Feldenkrais® for Musicians: Embodied Music

"Embodied Music"  is Aliza's term to describe the philosophical and practical relationship of the Feldenkrais Method with music and musicians.  You can read more about "Embodied Music" and Aliza's writing about Feldenkrais and music on her Embodied Music blog.

Why movement?

Dr. Feldenkrais used to say: "movement is life. Without it, life is inconceivable." Even sucking, the first action a baby takes to ensure its survival, is a movement pattern involving the muscles of the face. Like all human activity, it has to be learned.  Movement is the first subject of our brain's remarkable capacity for learning.

As babies, we all went through this process of learning through moving, developing our brain and achieving new levels of mastery over our environment. The success or failure of this process determines the quality of our life. We had no teachers and no verbal instruction. Sensing, feeling and moving were interwoven for one biological purpose - becoming a functional, healthy and fulfilled human. We musicians know that studying music in early childhood provides a great advantage later on. Can you think why it is so?

This magnificent kind of learning - integrating feeling, thinking and moving - is available to us throughout our life. However, the introduction of socialization and formal schooling into a child's life often interferes with this organic process. By using sensory input and movement, the Feldenkrais Method makes organic learning available to us again.

How does it work?

Creating a body map :  With each new movement we learn as infants, the connections in our brain multiply to create a map of ourselves, literally a self-image, which in turn is used by our brain to send signals to our muscles when we want to do something. There are several versions of this map and I will mention three of them.

  1. The Homunculus, which is a neurological representation of the " real estate " in our brain used by our limbs, mouth, eyes, etc.
  2. The map that describes an external self-image based on our general knowledge of human anatomy and what we see in the mirror.
  3. The sensory map, which allows us to move in the world, and which is fundamental to learning a skill like playing an instrument. Through sensory input we feel our spatial relationships with the outside world and an internal sense of distances between parts of our body. If we did not possess this sense, we would not be able to go through doorways without bumping into them. As a matter of fact, there are neurological deficiencies where this sense is distorted and the afflicted person keeps bumping into things.  A healthy person can feel his or hers weight shifting,  recognize their spacial orientation and sense when muscles are tight or the work is too hard.

Playing is a complex process that begins with a musical intention, which is then translated into a series of movements involving changes in weight, speed, orientation in space, and relationship to gravity. These elements combine to produce the sounds needed to realize the original musical idea. Without this internal, sensory map, none of this would be possible. In order to refine our musical skills, we have to refine and complete this sensory map of ourselves. We are the primary instrument when we play. The more accurate the internal map, the more accurate are the movements that produce the music. The more complete and detailed the self- image, the more the whole self is involved in music making.

When the movements are inefficient and not optimally organized, the result is excessive strain and unnecessary wear-and-tear on the muscular-skeletal system and, of course, unsatisfactory musical results. Magnified by long hours of practice, these physical stressors produce many of the playing-related injuries.

  Using the sensory map as data, our nervous system constantly solves new problems and evolves to meet the world we live in. Muscles don't think, bones don't think, human brains do. If we have pain - back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, etc. - we need to learn to move differently so as not to put the same pressure on the same joints all the time. If we want to hone a performance skill like playing an instrument, we need to learn how to better use ourselves. If we don't find a way to change the map in our brain so that the orders given to our muscles are more efficient, every other solution will be temporary and will not enhance our life. Solutions that do not engage our basic self-image will not bring lasting improvement.

The Feldenkrais Method is unique in its approach to solving these problems of self-use. Through carefully developed movement lessons based on developmental stages, it accesses the brain's innate capacity for learning and adaptation. The method uses the language the brain understands best - the language of movement. While the results may seem miraculous to us, they are no more miraculous than the learning a baby does in its first years of life. Improved self-use and better adaptation to the demands of a given task, are natural outcomes of returning to an organic way of learning.



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"I am a violin performance major. About two years ago, I developed pain radiating down both arms. I visited doctors,  physical therapists, spinal specialists, and message therapist, but the pain worsened.  I lost all hope and spiraled into depression.  Finally I tried Feldenkrais with Aliza Stewart.  I left my first session feeling 75% better.  After 3 months I became pain-free and started playing again after 2 years.  Feldenkrais brought back the joy of playing again." Charise Zablotsky - Violinist