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"Every activity we undertake has
the potential to make us freer"

Somatic Methods

Barbara Conable, creator of the course 

What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body

My Story

In the fall of 1997, I was beginning a coveted year-long sabbatical during which

I intended many daily hours of practice devoted to learning repertoire for solo

recitals. I was hoping to practice 4 or more hours per day. I looked at my piano

and then moaned and groaned. Although I wasn’t suffering from a particular

injury, practicing for long hours caused me back aches, fatigue, discomfort. I sat

on my floor and thought “my body feels like a prison.”

 

I immediately contacted my dear friend and colleague, Nina Scolnik, on the piano

faculty at UC Irvine. Nina was a teacher of the Taubman Technique, a method

for teaching pianists based on anatomical truth and principles of coordinate

movement related to the arm structure. After consulting with Nina, I made the

decision to dramatically change the thrust of my sabbatical. Instead of learning

a lot of repertoire, I would stop performing completely and retrain in order to

learn to move in a more coordinate way. I thus commuted regularly to Los

Angeles to study the Taubman Technique and began having Alexander Technique lessons in L.A. as well.

My first Alexander lesson was a “table” lesson. I lay on the table while the teacher gently guided me out of my various compressions. When I arose from the table I felt like a person in a new body! I stood differently, looking (in a mirror) balanced and well organized. My breathing felt freer than ever. I felt my arms and legs emerging from my balanced torso. I felt, in a way, like a gumby doll, a coordinated (though articulated) whole! And my first thought was “I need to learn how this works.” So I embarked on a 4-year process to train to become an Alexander Teacher. 

 

I was so very lucky that renowned Alexander Technique teacher, Barbara Conable, relocated at that time to Portland, Or, an hour from my home. Barbara, one of the co-founders of the method called Body Mapping, had founded an organization called Andover Educators (now called ABME, the Association of Body Mapping Education) in order to train and license musicians to teach Body Mapping through the course: What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body (see descriptions of the Alexander Technique and Body Mapping below).

 

I trained with Barbara in both methods for seven years until her retirement in 2005.  When I first heard Barbara state that “every activity we undertake has the potential to make us freer” I could not imagine that playing the piano could actually make me freer. But after years of studying both the Alexander Technique and Body Mapping, I can say with the greatest satisfaction, that this is, indeed, true. Playing the piano now makes me freer. I can better realize my expressive intentions. As a teacher, I can help my students to this same level of coordination, joy, ease, and competence in performance. And I can say without hesitation, that coordination can be restored and enhanced and there is no limit to the freedom of movement and expressive power a musician can achieve through the diligent study and application of these methods.

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The Alexander Technique is a method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support, and coordination. It enhances performance and is therefore a valued tool for musicians. Practice of the Technique refines and heightens kinesthetic sensitivity, offering the performer a control which is fluid and lively rather than rigid. Through this teaching paradigm, students learn to “find” and inhabit the whole of themselves and gently come out of any habitual compressions or distortions in order to regain full stature, optimum balance and efficient weight delivery. The Technique provides a means where the use of a part, a voice or an arm, etc., is improved by improving the use of the whole body. 

 

Alexander Technique teachers often use their hands to help students bring attention to themselves and then gently guide them out of any compression. Students also learn to use their thinking intention combined with their tactile and kinesthetic senses to “inhabit” themselves or parts of themselves more fully. 

 

Although students often come to the Technique because of activity-related pain, fatigue, limitation, or injury, study of the Technique, as it restores and enhances coordination, will often improve facility and enhance expressive possibilities. 

 

Alexander defined the way we organize ourselves for movement as our “use.” We all “use” ourselves, for better or for worse. The Alexander Technique is a method designed to improve the “use of ourselves” by learning to inhibit (pause) automatic, habitual responses to stimuli that often result in tightening muscles and compressing some part of ourselves. Alexander’s method teaches students to consciously and constructively direct their movement so that it is efficient, coordinated and free, utilizing their bony structure and the inherent sources of involuntary muscular support in the body.

Alexander Technique

Body Mapping

Body Mapping is a method for restoring coordination by providing accurate anatomical information about the body in movement. Our body map is our personal representation of our body in our own brain. It is our idea about our various parts, their size, location and structure. 

If our body map is off or incorrect, our movement will be less coordinated. The somatic method of Body Mapping was developed by Alexander Technique teachers William and Barbara Conable. Barbara Conable went on to develop the teaching of Body Mapping as a method in its own right through the six-hour course: What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.

 

The content of this course is taught by Licensed Body Mapping Educators through presentations, 1-3 day workshops, and as the foundation of college courses on musicians’ wellness and coordinate movement. The organization called ABME (Association for Body Mapping Education) provides information related to Body Mapping and offers a training program for musicians wanting to be licensed to teach this material. To explore this further you can visit the ABME website here

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