The Feldenkrais Method supplies musicians with the missing links that allow them to make the leap from good playing to remarkable playing. These missing links are self-awareness and effective movement patterns at the instrument.
Dr Feldenkrais said that in order to do what you want to do physically, you have to understand what you’re already doing that gets in the way. He developed movement “lessons” which shine light and potency into the “blind spots” of our self-understanding. These gentle but enormously effective lessons, create new neural pathways to make everything easier. They help musicians take the pain, effort and sense of limitation out of making music.
Musical performance begins with a musical intention, which is translated into a series of movements involving weight, speed, orientation in space, and relationship to gravity. For the music to soar freely, without causing injuries, you, the musician, need to experience the joy of efficient, elegant movement in gravity. This experience will not only protect you from injuries, it will inform and influence your phrasing, your rhythm, and your palette of sound.
Properties of sound – time, space, weight, rhythmical impulse, gesture, momentum towards an action (a leap against gravity), process of speeding gradually and slowing down gradually – are all properties of movement. When, for a musician, these properties are not experienced in their movement, two things happen – the brain does not have the appropriate image of the action needed for the musical gesture, and it cannot send the right impulses to the muscles. The action is then clumsy and can result in injuries.
When my friend and colleague Buffy Owens of ConsciousMovements.com asked me if I’d contribute to her new project, I began to prepare myself to resist the temptation and offer my regrets. After all, there are only so many good projects I can work on at any given time. But once I found out that the theme was “how Feldenkrais moves me” I knew I had to say yes. Here’s the result of our collaboration – just under 90 seconds on why and how I am moved to practice and teach Feldenkrais for musicians. Words and music by me, technical, visuals,…
It is said that when two martial artists of different traditions fight, the winner does not prove the superiority of his martial art, but merely the superiority of his own kung fu, or fighting ability.
Similarly, when you are on stage, the audience doesn’t care what degrees you have, who you studied with, how many hours you practice a day, or even how good your chops are. Your audience wants to be moved. They want to feel a connection with you and with the music you are presenting. How well you do reflects your ‘musical kung fu’ – your ability to perform and convey the music behind the notes.
As it turns out, we musicians have much in common with martial artists. My own vocal and instrumental technique is full of lessons I learned in my years studying tai chi, not to mention the lessons I’ve learned from the Feldenkrais Method. And did you know Moshe Feldenkrais was a Judo master? In fact, much of the method is based on Judo.
Here are just a few concepts martial artists and musicians have in common, as well as some lessons certain martial arts have to teach musicians…
I believe we become musicians because of a vision we have of what we could do – of the music we could make. We might have fallen in love with the sound of the instrument as played by a teacher or on a recording, or we might have been drawn to the simple idea of being a musician. This vision, whatever it is, sustains us through those difficult first steps of learning to make a sound – any sound at all at first, and then a (let’s face it) tolerable sound, and eventually, we hope, a sound which we find satisfying. As we master our art, our sense of what’s possible evolves, the vision evolves, and we can always see a ‘next step’ for our skill.
What’s preventing you right now from realizing your vision?
What’s preventing you from reaching your next step?
Injury? Tension? Posture? Anxiety? A lack of flow and ease?
Lack of inspiration, of connection to the vision, to the music itself?
All of these impediments to your art are bound up in your most basic habitual movement patterns: from the habits you use to hold yourself up and move around, to those you use to interact with other people, to the very patterns you use to make music….
The casual observer might get the impression that I am advocating a way of being and acting that includes no commitment to goals or to improvement, a sort of anything-goes / take it easy / do whatever you like / it’s all good / whatever comes naturally philosophy with no sense of purpose or forward momentum.
Nothing could be further from the truth. What I am talking about here is the approach that allowed me to make my own impossible possible: to recover from chronic hand pain which for years made me feel like I would never be able to play my instrument again. It took me close to a decade of patient commitment to transform myself from a lost, confused, and pretty-much disabled recent college grad, to a serious student of movement, then a serious student of music, and finally a professional musician and Feldenkrais teacher. Many times I was tempted to give up, or just grit my teeth and push through (which, I quickly realized again and again, would amount to pretty much the same thing), but I am now very glad I kept with it.
We musicians tend to think of making music as inherently strenuous. That the way to musical mastery is paved with hard work.
We train through countless hours of solitary practice. We drive ourselves to do better, never accepting ‘good enough.’ We know we should be relaxed as we play or sing, but our tight shoulders, sore necks and tired backs tell a different story, even if our fingers or lips seem as nimble as can be. Like athletes, we drive our bodies to the limits of our ability, to do essentially unnatural things. We hold our breath and grimace with the emotion of the music we are expressing, because otherwise, why bother? How can I express sorrow or suffering if I don’t feel it myself?