Feldenkrais & Musicians

Excerpts from Alan Fraser’s The Craft of Piano Playing
Published by Scarecrow Press


With the increased incidence of music performance related injuries and the increasing achievement orientation of musicians leading to tense, inflexible playing, more pedagogues are beginning to explore movement education in relation to music performance. Disciplines such as the Alexander Technique (on the curriculum at Julliard, the Guildhall School and the Royal Academy of Music in London) are increasingly popular, fostering better use of one’s physical self.

Moshe Feldenkrais and Matthias Alexander were good friends in London in the 1940’s, and Alexander provided a crucial seed in the development of the Feldenkrais Method (on curriculum at the Longy School of Music in Boston), espoused by such musicians as conductor Igor Markevich, guitarist Narciso Ypes (who maintained that Feldenkrais was personally responsible for the regeneration of his career), violinist Yehudi Menuhin and pianist Leon Fleisher, who has included Feldenkrais in Tanglewood’s regular summer curriculum.

Rather than focusing on posture per se, the Feldenkrais Method tries to address directly the movement functions which generate good posture. Feldenkrais cultivates the harmonious interaction of all parts of one’s musculo-skeletal assembly, leading to a functionally-oriented improvement of not only posture but ability. Many Feldenkrais lessons are done lying down. This releases the student from the strain of maintaining his or her body erect in gravity, allowing for a much finer degree of kinesthetic discrimination and easier, more profound changes in organization at a neurological level. Instead of commencing with the head-neck-shoulder assembly, one of the most problematic areas for many musicians in terms of movement, Feldenkrais begins with the organization around the center of gravity, the pelvis, offering a firm, functional foundation for eventual improvement in the head and neck.

A sophisticated physical organization may look remarkably simple, easy and calm, but the easier it looks, probably the more difficult it is to achieve. An appropriately balanced quality of mucular-skeletal involvement at the piano must be largely supportive rather than active: well-intentioned but overly effortful attempts to involve the whole body in an activity can become counterproductive, causing more harm than good.

Feldenkrais Method avoids distracting the musician from musical concerns by providing a neutral, music-free environment for the training and improvement of one’s movement habits. When one returns to one’s instrument, analysis of each exact physical movement is replaced by the creation of a state of conscious readiness. The body itself is wiser, more intelligent: one realizes one’s musical intentions more instinctively or reflexively because one is no longer inadvertently interfering with that process!

Besides its advantages in content, Feldenkrais Method offers a practical form of presentation for a music school setting. Awareness Through Movement group lessons are cost – as well as pedagogically – effective, while private Functional Integration sessions can address more severe cases such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.  These are movement rather than medically related problems, which is why Feldenkrais Method may often offer a more effective form of treatment than classical medicine.