise cancellation. The sound quality have improved and some are designed for sport. So whatever works for you.

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